Anze Kopitar delivered a wonderful line over the weekend, when the Kings captain was asked if he felt sorry watching all-star goaltenders get lit up in a game of glorified shinny.
“No, it’s their fault,” Kopitar smiled. “They picked to be goalies.”
And the gig keeps getting tougher.
A premium on skill throughout lineups and activating defencemen has conspired with shrinking goalie gear plus a bump in power play frequency and efficiency to deliver a drop in the NHL’s average save percentage (.909) for the fifth consecutive season.
Toss in the fact that for the first time since 1971 we’re looking at a three-year run where teams have averaged a minimum of 31 shots per game, and goalies are under siege.
In our NHL Power Rankings: How Stable Is Your Goaltending? Edition, we examine the successes and/or challenges swirling in the crease.
As usual, all 31 teams are ranked in descending order according to their current level of awesome.
This week’s write-ups put a magnifying glass on the game’s most important position, looking at how each club’s crease is faring this season and what contractual difficulties may lie ahead.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has established himself as a Vezina-calibre goaltender at age 25, and he’s locked up through his prime. Curtis McElhinney is a fine backup. Where things get interesting is next fall, when Vasilevskiy stops becoming one of the best bargains in hockey and his cap hit climbs to $9.5 million, exerting pressure on Julien BriseBois to fill out the rest of the roster with more frugality.
Braden Holtby represented the Capitals at the All-Star Game despite his career-low .896 save percentage, a mark that must raise if he hopes to maximize his value in free agency. Meanwhile, rookie Ilya Samsonov is a sparkling 15-2-1 and a strong contender to take over starting duties. Despite Holtby’s recent inconsistency, Washington has one of the more bankable tandems in hockey.
Were you to break down saves per dollar this season, no club is getting more bang for its buck than Colorado, with Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz supplying 26 wins for a combined $4.28 million. Bargain! Francouz (pending unrestricted free agent) needs a summertime raise, but the Avs have the cap space to pay the man.
I included backup Jake Allen (8-4-3, .926) on my Midseason Awards ballot under Comeback Player of the Year, and all-star Jordan Binnington (22-8-5, .912) has picked right back up where he left off. Surely it helps that these guys play behind one of the NHL’s premier blue lines. Both goalies have another season on their deals. Not a bad tandem for $8.75 million total.
Stop us if you heard this one before: Pittsburgh has one of the juiciest goaltending controversies going. Both two-time Cup winner Matt Murray, 25, and all-star Tristan Jarry, 24, are RFAs in need of a raise this summer. Murray had appeared to be the Pens’ starter of the foreseeable future, but Jarry has delivered more wins in fewer starts and his .929 save percentage helped him earn an All-Star Game invite over his partner. (Meanwhile, a third NHL-calibre tendy, Casey DeSmith, is biding time in Wilkes-Barre.)
UFA-to-be Jacob Markstrom expressed his desire to re-sign in Vancouver over All-Star Weekend, and Thatcher Demko, 24, has been solid behind him. The future of the Vancouver nets looks bright.
In Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, the Bruins employ one of the better crease duos, each picking up the other’s slack when needed. Halak, however, is set to become a UFA on July 1. Although he’s 34, his performance could command a raise over his current $2.75 million salary. With Torey Krug due a monster raise, difficult decisions await.
James Reimer arrived in Carolina on a salary-eating deal but has pleasantly performed better in defence-first Raleigh (11-6-1, .921) than any of his seasons in Florida. Starter Petr Mrazek has been solid, too. Though neither goaltender should be confused with elite, they’re getting the job done — and only on the books for a combined $6.525 million per year through 2020-21.
9. Dallas Stars
We love how Jim Nill gradually turned one of the league’s most atrocious goaltending situations into one of its most dependable. All-Star Game snub Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin have Dallas on track for the William Jennings Trophy, with a league-best .921 team save percentage. Unfortunately, Khudobin, 33, should be trying to double his $2.5 million salary this summer in free agency.
10. Florida Panthers
The handsomely paid Sergei Bobrovsky (19-12-4) is winning games despite getting shelled (.898) behind the run-and-gun Panthers, while journeyman Chris Driedger (5-2-0, .932) has done a fine job filling in the gaps.
Jarmo Kekalainen can’t help himself. The man just loves to gamble. So instead of finding a starter, he’s gone with two inexperienced backups in Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. Each impending RFA has delivered a winning record and a save percentage above .912. Wild numbers for a couple of guys making a combined $2.02 million. Take a bow, Jarmo.
The busy Frederik Andersen appears to be emerging out of his midwinter dip, and he’ll be trusted to hold the fort as this bubble team tries to outscore its defensive lapses. Toronto decided to spend the league minimum on a backup goalie — and thus far it’s looking like you get what you pay for. Rank the Leafs No. 1 among teams that might trade to upgrade their crease before the deadline.
We originally pegged Semyon Varlamov as one of the biggest UFA overpays of the summer of ’19, but the stingy Islanders have been just fine in the crease, going with their usual tandem approach. The underrated Thomas Greiss is having another fantastic campaign (14-7-1, .925) and is deserving of a pay bump as a UFA this summer.
Neither Carter Hart nor Brian Elliott are making stops at the league average, but they’ve been clutch enough to both hold winning records. Elliott doesn’t have a deal for next season, but considering Hart is still just 21, pairing him with an experienced veteran seems like a wise plan to stick to.
15. Edmonton Oilers
We’re still reserving judgment on the Mikko Koskinen contract, but the fact the big man has come through with above-average results is a pleasant surprise. The streaky Mike Smith will be 38 when July 1 hits, and even though we love the guy’s fire, we have to wonder how many more seasons he’s got in the tank.
16. Calgary Flames
We’re not sure what we love more: David Rittich going out and swiping the No. 1 gig, or David Rittich going out and giving a great interview? Big Save Dave is the Flames’ best hope to make the dance. After accepting a bridge deal last summer, he’s on track to knock his next one out of the Dome.
17. Arizona Coyotes
Imagine if Arizona wasn’t getting world-class goaltending, led by Darcy Kuemper? It’d be Coyote ugly. When everyone is healthy, the Yotes have three legit NHL goalies in Kuemper, Adin Hill and Antti Raanta — who’ve combined for the best save percentage in the Pacific. With Hill, 23, due a contract extension, surely the idea of trading a goalie will pop up.
Despite a decent opportunity (16 starts), Malcolm Subban hasn’t exactly earned the Golden Knights’ trust, which still rests with a 35-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury’s .907 save percentage is tracking for his worst in a decade. Is this just a hiccup, or is Father Time finally running the crease?
One of the great mysteries in Chicago is, which one of his UFA goalies does Stan Bowman want to reward: Corey Crawford, the loyal dynasty-builder? Or Robin Lehner, the guy seven years younger? Lehner’s numbers are better, but Crawford has come on strong.
20. Winnipeg Jets
Even with Vezina challenger Connor Hellebuyck playing lights out, the Jets are still just a bubble team, which speaks volumes about their blue line — but also says something about backup Laurent Brossoit’s underwhelming performance (.883).
Pekka Rinne’s goalie goal was a beautiful moment in a season desperate for more of those. The Predators’ identity has forever been about keeping pucks out, and yet only tanking New Jersey and Detroit have a worse save percentage. It’s no stretch to say troubled goaltending might’ve cost Peter Laviolette his job. Rinne and Juuse Saros — the 24-year-old who was supposed to be swiping the No. 1 gig by now — are both signed through 2020-21. They need to be better, period.
22. New York Rangers
The only goaltending situation more compelling than Pittsburgh or Washington’s is in the same division. New York is trying to keep three goalies happy. Henrik Lundqvist still has another year on his deal. Alexandar Georgiev is an RFA looking for a juicy raise. And Igor Shesterkin has earned more NHL starts. Trading Georgiev is the simplest solution, but GM’s seldom win a deal in which they give up on a 23-year-old backup with above-average results.
No one likes to think of Carey Price as ordinary, but that’s exactly how he’s performed this season. Just OK, which is not OK when you make $10.5 million and your team is too thin up front to win 4-3 games. Locked up for better or worse until 2026, the hope is that Price, 32, returns to form and a prospect like Cayden Primeau is the real deal.
24. Minnesota Wild
Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock have essentially split the Wild’s starts down the middle this season. With both signed through 2020-21 as well and Minnesota needing to rebuild, Bill Guerin might as well just stay the course with this tandem.
25. San Jose Sharks
It would be difficult to look at the Sharks’ save percentage — .892, worst in the Pacific — and not draw a direct link to the midseason firing of Peter DeBoer. What’s interesting is that backup Aaron Dell has been the better option. As an impending UFA with a manageable cap hit ($1.9 million), Dell makes for an intriguing rental. With back-to-back bad showings, Martin Jones and his $5.75 million cap hit through 2024 is becoming a bit of an anchor.
26. Buffalo Sabres
Goaltending is one of many areas in need of improvement on the Sabres’ roster. The new starter, Linus Ullmark, is usurping Carter Hutton, but Hutton is the one under contract for next season — and neither has won more games than he’s lost. That Ullmark was diagnosed with a lower-body injury Tuesday, during a loss to Ottawa, gives us reason to believe the Sabres’ playoff hopes are squashed.
27. Anaheim Ducks
It speaks volumes about the state of the Ducks that John Gibson and (when called upon) Ryan Miller have both been fine and the club is a blatant seller. This isn’t on the goalies. Gibson, 26, is on a team-friendly deal for years. Miller has proven a capable backup even at age 39. Is there any chance he accepts a trade, joins a contender and takes one last grasp at a championship?
28. Ottawa Senators
When given their chance, Marcus Hoberg and Anders Nilsson have been outperforming the long-serving Craig Anderson, who turns 39 in May and UFA in July. Does Anderson call it a day or try to stay on as a backup somewhere?
Jonathan Quick is on pace for back-to-back seasons with a sub-.900 save percentage. The 34-year-old has three more years beyond this one at a $5.8 million cap hit. Yikes. The good news is that Jack Campbell loves having Quick as a mentor.
Young Mackenzie Blackwood has the tools to be the Devils’ starter of the future. How they handle the RFA’s contract extension will be interesting after giving Cory Schneider too much term. Signing some support for the kid will be key.
Jimmy Howard, 35, has lost the lion’s share of Detroit’s starts to Jonathan Bernier. This tells you what you need to know about the Red Wings’ season. As Howard muddles toward free agency enduring his worst year as a professional, does the lifelong Wing try reviving his career elsewhere or fade to the background?