Central Division Rankings: Goalie Tandems

In the 2022 offseason, the NHL witnessed a flurry of goaltending moves, with the Central Division seeing a lot of the action. In all, seven of the eight teams in the division made a move to acquire either a new starter or a new backup into the mix.

For this series, we are going to focus on each team’s goalie tandems, projecting who the starter and backup will be as each team heads into camp, and ranking how each tandem stacks up within the Central Division.

8. Arizona Coyotes: Karel Vejmelka / Jon Gillies

By all accounts, the Arizona Coyotes suffered through a rough season in 2021-22, finishing last in the division with 57 points and second to last in all of the NHL. Through all of that, they have found at least a steady starter in the goal in Karel Vejmelka. While his stats don’t look all that impressive (13-32-3, .898 SV%), he started 49 games and appeared in 52. At 26-years old, he’ll get the Coyotes’ first crack at being the starter this season.

Jon Gillies appeared in a career-high 20 games last season between the St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils, going 3-10-2 in 14 starts. Like Vejmelka, his performance left a lot to be desired, allowing a goals against average (GAA) of 3.76 and a lowly .884 save percentage (SV%). He and Vejmelka should compete for playing time in Arizona.

7. Chicago Blackhawks: Petr Mrazek / Alex Stalock

The Blackhawks acquired Petr Mrazek from the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer as a part of the organization’s rebuild. Mrazek had an up-and-down season with Toronto in 2021-22, suffering through a significant groin injury that sidelined him for six weeks. Once a steady starter in the NHL from his time with the Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes, he’ll now be the number one starter for a team that may be selling off more pieces in hopes for a high lottery pick in the 2023 Entry Draft.

At 35-years old, Alex Stalock has bounced around between the AHL and NHL for the last decade. He’s been a part of 152 games (124 starts), posting a combined record of 61-50-18. However, he appeared in just one game last season with the San Jose Sharks where he allowed 6 goals on 28 shots. Stalock is a depth piece at most and won’t be counted on to win games.

6. Colorado Avalanche: Alexandar Georgiev / Pavel Francouz

In perhaps the Central Division’s biggest goaltending splash this offseason, the Colorado Avalanche acquired Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers after they lost former goalie Darcy Kuemper to free agency. Georgiev served as Igor Shesterkin’s backup last season while he went on to win the Vezina Trophy. The Avalanche are hoping Georgiev can capture some of that magic from his former teammate and lead them back to the cup, a tall order for someone who has been primarily a backup during his 5-year career. He will also be the team’s third different starting goalie in the last three years.

Pavel Francouz is one of the league’s top backup goaltenders and proved his worth in the 2022 playoffs. He made 6 starts in place of Kuemper, going 6-0-0 in route to winning the Stanley Cup. I’m not sold on either Francouz or Georgiev making the leap to becoming a true number one in the NHL, but they may not have to be considering the Avalanche’s solid defensive unit playing in front of them. He’ll be the backup for now, but he could easily be the starter should Georgiev stumble.

5. Dallas Stars: Jake Oettinger / Scott Wedgewood

Expectations for 24-year old Jake Oettinger are high after his solid regular season and even better postseason. In their seven game series against the Calgary Flames, although they ultimately lost out, he stopped 272 out of 285 shots for a .954 SV%. 2021-22 was his first as a starter, and it’ll be his job to begin 2022-23. He and the Stars agreed to a three year, $12 million extension this offseason, so expectations will be high for him as the team will be trying to make another postseason push.

Scott Wedgewood was acquired midway through 2021-22 from the Arizona Coyotes is a capable backup. He’s made 68 starts in his career, with a career-high 32 of them coming last season between the Devils, Coyotes, and Stars.

4. St. Louis Blues: Jordan Binnington / Thomas Greiss

After surrendering his starting job to Ville Husso for the majority of last season, Binnington regained form in the playoffs before being injured. With Husso being traded to Detroit this summer, the Blues are going all-in, betting on him returning to his Stanley Cup play from 2019. He was lights out in the 2022 playoffs, going 4-1-0 in 5 starts and stopping 167 of 176 shots faced – good for a 1.72 GAA. With Husso out, there will be no safety net for Binnington. The Blues are hoping he can both handle and excel with a true starter’s workload.

Thomas Greiss was brought in this summer specifically to be the backup in St. Louis. At this stage in his career, he knows his role and should excel as the team’s number two goaltender. Greiss is good enough to get the team through any short rough stretches Binnington may have.

3. Minnesota Wild: Marc-Andre Fleury / Filip Gustavsson

The Wild acquired future Hall of Famer Marc-Andrew Fleury at last season’s trade deadline, to start in favor of Cam Talbot, who they then dealt to the Ottawa Senators this offseason and received Filip Gustavsson in return. So the Wild have completely turned over the position. Fleury definitely isn’t the same presence in net that he once was, posting a .908 SV% last year between the Blackhawks and Wild. He’s still an elite goaltender in the NHL and should fare better in 2022-23 with a full season in Minnesota.

Filip Gustavvson has some upside for a backup goalie. He’s 24-years old and going into his third NHL season. With Ottawa last year, his numbers weren’t great (5-12-1, 3.55 GAA). In his defense, he was playing on a struggling team with a leaky defensive unit in front of him. The hope is that his numbers will improve as he’s surrounded by more talent.

2. Winnipeg Jets: Connor Hellebuyck / David Rittich

Although still great by all means, Connor Hellebuyck is the most over-worked goalie in the NHL. In 66 starts in 2021-22, he faced a league leading 2155 shots, marking the fourth season in a row he’s held that distinction. Through all that, he still recorded a solid .910 SV%. It’s tough to face that much pressure without cracking, but he could be even better with some help on defense. He’ll once again be relied upon to carry the Jets on his back.

Veteran David Rittich was the backup in Nashville last season, making just 12 starts and appearing in 17 games overall. Behind Hellebuyck, he’ll likely face a similar workload. He’s got a career .908 SV%, but that number has been trending down the last three seasons.

1. Nashville Predators: Juuse Saros / Kevin Lankinen

Not only is Jusse Saros the best goalie in the Central Division, he’s one of the tops in the NHL. After going 38-25-3 in 67 starts last season, he placed third in the Vezina Trophy voting. He was second in the league in wins (38), shots against (2107), saves (1934), and was first in goalie point shares (14.0). If it weren’t for Filip Forsberg having the season that he did, a lot more people would be highlighting Saros carrying the Predators to the playoffs. Like Hellebuyck, he’s going to be between the pipes nearly every night in 2022-23.

Kevin Lankinen signed with the Predators this offseason after two seasons with Chicago. Moving on from a struggling Blackhawks organization with a terrible defense to Nashville might pay off in dividends for both him and Nashville. Lankinen should be a solid backup for Saros, it’ll just be a matter of how many games he’s actually able to play.

Recapping the Central Division Goalie Rankings by Team

  1. Nashville Predators
  2. Winnipeg Jets
  3. Minnesota Wild
  4. St. Louis Blues
  5. Dallas Stars
  6. Colorado Avalanche
  7. Chicago Blackhawks
  8. Arizona Coyotes

Do you agree with these rankings? Am I too high or too low on some of these goalie tandems? Let me know in the comment section below!