One can argue that the hardest position to properly fill in hockey is the role of the backup goaltender. Not only do you need an NHL-caliber goalie who is able to perform without having a consistent playing schedule, but he also has to be good enough to step into the starting role for weeks or even months should injury strike the starter. Also, when a team lacks confidence in their backup, it can create a situation where the starter is overworked, causing play to slip by the end of the season.
When a backup goaltender is able to excel in their role, true magic can happen for a franchise. Suddenly, the starter can take nights off without worry, allowing the team to soldier on with the same confidence in their goaltending no matter who’s in the net.
However, having a backup that is NHL ready can eventually cause trouble for a franchise, forcing the team to underutilize a player. This can cause a massive asset for a franchise to be stuck on the bench as the established starter takes on the lion’s share of the nightly work.
When that situation happens, the league takes notice as many teams are looking for their next franchise goaltender to build around or for a veteran starter to stabilize goaltending for a run at the Stanley Cup.
So, who may be among the next wave of starting goaltenders in the NHL? Well, look no further than some of the current backups. The only problem for the majority of these masters of the meshed mansions is the man standing in front of their dream, an uber-talented starter.
Louis Domingue – Tampa Bay Lightning
- Age: 27
- NHL Experience: 122 games played, 55 wins, .907 save percentage (SV%)
When Louis Domingue was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning from the Arizona Coyotes back in 2017, the move was seen as an afterthought for the Lightning. The team was just trying to stabilize their poor AHL goaltending, which was letting down their young AHL squad at the time.
Two years later, though, Domingue has established himself as one of the best backup goaltenders in the league. In the early stages of the 2018-19 season, he stepped in for the Lightning’s starting goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and looked more than capable of handling the nightly workload.
By the end of the season, he posted 21 wins, including a then-franchise record nine-straight wins. While his play was not always perfect and his statistics not always pristine, he still kept the Lightning in the game long enough for them to get the win.
Now, there should major concern about Domingue if a franchise were looking to acquire him this offseason. The Lightning won a lot of games this season, so his impressive play may have just been an aftereffect of playing for a great team. His statistics, for example, are mostly middling, with only a .908 SV% and 2.88 goals-against average.
This means that teams will likely wait one more season to see if Domingue can replicate his success, or if the 2018-19 season was just a fluke. If he can continue his impressive play, expect many teams to be looking his way when he hits free-agency in the 2020 offseason.
Robin Lehner/ Thomas Greiss – New York Islanders
- Robin Lehner
- Age: 27
- NHL Experience: 265 games played, 97 wins, .918 SV%
- Thomas Greiss
- Age: 33
- NHL Experience: 251 games played, 121 wins, .915 SV%
Heading into the 2018-19 season, many felt that the New York Islanders
While there were many factors as to why they excelled, it was in no small part from the stellar play of Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss. This goaltending tandem was the best in
The one issue with this tandem, however, is neither player is locked down in New York. Lehner was initially signed to a one-year ‘show me’ deal and the 33-year-old Greiss is only signed through the 2019-20 season.
While it is likely that the Islanders will sign Lehner to a
So, while both players could be back with the Islanders to start out the 2019-20 season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see either moved given the right circumstances. With this in mind, a team in need could find their goaltending answer by prying apart this goaltending tandem.
David Rittich – Calgary Flames
- Age: 26
- NHL Experience: 67 games played, 35 wins, .909 SV%
Despite getting usurped from a starting role by Mike Smith to end the 2018-19 season, backup goaltender David Rittich is ready to take on the role once for the Calgary Flames. With Smith finishing his contract with the Flames, the door is open for Rittich to take over the role of full-time starter for the first time in his career. This will allow him to hit the 2019-20 season full-bore, having an offseason to prepare for his new role with the franchise.
While his career statistics aren’t necessarily impressive, these are in line to improve should he take full advantage of a starting role. With a consistent schedule and some time to learn what it means to start 50-plus games a season, Rittich should slowly adjust and dominate his time in net.
Even if Smith were to return to the franchise, it would likely be in a backup role, as Rittich is now reaching the prime of what could be a very long and successful career in Calgary.
Alexander Georgiev – New York Rangers
- Age: 23
- NHL Experience: 43 games played, 18 wins, .915 SV%
The New York Rangers are in an odd spot heading into the 2019-20 season. They are currently in the middle of a rebuild that brought an
However, this doesn’t mean that the Rangers don’t have a young backup waiting to take over the starting role. No, whenever Lundqvist was unable to play, New York called upon 23-year-old Alexander Georgiev, who broke all expectations with his fantastic play. He went 14-13-4 behind a bad Rangers team, looking solid in his starts.
Georgiev may be young, but he has the raw talent and drive to take over the starting role once Lundqvist either retires or is forced to take less of a role with the franchise.
Assuming Lundqvist plays out his contract in full, there could still be two more years before Georgiev is able to take over the starting role in New York. However, he could start making a case to be the full-time starter by the mid-point of the
Backups Ready for the Next Step
Even though there’s no sure thing in the NHL, it does appear that these backup goaltenders are ready to break out of their colleagues’ shadow. By the start of the 2019-20 season, any of these players could find themselves taking on a full-time role with either a new team, or the franchise that helped them develop their skills.