The age-old debate when it comes to any sport, any league, any team: who are the best of the best?
With the NHL’s preseason on the horizon, let’s takes a look at the top 25 players at each position right now: forward, defense and goalie. This list takes into account both recent NHL performance – including goals saved above average (GSAA) – and what is expected from the player in the year to come.
Here are the top 25 NHL goalies for the 2018-19 season:
25. Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars
“Dobby” may have played the best hockey of his career last season in Dallas. Even though he split time with 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop, Khudobin played in 41 games – more than he ever had in one year before. Dallas deployed its goaltenders at a near-even split last season (Ben Bishop appeared in 46 games) and seemed to benefit heavily from both goalies getting rest throughout the year, ultimately finishing second in total goals against (200).
Khudobin is an NHL veteran by now and owns an affable, laid-back reputation, but his career has been a series of ups and downs. The 33-year-old has never quite established himself as a starter but has succeeded in different stints with Boston, Carolina and now Dallas. He has perhaps found an ideal situation in the Lone Star State.
24. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers
Philadelphia’s hopes and dreams rest in the puck-stopping skills of their 21-year-old netminder who made his NHL debut on Dec. 18. Just two years prior, he was the first goalie selected in the NHL Draft (48th overall) and turned heads with an outstanding performance – 1.81 goals-against average, .929 save percentage in six games – for Canada at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Hart played out a successful first NHL season, collecting a 16-13-1 record and .917 save percentage and manned an eight-game winning streak in January. The Flyers have committed to his development by bringing in veteran Brian Elliott to platoon with and mentor the young Sherwood Park, Alta., native. Philadelphia has not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2012 and while goaltending hasn’t always been the strongest position for the Flyers, Hart could be the goaltender that brings them back to postseason success.
23. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders
One half of the Islanders’ terrific goalie tandem alongside Robin Lehner last season, Greiss went 23-14-2 with a 2.28 GAA, .927 save percentage and five shutouts. His efforts gave him a share of the William M. Jennings Trophy with Lehner after compiling a league-low 2.33 GAA. A perennial backup, the 33-year-old suited up in 43 games, the most he’s played in since 2016-17 (51).
Greiss appears destined to play out his last season under contract in New York as a backup or “1B” option, again, after the Islanders signed Semyon Varlamov to a four-year deal in July. His solid track record makes him a perfectly capable goalie when he’s not forced to carry a heavy workload.
22. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks
Jones is among the top five goalies in games played over the last three seasons. Unfortunately, that heavy workload has not worked for him. Two of those seasons feature respectable goaltending numbers; last season his play nosedived. His save percentage (.896) was 51 out of 54 total goaltenders who played 25-plus games in 2018-19.
The postseason really did not prove better for San Jose’s goalie. While the Sharks took the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blues to the Western Conference finals sixth game, Jones struggled despite facing more than 30 shots against in only eight of 20 playoff games.
Chalk it up as one poor season in an otherwise steady career, but Jones is under contract for five more seasons and if he can’t bounce back it could be a long season in San Jose.
21. Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders
Varlamov’s eight-year tenure in Colorado came to an end after playing 49 games last season with a .909 save percentage to boot as Philipp Grubauer started for the Avalanche in the playoffs. With Grubauer slated to be the team’s starter moving forward, Varlamov signed with the Islanders in July. He should capable of more than he showed last season, although he has only played more than 50 games once in the last three seasons.
The 31-year-old enters perhaps an ideal scenario as New York excelled with a two-goalie tandem last season. Perhaps Varlamov will find his game on Long Island as Lehner, a 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist, did last season.
20. Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes
Mrazek played an important role in one of the best success stories last season, helping backstop the Hurricanes all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. However, the season was not an immediate success story – on Jan. 1, the Hurricanes were outside the playoff picture. The 27-year-old netminder’s commanding play in the final half of the season (15-5-1, .924 save percentage after Jan. 13) helped Carolina earn a wild card spot.
In the postseason, Mrazek was in goal for the Hurricanes upset of the No. 2 seeded Washington Capitals in seven games. He got hurt in the next round but did return for the conference finals where he faltered in net. Now healthy, he’ll lead Carolina in net and they’ll surely need him again next spring.
19. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
The 2018-19 season was certainly the worst season of Quick’s 12-year career – in 46 games he had a losing record with a 3.38 GAA, .888 save percentage and just 19 quality starts. Why does he appear at No. 19 on this list, then, and not at the end? Should he be on it at all?
Los Angeles’ was the league’s second-worst team last season (31-42-9, 71 points), so it’s not all on the goalie. While the franchise has plenty of work to do to get back to competing, Quick’s season was an extreme deviation from the norm. Perhaps the 33-year-old Connecticut native is no longer the elite goalie that backstopped the Kings to two Stanley Cups (2012, 2014), and won a Conn Smythe Trophy (2012), but there’s a high chance he bounces back in a big way this fall.
18. Jaroslav Halak, Boston Bruins
Halak “technically” played as a backup last season, but he went above and beyond what the front office and fans in Boston expected of him. Tuukka Rask’s early-seasons struggles thrust him into a near-equal partnership that the 34-year-old thrived in. His 14.73 goals saved above average ranked higher than all but two seasons in his career – and those seasons were seven and nine years ago.
While Halak stayed on the bench during the Bruins’ playoff run, the regular-season split appeared to help benefit Rask as the Bruins went to the Stanley Cup Final. GMs should pay attention to how Boston manages the workload this fall; if Halak performs well again, the veteran Czech could move to a starting gig elsewhere next summer.
17. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
It’s been a rough stretch for the two-time Stanley Cup champ. Crawford has dealt with concussion issues the last two seasons that have allotted him only 67 games. Last year, he posted a 2.93 GAA with a slightly below league-average save percentage (.908) in 39 games.
For the 2019-20 campaign, the Blackhawks signed Robin Lehner to tandem with Crawford; it should help keep him fresher if the team earns a playoff berth. However, if he is not healthy enough to play a full season, it could be the end of the road in Chicago for Crawford.
16. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
Would anyone have imagined that Fleury joining the Golden Knights via the 2017 expansion draft would turn out to be the best thing for his career? The 2003 first-overall draft pick is in the midst of a career resurgence in Las Vegas after Matt Murray pushed him out in Pittsburgh.
Over 61 starts last season, Fleury won 35 games and a .913 save percentage – a dip from his .927 save percentage a year prior. However, it still earned the Sorel, Que., native a top-five finish in Vezina Trophy voting for the second season in a row.
Fleury’s play in net – and his infectious personality off the ice – has helped put Vegas on the map. He is building a legacy with his new team that could rival the one he left behind with the Penguins.
15. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
Only four goalies have played more games in the past three years than the Jets netminder, but the workload comes with mixed results. In 2017-18, he tied for the league lead in wins (44) and games played (67), and finished second in Vezina Trophy voting. That year is surrounded by two average seasons, with last year seeing an uptick in GAA (2.90).
No goaltender faced more shots against than Hellebuyck last season (2,051), and as a result, he let in more goals (179) than any other goalie, too. That statistic actually makes his .913 save percentage stick out as more than hardly above average – it’s a signifier of how heavily the Jets are leaning on the 26-year-old. Winnipeg finished 17th in total goals against (243) last season and fifth in shots against per game (33.4) – that’s a lot of rubber that will need to be cleaned up this season.
14. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
“King Henrik” still rules the crease ice at Madison Square Garden, but two questions surround him as we enter 2019-20: how well has he really played in recent seasons and how much longer can he be a starter?
Lundqvist was hands-down among the league’s best each and every year until 2016-17 – incidentally, the last season the Rangers made the playoffs. As his team has floundered, so has the 37-year-old Swede; his save percentage (.911) over the last three seasons hovers around the league average.
Plenty of quality goalies have seen their numbers drop when the team in front of them struggle too, and there’s no question that the last two Rangers seasons have been substandard. However, this year’s team on paper is a mighty upgrade and should help raise his number back up to the Lundqvist-norm.
13. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues
Perhaps last season’s best individual story, Binnington finally rose to NHL prominence nearly eight years after the Blues selected him in the draft.
When long-time Blues starter Jake Allen faltered, the Richmond Hill, Ont., native answered the call. He amassed a 24-5-1 record with a 1.89 GAA and .927 save percentage to propel the worst team in the NHL on Jan. 3 into the postseason. Not as rock-solid in the postseason, he performed well enough to lead the Blues to their first-ever Stanley Cup.
Binnington’s regular-season play earned him second place in Calder Trophy voting and fifth place for the Vezina; even some MVP votes were tossed his way at the end of the season. The 26-year-old signed a two-year extension with St. Louis in July, and will look to prove that 2019 was not a fluke.
12. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Rinne performed right on the nose compared to his career average statistics in 2018-19; he won 30 games for Nashville and put together a 2.42 GAA and .918 save percentage along the way. Most years, that’s what the Predators can expect from him, and it’s worked well in his 10+ years as a starter. However, he is capable of much more, too, as he won the 2018 Vezina finished within the top three in voting three other times.
Considering he’ll turn 37 in November, the Predators will need to find a successor sooner rather than later. For now, Rinne is more than capable of backstopping the team for a full season and a long playoff run, as he did in 2017.
11. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Rask seemed to have two separate seasons in 2018-19. There was the regular season: an up-and-down roller coaster with a notable stretch that made him look like the player who won the Vezina in 2014. From Dec. 29 to March 9, the 32-year-old Finn amassed a 16-0-3 record with a .929 save percentage At other points in the season, however, Rask was shaky and he ultimately played the fewest games of his career as Boston’s starter (46).
When the scene shifted to the playoffs, Rask came alive and was one of the main reasons Boston made it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. He allowed more than three goals only twice the entire run – unfortunately, one of those games came in the deciding game. Rask probably would have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player had the Bruins won, and he will be back for vengeance this fall.
10. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes
Kuemper quietly impressed the entire league in his first full season with Arizona as he won a career-high 27 games and backstopped the fifth-best team in the NHL in goals against (220). The 29-year-old recorded five shutouts and won all 11 games where he made 35 saves or more in 2018-19. The Coyotes missed the postseason by just four points, and Kuemper’s efforts made that playoff pursuit possible.
The question for the Saskatoon, Sask., native is whether or not he has a repeat performance in him. This season will be Kuemper’s eighth in the NHL with last season being his first in a starting capacity. If he can play to the same level, and the Coyotes increase their scoring, that’s a surefire playoff team in the West.
9. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins were fortunate to go from Fleury straight to Murray, who helped backstop the team to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.
If there a knock on the 25-year-old’s game it’s perhaps that he has not played over 50 games in a single season – although, he has not really needed to. Pittsburgh’s coaching staff allotted backup Casey DeSmith 30 starts last season, and both he and Murray performed admirably posting .928 and .930 save percentages at even strength, respectively.
A Thunder Bay, Ont., native, Murray struggled in the postseason as the Pens were swept by the Islanders. He allowed 12 goals over the four games while the team failed to score more than once in each game after Game 1.
8. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Let’s face it, Holtby has not been at his best in either of the last two seasons. That’s okay – in the 2018 playoffs, Holtby recorded a .922 save percentage to help Washington win its first championship. Even with his most downward slope, Holtby’s quality work in his nine-year NHL career keeps him within the league’s top 10.
This past postseason he did post an impressive milestone when he surpassed Olie Kolzig for most playoff shutouts in franchise history with a 30-save effort against the Hurricanes on April 20. Overall, the Capitals are still a good team and Holtby is still a solid netminder. It would be a surprise if he slumps in the regular season for a third straight year.
7. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers
An impressive body of work during his seven years in Columbus earned Bobrovsky a $70 million contract with the Panthers this summer and the two-time Vezina Trophy winner is sure to keep up his high standard of play in the Sunshine State. Last season, Bobrovsky struggled at times as it became increasingly apparent his time with the team was coming to a close, but he pulled the proverbial monkey off his back in the playoffs.
Entering 2019, his playoff history was shaky; however, he posted postseason career-bests against the Lightning and Bruins with a .925 save percentage while allowing just 25 goals in 10 games. It was not enough to bring the Blue Jackets to the conference final, but he can build off that experience for the Panthers’ expected push in 2020.
6. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs
Is Andersen the most successful Maple Leafs goalie in the last 15 years? He’s been nothing if not consistent with a save percentages ranging from .917 to .919 over the last four seasons. He has also bore the brunt of one of the league’s heavier workloads – starting 60 or more games the last three seasons – and two seasons ago he saw more rubber than any other goalie in the league.
Now that the Leafs have built the franchise’s most competent defensive group in years, along with an All-Star group of forwards, Andersen should backstop the Maple Leafs on a deep playoff run in 2019-20.
5. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Has Price performed to the level fans and opponents expected from him following his 2014 Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy campaign? No, but Price did work more than any other goalie last season and still put up well above-average numbers. The 32-year-old posted a .918 save percentage that still remained well above the league average (.910), and Hockey Reference’s goalie point shares metric lists Price tied for contributing the most points to his team’s success of any goalie last season.
While he finished seventh last season in Vezina voting, he needs the team in front of him to pick up their play to help put him back in the thick of the conversation again.
4. Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks
When Lehner opened up about his mental health struggles before last season, the hockey world listened. When Lehner put together an incredible season for the Islanders, the hockey world took notice and appeared the Swedish goalie finally unlocked his true potential. His .930 save percentage, 26.24 GSAA and 26 quality starts placed him near the top of the league in each category. Lehner’s combined efforts with Islanders tandem partner Thomas Greiss snagged the two the 2019 William M. Jennings Trophy and propelled their team to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Lehner signed a one-year contract with Chicago this summer and will be keen to repeat last season’s efforts with a Blackhawks team in need of insurance in between the pipes.
3. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars
Bishop originally rose to prominence during a three-year stint with Tampa Bay from 2013-16 where he was a two-time finalist for the Vezina, a three-time All-Star and led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final. The 32-year-old struggled through his first season in Dallas but bounced back considerably last season despite only playing 46 regular-season games.
In 2018-19 he led the NHL in save percentage (.934) and goals saved above average (32.24). Bishop’s play was electric through the Stars’ two-round playoff run where he allowed 13 goals and posted a .933 save percentage. After finishing second in Vezina Trophy voting in June, it’s clear Ben Bishop is back.
2. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
Gibson remains a statistical darling even after Anaheim missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons in 2019. The Ducks’ most pressing issue is scoring goals, not necessarily keeping them out of the net when only five goalies saw more shots last season than Gibson. It highlights just how poised Gibson remains in the crease -he posted a .917 save percentage, raising that number to .923 at even-strength.
According to Hockey Reference, Gibson recorded more than 10 goals saved above average (goalie’s save pct. and shots against vs. league average save pct. on the same number of shots) in three straight seasons. Statistically, 2018-19 was Gibson’s worst season but the 6-2 American still played at an above-average level as his team fell out of contention.
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
Could anyone but the reigning Vezina Trophy winner stand as the league’s top goalie heading into 2019-20? The Lightning backstop has the most wins in the last two seasons (83), and while that’s not necessarily a fair measure of success, the rest of his stats back it up as well. Tied with Kuemper for the sixth-best save percentage (.925) of all goalies who played 25 games or more in 2018-19, Vasilevskiy actually played more games than each netminder ahead of him (53).
Sure, the 25-year-old netminder floundered in the first round as the Blue Jackets swept the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Lightning, but there’s no reason to feel that’s anything but an aberration from his usual standard.
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