The poet John Donne famously wrote, “no man is an island unto itself.” But he wrote that in 1623, long before the game of hockey was invented. Had he survived to see it, Donne might have instead written: “no man is an island, except for NHL goaltenders.”
The job of an NHL goalie is one of the hardest in all of professional sport. It is a solitary and often thankless task, where one night can be a shutout and the next day can be a nightmare. As such, it is a difficult position to evaluate. Which is why it is vital to do so frequently.
At The Hockey Writers, we evaluate goaltenders several times a season, accounting for the instability of the position. Who could have expected the meteoric rise of Joonas Korpisalo or the total collapse of Sergei Bobrovsky in his new home? Because of changes like that, we regrade goalies regularly. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the methodology for our evaluation.
Because of the fleeting nature of goaltender success, our rankings prioritize numbers from the most recent season, in this case, the 2019-20 season. With that said, it would be ludicrous to ignore history or overemphasize a six-month run. Where two goalies are more or less equal, track record will become a factor in determining a final position. And goalies who have performed at a high level for longer will receive the benefit of the doubt, whereas goalies with great numbers who are relative newcomers may sink a spot or two accordingly.
A number of statistics were considered. Two metrics were given primary emphasis: goals saved above average (GSAA) and quality start percentage (QS%). GSAA is a statistical calculation of a goaltender’s performance as compared with his peers. It considers the number of shots he faced and measures it against the league average save percentage on the same number of shots.
QS% measures the percentage of starts in which the goalie’s save percentage (SV%) surpassed the league average SV% for the season. Anything above 60 percent is considered very good, anything below 50 percent is poor, and 53 percent is league average.
In addition to these metrics, we’ll examine SV% and goals-against average (GAA), shutouts (SO), and really bad starts (RBS) where the goalie has a SV% below .850. Judging by those numbers, a composite score was created to represent overall goalie effectiveness. Then, we made adjustments based on experience and track record and settled on a final order.
So, without further ado, here are your 2019-20 goaltender rankings for the end of the 2019-20 season. Given the abbreviated end to the 2019-20 season due to COVID-19, and the uniqueness of the playoff bubble format, we will not consider reranking until the 2020-21 preseason. For now, we will be reevaluating the goalies’ performance in the final few months of the regular season.
31) Jimmy Howard: Detroit Red Wings
Previous Rank: 24
Does a bad team make a bad goalie? Or does a bad goalie drag down his team? In the case of the Detroit Red Wings and goaltender Jimmy Howard, the answer is probably “both.” There is nothing going right in the Motor City right now, as evidenced by Howard’s stunning 2-23-2 record. The Red Wings finished the season with just 39 points, 23 fewer than the next lowest team (the Ottawa Senators).
And to think, there’s a parallel universe somewhere where the St. Louis Blues traded for Howard last season. No one knows how that might have worked out, but it certainly isn’t working for the 35-year-old in Detroit. He finished with an .882 SV%, a 4.20 GAA, and minus-22.12 GSAA. Not much more needs to be said here. Howard is an unrestricted free agent, but whether he returns to Detroit or not, being the netminder on that squad will be unpleasant for whoever has the task next season.
30) Martin Jones: San Jose Sharks
Previous Rank: 27
A 2020 article in The Athletic posed hypothetical trade scenarios to an NHL executive with the popular Twitter question: “who says no?” One such trade suggested that the San Jose Sharks should send goaltender Martin Jones to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for “a sack of pucks.” The executive quipped: “Vegas says no. Maybe San Jose could afford to just go buy some pucks if they hadn’t given Jones all that money” (from ‘Who says no? NHL executives evaluate your trade proposals,’ The Athletic NHL, 01/28/2020).
That just about sums up the dark reality of Jones’ performance in San Jose, where the Sharks owe him a $5.75 million per season cap hit through the 2023-24 season. His GSAA was minus-15.01 at season’s end, and he had an .896 SV% and 3.00 GAA to boot. He also leads the league in really bad starts at 11, tied with three others. No one knows better how rough the San Jose net can be than Peter DeBoer, former Sharks head coach. He’s likely glad to see the back of Jones, whose poor performance led to the Sharks firing DeBoer earlier this season.
29) Craig Anderson: Ottawa Senators
Previous Rank: 31
Craig Anderson has climbed two spots in these rankings, but more because of the goalies that have fallen below him. His .902 SV% and 3.25 GAA could honestly be worse, especially behind the young and struggling Ottawa Senators, but there’s just nothing much left in the 39-year-old’s tank. If Anderson wants to continue his career in 2020-21, it will need to be somewhere new. The Senators announced they would not be offering him a new contract for next season.
28) Jonathan Quick: Los Angeles Kings
Previous Rank: 26
Jonathan Quick actually improved throughout the season, but the stats he finished with show just how high a hill he had to climb. He set himself up for failure by going 2-8 in his first 10 games.
Quick helped bring the Stanley Cup to Los Angeles for the very first time, and fans won’t soon forget it. But his glory days appear to be behind him. He finished with a .904 SV% and a 2.79 GAA, along with minus-6.32 GSAA and five RBS (two of which were his first two games of the season). It’s a bleak picture with a bleaker cap hit: $5.8 million per season through 2022-23.
27) Devan Dubnyk: Minnesota Wild
Previous Rank: 14
We now move to two of our farthest fallers. In this case, the number 14 placement Devan Dubnyk received at the start of the season may have been an indicator of existing slippage for the goalie who had been dominant since joining the Minnesota Wild in the 2014-15 season. Now 34, he may finally be coming back down to earth.
Dubnyk dealt with a personal issue much of the season, which could also have affected his play. The results speak for themselves: he carries a 3.35 GAA and .890 SV% with minus-16.23 GSAA. He had five RBS as well. By the end of the season, Dubnyk was relegated to more of a backup role behind Alex Stalock. We will consider Stalock’s positioning on this list if he is still the presumptive starter entering the 2020-21 season.
26) Rinne Pekka: Nashville Predators
Previous Rank: 11
Sometimes, goalies just lose it. And while it’s too early to say that’s totally true for Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators, it seems like the Father Time may have claimed the Finnish legend. The 37-year-old finally won the Vezina Trophy in the 2017-18 season, but now, a season and a half later, he is struggling significantly.
Rinne had 11 RBS this season, tied for worst in the league. He also carried minus-14.22 GSAA, an .895 SV%, and a 3.17 GAA. He did actually improve his QS% over the last two months of the season, from .318 to .457. But his team simply cannot rely on him to perform well on the ice at this point. His poor performance is a big part of the reason the Predators fired Peter Laviolette. There is one season left on Rinne’s deal, but Nashville would likely be happy to trade him to save the cap space.
25) Braden Holtby: Washington Capitals
Previous Rank: 20
Buyer beware! Someone is going to be tempted to overspend on former Vezina and Jennings Trophy winner Braden Holtby as a free agent this offseason. It would be a mistake. He simply isn’t the goalie he once was and hasn’t been for some time. He made 11 RBS this season, had minus-16.76 GSAA, and had a .897 SV%. Ilya Samsonov is the future in Washington, and while general manager Brian MacLellan may have backed Holtby as their number one during the season, he’d be silly to extend him now, even though Holtby hopes to stay.
24) MacKenzie Blackwood: New Jersey Devils
Previous Rank: Unlisted
The transition is complete, the New Jersey Devils waived Cory Schneider, and now MacKenzie Blackwood is officially their starting goalie. What a prize it is for the young talent, who should have a bright NHL future, but now is stuck as the last line of defense for one of the worst teams in the league.
Blackwood is making the best of his circumstances, with a .915 SV% and a 2.77 GAA. It’s honestly pretty great for a team with the league’s fourth-worst goals against per games played (GA/GP). He had a strong end to the season and will warrant consideration for a higher rank entering next season. Blackwood, 23, is still young, and the Devils will eventually improve. One only hopes his psyche is still intact when that day arrives.
23) Henrik Lundqvist: New York Rangers
Previous Rank: 22
Henrik Lundqvist is known as “the King” for a reason. Though he’s never won a Stanley Cup, he is one of the most prolific and enduring goaltenders in league history and is likely headed for the Hockey Hall of Fame. But he’s 38 now, and these are his final seasons in the NHL. His .905 SV% and 3.16 GAA aren’t terrible. His .500 QS% and just four RBS show that he’s still pretty reliable. But the future in New York is Igor Shesterkin. The curtain is closing on the King’s time on Broadway.
22) Mikko Koskinen: Edmonton Oilers
Previous Rank: 28
Though his numbers aren’t electric, Mikko Koskinen is proving some naysayers wrong after the Edmonton Oilers signed him to a questionable extension last season. A 9.25 GSAA is positive, and it pairs nicely with a .917 SV% and a 2.75 GAA. He’s not one of the elite goalies in the league, and at $4.5 million he is still probably overpriced. But the Oilers needed consistency from Koskinen, and they are getting that this season.
21) Sergei Bobrovsky: Florida Panthers
Previous Rank: 7
Another plummet from last season, Sergei Bobrovsky has been horrendous since signing with the Florida Panthers before last season. Players often struggle in their new homes, and as the only active two-time Vezina Trophy winner, he deserves some leniency in the rankings. But his statistics wouldn’t let us place him any higher than this.
Bobrovsky’s minus-14.91 GSAA and .417 QS% really hurt him here. He had some hot streaks but still possessed just a .900 SV% and a 3.23 GAA, and he had 10 RBS. The sun in South Florida may not have been the cure-all he needed after a rough ending in Columbus. But at least the money is good. We’d bet on Bobrovsky to rebound eventually, but no one quite expected this performance.
20) Carey Price: Montreal Canadiens
Previous Rank: 6
Many still view Carey Price as the best goaltender in the world, including his peers in the NHL. In The Athletic’s annual player survey, he was once again the first choice for the question: “Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final — aside from your own goalie, who do you want starting in goal?” 33 percent of NHL players polled responded with Price (from ‘The 2020 NHL Poll: Players have their say on best player, worst referee, drinking buddies and more,’ The Athletic NHL, 01/20/2020).
One unidentified Pacific Division player even admitted his bias: “I don’t think he has the numbers that he normally has this year. But he’s pressure tested. He’s battle-tested.” He’s certainly right about the numbers. Price had more goals against than any other goalie this season (though some of that comes from overexposure) and his GSAA closed at minus-1.31 (down from 14.94 last season). Still, Price has a well-deserved reputation for greatness, and if anyone is going to bounce back in 2020-21, it’s probably him.
19) Marc-André Fleury: Vegas Golden Knights
Previous Rank: 8
Father Time hasn’t ravaged Marc-André Fleury like he has Pekka Rinne yet, but there are worrying signs. The Sorel, Quebec native has had a second birth in the desert since the Vegas Golden Knights selected him in the expansion draft. And this season was his first period of any real extended struggle. Even so, his numbers weren’t too bad.
Fleury possesses a .905 SV% and 2.77 GAA, both at the lower end of the middle of the pack. His minus-6.50 GSAA is poor but not awful, and his .500 QS% is fine. In the bubble in Edmonton, new head coach Peter DeBoer seemed to prefer deadline acquisition Robin Lehner (whom we’ll discuss later), and there are rumblings that Fleury will have a new home yet again in 2020-21.
18) Carter Hart: Philadelphia Flyers
Previous Rank: 16
Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers entered the league with so much hype that it’s difficult to remember that he is still only 22-years-old. Some struggles were to be expected in his second season. He largely weathered the storm and still had a 2.42 GAA and a .914 SV%, along with 4.46 GSAA. He did have nine RBS, if you’re looking for reasons for concern, but that’s stretching a bit. There’s honestly not much to say about Hart: he’s not quite in the truly elite class of goaltenders in the NHL, but there’s every reason to believe he will be before long.
17) Petr Mrázek: Carolina Hurricanes
Previous Rank: 18
The question has seemingly always been “can the Carolina Hurricanes win with Petr Mrázek,” and the answer has always been a resounding “maybe.” There are worse things than having a very middling goalie (see: Jones or Quick) but Mrázek isn’t soon going to inspire anyone, and other goalies behind that stout Carolina defense might perform better.
As evidence, look at the difference between Mrázek’s SV% (.905) and his GAA (2.69). More often than not, you’ll see a goalie whose SV% looks better than his GAA, meaning he is outperforming his team. In this case, the opposite appears true. Carolina’s defense is among the best in the league and Mrázek does fine because of it. But as his minus-5.35 GSAA demonstrates, he’s not going to make a lot of game-changing saves.
16) Linus Ullmark: Buffalo Sabres
Previous Rank: 25
No one expected much from the Buffalo Sabres’ goaltending tandem, but Linus Ullmark was a pleasant surprise before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him 3-4 weeks. The Lugnvik, Sweden native finished with 5.39 GSAA and a .559 QS% through 34 starts.
Ullmark also carried a .915 SV% and 2.69 GAA, along with just two RBS on the season. It was a breakout performance all around. And while it may appear he is just keeping the Sabres’ net warm until Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen arrives, Ullmark’s performance this season will force new general manager Kevyn Adams and other NHL executives to take a second look at his future.
15) Philipp Grubauer: Colorado Avalanche
Previous Rank: 15
It’s possible we’ve found him: the world’s only consistent goaltender. Philipp Grubauer of the Colorado Avalanche was ranked at 15th last season, and he is again in our postseason rankings this season. Grubauer had a tremendous start to his first season as the true number one in Colorado but struggled with some injuries late in the season.
His statistics still looked fine, though. He’s got a .916 SV% and 2.63 GAA. His .472 QS% is worrying, but he’s got 6.48 GSAA and only four RBS. His backup, Pavel Francouz, has looked sensational, but it still seems to be Grubauer’s job for now, and the Avalanche could do a lot worse.
14) Joonas Korpisalo: Columbus Blue Jackets
Previous Rank: 30
Korpisalo was 30th on this list before the season, mostly because no one knew what to expect as he stepped into a full-time starting role. GM Jarmo Kekäläinen seems to have taken the right gamble, as Korpisalo put together a very strong campaign before succumbing to injury late in December. He collected a .913 SV% and a 2.60 GAA this season, along with 1.14 GSAA and a .600 QS%. He had five RBS to go along with two shutouts.
All of those numbers dipped somewhat between returning from injury and the end of the regular season; however, we’re happy to attribute that to his recovery. Korpisalo was a big difference for the Blue Jackets in the bubble, as he helped the Blue Jackets get past the Toronto Maple Leafs in the qualifying round.
13) Frederik Andersen: Toronto Maple Leafs
Previous Rank: 4
Speaking of the Maple Leafs, Frederik Andersen has been their stalwart since arriving, but has struggled lately, and now Toronto is rumored to be exploring other options this fall with one season left on his contract. His numbers were still okay: .908 SV%, 2.85 GAA, just minus-0.40 GSAA, and a .519 QS%. There’s nothing too concerning there, but he did have eight RBS. It will be interesting to see if Andersen is in fact moved, and if so, what his market value will be.
12) John Gibson: Anaheim Ducks
Previous Rank: 2
Next up, Andersen’s former teammate in Southern California, John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks. There are some, myself included, that believe that in the right situation, he could be the best goaltender in the NHL. Unfortunately, even he has not been able to overcome the flightless Ducks this season.
Gibson’s .904 SV% and 3.00 GAA are still fairly remarkable given the team he plays for. But his minus-8.66 GSAA and .431 QS% are troubling, as are the 10 RBS and the league-leading 26 losses. Still, on the team with the fifth-worst goal differential in the NHL, what more could you expect?
11) Semyon Varlamov: New York Islanders
When the New York Islanders let Robin Lehner walk only to offer Semyon Varlamov a much larger contract, there were many questions that needed answering. The former Avalanche goalie has answered all of those questions positively so far, as he had a strong regular season and then helped the Islanders reach the Conference Final in the bubble.
Varlamov had an impressive .914 SV%, 2.62 GAA, and 5.56 GSAA behind Barry Trotz’s stout defense on Long Island. He is also the ideal mentor for the young Russian superstar Ilya Sorokin as he begins his NHL career. Right now, it seems that even if the Islanders rolled the dice on Varlamov, they landed on sixes.
10) David Rittich: Calgary Flames
David Rittich, more affectionately known as “Big Save Dave,” has been a godsend for the Calgary Flames in the wake of Mike Smith. He went to the All-Star Game representing the Pacific Division, where he was the best goalie on the day (though during All-Star Weekend, that doesn’t take much). This season, he fully claimed the Calgary Flames’ net.
Rittich is at the high-end of the middle in every stat, except GSAA, which sank to minus-4.36 after the All-Star break. Even so, he has been a steadying force for the Flames in a season fraught with turmoil. We’ll see where he ranks when the 2020-21 season approaches, but for now, he deserves recognition for two strong seasons.
9) Jacob Markström: Vancouver Canucks
Previous Rank: 17
Jacob Markström, the Pacific Division’s other All-Star representative between the pipes, has continued to prove that he is much more than a seat-warmer for Thatcher Demko. Over the last two seasons, he has put up terrific numbers. This year, his 11.40 GSAA ranked 11th in the league, and his .581 QS% is also impressive. Markström is a pending unrestricted free agent, and with Demko seemingly ready to take the next step after a strong performance in the bubble, general manager Jim Benning has some big decisions to make.
8) Jordan Binnington: St. Louis Blues
Previous Rank: 10
Despite winning the Stanley Cup and finishing second in Calder Trophy voting, Jordan Binnington entered the 2019-20 season with a lot to prove. The St. Louis Blues’ breakout star had started just 30 regular-season games before this season. Therefore, there were questions about how he would stand up to the rigors of a full NHL campaign, especially as film on his strengths and weaknesses spread.
While some questions still linger about Binnington, especially after a rotten performance in the playoffs, the idea that midnight will strike and he will transform back into a pumpkin must be abandoned. He had a perfectly fine season, despite some ups and downs, finishing with a .912 SV% and a 2.56 GAA, a .560 QS% and 3.30 GSAA. Lest there be any doubts about how the Blues feel about him, general manager Doug Armstrong traded backup Jake Allen off a strong season immediately after the postseason. It’s Binnington’s net alone now.
7) Tristan Jarry: Pittsburgh Penguins
Previous Rank: Unlisted
Tristan Jarry had a strong enough season to convince the Pittsburgh Penguins that he was their likely goalie of the future. Now, Matt Murray’s name is in the trade rumor mill, and it is Jarry whom GM Jim Rutherford is looking to extend.
Jarry only started 31 games, but he was spectacular. He had a .921 SV% and a 2.43 GAA. He finished with 11.07 GSAA, which is very impressive given the limited number of starts, as are his three shutouts. Only time will tell whether this is a breakout or a flash in the pan, but it looks like the Penguins have seen enough to choose their road forward.
6) Darcy Kuemper: Arizona Coyotes
Previous Rank: 9
Speaking of revelations, Darcy Kuemper has been precisely that for the Arizona Coyotes. Though he was injured in late December, and only returned for four games before the season ended abruptly, his numbers were still spectacular. His .928 SV%, 2.22 GAA, 16.65 GSAA, and his jaw-dropping .759 QS% are all remarkable. He is clearly justifying the Coyotes’ decision to extend him in October.
5) Ben Bishop: Dallas Stars
Previous Rank: 1
Ben Bishop may be the most consistently underrated goaltender in the entire NHL, though the injuries that once again plagued him in the playoff bubble are a big part of the reason why. His statistics have always been good to elite, and yet he does not come to mind in that category for most. But he took the top spot at the start of the season, and was fantastic once again in 2019-20.
Bishop’s 13.28 GSAA is very strong, though an obvious step back from his league-leading 32.24 last season. He also had a .920 SV% and a 2.50 GAA, to go along with a .628 QS%. He’s a sensational goaltender and, when healthy, is one of the very best in the league. Though he gets a lot of help from his defensive core, the same group that helped his backup reach the Stanley Cup Final.
4) Robin Lehner: Chicago Blackhawks/ Vegas Golden Knights
Previous Rank: 5
Robin Lehner has been an absolutely transformed goaltender since signing with the Islanders before last season, although a look back at his career numbers suggests he was never bad enough for the Sabres to let him walk away. Off-ice issues may have informed that decision, though, and indeed, it was recovering from those that helped him move on to New York as a different man and win the Bill Masterton Trophy following that season.
He moved onto the Chicago Blackhawks was extraordinary there on a weak team, before they shockingly traded him to the Golden Knights. He finished the season with a .920 SV%, a 2.89 GAA (inflated by playing for Chicago), 12.67 GSAA and a .559 QS%. He would be a hotly fought-for free agent this fall, but judging by the lack of rumors out there, it seems most likely that he will stay in Sin City for the foreseeable future.
3) Andrei Vasilevskiy: Tampa Bay Lightning
Previous Rank: 3
When you think of the NHL’s elite goaltenders, Andrei Vasilevskiy is probably the first name that comes to mind. He is the pillar of consistency, as good and as predictable as any netminder in the league. Even during the 2019-20 season, when he struggled out of the gate, it seemed certain he would return to form and return he did.
Vasilevskiy finished with a league-leading 35 wins, the third straight campaign in which he’s had that lead. He had a .917 SV% and a 2.56 GAA, to go along with 12.13 GSAA and a .596 QS%. Even though some goaltenders surpass those numbers, few have been as consistent as Vasilevskiy over the last several seasons. There’s a reason he has his team in the Stanley Cup Final with sensational numbers, including a 1.97 GAA.
2) Connor Hellebuyck: Winnipeg Jets
Previous Rank: 19
Rebounding from a difficult year, Connor Hellebuyck’s 2019-20 season earned him the Vezina Trophy and even a sixth-place finish in Hart Trophy voting. He also captured the Jets’ franchise shutout record, an impressive achievement for a former fifth-round pick.
Hellebuyck’s 22.40 GSAA ranked second to only number one on our list, and his .922 SV% was near the top of the league, impressive considering he faced the most shots of any NHL goalie. In the wake of Jacob Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien’s departures, playing behind a severely inexperienced defensive group, Hellebuyck should be lauded for putting up such a strong performance.
1) Tuukka Rask: Boston Bruins
Previous Rank: 13
Ever since the playoffs started last year, Tuukka Rask has been a man possessed. He fell one win short of a Stanley Cup and an almost certain Conn Smythe Trophy, after posting a .934 SV% and a 2.02 GAA in 24 playoff games. Rather than sulk, he has seemingly used it as motivation, and he has come back the same determined netminder this season.
Rask’s .683 QS% is unreal, as is his .925 SV%. His 2.12 GAA and 22.51 GSAA both led the league, which is why he finished second in Vezina Trophy voting. Hellebuyck took the nod based not on statistics, where Rask was a clear leader, but based on the respective teams they played for. We can’t know what might have been for the Bruins had Rask not left the playoff bubble, but no one — well, no one sane, at least — blames him for making the best decision for his family.
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The Bottom Line
Goalies can change like the winds, and there’s no telling who will fall where when we next rank them entering next season. But this is an accurate representation of the best and worst in the league right now. What’s exciting is the age of many of these netminders and the reality that top prospects like Shesterkin, Sorokin, Demko and Luukkonen are still to come. The future of goaltending in the NHL is as bright as it has ever been.