Evaluating the success of goaltenders can be a tricky thing.
In hockey culture, we all agree that "wins" are basically the "plus/minus" of goalie stats, as the totals can look glamorous but not tell us anything about overall performance. Goals against average is, like wins, a team metric. It can look impressive, but, again, might not be indicative of a goalie's contribution to team defense.
In ranking the goaltenders for all 31 teams heading into the 2018-19 season, we're relying on a dozen different metrics -- as well as observations and discussions with folks around the league -- to glean who are the best and worst net-minding tandems. We weigh their play at even-strength heavily. We look at the quality of their starts. We look at how they make the routine saves, and the overall shot volume they face. We weight the starter heavily, but factor in the quality of the backup. And we look at how their careers are trending, due to experience and effectiveness.
It didn't get more awkward than Pekka Rinne winning the Vezina Trophy this summer for a spectacular regular season (42-13-4, .939 even-strength save percentage) after a humbling postseason flameout (.904 save percentage, 3.07 goals-against average). There should be concern about Rinne in the playoffs, but the 35-year-old goalie looks to remain an elite regular-season performer. If he falters? Juuse Saros, 23, is the heir apparent and ready for the challenge.
Where would the Ducks have been last season had it not been for John Gibson? The 25-year-old keeper went 31-18-7 in 60 games, with a .927 even-strength save percentage, good for a 14.09 goals above replacement at 5-on-5. That's three straight strong seasons from Gibson, each with an increased work rate. Ryan Miller, 38, is a more than capable backup with a .941 even-strength save percentage in 28 games.
Sergei Bobrovsky is going to get paid after this contract is over next summer. That much is clear. It might be by the Jackets, it might be by someone else, but a goalie who posts a .935 even-strength save percentage in 65 starts (37-22-6) with a goals saved above replacement of 33.93 (!) at 5-on-5 is in another stratosphere for goalies. Joonas Korpisalo, the 24-year-old Finn Columbus has held on tightly to, is the backup and potential heir.
Andrei Vasilevskiy was handed the crease when the Lightning traded Ben Bishop. He played 1,000 more minutes in the 2017-18 regular season than he had ever played before, and he offered proof of concept that he can be an elite starter in this league: a .920 save percentage, a .979 save percentage on low-danger chances (eighth in the NHL) and eight shutouts. Louis Domingue was a revelation after joining the Lightning, with a .914 save percentage in 12 appearances.
There has always been a vocal minority of Bruins fans who scapegoat Tuukka Rask when things go wrong, but he's consistently one of the league's better netminders (including a 34-14-5 record and .917 save percentage in 2017-18), and especially at even strength (.924 overall and a .975 on low-danger shots). If he can't start the 60-65 games he has in the past, the Bruins have a very capable backup in former Islanders starter Jaroslav Halak, a smart summer acquisition.
Marc-Andre Fleury is not an aberration. His steady improvement as a goaltender has been years long, culminating in his incredible inaugural season with the Knights (29-13-4, .931 even-strength save percentage) that would have resulted in a Vezina Trophy nomination had his regular season not been truncated. (It earned him an absurd contract extension, paying him $7 million through 2022.) Malcolm Subban appeared in 22 games last season, with a .915 even-strength save percentage.
Jonathan Quick is never as good as his defenders claim and never as bad as his detractors claim, but we can all agree that he had a stellar 2017-18 season: 33-28-3 with a .925 even-strength save percentage and a robust 11.53 goals saved above replacement at 5-on-5. Best of all, he was healthy again, starting 63 games. Jack Campbell, Quick's "towel boy" at the NHL Awards as he collected the Jennings Trophy, is a great story who hopefully can be a great backup.
It's no coincidence that Connor Hellebuyck's emergence as a goaltending star coincided with the Jets' ascendance as championship contenders. Hellebuyck went 44-11-9 with a .924 save percentage and a .609 quality starts percentage in 2017-18. After last season's ghastly Steve Mason experiment failed, former Oiler Laurent Brossoit will be the backup. He's untested (but cost-efficient) at the NHL level.
It's only fitting in the topsy-turvy world of the Capitals that Braden Holtby would have his worst season (.907 save percentage) before being the foundation for a Stanley Cup championship, including an all-time great save in the Final. Holtby is typically good for around 65 starts and a save percentage north of .920. Keep in mind that goalie guru Mitch Korn, however, followed Barry Trotz to the Islanders. The Capitals are a bit more comfortable with backup Pheonix Copley (two NHL appearances) than we are.
10. San Jose Sharks
Martin Jones has often fallen into the "reliable but not exceptional" category, though last season saw him take a small dip (30-22-6, .914 even-strength save percentage and an underwhelming .900 save percentage on low-danger shots). Backup Aaron Dell started 22 games last season and fared slightly better. Both seek improvement and will have Erik Karlsson on the blue line in front of them this season.
Carey Price isn't the goalie we saw last season. He's not a .909 even-strength save percentage goalie. He's not a minus-17.77 goals saved above replacement (at 5-on-5) goalie. He's going to be better than that, if he's healthy, because the Canadiens aren't going to be the floundering mess they were last season. The question is if "better than that" is going to be good enough. The Canadiens signed him through 2026 with a $10.5 million cap hit and a full no-movement clause for the duration of the deal, and they signed him to be an elite franchise guy. After stops with the Penguins and the Panthers, Antti Niemi bounced to the Canadiens and can be a decent reliever.
12. Minnesota Wild
Although last season was a small downtick for Devan Dubnyk, he has been a model of consistency for the Wild: 60-65 starts, an even-strength save percentage north of .926 and a quality starts percentage over .600 each season. Alex Stalock played 28 games for Minnesota last season, posting a .915 even-strength save percentage in going 10-10-4. But it's Dubnyk's show.
This is a difficult team to rank. When healthy, Corey Crawford is one of the top goalies in the Western Conference. He had a .929 save percentage in 28 games last season, but his season ended on Dec. 23, 2017. He hasn't played since and revealed during camp that he's been working back from post-concussion symptoms. If Crawford's back, he's the kind of goalie who can paper over the Blackhawks' lineup deficiencies. If he's not, then it's on summer signee Cam Ward (minus-3.98 goals saved above replacement at even strength for Carolina) and Anton Forsberg. So, uh, speedy recovery, Corey.
Matt Murray had a confluence of pressures last season: building on a championship run, being the reason Marc-Andre Fleury ended up in Vegas and, above all else, the loss of his father. That, and injuries, led to a middling season with lots of wins (27 in 45 games) but a .907 save percentage and a minus-11.42 goals saved above replacement at 5-on-5. The Penguins expect a return to form, which had Murray at a .923 in the previous season. Tristan Jarry (.908) was locked up in a new two-year deal and will be the 23-year-old backup to a 24-year-old starter.
If there's one word to describe Frederik Andersen, it's "busy." The Leafs keeper has faced 3,390 shots in 132 games the past two seasons, by far the most of any goalie in the NHL. He had a .918 save percentage and a plus-12.06 goals saved above replacement, and generally was the Leafs' defense on some nights. Curtis McElhinney and Garret Sparks dueled in the preseason for backup duties; McElhinney seems the safer choice, while Sparks has more upside.
16. Florida Panthers
What does Roberto Luongo have left in him? That's one of the primary questions surrounding the Panthers, as the 39-year-old comes off a season that saw him make just 35 appearances. But those appearances were great: a .933 even-strength save percentage and a .980 save percentage on low-danger chances, with a 9.41 goals saved above replacement at 5-on-5. James Reimer, meanwhile, is seeking a rebound from a middling season that saw him post a .913 save percentage in 44 appearances.
Rare are the consecutive seasons when the Flyers return the same goaltenders, but here we are. Brian Elliott (23-11-7) had a .925 even-strength save percentage last season, while Michal Neuvirth (9-7-3) had a .934. This is a decent tandem for the Flyers as they wait for goalie of the future Carter Hart to ripen in the minors.
18. Dallas Stars
Ben Bishop didn't have the stats-inflating season under Ken Hitchcock that many assumed he would. His 26-17-5 record and .922 even-strength save percentage were fine, but "fine" won't cut it in the Western Conference buzzsaw. He'll get a push from new backup Anton Khudobin, who appeared in 31 games for the Bruins last season with a .917 even-strength save percentage.
19. New York Rangers
For 10 years, Henrik Lundqvist finished sixth or better in the Vezina Trophy voting. For the past three seasons, he didn't receive a vote. He turns 37 in March. He's played a lot of hockey for a lot of years. Yes, there are still flashes of the old King. But as the team in front of him has moved into a rebuilding phase, Lundqvist isn't the goalie who can drag a team to the playoff bubble on his own. His .918 even-strength save percentages in the past two seasons were the lowest of his career. The trend line is undeniable. Either Alexandar Georgiev or Marek Mazanec will back him up.
The Avs took an interesting approach in acquiring Philipp Grubauer from the Capitals in the Brooks Orpik contract laundering gambit. Semyon Varlamov is coming off a strong season with a .596 quality starts percentage and a goals saved above replacement at 5-on-5 of 9.54. But Grubauer is four years younger and $2.5 million cheaper, and Varlamov goes UFA next summer. Hence, he's being shopped, and one assumes it's a matter of time before Grubauer takes the crease. It's a bet by GM Joe Sakic that what we saw in 35 games last season with the Capitals (including a 16.32 goals saved above replacement) is what Grubauer can do with an increased workload. It's a good wager.
21. St. Louis Blues
"Siri, what is Jake Allen?" [Beep] ... [Robot Voice]: "Jake Allen is a 6-foot-2 goalie for the St. Louis Blues whose horror show 2017-18 season has created palpable doubt that he can ever actualize as an elite NHL starter, what with the .482 quality starts percentage and the minus-10.34 overall goals saved above replacement. Journeyman Chad Johnson will serve as his backup after the safety net of Carter Hutton signed with Buffalo." [Beep]
22. Arizona Coyotes
The great "what if?" of the Coyotes last season is "what if Antti Raanta had been healthy from the start?" In 47 games, Raanta was fantastic, with a quality starts percentage of .696 and an even-strength save percentage of .937. Darcy Kuemper is a capable backup, but what the Coyotes need is about 10 more games of Raanta. And if they get that, things could be interesting in the desert.
23. Edmonton Oilers
Look, this might be delusional, but we're expecting good things from the Oilers goalies this season. Both Cam Talbot and Mikko Koskinen are unrestricted free agents next summer, so they're singing for their supper. In Talbot's case, he's trying to prove that his breakout year in 2016-17 that saw him start 73 games and post a .919 save percentage in back of a porous defense wasn't an anomaly. He wasn't as bad as his numbers indicated last season, although that .478 quality starts percentage was concerning.
24. Calgary Flames
Raise your hand if you were wrong about Mike Smith. [Raises hand] Smith's 55-game run with the Flames last season saw him post a .582 quality starts percentage and a 6.83 goals saved above replacement at 5-on-5. Still, he's got a lot of miles on him at 36 years old (with 110 games played in the past two seasons), leading to questions about his durability. David Rittich appears to be the backup, but Jon Gillies is in the mix as well.
There isn't a more concerning trend in the NHL among goaltenders than the decline of Cory Schneider. He was sixth in the Vezina voting two years ago. Since then, the 32-year-old has a .918 even-strength save percentage in 100 games played and lost his gig to backup Keith Kincaid (26-10-3, .914 even-strength save percentage) down the stretch last season. Schneider had hip surgery in the offseason. He's signed through 2022. The Devils need to see a reversal of fortune here, and fast. Let's see if Schneider can fix what's broken.
26. Buffalo Sabres
Carter Hutton was a revelation last season for the Blues, with a .936 save percentage and a 17-7-3 record in 32 games, picking up the pieces after Jake Allen fell apart. That earned him a three-year deal with the Sabres, where he's going to fill a familiar role: keeping the crease warm as he mentors a young netminder in 25-year-old Linus Ullmark, Buffalo's goalie of the future. The Sabres should, in theory, be better than their 28th overall ranking in team save percentage last season (.896).
Jimmy Howard is still in Detroit. That's rather inexplicable, given the expansion draft and the goalie merry-go-round in the NHL, and the general diminishing returns of the aging netminder. But he started 60 games last season with a .916 even-strength save percentage, which is about what you can expect in his walk year. New to Detroit is Jonathan Bernier, who had a bit of a career renaissance in the past two seasons as a backup with Anaheim and Colorado. He'll help solidify the position.
28. Ottawa Senators
Craig Anderson seems to have a realistic outlook on the Senators' chances this season as he begins the inexplicable two-year, $9.5 million contract extension that GM Pierre Dorion handed him last September. Like the rest of the team, Anderson was terrible in 2017-18, with a .902 save percentage and a minus-23.60 goals saved above replacement at 5-on-5. He should bounce back, and this isn't the first time he'll have been the last line of defense on a bad team. Mike Condon was the better goalie last season in 31 games, with a .919 even-strength save percentage.
The combination of coach Barry Trotz and goaltending guru Mitch Korn has rarely had teams with substandard goaltending, but it's going to be a challenge getting the Islanders out of the lowest rungs of team save percentage this season. (The Isles were at .900 in 2017-18.) Thomas Greiss had a .360 quality starts percentage and a pathetic .902 even-strength save percentage. Robin Lehner, who signed a one-year deal in the summer, has been candid about his personal struggles and getting the help he needs. Here's hoping a fresh start with the Islanders helps him find the consistency he lacked in Buffalo.
Jacob Markstrom (.923 even-strength save percentage) and Anders Nilsson (.913 even-strength save percentage) will once again hold the crease down until the team turns the keys over to 22-year-old goalie of the future Thatcher Demko. This Canucks' battery produced a .902 team save percentage last season, No. 26 in the NHL.
The Hurricanes' goaltending struggles are notorious. Scott Darling signed a four-year, $16.6 million deal in 2017 after coming over from the Blackhawks, and then had a horror show of a season: 13-21-7 with an .897 even-strength save percentage and a .350 quality starts percentage. After Cam Ward wasn't re-signed, the Canes turned to goalie Petr Mrazek on a one-year deal after his less-than-stellar season with Detroit and Philadelphia. He's a feast-or-famine goalie who has been mostly famine for the past two seasons. Neither of these options inspires much confidence.