It’s that time of year again; welcome to the 3rd Annual Top 30 Goaltender’s List! Before we get started, just a couple housekeeping matters to attend to. There are no major changes to the methodology this year. I am still advising a hypothetical “team” on how to prioritize seeking a goaltending solution, irrespective of standings, roster composition, contention window or organizational view of its current options. The rankings are obviously subjective, so feel free (and encouraged!) to disagree with me.
Last year, I introduced a “dropped” section to give a little context as to why goalies who appeared on the first year’s installment didn’t make the cut the following season. Unfortunately, this year saw a huge drop off in the 30-21 range (8 goalies), so I don’t have room for that section this year. With all that out of the way, let’s start with the honorable mentions:
James Reimer- Toronto Maple Leafs: I’ve never been a Reimer fan, and after losing his job to Jonathan Bernier, failing to perform in big games and being involved in perpetual trade rumors, I felt justified in leaving him off the list. Whenever the inevitable trade to Winnipeg comes, he can continue to be a key contributor to mediocrity.
Ondrej Pavelec- Winnipeg Jets: Speaking of Winnipeg, I’m done waiting for Pavelec’s A-list talent and D-List work ethic to develop. He has squandered a golden opportunity to be a fantastic NHL tender, but now the KHL seems more likely than ever once his ridiculous five-year contract expires.
Cam Talbot- New York Rangers: After a fantastic rookie Cam-paign (see what I did there?), Talbot looks to show that last season was no fluke before hitting the open market in July in search of a starting job. I thought it was a little premature to include him, but he is well on his way.
Onto the Top 30 Proper…
30. Antti Niemi- San Jose Sharks. Last year’s ranking: 17
- When I ranked Niemi 17th last season, I felt in the back of my mind I was going to get burned for it. I knew his disciplined approach during the lockout shorted season couldn’t be sustained over the long-haul, and boy that did go out the window fast. He lost his job to Alex Stalock and has been the subject of trade rumors ever since.
29. Cam Ward- Carolina Hurricanes. Last year’s ranking: 6
- If you’ve been reading my posts the last few years, you know by now that I love me some Cam Ward. Unfortunately, his mounting injuries and ineffective play from a porous Carolina blueline have derailed his career. Word is he is healthy to start the season, and has been the subject of rampant trade rumors, so we will see what 2014-2015 holds in store for my boy.
28. Jake Allen- St. Louis Blues. Last year’s ranking: N/R
- After the “failed” Ryan Miller experiment in St. Louis last season, it appears the Blues are willing to turn the net over to a tandem of Brian Elliott and Jake Allen. The talented QMJHL product should get his first substantial taste of NHL action this season and after several years of AHL seasoning, he should be up to the challenge. Solid positional instincts and mobility should hold up well behind the rock solid Blues’ backline. He should have cemented the starting job by Christmas.
27. Anton Khubodin- Carolina Hurricanes. Last year’s ranking: N/R
- Khubodin found his NHL footing as Tuukka Rask’s backup in 2012-2013 and immediately became a UFA due to his age. He signed in Carolina in the offseason and was almost immediately thrust into starting duty when Cam Ward’s injuries started to hit. He suffered a few injuries of his own, but when he was on the ice, he had a tremendous first year as a starter. Look for him to get the lion’s share of games between the pipes for the ‘Canes this season.
26. Marc-Andre Fleury- Pittsburgh Penguins. Last year’s ranking: 16
- I know Fleury catches a lot of heat around here (especially from The Suit), but he was the least of Pittsburgh’s problems this past playoff. His confidence has clearly been through the ringer over the past few seasons, but coming up on contract year, Fleury should be extra motivated to showcase his considerable talent to his next employer.
25. Darcy Kuemper- Minnesota Wild. Last year’s ranking: N/R
- Kuemper was put on the spot last season when he was pressed into starting duty after a rash of goaltending injuries in Minnesota. He acquitted himself well and showed flashes of a guy who should develop into a quality starting goaltender. I am a big fan of Kuemper’s combination of size and mobility and seems to be ushering in a new era of tall, lean keepers who can show a big frame and high-level lateral movement.
24. Ben Scrivens- Edmonton Oilers. Last year’s ranking: N/R
- This is one of those rankings I hate myself for. I’ll be honest, I cannot for the life of me figure out why Scrivens is any good. All of my instincts are telling me he isn’t, but the results are difficult to argue with. So, to acknowledge his ability and assuage my internal conflict, I ranked Scrivens in the bottom third, and can feel free to drop him next year if he crumbles under a starter’s workload.
23. Alex Stalock- San Jose Sharks. Last year’s ranking: N/R
- Stalock had an outstanding rookie season in relative obscurity in San Jose. I wish I was able to watch more him, but he had no trouble stealing Antti Niemi’s job and look like the goalie of the future for the Sharks. He has tremendous mobility, positioning and puck-handling skills. He’s going to be a stud.
- Last season, Halak was dropped from the list. I cited injuries and inconsistent play as my reasons why. Halak answered those questions and rebounded in a big way last year before signing a four-year deal with the rival Islanders in the off-season. He should stabilize the goal in Long Island (Brooklyn?), which should go a long way in helping the development of the young blueliners in the Islanders organization.
21. John Gibson- Anaheim Ducks. Last year’s ranking: N/R
- If you watched any of the Ducks in the playoffs last year, you got a nice glimpse of what a tremendous talent Gibson is. He has phenomenal positional instincts and high-end mobility. He sees the ice extremely well and has poise well beyond his years. The Pittsburgh, PA native should get bulk minutes for the Ducks this year along with Frederick Andersen, but Gibson is the guy to look out for.
The back third of this year’s list has a pretty eclectic line up, consisting of last-chance veterans and high-ceiling rookies. As with last year, lots of possible mobility in this group. Look out for the second installment of the rankings, numbers 20-11 coming up next. Let’s hear your thoughts on the rankings in the comments below!"Justin's 3rd Annual Pre-season Top 30 Goaltenders List (30-21)",