THN’s Top 30 NHL goalie rankings

The Hockey News
Jonathan Quick (Getty Images)
Jonathan Quick (Getty Images)

Need to know the best backstoppers in the NHL? We’ve got you covered with the top 30 beasts of the crease in our annual goalie rankings.

RANKINGS BY THN STAFF // BIOS BY ADAM PROTEAU

1. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles
Quick’s slow start to 2013-14 is a stark contrast to the past two seasons, when he was the NHL’s most dominant goaltender and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner when his Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012. But he might be a victim of his own success. Quick has played 167 regular season and 44 playoff games in the past three years, so there’s some merit to the notion he may be tired.

There’s little debate, however, that Quick will continue to be front and center for the Kings and the 2014 U.S. Olympic team. When he’s on his game, there’s nobody better at getting between an incoming puck and the goal line. “The explosiveness and the way he gets across the net is amazing,” says Kings defenseman Matt Greene. “It’s something I’ve never seen before. He can go post-to-post where you really think he’s out of position or he won’t be able to get to that one-time shot, he finds a way to get there.”

Quick, 27, has the security of a contract that will run through 2022-23 and the confidence that comes along with being on a powerhouse franchise expected to go on another deep playoff run this year. Maybe that’s why he’s so easygoing off the ice and so self-assured on it. Drew Doughty doesn’t believe his close friend has been changed by any of his success, but he does think achieving success has made Quick more of a believer in himself and his teammates. “He plays with even more swagger than he had before,” Doughty says. “His swagger carries him higher than those other goalies. And in my opinion, there’s no better goalie in the league.”

2. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Lundqvist was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, but has made it to the conference final only once. He’s due to be an unrestricted free agent this summer and he might have a better chance at a Stanley Cup elsewhere. No goalie has more pressure on him, but Lundqvist welcomes it. He’s never had a goals-against average higher than 2.43 or a save percentage lower than .912 in eight seasons. That’s why at 31, he’s still one of the league’s best.

3. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Rask’s first NHL game came in 2007-08, but this is the first 82-game season in which he’s Boston’s clear-cut No. 1 netminder. His regular season numbers in 2012-13 (including a 2.00 GAA and .929 SP) were excellent, but were astonishing (1.88 GAA, .940 SP) in the playoffs as he took the Bruins to the final. Rask, 26, has the ability to raise his game, which is the hallmark of a big-money goalie. He could beat out Pekka Rinne to start for Finland at the Olympics.

4. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Rinne’s key stats slipped slightly last season, but the loss of Ryan Suter from the Predators blueline must be factored in. Nevertheless, Rinne still can steal games and though he turned 30 in early November, he’s a proven workhorse: he finished tied for the league lead in shutouts last season with five and he led the NHL with 73 games played in 2011-12. His 43 appearances last season tied him for second. He won’t be adversely affected by Olympic duties.

5. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators
Now in his third full season with Ottawa, Anderson has been everything the Senators could have hoped when they acquired him from Colorado in February 2011. His performance in the second round of the playoffs this past spring wasn’t his best, but his play in the regular season and Round 1 helped the Senators even get that far. Anderson, 32, will be pushed by understudy Robin Lehner this year and should push Quick for the starter’s role on Team USA.

6. Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks
Niemi was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season after putting up a 2.16 GAA and .924 SP – both career bests – but was even stronger in the playoffs, with a 1.87 GAA and .930 SP. And he picked up where he left off with an excellent start to 2013-14, leading the Sharks to six straight wins. Niemi isn’t the poster boy for the butterfly style, but he’s a big-time battler with a Stanley Cup on his resume. He makes the most of his athleticism and at 30 years old is in his prime.

7. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
Having answered critics by leading the Blackhawks to their most recent Cup victory, Crawford, 28, now looks to contribute more to the cause. He’s yet to hit 60 games played in a single season (though he had 57 appearances in 2010-11 and 2011-12) and must be solid through the fall to get a fair shot at Canada’s starting job at the Sochi Games. Crawford’s career high in games played as a pro is 60, which came in 2006-07 with the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals.

8. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
Bobrovsky understands that goaltending is like life in that it’s all about establishing balance. He’s aware that putting up one Vezina Trophy-winning season, as impressive as it may be, won’t count for much if he doesn’t follow it with an equally strong showing. “It’s a long process that never stops,” Bobrovsky says. “The guys here helped me and I work with (Blue Jackets goalie coach Ian Clark) very hard. All the little pieces come together and the two years in Philly gave me some experience, too.”

No single factor led to Bobrovsky becoming the first Russian to win the Vezina after he came to Columbus from the Flyers in June 2012. Instead, his ascendance to elite status stems from several evolutions: Clark said he’s “on the fast track” as far as having advanced mental maturity for a 25-year-old. He learned about handling pressure from his stint with the Flyers and has honed the technical elements of his game. Many were surprised when Bobrovsky played a huge role in the Jackets’ push for the playoffs last season, but Clark was not. He knew ‘Bob’ had all the tools to be an impact goalie. “Technically, he has superb mechanics,” Clark says. “Sergei’s ability to move quickly and operate with clarity and calmness is critical to his game.”

Bobrovsky played 38 games for the Blue Jackets last season. His career high in the NHL is the 54 games he played for Philly in his rookie year, but the prospect of playing at least that many games – as well as the possibility of starting for Russia at the Olympics – isn’t intimidating him. He’s focused on the next puck that’s coming his way, not the next big moment. “It’s all step-by-step,” he says. “It’s about balance.”

9. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
It’s no secret Price’s play got worse as last season went on and finally cratered in the first round of the playoffs against the Senators. Nobody within the game, however, thought Price’s prodigious skills had abandoned him altogether and that was confirmed when he registered a shutout in his fifth game of the 2013-14 season. He’s as technically sound as they come and the defining factor with Price, 26, has always been the game’s mental element.

10. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks
Luongo has seen his GAA and SP decline each season since 2011-12, but he gets some slack for enduring the Canucks’ goaltending soap opera with grace and humor until it ended with Cory Schneider traded to New Jersey. Luongo would likely be playing elsewhere given his druthers, but as Vancouver’s clear No. 1, he’s still getting playing time and proving he’s a top-10 goaltender. At 34, he’ll have to beat out his heirs apparent to make Team Canada.

11. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
howard is nothing if not consistent, which is a perfect fit in Detroit. In each of the past two years, his GAA has been identical (2.13) and his SP has been a near-match (.920 in 2011-12 and .923 last season). He’s 29, but just in his fifth season, so there’s little mileage on his body. He’s in the mix for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

12. Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes
Though his stats dropped last season, Smith, 31, received a six-year extension from Phoenix in the summer. In 101 regular season games between 2011 and 2013, he had 13 shutouts and his playoff performance in 2012 (1.99 GAA, .944) was incredible. That’s the Smith the Coyotes recommitted to through 2018-19.

13. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils
With his Vancouver days behind him, Schneider gets to focus on his career in the relative peace and quiet of New Jersey. He’ll share time with Martin Brodeur and, barring injury, he’ll set a new personal best for games played. His current record is 33, set in 2011-12. Schneider, 27, has a shot at making Team USA for Sochi.

14. Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild
At 35 years old, Backstrom is closer to the end of his NHL career than the beginning. But the Wild goalie isn’t coasting toward the finish line. He’s as hungry as ever. After three straight seasons of declining games played totals, Backstrom played 42 of Minnesota’s 48 games in 2012-13 and helped the team make its first playoff appearance since 2008.

A knee injury at the start of 2013-14 sidelined him for a spell, but Backstrom is renowned by teammates for his willpower and determination to contribute. “I still think he’s the most underrated goalie in the game,” says backup goalie Josh Harding. “Everybody in the room knows what a competitor he is.” Backstrom played for Finland in the 2010 Olympics, but with a slew of tremendous Finnish goalies, don’t expect him to do so at the Sochi Games.

15. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
One of the top candidates to be traded, Miller has been among the NHL’s most spectacular goalies when healthy. His excellent play for the Sabres out of the gate suggests he’s motivated to join a playoff-bound team. At age 33, and a pending UFA, he realizes time is of the essence. He’s a dark horse to make the U.S. Olympic team.

16. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
As arguably the greatest goalie in hockey history, Brodeur has earned the right to retire on his own terms. Clearly, he’s not yet ready. At 41, he may be playing his final season, and no longer is an all-star-type force, but he remains a ferocious competitor and calming dressing room influence. He needs 31 wins this season to hit 700.

17. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins
he has suffered a precipitous fall from the top of the hockey world, but Fleury isn’t ready to fade into obscurity. Yes, his 2013 playoff performance was abominable, but he’s always had solid regular seasons and started the current campaign strongly. He’s still only 28, with 10 years of NHL service, so don’t count him out just yet.

18. Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes
A knee injury in March limited Ward to 17 games for Carolina last season, but he’s shown he can be a difference-maker when healthy (which, unfortunately for him and Hurricanes fans, hasn’t been the case this year). He’s a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy winner and who’s a proven workhorse. Ward, 29, likely won’t ever play 74 games (as in 2010-11) again, but without him the Canes have no chance at the playoffs.

19. Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars
Now in his ninth season, Lehtonen has the capability to win games, but few see him as one of the NHL’s elite puck-stoppers. He’s had groin and back issues in recent years and was sidelined again early this season. Lehtonen, 29, is still the Stars’ No. 1 netminder and has shown signs of his star potential when healthy.

20. Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks
He’s one of the NHL’s lower-profile goaltenders, but Hiller prefers it that way. The Ducks leaned on him too heavily in 2011-12 when he played 73 games. If Hiller, 31 and a pending unrestricted free agent, isn’t traded to give Viktor Fasth the job, a better range for him is 60 games.

21. Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues
To characterize his NHL career as a roller-coaster is to undersell the ride Halak has taken. After coming off of an incredible 2011-12, he sustained groin injuries that limited him to only 16 games last season and his statistics took a significant dive. But when the current campaign began, Halak pushed platoon mate Brian Elliott to the sidelines with a shutout in his second game and four consecutive wins.

Prior to last season, Halak had posted three straight years of at least 26 wins. He hasn’t played more than 57 games in a single season, but with high expectations for St. Louis (THN’s Stanley Cup pick), and Elliott failing to grab the No. 1 job when given a chance, Halak could set a new mark for appearances in 2013-14. He’s still only 28, so he’s just entering his prime, though he’s had injuries to deal with in nearly every NHL season he’s played.

22. Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs
After being stuck behind Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, Bernier is finally getting his chance, at 25 years old, to start and shine with the Maple Leafs. And he’s making the most of it. One thing to monitor will be his stamina: he last played more than 25 games in 2009-10 when he was with the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs.

23. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
He still hasn’t established himself as a top-10 goalie, but Varlamov had the Avalanche off to a blazing start. His SP has dropped in each of the past two seasons, but that trend is likely to end. Varlamov, 25, started the season with a .965 SP to go along with a 1.20 GAA. He’ll push Bobrovsky to be Russia’s starter at the Olympics.

24. Tim Thomas, Florida Panthers
A year’s sabbatical from the NHL didn’t stop Thomas from finding work, though he showed signs of rust early this season. He’s now 39, and playing for the talent-challenged Panthers, but he hasn’t posted an SP of less than .915 since 2006-07, when he became a starter. He still harbors hopes of making Team USA for Sochi.

25. Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues
Consistency continues to be an issue for Elliott. In 2011-12, he posted an immaculate .940 save percentage, but that fell to .907 last season, as his GAA rose from 1.56 to 2.28. Halak has claimed the starter’s job for now, but don’t be shocked if Elliott, 28, challenges him again.

26. Jhonas Enroth, Buffalo Sabres
With Miller expected to be traded, Enroth will see his time in the spotlight increase dramatically. His numbers have shown slight improvement, but the sad-sack Sabres aren’t likely to give him a ton of support at either end of the rink. Enroth, 25, is just 5-foot-10, 166 pounds, but Buffalo loves his athleticism and compete level.

27. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
He stormed onto the scene with a fantastic 2012 playoff performance and has since secured the starter’s role in Washington from Michal Neuvirth. But Holtby is still only 24 and has since shown his game has room to improve. He’s never played more than 36 NHL games in a season, so 2013-14 will be a big test for him.

28. Evgeni Nabokov, New York Islanders
His veteran know-how helped the Islanders to a playoff appearance last spring, but his post-season stats (4.44 GAA, .842 SP) were atrocious. He’s 38 and played 41 of 48 games for the Islanders last season, so another heavy workload shouldn’t be an issue. He’s due to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer.

29. Viktor Fasth, Anaheim Ducks
Fasth enjoyed a stellar rookie season in 2012-13, which he began with eight straight wins. He finished 15-6-2, with a 2.18 GAA and .921 SP, slightly better than Hiller’s stats. That led to speculation Fasth would become the starter, but he had a subpar start to this season. Fasth, 31, has another year on his deal after this season.

30. Robin Lehner, Ottawa Senators
He’s still considered the backup in Ottawa, but Lehner is as highly regarded as any young goaltender and could usurp Anderson as the Senators’ starter sooner than later. He could be dealt to a team in need of a young No. 1, and would fetch a hefty return, but he’s only 22 and has been impressive when given a chance.

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