Ranking the NHL's goaltending tandems used to be a predictable process: Pencil in the Boston Bruins, Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars and whoever the Tampa Bay Lightning have playing with Andrei Vasilevskiy at the top, and then figure out the rest.
Unfortunately for us, and fortunately for the rest of the NHL, the 2021 offseason was like a goaltending Big Bang. Long-standing duos were broken up. Goaltenders were dispersed throughout North America like space dust, including all the way to Seattle, where a new planet, er, franchise was formed.
"Look at all the changes this offseason. It was a goalie carousel," said Stephen Valiquette, former NHL goaltender and one of the sport's foremost analysts on netminders as CEO of Clear Sight Analytics.
Here are the goalie tandem rankings for the 2021-22 NHL season. They were formulated through discussions with a variety of goalie experts -- coaches, analytics gurus, former players -- as well as through stats from sites like Evolving Hockey, Money Puck and Hockey Reference. We also spoke to Valiquette at length for his take on some of them tandems.
Keep in mind that these are a combination of past performance and projections for the 2021-22 NHL season, including preseason rankings from Clear Sight Analytics. Organizational depth is listed in parentheses where relevant.
As easy as it is for a goalie to play for coach Barry Trotz, it's equally as hard to be seen as something more than a product of his system. His four-season run in Washington saw the Capitals finish second in the NHL in goals-against average (2.45) during his tenure. During his three seasons with the Islanders, they've led the league in team defense (2.46 goals against per game).
Varlamov led the NHL in save percentage (.929) last season among goalies with at least 30 starts, and tied Philipp Grubauer with seven shutouts to lead the league. Grubauer got a Vezina Trophy nomination. Varlamov did not. Nor did Sorokin get any Calder Trophy love, finishing 15th in the voting. Varlamov also didn't crack the top 10 in our ranking of goalies as voted on by NHL players, coaches and executives last spring.
So we'll give them their due here. Both would be solid goaltenders on another team. Within this system, they're the NHL's best tandem. Varlamov is an athletic veteran whose underlying numbers from Clear Sight Analytics had him as the NHL's third best goalie last season. His 0.961 expected save percentage on unblocked shots was best in the league last season. Sorokin looked better and better as his rookie season went on, and with a season in the NHL (and living in the U.S.) under his belt, he's going to have an outstanding sophomore campaign.
The Trotz System is the NHL's most effective defensive scheme. His Russian netminders are the foundation on which it's built.