The top 10 goalies most likely to have a down year

It’s the most difficult position to predict in hockey, but also the most important. So which goaltenders may be in for rougher rides this season? We look at the candidates.

No one has ever understood goaltenders. From Hall of Fame puker Glenn Hall to wall-kicking Josh Harding, they’re a breed apart and considering the dangerous occupation they chose, perhaps they can be forgiven for their eccentricities. Recently, it’s been very difficult to figure out who will dominate the Vezina Trophy race. But with some help from Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract, here’s a look at 10 goalies who might have down years. Quality Starts percentage refers to games in which a goalie had a .917 save percentage when facing more than 20 shots (.885 when facing 20 shots or less). Vollman averaged out the past three seasons to get his results.

10. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado – Please don’t read this as Varlamov having a bad year – just one that fails to live up to the lofty heights of 2013-14 when the Avs keeper put up career numbers. Unless the team fixes its possession problems and the defense corps gets a lot stronger, there will be at least some regression in Varly’s stats.

9. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh – Another netminder who won’t be bad, but maybe not as good. The Pens lost two big defensemen in Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen over the summer and historically, Fleury ratio of quality starts to blow-ups is 4:1.

8. Darcy Kuemper, Minnesota – Bit of pressure on the youngster now, isn’t there? With Harding sidelined and Niklas Backstrom in his twilight (more on that later), Kuemper’s contract power play succeeded, but now he’ll be expected to backstop a team that is loaded with talent in front of him.

7. Evgeni Nabokov, Tampa Bay – The stakes are pretty low here, since Ben Bishop will carry the water for the Lightning, but don’t expect much out of Nabokov. His Quality Starts percentage is one of the worst among qualifiers in the past three seasons.

6. Jonas Gustavsson, Detroit – Like Nabokov, Gustavsson will only be called on for backup duty. But Jimmy Howard wasn’t Ben Bishop last season and may need more help. Can ‘The Monster’ provide those starts? Not according to the recent record.

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5. Steve Mason, Philadelphia – Mason was a lion when Philly got out of the gate slowly last season, but the ‘D’ corps will be worse this time in front of him. Will he revert back to old form, when he couldn’t repeat his Calder season in Columbus?

4. James Reimer, Toronto – The Leafs are Jonathan Bernier’s team now, but Reimer will still be needed at times. To that end, his Quality Starts percentage is the worst among active goalies, even though he has been brilliant at times.

3. Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota – Another goalie who suffers in the Quality Starts category, Backstrom is also battling age and overall health. His save percentage has also dropped in two straight seasons.

2. Cam Ward, Carolina – There’s a good chance Ward won’t even be the starter for the Hurricanes this season; Anton Khudobin made a strong bid to usurp him last year. But Ward will still get his reps and he’ll have to be better that he has been recently: His save percentage has dropped in three straight seasons and Quality Starts are an issue.

1. Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg – With Devan Dubnyk out of a job, Pavelec is officially the whipping boy for all goalies now. His .901 save percentage ranked 46th among regulars last season and you will of course notice that the NHL only has 30 teams. Unlike many of the others on this list, Pavelec is the only experienced option on his team. And yes, Quality Starts have been a big issue as well.