The dust has settled on the early days of NHL free agency, and while we saw some wild moves among the crop of scorers who swapped jerseys this off-season, the most impactful changes made might be the ones that took place in net.
From the Cup winners to a trio of Canadian clubs, plenty of teams reshaped their goaltending situations in recent weeks. We saw Toronto’s former No. 1 Jack Campbell go to Edmonton, Ottawa’s starter Matt Murray move to Toronto, and the steady Cam Talbot replacing the former Penguin on the Sens. We saw Darcy Kuemper lift the Cup and then sign with Alex Ovechkin’s squad, as his fellow winners rolled the dice on Alexendar Georgiev.
Across the league, the goalie carousel has spun, and the landscape in each division has shifted. So, where does it stand? We took a look at every tandem across the league, ranking the best duos in each division and what we can expect from them in 2022-23.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Brian Elliott
You could slot pretty much any name into that spot behind Vasilevskiy’s and the Bolts would still be as set as any team could be in net. Vasilevskiy remains the No. 1 goaltender in the world, and a crucial piece of Tampa Bay’s Cup dreams. After his performance in these past playoffs, there’s no reason to expect anything other than more elite play next year. Elliott was a solid enough No. 2 option for Tampa Bay last year, so there’s no harm in running back the same tandem. But the Bolts will go as Vasilevskiy goes.
2. Florida Panthers: Sergei Bobrovsky, Spencer Knight
The question in Florida is the same as it has been for the past few seasons. The talent in net is undeniable intriguing — the issue is simply whether Bobrovsky and Knight play the way they’ve shown they can. Bobrovsky’s took a step towards finding his Columbus form this past season, but he still hasn’t salvaged his Vezina-calibre play. Knight didn’t exactly look stellar in a bigger, more consistent role, but he still has plenty of promise. Once again, the Panthers faithful will be watching to see if potential turns into performance. If it does, they can be an elite tandem.
3. Detroit Red Wings: Ville Husso, Alex Nedeljkovic
Steve Yzerman pulled off one of the key trades of this off-season in acquiring Husso, who’s fresh off stealing the starting job in St. Louis from Jordan Binnington, and emerged as a star. How he fares playing behind a different blue line, behind a more inexperienced squad, remains to be seen, but if Husso can keep it rolling and build on a great 2021-22, he should be a difference-maker for the up-and-coming Red Wings. And while Nedeljkovic fell flat in a greater role last season, a move back to the No. 2 spot might just help him regain the excellent form he showed as Carolina’s backup a season ago.
4. Boston Bruins: Linus Ullmark, Jeremy Swayman
Ullmark and Swayman split the Bruins’ starting duties down the middle last season. They finished fairly level, with Ullmark getting the slight edge on the younger Swayman over the course of the campaign. But both were solid options, and gave the B’s all they needed. It was 23-year-old Swayman who looked better in the post-season, and who looks primed to eventually ascend to more of a lead role for Boston. Maybe that comes as soon as 2022-23, but either way, the Bruins should be in good hands with the duo.
5. Ottawa Senators: Cam Talbot, Anton Forsberg
‘Hot Pierre Summer’ stretched past the top six and into the net as well, with Dorion moving out Matt Murray and bringing in Talbot. After nearly a decade in the league, we know what we’re getting in Talbot — he might not rack up trophies, but he should be a steady enough No. 1 for the young Sens as they look to take a meaningful step forward this season, just as he was for Minnesota as they looked to make their own leap last year. And after the impressive season Forsberg just put together as Ottawa’s starter, he should give the Sens all they need as the other half of this tandem.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs: Matt Murray, Ilya Samsonov
There are plenty of reasons Kyle Dubas’ goaltending gamble could work. Sure, Murray’s coming off a trio of down years, but he was a dominant two-time Cup winner in the few years before that. It didn’t work out for Samsonov in Washington, but he’s still young and was a promising talent when he came into the league a few years ago. The issue is that there seem to be just as many reasons why the duo could disappoint. There’s no surefire reason to believe Murray will find the form he showed in Pittsburgh, or that Samsonov can settle into a run of consistency at the NHL level. If Toronto gets the redemption campaign they’re hoping for from both netminders, great. But it will be no surprise if they don’t.
7. Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price, Jake Allen
Much like the team’s success as a whole, Montreal’s potential success in net depends entirely on the health of Carey Price. If the veteran is able to play, then there’s always the chance he is able to rediscover his all-world form. But right now, it’s not clear whether Price will be back. And after all he’s endured over the past few seasons, it might be unfair to expect Price to carry the Habs as he has before, even if he can return to the net in 2022-23. Which is a problem for Montreal, because of Price isn’t starting, the team turns to Jake Allen, a steady option as a No. 2, but not necessarily the game-changing No. 1 they need.
8. Buffalo Sabres: Eric Comrie, Craig Anderson
The Sabres are going for the oft-attempted strategy of stealing away a promising backup and turning him into a No. 1, bringing in Comrie after the 27-year-old put up some excellent numbers behind Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg last season. If Comrie can keep it going with twice the workload, then it’s a win for Buffalo, but it’s unclear whether or not that’ll be the case. If not, the veteran Anderson can lead the charge once again, as he did last season, but the 40-year-old can’t be expected to dominate as he might’ve a half-decade ago.
1. New York Rangers: Igor Shesterkin, Jaro Halak
Like Tampa Bay, the Rangers could throw any name they want into the No. 2 spot and they’d be good to go, as Shesterkin has cemented himself as the elite of the elite. After a season of absurd numbers, a Vezina Trophy win, a Hart Trophy nomination and a deep playoff run, Shesterkin should be expected to come up with another exceptional season in 2022-23. With his old running mate Alexandar Georgiev gone, the Rangers have brought in Jaro Halak, who figures to be as steady in the backup role as he has been for years.
2. New York Islanders: Ilya Sorokin, Semyon Varlamov
There might be questions elsewhere on the Islanders roster, but the club remains all set in net. Sorokin turned in a dominant 2021-22 season, becoming one of the very best goaltenders in the game. And after two years of great performances, more of the same should be expected next time around. But unlike some of the other clubs who boast all-world ‘tenders, the Isles have a borderline elite No. 2 as well in Varlamov, who’s only a year removed from getting Vezina votes himself. The duo should remain a game-changer on the Island next season.
3. Carolina Hurricanes: Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta
If not for the health of Andersen, the Canes might be higher on this list. When he and fellow veteran Raanta are healthy, Carolina can’t ask for much more in the cage — the pair were lights out in 2021-22, and earned a William Jennings Trophy for their efforts. But a torn MCL took Andersen out of the picture for an extended stretch to end that season, and an MCL sprain felled Raanta, too. If they can get back to full health quickly enough, and regain that elite form, the Canes are set. But it may take time for the pair to get back there.
4. Washington Capitals: Darcy Kuemper, Charlie Lindgren
The Caps are no strangers to goalie controversies, but they should be without one this time around after bringing in Cup-winner Kuemper to take over starting duties. Colorado turned to the former Coyotes standout to help them clinch their Cup, and Kuemper delivered with a fantastic regular season and a solid enough post-season. The Caps aren’t the Avalanche, but they’re strong enough that Kuemper should be able to continue at the level he’s shown us recently. Of course, if injuries issues return for him, the Caps’ situation could wind up unsteady once again, as while backup Lindgren has some promise, he’s yet to play more than a handful of games in an NHL campaign.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins: Tristan Jarry, Casey DeSmith
Jarry’s earned some doubt during his time as the Pens’ starter, mostly on the back of some dicey playoff performances. But on the whole, he’s proven he’s a top-end option in the cage. The 27-year-old’s been on the rise for a couple seasons, and took another step in 2021-22, cementing himself among the top-10 goalies in the game. It’s a similar story with DeSmith, who’s proven he can be a steady No. 2 for Pittsburgh, and is coming off a year of improvement as well. With the Pens’ blue line improving courtesy of some off-season shuffling, the pair should continue to be a reliable duo for the black and gold.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets: Elvis Merzlikins, Joonas Korpisalo
Merzlikins struggled in a greater role last season after a couple impressive campaigns to begin his NHL career, but that down year can at least partly be attributed to what he was working with in front of him, too. The Jackets’ squad is slowly, steadily improving, though, and the more it does, the more Merzlikins should be able to find the form he showed a couple seasons ago. Coming off hip surgery, it’ll be an uphill climb for Korpisalo after similarly struggling last season as Columbus’s No. 2. But if he can get back to full health, and play behind a steadier Merzlikins, he should be a solid enough backup option.
7. New Jersey Devils: Mackenzie Blackwood, Vitek Vanacek
The 2021-22 season was an abysmal one for Blackwood, who saw his numbers dip for the fourth straight year, and dealt with injury issues too. The Devils didn’t get much in the way of a steady backup plan amid all of that, as 21-year-old Nico Daws struggled through his own turn as the club’s next-best option, and a slew of five other ‘tenders saw time in the cage as well. That shouldn’t be an issue this time around, as New Jersey’s brought in Vanacek. The 26-year-old proved a steady secondary option over his past two years in Washington, and he could potentially find himself as the No. 1 in New Jersey if Blackwood’s struggles continue in 2022-23.
8. Philadelphia Flyers: Carter Hart, Felix Sandstrom
It’s been a tumultuous four years in the big leagues for Hart. After watching his numbers slide over the past few seasons, the 23-year-old pulled them back up a tad in 2021-22. He’s still very young and still has plenty of potential, but it won’t get any easier next season playing behind a Flyers squad that still looks destined to vie for a lottery pick. In addition, Hart will still be relied upon to carry most of the load with unproven Felix Sandstrom likely the No. 2 option behind him, meaning the pressure won’t get any lighter for young Hart in Year 5.
1. Calgary Flames: Jacob Markstrom, Daniel Vladar
His post-season might’ve left a bad taste in Flames fans mouths, but there should be little doubt about what Markstrom will bring in 2022-23. He’s proven he can be a reliable starter time and time again, and is coming off a career year that brought a Vezina nomination. With the blue line likely looking fairly similar next year, that form should continue. And behind him, Vladar’s proven to be a solid No. 2, with perhaps even more room to grow. There are massive questions elsewhere on the roster after the departure of Johnny Gaudreau, but there are none in Calgary’s net.
2. Vancouver Canucks: Thatcher Demko, Spencer Martin
While the Canucks have taken a step back over the past two years, Demko’s taken only massive steps forward, going from an up-and-comer in 2020-21 to a bona fide star last season. At just 26, he figures to remain an elite No. 1 next year, and should only get better as the team in front of him continues to improve. Vancouver didn’t see a ton of Martin last year, so there’s a question of how he’ll do in a greater role as Demko’s backup now that Halak is gone. But when Martin did get into games, he looked excellent — if he continues on that trajectory, the Canucks should have a solid tandem to lean on moving forward.
3. Edmonton Oilers: Jack Campbell, Stuart Skinner
Fresh off an all-time tumultuous playoff performance from Mike Smith, the Oilers are set for a new look in 2022-23, with Jack Campbell joining the fold to hold things down. He might not earn a Vezina nomination, but Campbell’s proven he can be an above-average No. 1 in the big leagues, and had stretches of truly elite play in Toronto. He’ll be a calmer, steadier presence back there for Edmonton, and should give them all they need to take the next step. And given what Skinner showed last year, the young backup should be able to ensure Campbell doesn’t need to take on as hefty a workload as he had to manage in Toronto, which should only help the duo’s performance.
4. Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Quick, Cal Petersen
Quick isn’t the elite talent he once was, but after a few seasons of mediocrity, he proved he can still hold down the fort for his Kings. Along with Petersen, the tandem allowed the second-fewest goals in the division last season, and the eighth-fewest in the league. They’re not going to vie for trophies, and neither is a certainty to dominate next season, but if they can replicate at least some of what they showed in 2021-22, the duo should combine for enough quality performances to give L.A. a shot at building on last year’s progress.
5. Vegas Golden Knights: Robin Lehner, Laurent Brossoit
As was the case last season, the biggest issue for Vegas in 2022-23 will be health. Lehner has shown he can be a top-tier starter when he’s healthy, so much so that the Golden Knights reshaped their plans in net a couple years back to make him the focal point. But he’s coming off shoulder surgery and might not be ready for the start of next season. Behind him, Brossoit is coming off hip surgery. If Lehner can return to full health and regain the form he’s become known for, then Vegas should be fine. But the question will be how quickly that comes.
6. Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson, Anthony Stolarz
Considered one of the best in the game a half-decade ago, Gibson’s numbers have slipped as the Ducks have handed the keys over to its young core. It’s tough to believe he doesn’t still have the talent to be a top-end No. 1 if he has a solid blue line in front of him. That said, the Ducks’ defence likely isn’t getting any massive upgrades before next season arrives, so we should expect to see the Gibson we’ve seen for the past few years. On the bright side, Stolarz has looked excellent since joining the Ducks, and took another step last season. Given where the club’s at in their rebuild, the duo should give them all they need next season.
7. San Jose Sharks: James Reimer, Kaapo Kahkonen
The Sharks’ direction is unclear right now after a trio of seasons outside the playoff picture and the departure of franchise stalwart Brent Burns, but the team has a stable enough No. 1 manning the net in Reimer. He wasn’t necessarily a world-beater in 2021-22, his first in San Jose, but he was a steady enough starter given what he had in front of him. Kahkonen looked good in his brief run as a Shark last season, and should be a strong enough No. 2 option next season, too. The bigger question is what the defence looks in front of them, especially as it’s retooled following Burns’ departure. If the blue line takes a step back, this tandem figures to as well.
8. Seattle Kraken: Philipp Grubauer, Chris Driedger
After years of excellent campaigns behind strong Colorado and Washington squads, Grubauer had a rough 2021-22 behind the newly formed Kraken lineup. It was by far the worst campaign of his career, and among the worst showings of anyone in the league. Driedger’s was much the same story, after a run of quality numbers behind a more talented Panthers squad. It’s crucial both netminders find their form if the Kraken hope to make any type of step forward next year. At the same time, it’s tough to see too much changing given the blue line in front of them seems unlikely to see any massive improvements before the new season arrives.
1. Nashville Predators: Juuse Saros, Kevin Lankinen
The Preds have moved seamlessly from the Pekka Rinne era into the Saros Era, as the 27-year-old has ascended to become one of the league’s elite. Coming off two seasons of Vezina votes, and a 2021-22 campaign that earned a nomination for the trophy, Saros is undeniably one of the best in the game, and should vie for hardware again in 2022-23. Coming over from Chicago, Lankinen isn’t the steadiest of backup options, but if all goes to plan in Nashville, they won’t need to lean on him too much.
2. Dallas Stars: Jake Oettinger, Scott Wedgewood
After what we saw in the post-season, Dallas seems on the cusp of seeing a world-beater of their own begin a run of dominance in net. Fresh off a solid regular season, 23-year-old Oettinger put up an all-time goaltending performance in Round 1 against the Flames. Continuing to roll at that absurd level is surely not happening, but after trending upwards for two seasons and finding a new level during that series, the hope is that he comes back as an elite No. 1. While Wedgewood’s been up and down over the years, he showed enough over his wild three-team 2021-22 to suggest he can be a capable backup behind young Oettinger.
3. Winnipeg Jets: Connor Hellebuyck, David Rittich
Hellebuyck’s coming off somewhat of a down year, but it’s too early to say the 29-year-old’s truly fallen off. He’s only a couple years removed from winning the Vezina, and earned some votes the season before last, too. Most importantly, the step back in 2021-22 came as the Jets struggled as a whole. It’s fair to assume Hellebuyck can still be an elite No. 1 if all goes right in front of him, and perhaps still among the best in the game. And the same goes for Rittich, to a lesser degree. He’s struggled recently, but it wasn’t too long ago he had won the starting job in Calgary. If both can recover their form, they could be a formidable duo.
4. Colorado Avalanche: Alexandar Georgiev, Pavel Francouz
The Avalanche moved from Kuemper after earning their Cup rings, and will roll into 2022-23 with a new look in the cage. The Georgiev move is a gamble as he hasn’t exactly been lights out as a backup in New York, meaning Colorado will be expecting not only the same from him in a greater role, but a higher level in that bigger role. But the 26-year-old has shown glimpses of top-tier potential, and he’ll have a dominant squad in front of him. That said, Francouz proved his worth during the Avs’ Cup run, and showed he might be ready for a bigger role himself. Between the two, they should give Colorado what they need as they look to defend their title.
5. Minnesota Wild: Marc-Andre Fleury, Filip Gustavsson
Talbot is out and the Wild net belongs to Fleury at this point. After nearly two decades in the game, we should know what we’re getting out of The Flower. The 37-year-old has been a top-end starter for the majority of his career, and despite his age, he’s only a year removed from a Vezina-clinching campaign in Vegas. That he chose to re-sign with Minnesota proves he believes he has a strong enough squad in front of him, and he should give them all they need in the cage. Behind him, Gustavsson has yet to truly prove himself at the NHL level, but he’s shown his potential, and should be able to handle backup duties well enough.
6. St. Louis Blues: Jordan Binnington, Thomas Greiss
Binnington’s numbers have been steadily declining since the Blues’ Cup run, but he seemed to find his form during these past playoffs before bowing out with injuries. Still, St. Louis’ best option in net last season seemed to be Husso, who they dealt away to Detroit. They’ll get a capable performance from veteran replacement Greiss, but the club’s success hinges on whether Binnington returns and plays like he did during the 2022 playoffs, or whether he continues on the downward trajectory he’s showed over the past few seasons.
7. Chicago Blackhawks: Petr Mrazek, Alex Stalock
Chicago’s in full tank mode, and if their other recent roster moves didn’t make that clear, the goaltending duo they’ve assembled should. Mrazek’s coming off a rough season in Toronto that saw him once again miss time due to injury and struggle to find his game when he did get into the net. Stalock’s coming off a rough year that him struggle in the AHL. Both have played well in the past, so there’s a chance they find some type of return to form this year. But given the recent results, and the team that’ll be playing in front of them, it doesn’t seem likely.
8. Arizona Coyotes: Karel Vejmelka, Jon Gillies
Vejmelka took the starting reins last season and didn’t exactly knock it out of the park, but that performance came behind a Coyotes team that seemed to struggle across the board. That figures to be the case again this season, though with the club continuing to draft some quality young talent, maybe they start to take steps forward in 2022-23. If they do, that’ll only help 26-year-old Vejmelka put in a steadier performance in Year 2. It’s unclear who will get backup duties, but Arizona just signed former NCAA and AHL standout Gillies. He’s yet to show he can thrive in the big leagues, and is coming off a season split between the ECHL, AHL, Blues and Devils, but there was once plenty of promise in Gillies’ game. Both Coyotes netminders have potential, but they’ll go as the young, rebuilding team does as a whole.