Welcome to Part II of the Top 30. In case you missed our first installment, you can find that right here. Bizarrely enough, there are no housekeeping matters to attend to with this portion of the article (you can find all relevant rules, methodologies, etc. in the first post), so let’s dive right in with rankings 20-11…
- Mason has been kicking around the list for the past two seasons right on the cusp of the #30 spot. He was always just that one shaky year from fading into oblivion after a remarkable start to his career. Last season, Mason finally started to round back into form, in Philadelphia, of all places. He was rewarded with the starting job (courtesy of Ray Emery) and a, we’ll call it “generous”, three-year contract. All eyes on Mason in the City of Brotherly Love this season to confirm last year wasn’t a fluke.
19. Robin Lehner- Ottawa Senators. Last year’s ranking: 29
- Last season, Becky and I embraced the #FreeLehner hashtag while watching a few Sens games. For some reason, the coaching staff and front office still insist on playing Craig Anderson over Lehner at this stage. It makes no sense, and we’re not having it around here. Lehner is the better goaltender. Period. Once management gets it through their head, Lehner is poised to take off as a force between the pipes.
18. Braden Holtby- Washington Capitals. Last year’s ranking: 12
- Holtby didn’t have the true breakout season I expected from him last year, hence the drop in rankings. However, the Caps blue line was a gaping hole for talented forwards to breeze right through and attack the net, unfettered. Say what you will about the Niskanen and Orpik contracts, they will (at least in year one) bring some much needed stability and depth to the defense in Washington. Holtby still has all the talent in the world, but this season is going to be very important to his development as a true number one. If he doesn’t grab the bull by the horns, the Caps could be looking for a starter come July.
17. Corey Crawford- Chicago Blackhawks. Last year’s ranking: 18
- After an astonishing playoff run in 2013, Crawford is seemingly settling back into what he really is: an above average starter with limited mobility and a shaky glove hand. It’s not often you see such directly exploitable weaknesses in a higher-end starter, but Crawford makes up for his weak points with tremendous positioning and being a battler. He’s not always pretty, and he has seemingly made peace with that, and it still remains a legitimate question of whether he would excel on a team not as ridiculously talented as the ‘Hawks. However, at this point he is battle tested and Cup rewarded, so there’s no reason to think he couldn’t do it again.
16. Jonas Hiller- Calgary Flames. Last year’s ranking: 11
- Hiller’s exit from Anaheim was somewhat curious. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I get why they were comfortable going to Gibson. What I don’t get is why Bruce Boudreau lost confidence in him during the playoffs at all. Hiller had a rough spot during the season where his numbers weren’t all that hot. However, he made a strong push at the end and his playoff numbers were trending in the right direction. Either way, the Flames got themselves a steal on a 2-year deal to shore up their inconsistent goaltending. At 32, he is probably no longer elite, but he should be well above-average for both years of the contract, and will still get to wear really loud equipment considering the Flames’ color scheme. Bring sunblock.
15. Jonathan Bernier- Toronto Maple Leafs. Last year’s ranking: 22
- Bernier stepped up in his first season out of Jonathan Quick’s shadow and almost immediately stole the starting gig from James Reimer. While their rivalry was sort of passive-aggressive and immature, I think the spectre of Reimer helped push Bernier throughout the season and eventually he got a stranglehold on the starting job he wouldn’t relinquish. It was more or less cemented by his nod to start the Winter Classic. Eventually, Reimer will be traded and the job will be Bernier’s unencumbered, but the competition is never a bad thing for a high-end young tender. As much as I enjoy watching Bernier play, I just haven’t gotten used to the idea of competent goaltending in Toronto.
- I feel like my boy, Ryan Miller got a raw deal in the St. Louis situation. I get that they gave up a lot to get him and he wasn’t the “stand-on his head” playoff performer they expected him to be. However, if you pin the entirely of your playoff hopes on a goaltender coming in and stealing the show against the elite of the West, there was something wrong with the blueprint. Either way, Miller found his new deal in the “maybe rebuilding/maybe retooling/maybe doing nothing at all” Canucks. After a decade in Buffalo, maybe he’s just a glutton for punishment. Maybe his wife’s LA home-base played a role. Either way, best of luck with the ‘Nucks.
- Luongo finally escaped Vancouver last season, traded back to his first (second) franchise, where he makes his offseason home. Lu seemed rejuvenated by the move back to Florida and the task of stabilizing a very young team. He performed well in the small, after-the-deadline sample, but it will be a much rougher road over the long season. Since his contract goes for another 30 or so seasons, he should at least be around when all those Top 5 draft picks pan out, right?
12. Sergei Bobrovsky- Columbus Blue Jackets. Last year’s ranking: 16
- While not reaching the ridiculous heights of his Vezina-winning lockout season, Bobrovsky has seemingly found a nice little home in Columbus. He has been able to maintain better control of his movements and a more disciplined approach than he showed in Philly, and has the athleticism and poise to be a Top 10, maybe even Top 5 goaltender in this league if he can continue to simplify his game and maintain high-level consistency. The book is still not completely written on “Bob”, but he is definitely trending in the right direction.
11. Kari Lehtonen- Dallas Stars. Last year’s ranking: 14
- Lehtonen was a rock for a rejuvenated Stars’ team last season. His career has quietly been on the rise since he was acquired four years ago, and looks to be a big beneficiary of Jim Nill’s good work. His physical style has gotten more and more gregarious over the years, but he has maintained a tremendous amount of discipline and positional efficiency. His movement is still very good, even if I have no idea how he does it with his feet that far apart. His butterfly is one of the widest I’ve ever seen and is able to cover a tremendous amount of net with his large frame. I think the Stars will be back firmly in the playoff picture this year, and Lehtonen should be the foundation of that success.
After a couple of seasons with the middle frame of the Top 30 consisting of various interchangeable veterans, this year’s section has a little more identity. Younger guys are starting to cement themselves into the conversation and some formerly elite veterans are finding their way out of the Top 10 as their careers begin to decline. Let’s hear your thoughts on the rankings in the comments, and keep it locked right here for everyone’s favorite, the Top 10, coming up next.