Defence may win championships, but having a good goalie doesn’t hurt.
Eight teams in particular are hoping they’ve acquired a goalie who can take them to the next level this winter.
For some teams, their new netminder could be the missing piece for a playoff run. For some goalies, a new team brings an opportunity to become a No. 1 starter for the first time.
And in Vegas, the Golden Knights hit the jackpot with their new goalie in the expansion draft.
Here’s a look at some goalies who changed addresses this off-season and what they bring to their new teams.
Steve Mason — Winnipeg Jets
Steve Mason comes to Winnipeg already as the best goalie to play for the team since they moved north. His 123 NHL wins since the start of the 2011-12 season is better than every single goalie that’s played for the Jets during that time.
For that reason, Mason represents the last piece in a Jets team ready to finally make the playoffs. Players such as Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba are just some of the many skilled skaters on this team, but goaltending has always let them down.
It wasn’t that long ago Mason was a 30-plus win goalie (33 in 2013-14) and if he can return to form, Winnipeg will be back in the playoffs for only the second time since hockey returned to The Peg.
Mike Smith — Calgary Flames
For the second straight off-season, the Flames brought in a new starter, this time by making a trade with the Arizona Coyotes for Mike Smith. At 35, Smith still has it as his all-star season last year showed. In six years with the Coyotes, Smith’s save percentage only dipped below .910 once. The Coyotes finished with 56 points that season, so Smith’s play was only partially responsible for that number.
Adjusting to a new team is always tough, but coming from a rebuilding club to one expected to win now should benefit Smith. Plus, the Flames added to one of the best defence corps in the league by trading for Travis Hamonic. For those reasons, Smith should have no problem backstopping the Flames to the playoffs.
Ben Bishop — Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars were sunk by their two goalies last season, so they brought in a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist to address that problem. Ben Bishop signed a six-year, $29.5 million contract this summer and he will immediately bring some stability after the Stars posted the league’s worst save percentage (yes, even worse than the Avalanche).
Last season was a down year by Bishop’s standards with a 2.54 goals-against average that was his highest in four seasons. That still ranked him 21st among all goalies, just ahead of Chicago’s Corey Crawford. Dallas fans should be overjoyed that Bishop is manning their crease now, especially if he has a bounce-back year.
Scott Darling — Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes acquired Scott Darling before the draft and before free agency to get exclusive negotiating rights with him, so it’s fair to say they’re big fans of his. They inked him to a four-year, $16.6 million contract and Carolina got a new starting goalie for the first time since Cam Ward led the team to the Stanley Cup in 2006.
The Hurricanes are hoping this career backup is ready to break out as a starter, similar to the way Cam Talbot has in Edmonton. Last season, Darling got an extended audition as a starter when Corey Crawford missed most of December after having an appendectomy. And Darling performed well, posting a 6-3-1 record with one shutout and a .931 save percentage during that stretch.
Darling also set a career high with 27 starts last year. That inexperience could hurt him in his first year as a No. 1, but the Hurricanes have given him the money and they intend to ride him into the playoffs.
— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) September 13, 2017
Brian Elliott — Philadelphia Flyers
Brian Elliott had one of the more polarizing seasons last year with Calgary. When he was at his worst, he lost 10 of his first 13 games with the team. But at his best, the Flames pulled off a 10-game winning streak in early March that helped them make the playoffs.
The Flyers also won 10 in a row last year, but still missed the playoffs. They’re turning to Elliott to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Platooning with Michal Neuvirth could help Elliott, as his best years came when he shared the Blues’ net with Jake Allen. Regardless, like with the Flames last year, whichever version of Elliott shows up will effect the direction the Flyers’ season goes. This team should be in the conversation for a playoff spot, and an excellent season from Elliott could lock them in.
Marc-Andre Fleury — Vegas Golden Knights
The Pittsburgh Penguins were put in a bind after Matt Murray overtook Marc-Andre Fleury as the No. 1 goalie there and the Vegas Golden Knights were the lucky team that benefited. Fleury seems genuinely excited to be going to an expansion team (three Stanley Cups helps I’m sure) and he will provide stability to a team made up mostly of young or depth players.
Although he lost the starter’s job in Pittsburgh, Fleury isn’t yet over the hill. He kept the Penguins afloat last season while Murray was hurt, showing that at 32 he still has lots of hockey left in him.
Any degree of success the Golden Knights have this season will be owed to the presence of Fleury. The happy face of the newest franchise will give hockey fans in Vegas a star player to cheer for, which will be key for the expansion team to start on the right foot.
Ryan Miller — Anaheim Ducks
For the first time in his decorated career, Ryan Miller is starting the season as a backup after signing in Anaheim. The 37-year-old is far from his Vezina Trophy-winning days with the Buffalo Sabres, but he still posted a decent .914 save percentage and 2.80 goals-against average with the rebuilding Vancouver Canucks last season.
With a lighter work load behind John Gibson, plus one of the best defence corps in the league in front of him, Miller will still be a reliable option for the Ducks this season.
Antti Raanta — Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes surprised a lot of people when they sent Smith to Calgary and then acquired Antti Raanta in a blockbuster with the New York Rangers.
Like Darling, Raanta is a career backup about to get his first chance to be a starter. But unlike Darling behind a promising Hurricanes team, Raanta is playing on a Coyotes squad with less of a playoff hope.
Raanta has put up solid numbers the past two years with the Rangers, including a .922 save percentage in 30 games (26 of them starts) last year. Still, how he handles the expanded work load will be hard to predict.