Who’s the best starting goalie in the NHL? Who’s the worst? Does it hurt when they do the splits? These are some of the random thoughts that bounce around in a hockey lover’s head in the middle of August.
Here’s my ranking of the NHL’s 31 starting goalies entering the 2018-19 season:
1. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets: Consistently one of the very best goalies in the league, he’s in his prime on a hardworking, defensively solid team that’s trending up.
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: He had the Vezina Trophy in his sights last season before running out of steam down the stretch. Still, he’s a great young goalie on a great young team.
3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets: The Jets-Bolts showdown in the 2019 Stanley Cup final is gonna be something to see.
4. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals: Coming off a rough regular season, he found his game in the playoffs. ‘The Save’ against Vegas in Game 2 will go down in Washington sports lore.
5. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins: He starts slowly, then eventually leads the Bruins near the top of the league standings and into the playoffs.
6. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights: The sequel is almost never as good as the original. Then again, this is Vegas we’re talking about. Anything’s possible.
7. Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild: Simply one of the best stoppers in the league since landing in Minnesota three years ago.
8. Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes: If you’re looking for dark horses to win the Vezina Trophy, here’s one.
9. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: The window’s closing, but the Kings have a chance as long as the athletic Quick is injury-free and on top of his game.
10. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs: A little streaky and prone to giving up a soft goal now and again, but he’s established himself as a bona fide No. 1 on a true-blue contender.
11. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: It wasn’t so long ago that he was widely regarded as the best goalie in the world. After missing large chunks of two of the past three seasons, he needs to stay healthy and remind everyone he’s still got it.
12. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: Talk about no respect. The guy wins the Vezina but he’s not in the top 10? It’s because he turns 36 in November and has suffered inglorious exits in the past two post-seasons.
13. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks: He sits third among NHL goalies in save percentage (.925) since taking over as the Ducks’ full-time starter a couple years ago.
14. Mike Smith, Calgary Flames: The team MVP last season, but he’ll be 37 when the playoffs begin and approaching now-or-never territory.
15. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins: Boy, this guy’s terrible, he didn’t even win the Stanley Cup last season. OK, I’m joking, but the Penguins aren’t laughing about Murray’s propensity for injury.
16. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers: He’s still great when he’s healthy, but he’s also 39 and thus susceptible to another injury-plagued campaign.
17. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars: Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the pressure on the Stars’ 6-foot-7 goalie with a less-than defense corps in front of him.
18. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: Solid if unspectacular, he ranks among the league leaders in wins since taking over the Sharks’ crease in 2015-16.
19. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche: By all accounts, it should be Philipp Grubauer’s name here, not Varlamov’s, but we’ll stick with the incumbent for now.
20. Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues: Dr. Jekyll Good Goalie and Mr. Hyde Bad Goalie.
21. Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers: He’s at his best when he’s pushing someone else, not getting pushed by someone behind him. Unfortunately, he’s in the latter situation with the Flyers.
22. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks are rebuilding, so he’ll do until Thatcher Demko comes along.
23. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks: He’s much better than this ranking would suggest, but his status for the 2018-19 campaign is unclear. Crawford was enjoying the best regular season of his career until he went down with mysterious concussion/vertigo symptoms last December.
24. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils: Needs to reverse the downward trend of the past two seasons.
25. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: The King isn’t dead, but he’s showing his age.
26. Robin Lehner, New York Islanders: When the Sabres walk away from you, it’s a red flag.
27. Cam Talbot, Edmonton Oilers: Was last season’s swoon simply a reflection of the Oilers’ bigger problems, or is he a backup masquerading as a No. 1?
28. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings: It’s not his fault that Detroit is in disarray.
29. Carter Hutton, Buffalo Sabres: A 32-year-old backup coming off an out-of-the-blue career year gets handed the starting gig in Buffalo. Hope it works out, but it sure looks risky.
30. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators: You know his career pattern of alternating good and bad seasons? Expect that trend to end.
31. Scott Darling, Carolina Hurricanes: Flopped horribly in his first year as the go-to guy.