2016 NHL Prospectus: Top 10 Goaltenders Right Now Heading Into 2016-2017 Season


2016 NHL Prospectus: Top 10 Goaltenders Right Now Heading Into 2016-2017 Season
M.D. Wright
8.6.2016

As we approach the World Cup of Hockey (September 17-October 1 on ESPN Networks), we will be dissecting teams and players, as we saw a bevy of moves involving big-name players — as some predicted would be the case before this offseason arrived. Therefore, it is a good time to assess who is the creme de la creme among National Hockey League players in advance of the World Cup, which will represent countries that are home to some of the best players in the NHL. Tonight’s lists will involve the Top 20 Forwards, Defencemen and Top 10 Goalies in the NHL heading into the 2016-2017 season.

  • – Note: Not a representation of cumulative career accomplishments; solely where players are in their careers at the moment, regardless of experience and compiled statistics.

There’s no need to do a Top 20 among goaltenders, because honestly speaking…after the Top 10, there is a noticeable dropoff, and the list would be relatively interchangeable.

10. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators.
A big goalie, Rinne is known to make highlight reel saves. He was a bit of a late bloomer, as he really did not become an elite goalie until his late 20s, but he is an anchor for the Preds last line of defence.

9. Brian Elliott, Calgary Flames.
“Moose” is a streaky goalie. He has had stretches where his GAA and SV% are off the charts. In fact, he had a couple of stretches in 2015-2016 which fit that profile. He was touted by many to be Vezina Trophy finalist as a result: .930 SV% and 2.07 GAA (led the NHL until late in the season; second to Ben Bishop’s 2.06).

8. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins.
Fleury suffered a concussion late in the 2015-2016 season, giving way to new sensation Matt Murray. And with the 2017 Expansion Draft lurking, the Penguins may have to move Fleury to avoid having to protect him next summer and lose him for nothing. Fleury has won a Stanley Cup as starting goalie, and was just fine during the regular season before his injury (2.29 GAA, .921 SV%). Teams found out that Matt Murray can be beaten high to the glove side, but could not slow the Pens’ offensive attack. Therefore, the Penguins must not be caught up in the team’s playoff success from last season and think that a flippant move to trade Fleury can’t potentially backfire with the “book” on Murray being a relatively common shot for most players (along with wraparounds from behind the net, both of which were the source for nearly all the goals he surrendered in the 2016 playoffs).

7. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils.
Schneider’s held back because two-thirds of the players in front of him last season didn’t belong in the NHL. The Devils have gotten better with Taylor Hall, and surely hope that Pavel Zacha can make an impact. The Devils still don’t impress offensively. Their defence and Schneider’s stellar play kept them in virtually every game (the number of one-goal games, and overtime/shootout games the Devils had in 2015-2016 was astounding) with his 2.15 GAA and .924 SV%.

6. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings.
Quick had an off year (by his standards) last season, but only in the respect that he had a baffling number of games where he surrendered a number of goals  that he normally stops. A .918 save percentage is not bad. And a 2.22 goals against is very good. Often times, the stats lie, and the Kings often held opponents’ shot chances down due to their defence (as well as their own high offensive zone possession), which is why the stats are misleading. It is the saves that Quick didn’t make that are the true story, but he is still in his prime, and being #6 here is no knock.

5. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning.
Bishop has had some bad luck with injuries (2014 and 2016) affecting his ability to dress in playoff games, but when healthy, he basically envelops the entire net, making it extremely difficult to beat him. At one point two seasons ago, he did not give up a single goal all year on certain shot attempts from in front. He can be beaten with tic-tac-toe plays, but with the speed of the Tampa forwards and defencemen, those instances are rare; exemplified with Bishop’s goals against and save percentage statistics in recent years.

4. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins.
Rask is solid, and often spectacular. A stalwart in goal. Just an ideal elite goalie.

3. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals.
Everyone knew Holtby would eventually be good. Winning the Vezina Trophy in 2016 was no surprise or accident. He finally began playing calmer in the net, instead of utilizing his supreme athleticism to make every save (and often take himself out of position for rebound shots). His five hole has always been a weakness, however, and it was his undoing in the Caps’ second round playoff loss to Pittsburgh. All goalies have weakness (Lundqvist’s, for instance, is playing the puck behind his net), but Holtby is good enough most nights that the five hole isn’t a killer.

2. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens.
Price is a perfect specimen, at 6’3″ and change, and about 215 lbs, while as athletic as any goalie in the past 40 years. It is why — when healthy, more on that shortly — he is considered by many to rival Henrik Lundqvist for the title of best goalie in the world. At times, he actually can be universally considered such. His last substantial memory — as he was injured for virtually all of 2015-2016 due to a second knee injury, a compounding of the one suffered when Alexei Emelin tripped Chris Kreider into Price, injuring the same knee in the 2014 playoffs — was the total evisceration he suffered at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2015 playoffs. That’s the only delineation between he and Lundqvist at the moment (although Lundqvist, by extension of the awful play by the defencemen and a couple of subpar own-zone forwards — one who was just traded away, most notably — was equally embarrassed by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2016 playoffs).

1. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers.
Never mind his career high 2.48 goals against, and .920 (just a couple ticks below his career .922) from last season, take into account that the Rangers defence was a sieve all of last season. Their offence has been good to great under Alain Vigneault, as has Lundqvist, as the best goalie in the NHL, but when four of your six defencemen are liabilities and one of the two who are good-to-great gets hurt every year, this is what happens:

(Lundqvist)

— Faced the most shots of any goalie in the NHL.

— Faced (and stopped) the most high-danger shot opportunities… by far… of all goalies in the NHL.

— Faced more opposition offensive zone pressure in third periods of any goalie in the NHL.

And still put up a benchmark .920 save percentage. Add to it that he was overworked by Vigneault — a ridiculous move considering Lundqvist turned 34 in March — and the entire team wore down under the weight of playing five seasons’ worth of games the past four years (including a regular season’s worth of playoff games from 2012-2015). Lundqvist hasn’t shown any signs of slippage, hence this individual ranking.

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