Welcome to the 6th Annual Top 31 Goaltenders List. Can you believe it’s been six years already? Wild. Anyway, this was one of the most difficult years to rank, in that many veteran goaltenders started to reclaim for former glory and a few young guys took aim at some top 10 stalwarts. However, with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights as the league’s 31st team, I got to add another spot to the rankings, giving me a little extra breathing room.
So, let’s get the house keeping stuff out of the way before we get to some honorable mentions and our first section of the list. The criteria for the rankings are as follows: I am advising a hypothetical “team” on a one-year solution between the pipes. I am completely ignoring concepts of age, contract status, incumbent goaltender, contention window or any other factors relating to the status of said “team”. Everything is in a vacuum and all about current talent level that can be projected out for the next twelve months. It goes without saying this whole exercise is for fun and massively subjective, so feel free to run me through the gautlet in the comments.
Now, onto the honorable mentions, in no particular order:
Mike Smith- Calgary Flames
Smith had another solid year in the desert, but going on 35 and his track record of losing control of his limbs make me leery of buying in at this stage of his career. He is still capable of great performances, I would just worry they wouldn’t come consistently enough.
Robin Lehner- Buffalo Sabres
There is no question that Robin Lehner is a talented goaltender. It’s also fairly certain he is a dangerously insane individual has some focus and anger issues on the mental side of the game. He is prone to meltdowns after goals and losses, as well as violent outbursts. It’s his inability to control his emotions that hold him back from consistently displaying his considerable talent.
Jimmy Howard- Detroit Red Wings
Howard had a really solid season for a pretty terrible Red Wings’ team this past season. I’m tempted to buy back in given his history being a good goaltender, but I’d like to see at least one more season like this from the 33 year old.
So, without further adieu, your Top 31 goaltenders…
As many of you know, I am an unabashed Anderson hater. I don’t like his style, I don’t like his fundamentals and I don’t like his save execution. However, he is a gamer with a big frame who takes up a lot of net. I’ve long held the position that he could not put up his typical numbers over a 60+ game sample, but if you have a capable backup and can ride Anderson when he gets hot, you could reap big benefits. This is to say nothing of his wife’s courageous battle with cancer that has made him something of a folk hero in Ottawa, he is also a guy who is easy to root for.
- Semyon Varlamov- Colorado Avalanche (last year’s rank: 15)
I have no idea what happened to Varlamov last season aside from, I guess, just the Avalanche. The bottom fell out statistically and he struggled with pretty much every shot type. He is way too young (29) and way too talented to completely abandon all hope for, but last season was epically terrible. With no real improvement for the Av’s on the horizon, Varlamov is going to have to adjust to getting peppered every night or he is going to be in trouble.
Miller is what I like to call a metronome goaltender. Just wind him up and run him out there expecting something in line with his career numbers. At 37, he chose to embrace the mentor role to John Gibson in Anaheim, but if pressed into starting duties for any period of time, the Ducks are in good hands.
- Pekka Rinne- Nashville Predators (last year’s rank: 24)
There has been quite a bit of debate around Rinne the past couple seasons. Some see a top 5 talent finding his way back from a series of injuries. I see a really talented guy who is entering his age 35 season who has lost the body control necessary to be an elite goaltender at this stage of his career. This is masked by one of the NHL’s best defenses, but make no mistake, Rinne is not the goaltender he was a couple of years ago.
- Petr Mrazek- Detroit Red Wings (last year’s rank: 14)
Not wholly unlike Robin Lehner, Mrazek’s mental game deteriorated his past season, leading to abysmal results. Granted, the Wings were pretty brutal, but his attitude toward committing to his craft and continuing to improve has held him back from capitalizing on his tremendous debut last season. Being an NHL goaltender is exceptionally difficult and if your attitude is that you are already elite, you won’t be for long. That said, there is too much talent here to give up on, he just needs to find that commitment again.
- James Reimer- Florida Panthers (last year’s rank: N/R)
Like with Anderson, I am a Reimer hater. I don’t like anything about his game, but he has gotten results over the past few years. He has shown that he struggles in large samples, but play him for ~45 games, his athleticism can take over and you can get really good results. Just make sure you have a quality backup.
- Louis Domingue- Arizona Coyotes (last year’s rank: 25)
Domingue has a rough go of it last season in Arizona and has since been displaced by the newly acquired Antti Raanta. However, I think this is the best thing for the 25 year old to regain his form. All of the pressure is going to be on Raanta to perform, and his workload is going to be lighter so he can focus on game by game preparation. I like Domingue for a nice bounce back season.
- Andre Vasilevskiy- Tampa Bay Lightning (last year’s rank: 29)
Certainly not a terrible debut as a starter for the young Russian, but definitely not one he was hoping for. There was a little too much bad Jonathan Quick in his game this season, becoming too reliant on his ridiculous athleticism and struggling mightily on low-danger shots. His is one of the most talented young goaltenders in the league, he just needs to tighten up his technical discipline and commit to the long-haul mindset required to carry a big workload. Having last year’s experience should be invaluable for his development going forward.
There is no debating that Mason struggled this season getting hung out to dry by a terrible Flyers’ defense. The past few years, he was a statistical darling for his performance in spite of that very same defense, but the wheels finally came off. Mason is now free of the goaltending graveyard that is Philadelphia, but his poor performance was ill-timed. He ended up having to take a platoon role in Winnipeg with Connor Hellebuyck, where he should thrive with more sheltered starts and a solid partner. We haven’t seen the last of good Steve Mason.
- Jake Allen- St. Louis Blues (last year’s rank: 16)
Allen is the goaltending equivalent of vanilla ice cream. Solid, if unspectacular, gets the job done most of the time. He reminds me a lot of some of the old Detroit goaltenders during the dynasty years. Not good enough to lead a team to a Cup, but plenty capable to backstop a team already good enough to win. Not exactly superlatives, I know, but I do think there is some development left in Allen. Either way, he is carving out a nice little career for himself.
- Connor Hellebuyck- Winnipeg Jets (last year’s rank: 21)
Poor Hellebuyck. Rushed to the show at 21, then everyone threw their arms up when he wasn’t Carey Price immediately (Carey Price wasn’t even Carey Price immediately). I thought it was a bit of a panic move for the Jets to bring Mason on as a safety net for the young Michigan native, however, I think having a partner around who understands high expectations as a rookie and learning how to find your game will be really valuable to Hellebuyck’s development. Still one of the most talented young goaltenders in the game, I expect to see a big step forward this season from Winnipeg’s (still) goaltender of the future.
There you have it. The first eleven in the books, 20 to go. Let’s hear your thoughts on the rankings in the comments below. Have a great weekend, everyone!"Justin's 6th Annual Top 31 Goaltenders List (31-20)",