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 twice 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 biannually. 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 current 2019-20 season. With that said, it would be ludicrous to ignore history or overemphasize a three-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. We’ll also consider what we’re calling a goalie’s real winning percentage (RW%), their percentage of wins from total games played, including overtime losses. 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 at midseason.
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 2-19-2 record. As we write this, the Red Wings have just 28 points, 13 fewer than the next lowest team (the Los Angeles Kings).
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 has an .883 SV%, a 4.12 GAA, and minus-17.84 GSAA. Not much more needs to be said here.
30) Martin Jones: San Jose Sharks
Previous Rank: 27
A recent 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 is minus-16.20, and he’s got an .891 SV% and 3.22 GAA to boot. He also leads the league in really bad starts at nine. The executive didn’t even mention this, but new Vegas Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer would probably kaibosh that trade before it got started. 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 .899 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 38-year-old’s tank. There are rumors the Senators might trade Anderson, and in a rebuild it makes sense. But a team desperate enough to consider Anderson an improvement will likely already be out of contention by the trade deadline.
28) Jonathan Quick: Los Angeles Kings
Previous Rank: 26
If these rankings had been done earlier in the season, Jonathan Quick might have taken the lowest spot. His start was dreadful, as he began 2-8 in his first 10 games. As weak as his stats still are, they’re an improvement on what he showed early on.
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 now owns an .896 SV% and a 3.01 GAA, along with minus-11.29 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 33, he may finally be coming back down to earth.
Dubnyk has been dealing with a personal issue much of the season, which could also be affecting his play. The results speak for themselves: he carries a 3.28 GAA and .893 SV% with minus-10.41 GSAA. He’s only had two RBS, to pair with one shutout, but his .391 RW% certainly isn’t helping the Wild. For the first time in many years, the Xcel Energy Center has heard a lot fewer “Duuuuub” chants than it is used to.
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 has had eight RBS this season, tied for second-worst in the league. He’s also carrying minus-9.06 GSAA, an .897 SV%, and a 2.98 GAA. Worse still, he has a .318 QS%, meaning his team simply cannot rely on him to perform well on the ice. His poor performance is a big part of the reason the Predators fired Peter Laviolette, and he has not improved significantly under new head coach John Hynes.
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 has also made eight RBS this season, has minus-9.62 GSAA, and has an .899 SV%. Everything is bad but his RW%. Ilya Samsonov is the future in Washington, and while general manager Brian MacLellan may back Holtby as their number one, the time is coming for him to make a different decision.
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 .906 SV% and a 2.95 GAA. It’s honestly not bad for a team with the league’s second-worst GAA and goal differential. But his minus-3.13 GSAA and .469 QS% still lag behind the competition. 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 37 now, and these are his final seasons in the NHL. His .907 SV% and 3.18 GAA aren’t terrible. His .522 QS% and just two 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 1.49 GSAA isn’t exciting, but it is at least positive, and it pairs nicely with a .910 SV% and a 2.90 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 in the offseason. 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-11.29 GSAA and .429 QS% really hurt him here. He has had some hot streaks but still possesses just an .898 SV% and a 3.24 GAA, and he has eight 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 has more goals against than any other goalie this season (though some of that comes from overexposure) and his GSAA is just .07 (down from 14.94 last season). Still, Price has a well-deserved reputation for greatness, and if anyone is going to bounce back in the second half, it’s likely to be 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 has been his first period of any real extended struggle. Even so, his numbers aren’t too bad.
Fleury possesses a .907 SV% and 2.86 GAA, both at the lower end of the middle of the pack. His minus-2.11 GSAA is poor but not awful, but his .486 QS% is more worrisome. Gerard Gallant is out in Vegas and DeBoer is in. Could that be the key to turning around Fleury’s fortunes?
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 21-years-old. Some struggles were to be expected in his second season. He’s largely weathered the storm and still has a .517 RW% and a 2.62 GAA. But his .905 SV% and minus-2.62 GSAA, coupled with his eight RBS suggest that he hasn’t totally adjusted to the bright lights of the NHL yet.
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 (2.59). 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-3.22 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 had been a pleasant surprise before suffering a knee injury that is expected to sideline him 3-4 weeks. The Lugnvik, Sweden native has 5.23 GSAA and a .545 QS% this season through 33 starts.
Ullmark also carries a .914 SV% and 2.72 GAA, along with just two RBS on the season. It’s been 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 general manager Jason Botterill 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 midseason rankings. Grubauer had a tremendous start to his first season as the true number one in Colorado but has tapered off in recent months.
His statistics still look fine, though. He’s got a .910 SV% and 2.82 GAA. His .379 QS% is very worrying, but he’s got 1.60 GSAA and only three 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’s collected a .913 SV% and a 2.49 GAA this season, along with 4.35 GSAA and a .613 QS%. He has had four RBS to go along with two shutouts, and he’s had a .548 RW%. In his absence, Elvis Merzlikins has become one of the hottest goalies on the planet, and the pairing has been the primary reason the Blue Jackets are currently in a playoff spot.
13) Frederik Andersen: Toronto Maple Leafs
Previous Rank: 4
Frederik Andersen has been a stalwart for the Toronto Maple Leafs since his arrival, and his descent down this list likely has more to do with the team’s struggles than his own. His numbers are still okay: .910 SV%, 2.86 GAA, a 3.02 GSAA, and a .550 QS%. There’s nothing too concerning there, and his RW% is .605, but he does have six RBS. Still, it’s very likely Andersen climbs up this list again soon.
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 .905 SV% and 2.99 GAA are still fairly remarkable given the team he plays for. But his minus-4.35 GSAA and .405 QS% are troubling, as are the six RBS. Still, on the team with the fourth-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’s putting together a very nice campaign for himself.
Varlamov has an impressive .915 SV%, 2.59 GAA, and 5.60 GSAA behind Barry Trotz’s stout defense on Long Island. He is also the ideal mentor for the young Russian superstar Ilya Sorokin if he ever jumps to the NHL. Right now, it seems that even if the Islanders rolled the dice, 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 just 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 has fully taken over the Calgary Flames’ net.
Rittich is at the high-end of the middle in every stat, except GSAA, where, with 4.45, he sneaks into the top third. He has been a steadying force for the Flames in a season fraught with turmoil.
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 7.80 GSAA ranks eighth in the league, and his .588 QS% falls seventh. Markström is a pending unrestricted free agent, and with Demko seemingly ready to take the next step, 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 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 of those questions still linger, especially in light of a recent shaky streak, the idea that Binnington will turn back into a metaphorical pumpkin at some point has all but evaporated. His .911 SV%, 2.62 GAA, and 2.59 GSAA are all fine. And his .639 RW% (3rd) and 23 wins (t-2nd) both rank near the top of the league. It looks like Binnington, who was also an All-Star this season, is here to stay.
7) Tristan Jarry: Pittsburgh Penguins
Previous Rank: Unlisted
This will be a controversial decision for a number of reasons. First, it’s not clear Jarry is the permanent starter for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Second, even if he was, this is a very high placement for anyone who just took a starting job. But his numbers lead the league in virtually every category, so for now, this is where he places.
Jarry has only started 23 games, but he has been spectacular. His .640 RW% is second in the league amongst starters, his .929 SV% is tied for first, and his 2.16 GAA stands alone at the top. His 14.99 GSAA is third, 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 with both Jarry and Matt Murray approaching restricted free agency, the Penguins need to make some decisions quickly.
6) Darcy Kuemper: Arizona Coyotes
Previous Rank: 9
Speaking of revelations, Darcy Kuemper has been precisely that for the Arizona Coyotes. Though he’s been injured since late December, his numbers are still strong enough to warrant the sixth-place spot. His SV% (.929), GAA (2.17) and QS% (.760) all lead the league, and the rest of his numbers are stellar as well. If he gets healthy in time, Kuemper will make the Coyotes a tough matchup in the playoffs.
5) Connor Hellebuyck: Winnipeg Jets
Previous Rank: 19
Rebounding from a difficult year, Connor Hellebuyck is racing towards Vezina Trophy consideration, and ought to receive some votes for the Hart Trophy as well, as he is the only reason the Winnipeg Jets are a contending team. He also just captured the Jets’ franchise shutout record, an impressive acheivement for a former fifth-round pick.
Hellebuyck’s 11.08 GSAA and his .917 SV% are near the top of the league, as is his .575 QS%. 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.
4) Robin Lehner: Chicago Blackhawks
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 and has been extraordinary despite their inconsistencies. He has 13.30 GSAA, a .593 QS%, a .922 SV%, and a 2.86 GAA. Lehner already said he plans to bet on himself in free agency, and general managers have hopefully learned their lesson. Expect him to be one of the hottest free agents available with all the league’s goaltending woes this season.
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 this season, when he struggled out of the gate, it seemed certain he would return to form and return he has.
He now boasts 9.36 GSAA, a .583 QS%, and a. .667 RW%. He leads the league in wins, something he’s done each of the last two seasons as well, with 24. And the thought of his being hot entering the playoffs with that Tampa Bay Lightning team in front of him is almost too terrifying to contemplate.
2) Ben Bishop: Dallas Stars
Previous Rank: 1
Quite the opposite of Vasilevskiy, Ben Bishop may be the most consistently underrated goaltender in the entire NHL. 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 would have again had number one not been so incredible.
Bishop and number one tied in our composite score, trailing only Kuemper and Jarry, who fell further based on experience. Bishop’s 17.28 GSAA leads the league just as it did last season. The only possible demerit against him has been health, and this season, even that hasn’t been a factor. He is as good as it gets, whether his reputation precedes him or not.
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 .643 QS% is unreal, as is the fact that he’s had only one RBS in 28 starts. His .925 SV% and 2.27 GAA are outstanding, and his 13.77 GSAA is elite as well. Rask is certainly as strong a contender for the Vezina Trophy as anyone, and if he wins it, he’ll join Bobrovsky as the only active goalie with more than one. Pretty impressive, considering portions of the Bruins fanbase have doubted Rask for many years.
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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.