If goaltending is the most important position in sports, then that makes this the most important ranking in sports. Not that we’re bragging or anything. Here’s how the NHL’s 31 projected starting netminders stack up for the 2020-21 season:
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
Yes, he has the benefit of a great team in front of him – on the other hand, the Bolts have the benefit of a great goalie behind them.
2. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
There’s no clear-cut “best goalie” in the NHL these days, but a healthy, rested Price is as close as it gets.
3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner just needs to show he can maintain the same elite level of play. There’s no reason to believe he won’t.
4. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Consistently one of the league’s top ‘tenders, year after year after year. It bears watching to see how Rask blends back in with the Bruins after leaving the playoff bubble to tend to a family medical emergency back home in Finland.
5. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
He’s been the best thing about the Ducks in recent seasons, sometimes by a long shot. But for some injury absences, he might’ve been even higher on this list.
6. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars
Great when healthy, even in his mid-30s. Unfortunately the injury bug keeps biting him, usually around playoff time. Not that Anton Khudobin is complaining.
7. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers
Remember the past couple decades when the Flyers were killing themselves looking for a go-to goalie? They don’t have to worry about that anymore.
8. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes
He’s gone from anonymous backup goalie to fringe Hart Trophy candidate in the span of a couple of seasons. That’s a heck of a rise – now the challenge is to keep it going.
9. Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights
He always had great promise, and now he’s getting great results, too. He did make Marc-Andre Fleury’s agent sad, though.
10. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues
His incredible ascent from the AHL to Stanley Cup champion in 2019 is the stuff of legend. He’s not going to be that good all the time, but he needs to be a lot better than last year’s playoff flameout (0-5 record, .851 save percentage).
11. Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames
It took him a few years – and a couple teams – to find his stride as an NHL No. 1. His reward was a rich UFA deal on a Cup contender.
12. New York Islanders: Semyon Varlamov
Hmm, you ever notice how Barry Trotz’s goalies – or should we say, goalie coach Mitch Korn’s goalies – always seem to find their career-best form?
13. Philipp Grubauer, Colorado Avalanche
He’s been good in Colorado, but he’s been hurt, too. The Avs have championship aspirations, but not when they have to play their third-stringer in the playoffs, which happened last season when they bowed out against Dallas.
14. Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets
Lived up to the hype as a rookie as part of an underrated duo with Joonas Korpisalo. Look for even better things in Year 2.
15. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs
He gets one more crack with Leafs before his contract runs out. Clamping down on soft goals would help his cause.
16. Matt Murray, Ottawa Senators
He’s not in Pittsburgh anymore. Murray goes from a Cup hopeful to a bottom-up rebuild, but at least the Sens have the promise of youth on their side.
17. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers
His first year in Florida was, in a word, terrible. But Bobrovsky’s a two-time Vezina winner and he’s only 32. Bet on a bounce-back.
18. Cam Talbot, Minnesota Wild
The past two seasons have been up and down mostly due to injuries. When he’s healthy, Talbot can heat up and carry a team.
19. Thomas Greiss, Detroit Red Wings
Plenty familiar with platoon duty after playing with Lehner and then Varlamov on Long Island, Greiss gets a chance for full-on No. 1 status in Detroit – provided he can hold off Jonathan Bernier, who was one of the Wings’ few good-news stories last season.
20. Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers
Called up late in the season, Shesterkin went 10-2-0 to prove his pedigree and chase Henrik Lundqvist out of town. You can expect him to be much higher on this list next year.
21. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals
With Braden Holtby in Vancouver, there’s a new No. 1 in the Caps’ crease. Samsonov certainly appears ready to roll, he’s just got to go out and prove his worth.
22. Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils
The Devils had a lot of problems last season, but Blackwood wasn’t one of them. Give him some time to rise up the rankings.
23. Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers
He’s huge and he’s helped shore up the crease in Edmonton. But is he a series-stealing No. 1 for team with ambitious playoff plans?
24. Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks
If his playoff fill-in performance is any indication, the Canucks’ goalie-of-the-future has arrived. If he falters, Holtby’s there to pick up the slack.
25. Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes
Still streaky, but he’s stabilized. Mrazek is effectively in a partnership with James Reimer, with the pair pushing each for playing time and the Canes coaching staff usually riding the hot hand.
26. Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins
He burst on the scene with a Vezina-caliber performance in the first half last season, then tailed off significantly. The Pens saw enough to give him the crease anyway.
27. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Slowed by injuries the past couple years, and that affected his athleticism, which is a big part of his game. He’s declined, but so has the team in front of him.
28. Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators
The No. 1-in-waiting in Nashville for the past couple years, Saros took over the starting job from Pekka Rinne in the playoffs. Now to prove he deserves it for the long haul.
29. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks
Keeping up with Jones hasn’t been difficult the past few seasons – his numbers rank among the worst for NHL starting goalies. He’ll battle ex-Wild No. 1 Devan Dubnyk for the Sharks’ crease.
30. Linus Ullmark, Buffalo Sabres
He’s fared well as a platoon/1B netminder in Buffalo the past couple seasons. How will he do when the Sabres ask him to shoulder more of the load?
31. Collin Delia, Chicago Blackhawks
The Hawks’ default No. 1 goalie has 18 games of NHL experience and a rebuilding team in front of him. Malcolm Subban is the backup.