It may be a relatively thankless job, but NHL teams need serviceable backups. If they’re lucky, they get one who’s able to go above and beyond in relief of their starter. Sometimes, they may even overtake the No. 1 altogether.
Looking at all of the league’s clear-cut No. 2s (at least for the time being), it becomes clear that the very best at the position do get at least some credit, even if just in the form of this list. Taking into account their records, stats, overall bodies of work and other intangibles, here are the top five backup goalies currently in the NHL:
5. Jack Campbell (Los Angeles Kings)
Los Angeles Kings goalie Jack Campbell has seemingly finally made the NHL… albeit in a backup role. The former Stars first-round pick (2010) got in five games last season, the first time he had more than a single appearance, and far from wet the bed. He posted a 2-0-2 record with a .924 save percentage and 2.48 GAA.
Granted, that’s a small sample size, but he had been proving all the doubters wrong so far in 2018-19, after having been thrust into the starter’s role with Jonathan Quick out. In 13 games with the last-place Kings, Campbell went 5-7-0 with a .923 save percentage and 2.33 GAA. Of course, as further proof the Kings can’t catch a break, Campbell’s now out up to six weeks with a knee injury too.
Campbell would place higher on this list were it not for his short track record and uncertain future, but up until his injury it had been looking undeniably (but cautiously) bright.
4. Anton Khudobin (Dallas Stars)
Anton Khudobin almost perfectly fits the textbook definition of a journeyman goaltender. He first entered the league in 2009-10 with the Minnesota Wild. Since then, he’s played for a total of five different teams. Now with the Dallas Stars, his sparkling .926 save percentage and 2.37 GAA through five games (3-1-1) behind Ben Bishop are impressive.
What’s more impressive is, even if he were to keep those numbers consistent for the rest of the season, he’d have a hard time beating his 2013-14 career-best campaign. That season, he went 19-14-1 with the same .926 same percentage and a lower 2.30 GAA. It goes to show this isn’t the first time he’s been this stellar… and that he probably could reach those same heights if given the opportunity.
3. Juuse Saros (Nashville Predators)
If this list were about top goalie prospects in the league, Nashville Predators goalie Juuse Saros would probably have a shot at the top spot. However, because it’s about his proficiency playing behind the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Pekka Rinne, he falls just short.
The 23-year-old has an admittedly mediocre .909 save percentage to go along with a 2.67 GAA through nine games. The difference-maker is his sterling 7-2 record though, which surprisingly gives him one more win than Rinne, who had been placed on injured reserve earlier this season.
Ultimately, it’s that win-loss record, which is the mark of a great backup. With Rinne having just signed an extension, Saros has some time to get the rest of his game back to where it belongs so he can eventually rank atop the best goalies in the league, bar none.
2. Casey DeSmith (Pittsburgh Penguins)
It may be Pittsburgh Penguins starter Matt Murray who gets all the headlines (lately for all the wrong reasons), but it’s backup Casey DeSmith who’s getting the wins.
DeSmith impressed in a limited role last season through 14 games, earning a .921 save percentage and 6-4-1 record in 14 games. This season, he’s proving it was no fluke with a .942 save percentage in nine appearances, the same amount as Murray. The only difference is DeSmith’s made several of those in relief of the No. 1 Murray, who’s struggling to say the least (.886 save percentage).
Murray’s issues in the net might be a bigger concern for the Penguins were it not for DeSmith’s strong play as his backup. In the meantime, DeSmith’s strong play as his backup should maybe be a huge concern for Murray.
1. Ryan Miller (Anaheim Ducks)
The general consensus is the Anaheim Ducks are only as close to the playoffs as they are in 2018-19 because of their strong goaltending. It would be a mistake to assume the success is all thanks to their resident Vezina-caliber goalie, John Gibson, though.
In truth, backup Ryan Miller continues to make the most of his career renaissance with the Ducks. After posting a 12-6-6 record last season with a .928 save percentage and 2.35 GAA, his numbers are actually better so far in 2018-19, albeit through just five appearances. His 2-2 record doesn’t do his .936 save percentage justice. The same goes for the Ducks’ defense, which has led Miller to a greater winning percentage than Gibson (5-6-3), however temporarily.
Of course, Miller has been here before, as a Vezina winner (2010) himself. While he fell from grace for a while in the starter’s role, at age 38 he’s proving the backup one might be his niche from here on out. Who knows how much longer he can successfully fill it at this rate?