When it comes to the NHL’s Pacific Division, there’s a clear divide between the top and bottom echelon in goal. Four teams that will be in playoff contention all year have capable starting goalies. The Anaheim Ducks rode John Gibson to the Western Conference Final last year.
The Edmonton Oilers had a workhorse in Cam Talbot who played an NHL high 73 games last season. In 2015-16, the San Jose Sharks had Martin Jones take them to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Los Angeles Kings have a definite starter in Jonathan Quick who led them to two Stanley Cups. Even the Vegas Golden Knights got Marc-Andre Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup winner, in the expansion draft.
The rest of the teams have some major question marks.
Each of the remaining teams has a new goalie taking over the starting job. Antti Raanta is the new guy in Arizona after coming over from the New York Rangers. Mike Smith left the Coyotes in a trade with the Calgary Flames.
Jacob Markstrom emerged last year for the Vancouver Canucks, but whether he can handle a starter’s workload is another question.
Even then the backups behind these men are quite suspect. So who’s got the most issues in goal among the Pacific Division?
The Coyotes had the third worst goaltending in the Western Conference in 2016-17. Arizona finished 24 points outside the playoffs and thus traded their starter Mike Smith to the Flames.
To plug the hole, Coyotes GM John Chayka paid a hefty price to acquire Derek Stepan and their new starter Antti Raanta. The Coyotes gave up Anthony DeAngelo and their seventh overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.
Raanta, 28, comes in cheap with a $1 million cap hit but has never played more than 30 games in a season. He’s spent time behind Corey Crawford and Henrik Lundqvist over the past three seasons. This is Raanta’s first chance as a starting goalie in the NHL.
He’s played well in limited action, but still, he’s got just 94 games under his belt. Behind Raanta is Louis Domingue. The 25-year-old ended up with a heavier workload but was inconsistent in net. Domingue finished the year with 3.08 goals against average (GAA) and a .908 save percentage (SV%) through 31 games.
Is Raanta the answer for the Coyotes, or will their goaltending woes continue for another year? The Coyotes will need both their goalies to step up and provide some stability if they’re going to try to contend for a playoff spot.
Smith was acquired in a trade that saw the Flames trade away Chad Johnson, Brandon Hickey, and a conditional third-round pick. Johnson was a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) and Hickey was an unsigned prospect.
Smith, 35, has two years remaining at $4.25 million and is the latest goalie to come to Calgary and attempt to stabilize the Flames crease problems.
The duo of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson were inadequate, inconsistent and probably the Flames biggest downfall in 2016-17. From October to December, Elliott held a 3.00 GAA and a .892 SV%.
Calgary flipped back and forth with the starting duties between the two before eventually settling on Elliott for the playoffs. The wheels fell off the bus, and the Flames were swept in the first round. Elliott held a 3.89 GAA and a .880 SV% in the playoffs.
The Flames acquired Smith to stabilize their situation and brought in Eddie Lack to back him up. As mentioned, Smith was on one of the worst defensive teams in the Western Conference and is now tasked with trying to help the Flames.
Among the starters in the Pacific last year, Smith finished fourth in GAA and last in SV%. With the Flames having a better blueline than the Coyotes, can Calgary count on Smith to be better?
After being injury plagued in 2015-16, and being limited to 55 games last year, Smith is starting to wear down. Both Smith and Lack haven’t looked great in pre-season so far, and if it’s any inkling to how the 2017-18 season will go, the Flames goaltending woes might continue.
If it weren’t for the Colorado Avalanche being in their own class last year, the Canucks would’ve been the worst team in the NHL. There’s a lot of people that think the new team in Vegas is going to be better than the Canucks this year as well.
If you were to rank the teams in the Pacific Division from top to bottom, the Canucks are last on most of those lists. One of the reasons is because the Canucks didn’t make an addition to bolster their goaltending.
Instead Canucks GM Jim Benning let Ryan Miller walk to free agency and turned the crease over to Jacob Markstrom. The hope has been that he develops into Vancouver’s starter for the foreseeable future.
Markstrom was respectable numbers, but he’s never played more than 33 games. He’s played 109 games in his career so far with a 2.91 GAA and a .906 SV%. Those aren’t exactly awe-inspiring numbers.
In a nutshell, the Canucks turned the net over to a guy who played just six games in 2016-17 since January. He’s had a lower-body injury that lingered and lost the crease to Ryan Miller after the two practically split the starts to open the season.
Vancouver’s been pushing to have Markstrom become their number one for years. It’s a now or never situation for the 27-year-old. Remember Markstrom was once pegged to be one of hockey’s biggest prospects way back when he was drafted 31st overall in 2008. Is Markstrom really the guy for the Canucks?
Edmonton Oilers regular contributor providing insight on all things Oilers including club history, prospect profiles, trade breakdowns, and everything else in between. Check back regularly for new and exciting content. Follow on Twitter @SanderTHW.