Backup goalies rarely get the glory. In the case of the best in the game this season though, they’ve played key roles helping to lead their respective teams to potential playoff berths for a shot at the Stanley Cup.
Taking into account their records, stats, upside, overall bodies of work and other intangibles, here are the top five backup goalies currently in the NHL:
5. Ryan Miller (Anaheim Ducks)
It’s been somewhat of a renaissance this season for Anaheim Ducks goalie Ryan Miller. He’s flourished behind John Gibson after spending the last 10 years plus as an undisputed starter in the league. He’s never come as close to replicating the same form he did during his 2009-10 Vezina Trophy-winning season as this year, though.
His .926 save percentage, while a few points off that season’s .929 career high of his, is on par with Gibson’s. Same thing for his goals-against average (2.49). Maybe it’s being closer to home or the reduced workload, but, whatever it is, it’s worked wonders for Miller.
At 37, it’s unlikely he ever becomes a full-time starter again, but it’s nice to know one of the most well-travelled goalies in the recent past (four teams in the last five seasons) has something left in the tank.
4. Keith Kinkaid (New Jersey Devils)
Where New Jersey Devils starter Cory Schneider has faltered during an injury-plagued season, backup Keith Kinkaid has picked up the slack.
Now, Kinkaid’s numbers aren’t particularly astounding, as he has posted a 2.90 GAA and .908 save percentage so far. Those numbers are just off Schneider’s. The difference lies in the win-loss column. Whereas Schneider is 17-15-6, Kinkaid is an impressive 19-10-2. In other words, he’s getting the job done.
By Schneider’s own admission, he needs to get better. It’s his job to lose, after all.
3. Aaron Dell (San Jose Sharks)
Who knew? A goalie named Dell doing well in Silicon Valley.
In fact, Aaron Dell has played so well for the San Jose Sharks, that they gave him a healthy raise from his $575,000 base salary of the past two seasons. He’s set to earn an average of $1.9 million for the next two. That’s pretty big coin for a backup, relatively speaking.
Seeing as the soon-to-be 29-year old has grown statistically colder of late, it’s unlikely starter Martin Jones, who’s one year younger, needs to worry. Dell, the undisputed backup, is 3-2-1 over his last five starts with an .856 save percentage. Still, the Sharks extended him during that stretch, so it’s clear they have confidence in him. That’s all you can ask for in a competent backup.
2. Philipp Grubauer (Washington Capitals)
It’s a similar situation with the Washington Capitals relative to the Devils. The only difference is backup Philipp Grubauer has more upside than Kinkaid. In fact, based on the way he’s played in relief of Braden Holtby (whose GAA has ballooned to 3.03 this season), Grubauer may not be the Caps’ backup for long. There’s talk of him replacing Holtby for the playoffs.
Considering Holtby’s great career numbers and Vezina Trophy (2015-16), such a sentiment would have been unheard of as recently as last year. However, it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, and Grubauer has appeared in 12 of the Caps’ last 17 games, posting a 7-2 record with a .937 save percentage in the process.
He’s taking the proverbial ball and running with it. It remains to be seen, if he’s given the chance, how far he can take a team that perennially disappoints come playoff time. If this season is any indication, it might be further than Holtby.
1. Carter Hutton (St. Louis Blues)
When you lead the league in save percentage (.934), it’s a fair assumption you’ll earn consideration for the Vezina. Unfortunately for St. Louis Blues backup Carter Hutton, he’s only played 30 games, meaning he’ll probably have to settle for unofficial honors as the league’s best backup.
Technically, Toronto Maple Leafs backup Curtis McElhinney has outperformed Hutton with a .935 save percentage, but, seeing as Hutton has played more than 22 games (the league’s cut-off point for statistical leaders), Hutton gets the edge. McElhinney has to meanwhile settle for an honorable mention (along with names like Boston Bruin Anton Khudobin and Colorado Avalanche backup Jonathan Bernier). That’s due to a variety of factors, including how much the teams of each of the above have come to rely on the names that did make this list.
Tack on Hutton’s 16-7-3 record and GAA just above 2.00 and it’s clear he’s gone above and beyond what’s been asked of him. With starter Jake Allen’s mediocre stats, Hutton is arguably what’s been keeping the St. Louis Blues in the playoff race. At least, he had been. Considering Allen is still just 26 (and Hutton is 32), the former can only be considered the team’s goalie of the future. The present is still uncertain.
Out with a neck injury since early March, Hutton had been getting most of the starts down the stretch for the Blues. Allen still holds a 20-game edge in terms of appearances this season and has gone 4-2 since taking back the net full-time. His .872 save percentage over the last 4 leaves something to be desired though, namely Hutton back.