Top 10: NHL Backup Goaltenders

The role of a backup net-minder is often one of the most under appreciated ones in the game. While it may be true that they are not as vital to their teams as their starting counterparts, they do provide an important service that is frequently overlooked. It would be impossible for the Luongo’s, Miller’s, and Rinne’s of the league to play 82 games while still at their best. That’s where the backup goaltenders come in. Their job is to provide sound reliable goaltending in the absence of the starter, whether that be because of injury, a needed break, or recent weak performances. With them often logging 20-30 games (and possibly more) a season, it is important that they be at their best as well. Whether they’re career backups, youngsters in training, or veterans lending experience, they’re the unsung heroes of every successful team, and it’s about time they got some recognition.

Honorable Mentions – Jhonas Enroth (Buffalo Sabres), Martin Biron (New York Rangers)

10. Jean-Sebastien Giguere Colorado Avalanche

A one time starter with the Ducks, Jiggy began to falter at the wrong time, and the up-and-coming Jonas Hiller forced him out of a spot. After relocating to Toronto, JS looked to have the starting spot all wrapped up, but the young James Reimer ousted him out of a job once again. 2011-2012 finds Giguere backing up the former Capital, Semyon Varlamov. While Varly may be an exceptional goalie, he’s also proven to be injury prone, meaning Giguere will likely get more than his fair share of starts. He’s proven his capability of being a starter in the past, and still has what it takes to be a solid performer. Colorado fans, don’t fret, you have a talented, albeit inconsistent, goalie tandem.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Philadelphia Flyers, Goalie

Will Bobrovsky one day be a starter? (bridgetds/flickr)

9. Sergei Bobrovsky – Philadelphia Flyers

Bobrovsky broke into the league for the first time last season on a Philadelphia team with a ton of questions in net. He started off exceptionally strong and started 54 games in his rookie season. Despite struggling late, Bob still managed to finish the year with a .915 save percentage and a 2.59 goals against average. While those numbers wont be turning any heads, they are respectable for a rookie performance. They also likely would have been significantly higher, as it appeared the Flyers overworked their youngster and his play dropped off significantly from the level giving him Calder buzz that he started with. Now playing behind fellow Russian Ilya Bryzgalov, Bobrovsky is sure to pick up valuable experience to put towards improving his game even further.

8. Johan Hedberg New Jersey Devils

While Devils fans may not want to acknowledge it, it seems the time of Martin Broduer’s dominance may soon be over. After an injury and unimpressive play last season, Broduer may be near retirement, and certainly wont be carrying the workload he once did. That means backup Johan Hedberg could see another 30-40 starts this season, and with the way he performed last season, New Jersey fans shouldn’t mind one bit. Hedberg has been around the league, playing as both a backup and starter on previous teams. It’s this experience that likely allowed the veteran to step in and almost single-handedly keep a struggling New Jersey team afloat last season. Every time his services are called upon, he seems more than ready to impress.

7. Braden Holtby – Washington Capitals

While this youngster may be 3rd string for another season on a goalie-rich Washington team, it didn’t stop him from nabbing 14 starts last season. In those 14 starts he put up incredible numbers for a first time NHL’er, with 10 wins and a .934 save percentage. Holtby looks ready to make the big leagues, and whether it’s with the Caps or someone else, he’ll be an incredible asset to have down the road.

6. Jonathan Bernier Los Angeles Kings

While teammate Jonathan Quick may have emerged as the #1 goalie in LA last season, it was certainly in question for quite some time. Bernier, a former 11th overall draft pick, gave him a run for his money and will continue to pressure for the spot again this season. Expectations are high for the 23-year-old, and he’s looking to live up to them as well as establish himself as a capable starting goalie. This should prove for another exciting goaltending duel for Kings fans, which can only result in great play no matter who is in the net.

5. Brent Johnson – Pittsburgh Penguins

Johnson is another veteran that has been around the league for a while. However it wasn’t until last season that he really started to make a name for himself. In 23 games in relief of starter Marc-Andre Fluery, Johnson put up a .922 save percentage on his way to 13 wins. Then there was his memorable fight with the Islanders’ Rick DiPietro, which ended quickly and with the New York net-minder injured. Both of these things have Johnson quickly becoming a fan favorite in Pittsburgh, and while he wont take the starting role, he will be called upon regularly. He’s already made 1 start this season, facing 35 shots and turning away all but 1. With a start like that, he looks poised to improve upon last season’s impressive numbers.

4. Tuukka Rask Boston Bruins

It was this Finnish born goaltender that lead the Bruins 13 games deep in the 2009-2010 playoffs. His incredible rookie numbers (.931 Sv%, 1.97 GAA) and an injured Tim Thomas allowed him to take a firm grip on the starting spot. Then in 2010-2011, Thomas was back to knock Rask off of his starting platform. While Tuukka’s numbers were still good, they were no match for Thomas’ record breaking ones, and he took a backseat, playing 16 fewer games than the year before. This year it’s anyone’s guess as to who will lay claim to the starting spot, and similarly to the situation in Los Angeles, it will likely result in great goaltending every time the Bruins take the ice.

Michal Neuvirth Capitals

Is Michal Neuvirth starter material? (Icon SMI)

3. Michal Neuvirth – Washington Capitals

Neuvirth was supposed to be the backup last season, until Semyon Varlamov went down early with an injury, and Michal ended up playing 48 games. His stellar play continued right into the playoffs, even though it wasn’t enough to take the Capitals deep. It was somewhat puzzling then when Washington brought in veteran Tomas Vokoun during the off-season. It was even more confusing when they decided to start Neuvirth on opening night and not Vokoun. It appears the starting spot may be wide open for the taking, so don’t be surprised if Neuvirth is the one to grab it.

2. Cory Schneider – Vancouver Canucks

Playing behind Roberto Luongo isn’t always the easiest, nor is playing in Vancouver. When you rarely get starts in a city that’s watching your every move, it’s important to play well when you get the chance. That’s just what Schneider did in the 25 games he played last season, and his numbers coupled with Luongo’s earned them the Jennings Trophy at the end of the year. Then during the playoffs, Schneider was called on to bail Luongo out after several shaky performances, and once again he did marvelously. Schneider would likely be a starter on most other teams, and Vancouver fans should cherish this talent while they have it.

1. Anders Lindback Nashville Predators

Nashville’s Pekka Rinne stole the show, and rightfully so, last season, and will undoubtedly play far more games than Lindback again this season. That doesn’t take away from the remarkable play Lindback has put forth though, and will likely continue to put forth again this season. Drafted in the 7th round, it’s safe to say that no one saw this gem coming down the pipes, and now between the pipes, he’s one of the best in the game. Give the 23-year-old a few more seasons in the league and he’ll be ready to take a starting job somewhere else. He would likely have that position already if he wasn’t playing behind arguably the best starter in the game.

  • Andy Liegl

    I understand why he isn’t here, but by the end of this season, Jhonas Enroth will be on this list.

    His 9-2-2-1 stretch last season (most of those wins coming in March) was key in the Sabres making the playoffs. Since Biron left, Miller’s major bane (besides a soft D) was a lack of a competent backup.

    Not so anymore!

    • Andrew Johnson

      I wouldn’t doubt it! Enroth has showed a lot of promise (which is why I listed him as an honorable mention), and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he started turning a few more heads around the league. I think Buffalo as a whole is one of the most underrated teams in the NHL, goaltending included

      • Andy Liegl

        I like the way you think.