Before the season, we ranked all 31 goalies in the NHL. Pekka Rinne, last season’s Vezina Trophy winner, topped the list, narrowly beating out Marc-Andre Fleury and Sergei Bobrovsky.
But half of a season is an eternity in the goaltending world. No players’ performances shift more from season to season than NHL net minders. Some of the goalies that topped the list have had awful 2018-19 seasons, and others have been replaced entirely, either due to injury or due to being surpassed by a better option.
In this article, we’ll re-evaluate all 31 current starting goalies. Like before, we’ve relied primarily on this year’s numbers, focusing on two statistics above others: Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) and Quality Start Percentage (QS%). GSAA is an evaluative metric that compares a goalie’s save percentage and the shots he faced to the league’s save percentage on the same number of shots. QS% is the percentage of a goalie’s starts in which his save percentage surpassed the league average for the year. These are two of the best metrics to evaluate a goaltender’s overall performance, and so we will lean on them heavily here.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the rankings.
31) Cam Ward: Chicago Blackhawks
In our last ranking, this honorable spot was held by Scott Darling, who has since been demoted to the AHL. Now, he’s being replaced by the goalie he was brought to Carolina to replace, Cam Ward.
The Chicago Blackhawks chose to invest in Ward in the offseason, given the uncertainty surrounding longtime starter Corey Crawford. When he returned early in the season, it seemed that Ward would be an unnecessary failsafe. Unfortunately, Crawford hit the shelf once again, and the Blackhawks were forced to lean on their backup plan.
But, for many years, Ward hasn’t been the goaltender that once won the Conn Smythe trophy. Currently, he is last among 36 eligible goaltenders in all four major statistics considered for this article: save percentage (.884), goals against average (3.99), GSAA (-15.36), and QS% (.333).
As a result, Ward is losing more and more playing time to 24-year-old backup Collin Delia, who will likely continue to take more starts until he is the de facto starter. But for the time being, it’s Ward, and as long as it is, he’s certainly last in the league.
30) Jake Allen: St. Louis Blues
Speaking of goaltenders who are losing playing time to unproven youngsters, Jake Allen has had another dreadful season with the St. Louis Blues. He is near the bottom in all four stat categories, especially GSAA, where his -10.51 puts him just above Ward and Mike Smith at the bottom.
Allen is quickly being replaced by Jordan Binnington, the longtime AHL goalie who made his NHL debut this season, and is now 5-1-1 with a .924 SV% and a 1.84 GAA. Even with such strong numbers, the Blues’ willingness to rely so heavily on a league newcomer is a testament to the their lack of faith in Allen.
They’ll be looking for a way to unload his remaining contract (two years with a $4.35 million cap hit), either at the trade deadline or in the offseason, but there likely won’t be any bidders. He may well become the first buyout of general manager Doug Armstrong’s Blues tenure.
29) Craig Anderson: Ottawa Senators
A few years ago, Craig Anderson was one of the brightest stories in hockey. While his wife was battling cancer, he was posting unreal numbers, helping the Senators to the Eastern Conference Final and earning the Bill Masterson Trophy in the process.
But Anderson was and remains ranked at 29 on this list. He actually has a decent SV% (.906), but his other numbers aren’t pretty, and he plays for one of the league’s weaker teams. He is approaching the end of his career, but perhaps he’ll get one more chance to revitalize his numbers elsewhere. Maybe the Blues and the Senators will consider a swap of their goaltenders, as the two have comparable contracts and could benefit from a change of scenery.
28) Petr Mrázek: Carolina Hurricanes
The good news for the Carolina Hurricanes is that they’ve climbed slightly up this list since the preseason. The bad news is that it’s on the shoulders of a 26-year-old journeyman on a one-year contract.
Petr Mrázek has been passable in net for the Hurricanes since Darling was sent down, splitting time with Curtis McElhinney. His GAA is actually middle of the pack at 2.74, but that has a lot to do with the team he plays behind, as Carolina has the second highest Corsi for percentage (55.44) in the league.
Beyond that, his numbers are poor. He’s 31st in SV% (.898), 29th in GSAA (-5.63), and 25th in QS% (.476). Who knows whether the Hurricanes will look to extend him after the season or try and find better success with yet another import? For the time being, they remain at the bottom of the goaltending pack.
27) Martin Jones: San Jose Sharks
Now we’ve reached the first name who has plummeted down the list since last season: Martin Jones. Jones is having a positively awful season, and the timing couldn’t be worse, given that the six-year, $34.5 million contract extension he signed in 2017 didn’t begin until this season.
Like Mrázek, Jones has an okay GAA (2.82), but the Sharks are the only team above the Hurricanes in CF%. His -13.72 GSAA and .395 QS% are shocking drop-offs from his 2017-18 numbers (4.12, .600), and his .895 SV% is massively below his career .913 mark.
The Sharks had a rough start to the season, and have been one of the hottest teams in the league for the last month or so. A rising tide lifts all boats, and Jones’ numbers will doubtlessly improve, but for the time being, he’s one of the league’s statistically weaker goalies.
26) Roberto Luongo: Florida Panthers
Roberto Luongo was high on this list (11) before the season, but we cautioned that age and injury were likely to catch up to him sometime. He is 10-11-1 in just 25 starts this season, and has been hampered a few times with injury.
Luongo will turn 40 at season’s end, and only he knows if there’s another year left in the tank. Right now, he’s bottom five in most of our statistics, and his Panthers are near the bottom of the league as a result. It’s no blight against his incredible career, but even the greatest of all time hit the end of the road sometime, and that time may be soon for Luongo.
25) Mikko Koskinen: Edmonton Oilers
Mikko Koskinen has had a big week, as it was his three year, $13.5 million contract extension that played such a controversial role in Peter Chiarelli’s firing in Edmonton.
It was certainly a strange decision for a salary cap strapped team to make such a serious commitment to a 30-year-0ld goaltender who has not yet made his 30th NHL start. Koskinen’s stats are middle of the pack, except for his QS%, which lags behind the league a bit at .458.
Those numbers are okay, but he’s low in these rankings because he is so unproven in the NHL. Unlike Chiarelli, we aren’t yet ready to commit to Koskinen as a legitimate NHL starter.
24) Jacob Markström: Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks are one of the more surprising teams in the league, and goaltender Jacob Markström has had a hand in their success. He isn’t blowing anyone away, but his numbers are all around league average, which has moved him up on this list since the preseason.
A lot of Markström’s numbers have stayed more or less stagnant since last season, but he’s seen a significant increase in QS%, jumping from .509 in 2017-18 to .622 this season. Any QS% over .600 is considered very good, and that dramatic jump has helped keep the Canucks in more games this season.
The future of Vancouver still isn’t with Markström, as the Canucks have several phenomenal goaltending prospects in the system. Still, his performance this season has probably earned him a serious look from some other teams, at least as a high-value backup.
Related: The Top Ten NHL Goalie Prospects
23) Jonathan Quick: Los Angeles Kings
Few of the goaltenders on this list are capable of flying as high as Jonathan Quick has at points in his career. But goalies age quickly (no pun intended), and the veteran Quick is now 33. That, coupled with the fact that he plays on one of the league’s weaker teams, has resulted in a huge drop-off in his numbers.
Quick is entrenched in the bottom third of the league in all four statistical categories we’ve considered. He’s posted a .903 SV%, a 2.96 GAA, a -3.51 GSAA, and a .478 QS%. It’s impossible to say what Quick’s numbers would be behind a stouter defense, and a change of scenery might do a lot of good. But is anyone willing to take a risk on that sizable contract for an aging and injury prone goalie?
22) Henrik Lundqvist: New York Rangers
Henrik Lundqvist is another aging legend on a poor team. “The King” is arguably outperforming his squad with a .908 SV% and an impressive .600 QS%. But the all time great goaltender will be 37 by season’s end, and his best days, as great as they were, are certainly behind him. The only mystery that remains is whether Lundqvist will seek a trade in pursuit of a final shot at a Stanley Cup, or will chose instead to retire as a Ranger and cement his incredible legacy there.
21) Matt Murray: Pittsburgh Penguins
Matt Murray holds steady at number 21 in our ranking. His numbers arguably warrant a slightly higher ranking, as his .913 SV% and .545 QS% are in the top half of starters, but some of the newer goalies in the league have held him here. Besides, none of his stats currently live up to the hype that surrounded him early in his career.
Yes, his talent is evident, and yes, he already has two Stanley Cups to his name at the tender age of 24, but last season was bad enough to warrant a lower placement on this list, and this season hasn’t been strong enough to move him up. The fact that his regression last season coincided with losing the world’s greatest goaltending safety net, Marc-Andre Fleury, in the Vegas expansion draft is still troubling as well. Murray has a very bright career ahead, and will doubtlessly rank higher on this list in the future. But for now, his numbers just don’t justify it.
20) Semyon Varlamov: Colorado Avalanche
Semyon Varlamov probably isn’t the future with the Colorado Avalanche, as they traded for Philipp Grubauer over the summer and Varlamov is a pending free agent. For the time being, though, he has control of the net, and his numbers will earn him a decent contract with someone this summer.
Varlamov has fairly middling stats, as his .908 SV%, 2.81 GAA, and 0.32 GSAA all rank in the low twenties. But his .567 QS% puts him in the top half, which moves him up this list. He has been an excellent and arguably overlooked goaltender throughout his career, and boasts a very impressive .916 career SV%. He should be the highest paid free agent goalie behind Bobrosvky come the offseason.
19) Carter Hutton: Buffalo Sabres
We knowingly put Carter Hutton high on this list before the season in order to acknowledge just how impressive his 2017-18 season was. Then, he led led all goalies that played in 25 games or more in both GAA and SV% (2.09 and .931 respectively). His peripheral numbers further established his dominance, with a 15.06 GSAA and an amazing .731 QS% (which was fourth in the league amongst all goalies).
Given a chance to be a starter for the first time in his career, Hutton has been just fine for the Buffalo Sabres. His SV%, GAA, and GSAA all rank 17th in the league, and his QS% is even higher, at 13. Most of the goalies on the list above him have a longer track record or have had hotter starts to their careers, but 19 remains a very respectable ranking for Hutton, particularly given the very affordable contract he signed over the summer.
18) Jimmy Howard: Detroit Red Wings
On career numbers, Jimmy Howard might rank lower on this list, but he deserves this spot because of the incredible season he’s having. No wonder the Detroit Red Wings are rumored to be seeking a first round pick in a possible trade for him.
Howard’s .915 SV% puts him 10th in the league, while his 2.78 GAA lags behind at 18th, though that likely has more to do with his defense. Even more impressive, Howard is seventh in GSAA at 7.02, and he is an amazing third in QS% at .625. Based on this season’s numbers alone, Howard deserves to be even higher. But he’ll be 35 before the season is over, he’s a pending UFA, and he has toiled in relative obscurity with the Red Wings for years. All of those factors keep him lower on the list, but do not ignore his impressive season.
17) Carter Hart: Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers tied a record earlier this month for most different goalies started in a single season, so it’s safe to say they were desperate for relief between the pipes. They found that relief, at least for now, in 20-year-old top prospect goaltender Carter Hart.
There may well be a day in the future where Hart tops these rankings. For now he’s earned this spot, despite his dearth of experience. Hart is eighth in the league in SV% (.918), 12th in GAA (2.66), 17th in GSAA (3.63), and 21st in QS% (.500). It’s a mixture of great and above average results, but for a 20-year-old thrust unexpectedly into the spotlight, it’s an impressive start to what promises to be an amazing career.
16) Connor Hellebuyck: Winnipeg Jets
Connor Hellebuyck had a phenomenal breakout season last year, finishing second in Vezina Trophy voting and leading the league in wins and minutes. It earned him a six-year, $37 million contract extension this summer, and he became a fixture of the Winnipeg Jets’ future.
But Hellebuyck has taken a significant step back this season. His .910 SV%, while passable, ranks 20th in the league, as does his his 2.22 GSAA. Most troublingly, his .432 QS% ranks 31st amongst starters, and is on its own a very troubling number. He’s in fact been outplayed by his backup, Laurent Brossoit, who in 12 games is 10-1-1 with a .943 SV% and a 2.01 GAA.
The Jets are in a tricky position now with Brossoit approaching RFA status this summer. Will they maintain their commitment to Hellebuyck? Or perhaps opt instead to trade him and move forward with Brossoit? The former is more likely, but Hellebuyck will want to improve his numbers in the second half to ensure that he has a future in Winnipeg.
15) Darcy Kuemper: Arizona Coyotes
Darcy Kuemper was nicknamed “the Milkman” in his time with the Minnesota Wild (because his name was reminiscent of Kemps Milk). But he must have been promoted, because he’s now bringing home the bacon in Arizona!
Okay, that joke was a stretch, but his numbers really have been fantastic. Keumper has been called upon in relief of Antti Raanta, the talented young goaltender who is out for the remainder of the season recovering from a lower-body injury. Given the circumstances, his .914 SV%, 4.00 GSAA, and .583 QS% are all very impressive.
There’s another season remaining on his contract in Arizona, and it will be interesting to see whether the Coyotes use his strong season to test his value on the trade market, or if they keep him around to make sure Raanta has some backup when he returns next season.
14) MacKenzie Blackwood: New Jersey Devils
Make no mistake: MacKenzie Blackwood is the real deal in New Jersey. Yes, he’s only played 12 games so far this season, but in those 12 games, he’s established himself as the the Devils’ backstop of the future. Cory Schneider is a shell of what he once was, and Keith Kinkaid, who replaced him for a period, also has dropped off entirely.
In stepped Blackwood, who is top ten in the league in all four stat categories we’ve focused on. It’s a small sample size, but enough for people to start buzzing about what Blackwood may mean for the Devils’ future. It’s safe to say he’s become a fixture in their plans.
13) Sergei Bobrovsky: Columbus Blue Jackets
Only two goaltenders have won two Vezina Trophies in the last decade: Tim Thomas and Sergei Bobrovsky. In fact, those two join Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek as the only goalies to collect multiple Vezina Trophies in the last twenty years. That’s pretty elite company to be in for the Blue Jackets’ goaltender.
But Bobrovsky has struggled mightily this season, and the timing couldn’t be worse, as he’s a pending UFA this summer. His .904 SV% is anemic, his 2.91 GAA is inflated, and his -3.87 GSAA is very disappointing. He’s struggling off the ice as well, as seen in his very public benching earlier in January.
No one seems to know whether Bobrovsky will play out the season with the Blue Jackets, or whether he will be traded before the deadline. What does seem more and more certain is that his future is not in Columbus. That will make him one of the more fascinating free agents to watch, as his paltry numbers and poor behavior are sure to make a dent in the contract he ultimately receives.
12) Robin Lehner: New York Islanders
Put your pencils down, ladies and gentlemen, and go ahead and write Robin Lehner’s name for the Masterson Trophy in pen. Lehner, who opened up about his personal struggles with mental health in vulnerable detail over the summer, has put together a jaw-dropping season in 2018-19, his first with the New York Islanders.
In 25 games played, Lehner leads all qualified net minders in both GAA (2.02) and SV% (.931). His 14.05 GSAA and .609 QS% are both also very impressive. But for his career numbers and his relatively limited starts (Lehner is still splitting time with Thomas Greiss), he would be even higher in these rankings. He is having a genuinely amazing season, and hats off to him for persevering and turning his career around.
11) Braden Holtby: Washington Capitals
Washington Capitals’ goaltender Braden Holtby has earned a reputation as one of the league’s best, but his numbers don’t necessarily justify that. This season, his .912 SV% and 2.82 GAA (ranked at 18 and 22, respectively) are middling, though his 4.24 GSAA and .581 QS% are better statistics.
Holtby still has impressive career numbers and accolades. He has a Vezina Trophy to his name (2015-16) and led the league in wins in back-to-back seasons (2015-16 and 2016-17). Now, he’s added a Stanley Cup championship to his resumé. There’s no doubt he is a great goaltender. But his numbers the past two seasons have not kept his name among the truly elite.
10) Carey Price: Montreal Canadiens
Carey Price is still capable of being the best goalie in the league when he is healthy and in peak form. At the moment, he’s both, though health is never a guarantee with any goaltender, much less Price. Still, he’s gone 20-13-4 this season with 3 shutouts, and he has a 7.2 point share (a statistic aimed at measuring a player’s contribution to his team’s place in the standings). He’s putting together a strong campaign, and is a big factor in the Montreal Canadiens’ unexpected place in the standings. There’s no question that at his best, Price is one of the league’s elite goalies.
9) David Rittich: Calgary Flames
David Rittich, affectionately known as “Big Save Dave,” has been an absolute revelation for the Calgary Flames this season, bailing them out after Mike Smith fell apart. His numbers have been tremendous, ranking top-10 in the league in every category.
Goalie charts are updated
This shows total goals saved above/below what an average goalie would've saved facing the given workload.
Gibson, Rinne, Andersen, and Big Save Dave have been the league's best. Some pretty popular names at the bottom…https://t.co/0g9bBhj1oO pic.twitter.com/ep49SKIf3V
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) December 6, 2018
Most impressively, Rittich is 19-4-4 on the season, and his QS% is over .700. Those are phenomenal numbers, and they are a major factor in the Flames’ position atop the Pacific Division. Smith’s contract mercifully comes to an end this summer, which gives the Flames plenty of room to commit to Big Save Dave long term, if that’s their desire. And after this season, why wouldn’t it be?
8) Devan Dubnyk: Minnesota Wild
Some things remain constant with the Minnesota Wild: mid-table finishes, first round exits, and Devan Dubnyk’s stellar play. Yet he remains one of the league’s more overlooked goaltenders.
The key with Dubnyk is consistency. He seems to have found the formula to avoid the peaks and valleys that are so common to others in his trade. Since arriving in Minnesota, his SV% has never dropped below .913 (his current rating) nor has his GAA climbed above his current 2.57 mark. Yes, both current marks are highs for his tenure in Minnesota, but Dubnyk is now approaching 33, and it’s possible age is beginning to take its toll. Even if that’s the case, he is still a tremendous goalie, and likely has a few great years left in the tank.
7) Tuukka Rask: Boston Bruins
What a season it’s been for Tuukka Rask. There was a point this season where it looked as if the Boston Bruins would turn to his backup, Jaroslav Halák, as the permanent starter. Now, that’s only a vague memory, as Rask has reestablished himself as the premier goaltender in Boston, and one of the better net minders in the entire league.
Rask’s .919 SV% and 2.43 GAA both put near the top of the league amongst starters. His 8.17 GSAA ranks sixth, and while his .520 QS% is much lower (18th), that speaks more to his rough start than his present success. A one-time Vezina winner, Rask has always been a bit up-and-down across his career, but right now he’s riding a wave of momentum that proves why he’s one of the very best in the game.
6) Pekka Rinne: Nashville Predators
Pekka Rinne ranked at the top of this list before the season, as the reigning Vezina Trophy winner and the 2017-18 leader in shutouts and GSAA. His demotion to sixth has more to do with how well the five goalies above him have performed, and less with anything lacking in his game. He’s a strong goaltender behind one of the league’s best defenses, and that’s a potent pairing for any opponent to overcome.
Related: The NHL’s Top 4 Defenses
The one mark against Rinne that lingers is his playoff performance, but that needs to be interrogated more closely. His career .915 SV%, 2.45 GAA, and .600 QS% in the playoffs are all very good. The question will always linger unless Rinne captures that elusive Stanley Cup, but it’s an unfair one. He was and is one of the best goaltenders in the league.
5) Ben Bishop: Dallas Stars
Now we come to the biggest (not to mention the tallest) climber on this list: the Dallas Stars’ Ben Bishop. He’s been nothing short of spectacular this season: fifth in SV% (.921), second in GAA (2.37), fifth in GSAA (11.89), and seventh in QS% (.600).
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) January 22, 2019
The talent has always been there with Bishop (he was twice a Vezina finalist with the Tampa Bay Lightning), but he’s struggled with injury throughout his career, and has moved around the league more than any goaltender of his caliber should. He seems to have found his groove again with the Stars, and he’s the stronger half of perhaps the best goaltending tandem in the entire league.
4) Marc-André Fleury: Vegas Golden Knights
What can be said about Marc-Andre Fleury that hasn’t already been said? The Penguins bet big on their future with Murray when they allowed Fleury to leave to the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 Expansion Draft. That may still have been the right call in the long run, but Murray has struggled since his mentor departed, while the latter hasn’t looked back for a second.
Any concerns that another long playoff run might drain “Flower” for the 2018-19 season were unfounded. His SV% is a little weak at .911, but he has played the most minutes, logged the most wins, and recorded the most shutouts of any goalie in the NHL.
There’s just no stopping Fleury, who passed Tony Esposito on the all-time wins leaderboard earlier this year, and should fly by Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuck by the end of the season. He is a genuine all-time great, and is a no doubt future Hockey Hall of Fame member.
3) Frederik Andersen: Toronto Maple Leafs
It’s tough to separate the next two on this list, as they occupy more of a tie for second than a legitimate two and three. Andrei Vasilevskiy has the slightly higher profile, so we’ll rank him higher, but let that take nothing away from Frederik Andersen, who has quietly been the Toronto Maple Leafs’ MVP this season.
With no disrespect to Morgan Rielly or Toronto’s potent forwards, the team would fall apart without Andersen behind them (and largely did for the period he was injured). Andersen has faced the ninth most shots of any goaltender, which is especially impressive, considering 15 other goalies have played as many or more games than he has.
There are no shortage of critics of Toronto’s defense (though they did just add a huge piece in Jake Muzzin), but Andersen has been their biggest supporter. Without his incredible play, they might be even deeper in the hole. He is fourth in SV% (.923), second in GSAA (15.47), and first in QS% (.688). He should be a lock as a Vezina finalist after the season. It’s hard to believe that Andersen and John Gibson were once a tandem with the Anaheim Ducks.
2) Andrei Vasilevskiy: Tampa Bay Lightning
As we said, Andersen is neck-and-neck with Vasilevskiy, the last line of defense for the best team in the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning. He missed a significant portion of the season with a foot injury, but he got healthy and regained peak form.
He’s second in the league in SV% (.925), third in GSAA (15.28), and sixth in QS% (.607). He’s the promising prospect that allowed the Lightning to part with Bishop, and that move has worked out for both parties. The NHL is in the hands of an impressive class of young, elite goaltenders, but Vasilevskiy is one of the very best.
1) John Gibson: Anaheim Ducks
When we ranked goalies before the season, we had Gibson in the number four spot. It was something of a stretch back then, but we were confident that he would prove us right in the 2018-19 season. He’s done that and then some, proving himself as not just one of the best, but the very best goaltender in the league. If his Ducks make the playoffs, make no mistake that Gibson will be the only reason why.
Gibson’s stats are phenomenal, particularly read in the context of the team in front of him. He has a .921 SV% (sixth), a .610 QS% (fourth), and his 17.22 GSAA ranks first by almost two full points above Andersen. He leads the league in shots against and saves, and perhaps the most impressive stat, goalie point shares (with a 9.2).
There are many great goaltenders in the NHL, but in our eyes, there’s no debate about who stands atop the mountain right now. When the season is over, Gibson will run away with the Vezina Trophy, but if the Ducks make the playoffs, he should be a strong contender to become the eighth ever goaltender to win the Hart Trophy in its almost century-long history.
The Bottom Line
Few positions in any sport are as fickle and as unpredictable as is goaltending in the NHL. Like a quarterback in the NFL, no team can succeed without consistency at the position, but goaltending is more subject to the winds of chance than are quarterbacks. One year a goaltender can be on top of the world (as was Rinne most of last season), the next, he can be at the bottom of the heap (see: Jonathan Quick).
The reality is that it’s difficult to pin down the greatest goaltender in the league, which is why this list is so fluid. When we revisit it in the months and years to come, changes will probably be made. But the goalies at the top of this list have earned their day in the sun, and while there might be arguments about the rankings one thing is sure: there are a lot of great goaltenders in the NHL right now, which is something to be thankful for as hockey fans.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.