Saturday, August 23, 2008

Top NHL Goalies

Here is one of Dr.Hockey's famous top ------- list's. Recently at work several of us got into an arguement of where Chris Osgood fits in terms of league's top goaltending. The debate had people's opinions ranging from 4th best to 25th. So it inspired this list.

Criteria - This is NOT a list of who I would want to build around. This is not a list of talent only. It's basically, if I had a cup contending team, who would I want between the pipes the most this season. Consistancy is taken into account, as well as previous success, some potential if for example a young goalie is on the cusp and has made big strides in recent years (Pascal Leclaire for example). It's who the top guys would be this year for the regular season and playoff's.

1. Henrik Lunqvist - This guy was virtually unbeatable last year and has gotten better every year he's been in the league. Now entering his prime, which I think will last a long time, King Henrik is ready to dethrown the great Marty Brodeur and win the Vezina trophy. He alone makes an average team capable of winning a playoff round. He makes a good team great. He makes the Rangers a Stanley Cup contender.

2. Martin Brodeur - He's Marty Brodeur. A lot of people look at a sub-par performance against New York in last year's playoffs, but he was dynamite in the regular season and he makes New Jersey a threat every year. Once again, he's Marty Brodeur. Do I need to go on?

3. Evgeni Nabokov - Hard to argue with his 2.14 GAA last season (third in the league behind Osgood and Giguere). Nabokov has lightning fast reflexes, great positional play, and he dominates games. He was a vezina finalist last year with Lunqvist.

4. JS Giguere - Two trips to the finals in the last five years, and a Conn Smythe with the losing 2003 Ducks, Giggy has that ability to do win games on his own. He is a huge goalie, and he's also so positionally sound and handles his rebounds so well that the only way to score on him is if the shot is tipped, and even then, he usually gets a piece of it. 2.12 GAA last season, he's put up similar numbers in each of his last 2 seasons.

5. Marty Turco - Everyone questions Turco because he has never won a Stanley Cup. Although being a champion is a big testiment to a starting goalie, its not everything and I predict Turco will win at least one Stanley Cup in his career. Take for example his 2007 playoffs. He lost in the first round to the Canucks and everyone gave Turco a hard time, despite having posted 3 shutout wins, a GAA of 1.30, and a SV% of .952! These are among the most amazing single series stats for a goalie in NHL history. The Stars were just unable to score. Turco was equally as impressive going three rounds last year with a 2.08 GAA and .922 Sv%, but was unable to single handedly beat the Red Wings. Although he tried, stealing two wins away from the '08 champs.

6. Miika Kiprusoff - I know he's coming off an off year. And I know THN has Luongo and Toskala rated ahead of him (among others), but I don't think a guy who has been a top goalie in the NHL for the past 5 years will have back to back bad seasons. Kipper has been to the finals and has been through some tough playoff rounds. He's got unreal reactions and if he gets his game back to his Kipper level he's as good as any goalie in the NHL.

7. Roberto Luongo - Great big guy has always been called a top goalie in the NHL. I can't argue with that, although he's only really had 1 spectacular season, that being 2006-07 where he was a Vezina and Hart trophy nominee. The excuse for Luongo has always been that he's been so good but plays on such a bad team. People can argue either way about this guy but I don't think anyone can question that when he's on, he's absolutely dominant.

8. Chris Osgood - The much debated Osgood is your 2008 Stanley Cup champ. One guy I work with said the Red Wings would have won with Raycroft in net. Well the notion that the Red Wings were so good that they could have won with, let's say "average" goaltending is absurd. How many great teams have not won because their goaltending has been just average? Remember when St.Louis was a power house and Roman Turek got shelled in the conference finals? Or the 2006 Red Wings who were shocked by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round, Legace was just average that year.

Let's put to rest the notion that Osgood is an average NHL goalie, or not a top 10. Yes the Red Wings are a good team, yes Niklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Brian Rafalski do their part to neutralize the oppositions offense. On some night's its true, Ozzy will face just 17 or 18 shots, turn away all but one and have a really easy time. And its true, a lot of average goalies could put up really respectable numbers with the Red Wings. But to lead the NHL in GAA in the regular season and the playoffs? If its all the team in front of him and not Ozzy then shouldn't Hasek have been rated 2nd in those categories? How come Hasek was 2 and 2 against the Predators then Osgood came in, finished off that series with 2 wins, swept the Avalanche, and took the first three games against the Stars before finally losing his first of ten playoff games. Oh, almost forgot after that he went on to shut-out the Penguins in the first two games of the finals. You need a great goalie to win the Stanley Cup, period.

Fact is, Chris Osgood completely revamped his style. He went from being a stand-up goalie for years to becoming a butterfly goalie, and he was rewarded with his best season in a decade. Ozzy is a positionally sound goalie, who handles his own rebounds so well that he makes it easy for the d-men in front of him (and yes, a lot of the time they make it easy for him too). But picked by the GM's to go to the All-star game last year, and then winning the Stanley Cup and Jennings trophy, Osgood is undoubtably a top 10 goalie in the NHL right now and the only veteran of 10 or more years to have never finished any lower than 5th in his conference (and that includes his days in New York and St.Louis). The guy is just a winner.

9. Rick Dipietro - Kind of a Luongo syndrome, in that he faces 40 shots a night on one of the worst teams, much like Roberto did in Florida. The tough part about rating a goalie like this is that, when you face 44 shots, its excusable to allow 3 or 4 of them, and of course you're going to make 3 or 4 highlight reel saves along the way. But that being said, I still say Ricky is an amazing talent, and the reason the NYI made the post season in 2007. That season he made countless highlight reel stops and even put up 40+ save shutouts on a couple of occasions. That kind of dominance can't be ignored. Ricky will have his work cut out for him again this season in New York.

10. Ryan Miller - Miller was a workhorse last year appearing in 76 games. He was the goalie of record in 73 of those games going 36-27-10 on a team that missed the playoffs! He posted a solid 2.64 GAA and a less than spectacular .904 SV% but was respectable in both categories. Miller did struggle for a stretch in the middle of last season, but was great for the most part as he was in 2007. He has to be considered one of the league's best.

11. Pascal Leclaire - We should just change his name to Mr.Shutouts. And on the Blue Jackets, wow. This guy has been an up and comer for a couple years and last year he was turning heads with the way he was playing. He'll be a force this season.

12. Vesa Toskala - Leafs goalie was listed as the 7th best goalie in THN's list of the NHL's top 50 players. (good list). He was always considered a good goalie with the Sharks and last year in Toronto he was the heart of the Leafs for most of the season. He'll win some games this year on a Leafs team with very little expectations.

13. Tomas Vokoun - I've always considered him to be a top ten, but there's no one ahead of him I can move him down for. Vokoun is a great goalie though with a .919 Sv% last year and not a lot of help in front of him.

14. Ilya Bryzgalov - Bryz was a monster in net for Phoenix last year after they stole him off waivers from the Ducks. Bryz is a dominant force. He's a beast. This guy, what can I say about this guy?

15. MA Fleury - Went to the finals last year. He's got those wicked reactions. I think he's capable of a lot but being a small goalie the puck sometimes finds a way to beat him, even if he gets a big piece (ie Zetterbergs 3rd period goal, game 6 of the finals). When Fleury is on his game and has his reactions going he gives Pittsburgh the type of 'tending they need to go far. If he can keep if consistent this upcoming season, he could be a champion.

16. Dan Ellis - Preds record with Ellis in net: 23-10-3. Preds record with Mason in net: 18-22-6. Oh and his .924 SV% was good for first in the NHL, not to mention a 2.34 GAA. Holy! How is this guy not a top 10? Well, if he can match those numbers again this year, or even come close I would have to consider him a top 10 for next years list. But duplicating things you do in your first year isn't always easy, ask Jim Carey, Andrew Raycroft, and Cam Ward...

17. Cam Ward - Before Ward, the previous Conn Smythe winner was Brad Richards who was dead last in the NHL in +/- last season, considered to be overpaid and was traded at the deadline. The next Conn Smythe winner after Ward was Scott Niedermyer who last season was retired for half the year and came back a shadow of his old self, he was hardly effective at all against Dallas in the playoffs. And then there is Ward who came off the bench to takeover as starter, got hot and won the Cup and Conn Smythe in 2006. Since then he hasn't played at that level for any consistant amount of time, but he has gone through stretches of greatness. Conn Smythe curse? Look out Zetts. I should mention about Ward though, if he can get consistant, he could be a force again and make the Hurricanes a playoff team again.

18. Nik Backstrom - Backstrom only put up a 33-13-8 record last year with a 2.31 GAA and .920 SV% last season. That's all. That's practically Vezina worthy. Some argue that his numbers are a product of Jacques Lemaires defensive trap. But with a save percentage so solid to go along with his other numbers, its hard to take away anything from Backstrom. Any of Lemaires trapping teames have relied heavily on solid goaltending, and although Minnesota had some good scorers and young guys up front, they didn't have a ton and needed Backstrom to do what he did in order to make it in the strong Western conference.

19. Martin Biron - The other Marty B was dynamite in the playoffs last year taking the Flyers to the final four. The turnaround from last overall in the league to where they got last year after picking up Biron at the deadline of 2007 was amazing, and Biron was a huge part of it giving the Flyers players confidence in their goaltending, and much needed stability in goal.

20. Cristobal Huet - Would have liked to put him higher on the list, but again, ahead of who? Still Huet put up really solid numbers in Montreal last year then went to Washington and just refused to lose getting them a last minute playoff spot. Huet joining Chicago this year makes a lot of sense, and he could be the difference with this young team potentially making the playoffs this upcoming season.

Honourable mentions in order of division -


Manny Legace - good goalie, All-star last year, but a non-spectacular goalie on a non-competitive team doesn't make him anything to look out for this year. I think he'll be a little uninspired by mid-season but will win a few games here and there.

Ty Conklin - great numbers last year with Pittsburgh, now comes in to back up Chris Osgood, I could actually see him get close to 30 starts next season, and he should put up good numbers yet again. Biggest knock on Conklin is that he doesn't have that clutch goalie reputation and It'll be hard to forget the 2006 Stanley Cup finals.

North West:

Mathieu Garon - I couldn't put this guy in the top 20 although he was a good goalie and estblished himself as Edmonton's starter last year. He's still a pretty young goalie and could still break out, but I don't think he'll ever be at that level to be a champion. Still he's a good holdover goalie for Oilers.

North East:

Marty Gerber - Not consistant enough. Obviously.

Timmy Thomas - Good goalie, for a big man he does move well at times, but he tends to get on cold streaks. Still he was an all-star and he got the Bruins into the playoffs. Look for him to have another really good season tandeming with Fernandez.

Carey Price - Good young goalie. He put up great numbers last year on a first place Habs team. He was able to get a couple shutouts and showed off his great reactions. But as I said about Price, and as was the case with Raycroft, Jim Carey and others in the past, its tough for a young goalie to step into the NHL and make that difference right away. Even MA Fleury needed to go back down a couple times before establishing himself as a legit starter. Now I don't think that will be the case for Price, I also wouldn't feel comfortable with this kid as my starter if I were a contending team, at least not without a reliable veteran back-up. Price's gaff's against the Bruins won't be forgotten or his puck toss to RJ Umberger, his playoff errors just pile up in my mind and there's no way I could put him in the top 20.

South East:

Kari Lehtinen - Kari is a good goalie, its too bad he's stuck in Atlanta. I've seen him let in some really strange goals, and even when Atlanta did make the playoffs I felt that Johan Hedberg stepped in and did a better job. In fact, Hedberg might still be slightly better than Atlanta's 5th overall draft pick/project. I could see Kari being traded somewhere at some point in his career and playing inspired, and maybe living up to his potential. As of right now, too many holes.

Mike Smith - He almost made the list. Smitty was a dynamite back up and now we'll see how well he handles the bulk of the workload in Tampa with Kolzig coming in for 20-30 games to back him up.

Jose Theodore - Last year, Jose had a 2nd coming, returning to his old form, but then absolutely fell apart in the playoffs. I still think he's another good goalie, when he's on his game he's a solid NHL starter.

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