Ranking each Canadian team’s goaltending ahead of the 2023-24 season

Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck addresses many questions about his contract situation and all the off-season rumours surrounding him, says I love it here, I’m not closing the door on Winnipeg, and I’m here to win a Cup.

Season after season, we see NHL teams live and die by the glove of their goaltending.

And with a few exceptions, these hot and cold streaks can feel impossible to predict. Some of the best successes come out of nowhere while some of the greatest expectations can fall flat.

Look across the seven Canadian markets, and we pretty much saw it all last season: crease carousels, unexpected heroes, contract-year success, and glimpses of greatness that set the stage for perhaps a few steps forward this year. The only real known commodity in 2022-23 was Connor Hellebuyck, one of the league’s most consistent starters — and even he’s got question marks around him as he skates into a new season on an expiring deal.

If you asked seven different people to rank Canada’s seven NHL franchises based on the strength of their goaltending, it’s entirely possible you’d get seven very different lists.

This particular ranking leans on a healthy dose of recency bias, yes, but also anticipates some solid rebounds (the good kind of rebounds for goalies, that is) from talented netminders whose 2022-23 campaigns weren’t their best.

While No. 1 is a no-brainer (for now!), the rest is our best guess…

1. Winnipeg Jets | Connor Hellebuyck, Laurent Broissoit

As long as Connor Hellebuyck resides in Winnipeg’s blue paint, the Jets look like a playoff team. But therein lies one of the biggest questions of the upcoming NHL season. The 30-year-old perennial Vezina Trophy candidate (he won the award in 2019-20, was a finalist last year, and was runner-up in 2017-18) enters this season without an extension and with an eye towards contention — but does that vision match the trajectory of these Jets?

Hellebuyck was the league’s busiest netminder last year, starting 64 games, and finished the season tied with Jake Oettinger and Igor Shesterkin for second most wins (37). He finished the 2022-23 season, in which he faced the third-most shots (1,964), with a .920 save percentage, a 2.49 goals against average, and four shutouts — one of his best statistical seasons yet.

Backing Hellebuyck up is a familiar face in Laurent Broissoit, who returned to Winnipeg as a free agent on July 1 after helping the Vegas Golden Knights win the Cup. Broissoit, who spent two seasons with the Jets from 2018-19 through 2020-21, went 7-0-3 in 10 appearances with the Golden Knights last year, and backstopped the club to five playoff wins — four of which came against his old/new club in Winnipeg. Safe to say the Jets are happy to have him back on their side.

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2. Toronto Maple Leafs | Ilya Samsonov, Joseph Woll

Kyle Dubas’ Great Goalie Experiment of 2022-23 saw him take a chance on Matt Murray that ultimately hasn’t worked but it’s safe to say the flyer he took on Ilya Samsonov was a resounding, low-risk success. New GM Brad Treliving’s re-signing of the netminder on another one-year deal sets up Samsonov for a crucial contract year and should see the team reap the rewards.

Samsonov won the starting gig last year, rebounding from a down 2021-22 in Washington and proving himself worthy of a No. 1 role thanks to his 27-10-5 record in 42 appearances, 2.33 goals against average — fourth best league-wide — and .919 save percentage (seventh). His post-season stats last spring are skewed by a shaky Game 1 against Tampa Bay that saw him let six pucks past him in two periods but his numbers after that — including a .969 save percentage in the series-clincher against the Lightning five games later — tell a more accurate story of what he’s capable of when the stakes are high.

Behind Samsonov, it looks like the Maple Leafs will be handing the backup glove to Joseph Woll — and deservedly so. The 25-year-old won six of his seven starts last season and was strong when called upon in the post-season, too. Treliving’s decision to sign veteran Martin Jones to a team-friendly one-year pact brings a little more insurance to a crease that’s seen its share of bad injury luck.

3. Ottawa Senators | Joonas Korpisalo, Anton Forsberg

The Senators saw seven different goaltenders suit up as starters at some point in 2022-23. This year, they’ve bet big on one.

With a developing forward group and a young blue line that could be looking downright elite this year, the Ottawa Senators look like they’re a franchise netminder away from finally jumping into contention, and Pierre Dorion wasted no time this summer securing the top goalie on the market for the job.

Joonas Korpisalo, who spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Columbus Blue Jackets and finished last year with the Los Angeles Kings after being dealt at the deadline, signed a five-year, $20-million deal on July 1.

The 29-year-old has endured some tough campaigns with the rebuilding Blue Jackets, but his trajectory looks good considering he’s coming off his best statistical season. Korpisalo went 11-11-3 with Columbus in 2022-23, posting a 2.13 goals against average and .921 save percentage that had him in the top half of the league and earned him plenty of attention on the rental market at the deadline. A short stint with the Los Angeles Kings saw him win seven of his 11 starts down the stretch but struggle in the post-season. In six playoff starts, the No. 1 netminder went 2-4 and posted a 3.77 GAA and .892 save percentage.

Backing him up is a healthy Anton Forsberg, who took over as starter in 2021-22 and has been a steady presence for a team that’s needed it the last few years. He finished 2022-23 on IR, but is healthy again to start the year.

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4. Calgary Flames | Jacob Markstrom, Dan Vladar

Jacob Markstrom isn’t the only big-name Calgary Flame looking to bounce back this season, but he might be the most important if this club is to jump back into contention after a down year all around. Markstrom’s third year with the club was his worst statistical season as a starter (2.92 goals against average, .892 save percentage) and a far cry from his output one year prior that had him finish the season as the Vezina Trophy runner-up behind New York’s Igor Shesterkin.

Markstrom’s rollercoaster-like tenure with the Flames thus far has been surprising considering what came before he signed his six-year, $36-million deal that brought him to Calgary in the summer of 2020. His three seasons as a starter in Vancouver saw him put up really consistent numbers, his GAA averaging out at 2.74 during that stretch and twice registering a save percentage of .912.

His career numbers indicate last season’s woes were the exception, not the norm, but just how big a bounce-back should we expect?

Markstrom’s struggles last season saw backup Dan Vladar hit a career-high in playing time. Vladar earned 14 wins in 23 starts and while his stats don’t suggest he’ll be waiting to take over the starter’s crease any time soon, another season under his belt should have the 26-year-old third-year Flame better equipped to handle the load should the team need him to.

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5. Edmonton Oilers | Stuart Skinner, Jack Campbell

Of the seven Canadian clubs, the Oilers might be the hardest to assess when it comes to goaltending. Just look at last year.

Jack Campbell was supposed to be the Edmonton Oilers’ new No. 1 netminder in 2022-23, but his inconsistent play suggested otherwise — and opened the door for rookie goalie Stuart Skinner to step into the lead role. Between Campbell (21-9-4 in 34 starts, 3.41 GAA, .888) and Skinner (29-14-5 in 48 starts, 2.75 GAA, .914 SV%), it was a year of high highs and low lows for the Oilers, who scored more goals than any other franchise (325) and ranked 17th in goals against (256).

Skinner’s strong regular-season play earned him the nod to start throughout the playoffs, but he struggled through two rounds, letting in four or more goals in six of 12 starts and being replaced by Campbell on four occasions. Campbell was strong in relief, letting just two pucks past him over the course of about 118 minutes of playing time over four games.

So, who’s the starter in Edmonton? The answer could very well be both, but the fact it’s a question we’re asking is why the Oilers are sitting closer to the bottom of this ranking than the top. Campbell should be due for a bounce-back following his first season with the Oilers, while a strong rookie campaign for Skinner gives him a really solid foundation to build on. Separately, there are still a few question marks. But together? These two netminders, both of whom have proven themselves capable of hitting a hot streak and stepping in when the other cools down, could be poised to make up a really strong goalie tandem if all goes right. But if all goes wrong? Let’s not think about that just yet.

6. Vancouver Canucks | Thatcher Demko, Casey DeSmith

The 2022-23 season saw two very different versions of Thatcher Demko, and you could say the same about the team as a whole. Both collapsed out of the gate and struggled mightily throughout what was a disastrous campaign before rallying down the stretch. Demko’s campaign, which began with an .883 save percentage and just three wins in his first 15 games, was cut short by a groin injury in December but his return brought a jolt of energy in the form of a much more characteristic .918 save percentage with an 11-4-2 record to close out the season.

If the Canucks are to return to relevance, they’ll need that Demko to show up. And looking at his track record since taking over the crease from Jacob Markstrom, it’s a fairly safe bet that he will. In his first two seasons as a starter before last year’s dip, Demko faced the third most shots of any NHL netminder (3,131) and posted a .915 save percentage that was tied for eighth best over that two-year span.

“I knew that the beginning of the year wasn’t me. And I think the fan base knows that, I think the organization knows that and the media knows that,” Demko told Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre last month. “Coming back from that (groin) injury, obviously I was proving something to myself. . . and just reminding everyone around me that that’s who I am. I felt great about my game at the end of the year, so it was just a couple of tweaks here and there as far as the strategy heading into (summer) training and the training that I did mentally. I think I put myself in a fantastic spot to start this season.”

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September’s trade for Casey DeSmith brings in some veteran insurance to back up Demko. DeSmith has spent all five of his NHL seasons so far with the Pittsburgh Penguins, posting a career GAA of 2.81 and save percentage of .912.

7. Montreal Canadiens | Jake Allen, Sam Montembeault

The post-Carey Price era has not brought a smooth transition in Montreal’s crease, and the 2023-24 campaign doesn’t promise much change. With Jake Allen and Sam Montembeault splitting starts last year, the Montreal Canadiens ranked 29th in goals against per game (3.72).

The wild-card here could be prospect Cayden Primeau. The 24-year-old has spent the majority of the past four seasons with AHL Laval, also spending short stints with the big club throughout but never sticking. Primeau is now fighting for a roster spot, and should the Canadiens open the season carrying three netminders they might find themselves juggling a tricky situation in the blue paint all year.

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