15 Aug Men in the Masks – Top Five Goalies in the NHL
By: Eric Saltsman
It takes a full team effort to successfully hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup at the end of a grueling season. It takes the right mix of 12 forwards, the necessary balance of six defensemen, the proper coaching ethic and strategy. But, far and away the most important position on any team is the goaltender. Without, at the very minimum, a serviceable goalie between the pipes, any good team will fall short of being great.
Below is a completely subjective list of net minders that I’ve put together. It always makes for an intriguing conversation deciding who is the best and why. For me, it was a combination of years in the league, Goals Against Average (GAA), Save Percentage, Wins, Trophy Nominations, and notable character.
For the record, any goalies who split their work in between the pipes at a roughly 50% clip has been automatically discounted from the discussion.
I’ll begin with my honorable mentions:
Martin Jones was traded twice before last season and the benefactors of all of his movement were the San Jose Sharks. With 37 wins in his first full season as a starting goaltender in the NHL, Jones has set the bar high for himself. The fact that he took his Sharks to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in the history of the franchise sets the bar even higher… but before I can completely quantify this kid as being a top 10 goalie in the NHL, I’ll need to see him put up numbers like that again. Still, there is no doubting that, if his first 99 games are any indication, he is going to be a premier tender for years to come.
Being a Toronto native, my heart weeps at every accomplishment Tuukka Rask piles up. Here’s a workhorse who will stand on his head for over 60 games a season. To put it in perspective as to how good Rask has been throughout his career, his lowest save % in any season since 2009 is .915. He was the Vezina winner in 2014.
To put it in perspective just how good Tuukka Rask is, look up Justin Pogge and Andrew Raycroft’s career statistics and see if combined they hold a candle to Rask.
Averaging over 37 wins with Tampa Bay over the last three seasons, look for Big Ben to continue to backstop the Lightning to victory. Especially with the make up of this current Tampa team, I would be so bold as to predict that the 29 year old will crack my top five list more than once in the years to come. A finalist for the Vezina last season, this year could easily be the year for him. He is going to rack up countless W’s on this Lightning team.
Clearly, in Edmonton, Dubnyk was not the problem. With 32 wins in 66 starts with his first full season with the Wild, look for him to continue to pile up wins for years to come. At 30, Dubnyk has a lot of hockey left in him. Similar to Jones, he has found his home for the future.
The Top Five
5. Pekka Rinne
Truth be told, I’ve always had an affinity for Finnish goalies. Frankly, I don’t think it’s a coincidence as to how well the Stars did last year when they added Antti Niemi to complement the likes of Kari Lehtonen.
But perhaps not since the likes of a Miikka Kiprusoff have we seen Finnish goaltending prowess like Pekka Rinne. An imposing 6″5 figure, he covers a ton of net and uses his size effectively to keep pucks out of the cage. A perennial low scoring Nashville Predators team could not continue to be competitive without the likes of Rinne in net.
Yes, his full name sounds like a type of cheese. And yes he is 33 years old. But I see no evidence to suggest that he is slowing down.
Rinne has put up 41 wins in each of the past two seasons. He is the proud owner of a career .917 save percentage after a decade in the league. He has been a Vezina finalist three times in the past five seasons. Rinne looks to be in fine form as the Predators look to shift their focus to offence. I would dare say that the veteran Rinne is up to the challenge of facing more pucks.
4. Henrik Lundqvist
What more can be said about King Henrik?
In the 34 year old we’re looking at a five-time Vezina finalist (taking home the award in 2012). He has been the heart of the Rangers franchise upon entering into the league in 2005. In his last five seasons he has boasted no less than a .920 save percentage. He has won 30 games or more in every season in the NHL (with the exception of the lockout… and he still won 24 games).
Some believe that the Rangers are quickly passing their prime… and so too is Lundqvist. I believe it about the Rangers as a team… but not about the goalie. Lundqvist has been a beacon of consistency and has earned the right to be perennially in the conversation of top five net minders in the game.
3. Carey Price
Although, admittedly, I am of the belief that Carey Price is the best goaltender in the league, I think it’s only fair to give the credit to the guys ahead of him on this list who managed to stay healthy last year. That being said, and I made brief mention of this in an earlier article: Carey Price was clearly the MVP of the 2015/2016 season. Do you think it was a coincidence that Montreal went into the tail slide that they did without their number one goaltender and former Hart Trophy Winner?
If you don’t believe me, here’s a fun little game: Take a look at Carey Price’s statistics from 2015/2016 versus Dominek Hasek in either 1996/1997 or 1997/1998 (both of which were Hart Trophy seasons). Price’s numbers obliterate Hasek’s… especially wins.
I am of the belief that you need to consider Dominek Hasek in the conversation for top five goaltenders of all time… now what do you think of Carey Price only halfway into his career?
2. Jonathan Quick
Two-time Vezina finalist since 2011. Conne Smythe winner 2012. Two time Stanley Cup Champion (matter of factly, the only goaltender in this entire list to have a Stanley Cup on his resume).
Jonathan Quick has played an average of 70 games over the past two seasons and has put up a .918 save percentage and a 2.23 GAA in those seasons. He won 40 games last season for the first time in his career.
Yes, the Los Angeles Kings are good… but they wouldn’t be nearly as good without this Quick backstopping them.
1. Braden Holtby
You have to give credit where credit is due:
Last year Holtby tied Martin Brodeur’s record for most wins in a single season – a feat that was accomplished in 12 less games than the game’s all-time “winingest” goalie. He lost all of nine games last year. Sure, it helps to have the firepower that his Washington Capitals do, but without a goaltender of Holtby’s caliber that team doesn’t win the President’s Trophy.
Holtby is fresh off the first Vezina Trophy of his career. He has 149 career wins in only 244 total games. I think it would be a safe bet to presume that Holtby will put up a minimum of 43 wins this season and play over 65 games for the third time in his young career.
And, what’s more, I happened to meet Holtby after a game at the Air Canada Centre last season. The man has a heck of a handshake. And you know what they say about a goalie with a strong handshake… neither do I, but I felt like it was worth mentioning that from my brief encounter I can safely say that he was a very nice guy.
Even with all of the aforementioned competition, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take home a second Vezina after this season.