Frustrated by the lack of coverage available to quench your curiosities when it comes to goaltending content? Welcome to the THW Goalie Report. A column that sets out to bring you even more in-depth NHL news, analysis, and commentary, with netminders leading the narrative.
It’s not an overstatement to proclaim goaltending as one of the most important roles on any roster, let alone being a position that tends to cause the most controversy. Simply stated, there is never a shortage of storylines to cover. Why, then, are goalies consistently left out of hockey’s league-wide headlines? This series is the response to that very question.
From rookies working to steal the spotlight, to veterans proving it’s their crease to keep, to updates on those itching to get back into action, to any unsolicited drama that just won’t go away, and everything in between or beyond. You can find it all here, in this weekly write-up.
To kick things off for the 2021-22 campaign, let’s take a look at some of the topics each franchise already finds itself fixated on.
An Uncharacteristically Busy Offseason
It would be inaccurate to refer to this past offseason as being just like any other. The flood of movement experienced was felt throughout the league and goalies were not spared. Whether via trade or free agency, many that were once fan favourites for one club are now suiting up for another.
The reality is, select few teams still have the same tandem intact as they head into a new season. This is a business, after all. Sometimes employees request a long-overdue transfer, are let go for poor performance, or earn a promotion to reward their loyalty.
Being a professional athlete is just like any other job, especially when it comes to workplace politics.
Key Question Faced by Every NHL Franchise
Although teams often face uncertainty throughout their lineups at the best of times, any curiosities involving their goaltending tend to align with heightened anxiety throughout the organization. Depending on the answers that then follow, those respective rosters can either earn an advantage or fall even further behind.
Since signing an eight-year extension in August 2018, which made him one of the highest-paid goalies in the league, John Gibson’s stat line has seen steady regression. It’s not that straightforward, though, as the Anaheim Ducks haven’t done the former all-rookie any favours with their lacklustre efforts. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2017-18.
Are the days of Gibson’s numbers being among the league’s elite behind him or can Anaheim turn things around to more effectively support their starter?
Despite poor team results for the Arizona Coyotes through 2020-21, it was rarely the fault of Antti Raanta, Darcy Kuemper, or Adin Hill. Quite the opposite, as the trio was able to put up pretty good numbers, considering the effort of those playing in front of them. Each has since moved on, making room for Carter Hutton and Karel Vejmelka to take over.
Is Arizona where Hutton is set to see a resurgence or do the Coyotes need to push prospect Vejmelka into the action?
Still an unrestricted free agent, Tuuka Rask is set to miss the first half of 2021-22. Add that Jaroslav Halák left this offseason and the Boston Bruins were forced to look elsewhere to solidify their goaltending situation for the first time in years. Which they hope to have accomplished, with the return of Jeremy Swayman and the signing of Linus Ullmark.
Can Swayman’s impressive debut earn him the starts or will Ullmark’s experience end up being what benefits the Bruins most this season?
If you needed a reminder of how things went for the Buffalo Sabres last season, reflect on the fact that they started six different goalies throughout it. Of which, one remains – Dustin Tokarski. Joining him between Buffalo’s pipes this year is Craig Anderson. One with less than 50 starts to their name over a 12-year span, the other with over 650 after 19 seasons.
How bad would things have to become in Buffalo to see them prefer Tokarski’s inexperience over Anderson’s track record?
Missing the playoffs, as they did in 2020-21, is never a suitable option for the Calgary Flames. Although Jacob Markström wasn’t overly impressive in his new city, achieving at around the league averages means he doesn’t deserve the bulk of the blame either. While he hopes to regain his form, the Flames brought in Daniel Vladař as his understudy.
Should the Flames anticipate seeing Vladař swoop in sooner than later if they don’t start getting more out of Markström?
Strong goaltending certainly helped the 2020-21 Carolina Hurricanes accomplish as they did. Not only did Alex Nedeljkovic achieve Calder Trophy-worthy numbers, but veterans James Reimer and Petr Mrázek were also solid with every start. Yet, they’ve gone from having one of the strongest trios in the league to welcoming a brand new tandem of Raanta and Frederik Andersen.
Hoping to pick up where their predecessors left off, will it be Andersen or Raanta that maintain Carolina’s crease through 2021-22?
It would have seemed that Kevin Lankinen’s strong rookie campaign would have been enough to earn him added playing time with the Chicago Blackhawks. However, the club’s inability to practice patience translated into a busy offseason. And they didn’t bring in Marc-André Fleury, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, to ride the pine.
Was acquiring Fleury a risk to Lankinen’s development or will that mentorship simultaneously propel progress for Chicago’s present and future?
Not doing enough to keep your stars around means they’ll find another place to play. That’s exactly what the Colorado Avalanche experienced, after witnessing the Seattle Kraken sway Philipp Grubauer following his Vezina-finalist campaign. All is not lost in Colorado, though, as adding Kuemper was far from the worst solution.
As he enters his 10th year in the league on the Avalanche, what type of production can Kuemper anticipate now that he’s finally playing for a favourite?
Columbus Blue Jackets
Unlike what the underdog Columbus Blue Jackets have extracted out of their roster in recent years, their 2020-21 lineup wasn’t capable of surprising in that manner. Despite their best efforts, both Elvis Merzļikins and Joonas Korpisalo saw their numbers head the wrong way as a result. Most expect much of the same out of Columbus through 2021-22, as well.
Will having something a lot more personal to play for elevate the impact of Merzļikins and Korpisalo to the point of helping Columbus sneak into the postseason?
In 2017, Ben Bishop was acquired by the Dallas Stars with the hopes of having his stat line follow. Unfortunately, his history of injuries joined him. Dallas has since benefited from Anton Khudobin’s ability to take on an added workload, but he’s been inconsistent. Even with an impressive debut from Jake Oettinger, the Stars still felt the need to add veteran Braden Holtby into the mix.
When it comes to an overworked backup in Khudobin, a veteran past their prime in Holtby, or an unproven prospect in Oettinger, who will earn the job in Dallas?
Detroit Red Wings
A last-place finish in 2019-20 prompted the Detroit Red Wings to try something new in net, so they moved on to a duo of Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss. Detroit’s goaltending numbers weren’t bad through 2020-21, but their team results were. In a trade that sent Bernier packing, the Red Wings added Nedeljkovic fresh off his 2021 Calder nod.
Following an outstanding rookie campaign in Carolina, can Nedeljkovic repeat the same with a lesser lineup around him?
Dressing the best hockey player in the world hasn’t been enough for the Edmonton Oilers these past few years, so they’ve worked to add around Connor McDavid in hopes that a collective elevation will occur. All the while, they’ve maintained the same stance in goal with Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith at the helm.
Even if those that make up the rest of the Oilers roster progress their game, what more Edmonton can expect out of Koskinen and Smith?
Paying Sergei Bobrovsky $10 million per season handcuffed the Florida Panthers when it came to rewarding Chris Driedger. Instead, despite Driedger continually having outperformed Bobrosky, the Panthers had to accept that he would be selected in the expansion draft. Objectively, this at least left an opening for prospect Spencer Knight to slot in.
Can the Panthers count on Bobrovsky to prove his worth or will they find themselves in a similar financial situation after Knight steals the spotlight?
Los Angeles Kings
Having already played over 660 contests through a 14-year span, Jonathan Quick is not the type of athlete to take a night off unless he’s forced to. A scenario he faced following season-ending surgery in May 2021. Although that guaranteed Cal Petersen some additional ice time to end the year, it was mostly a split start scenario prior to.
Will the Kings finally force Quick to the sidelines more often, for the sake of supporting Petersen’s development?
Cam Talbot’s rollercoaster ride of a career brought him to the Minnesota Wild before the start of last season and the move benefited all. Meanwhile, Minnesota also enjoyed added security from the solid play of rookie Kaapo Kähkönen. In fact, both experienced very similar stat lines, which directly factored into the Wild’s progress last season.
As Talbot hopes to maintain a peak and Kähkönen progresses towards his, will the Wild play it safe or gamble on the potential upside?
Although no one should expect the 2021-22 Montreal Canadiens to perform the way that they did through the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, having both Carey Price and Jake Allen return means they’re solid between the pipes. While waiver pick-up Sam Montembeault might be more strategic than initially thought, with Price out to start the season.
Should the Canadiens expect Allen to step up and own the role or allow newcomer Montembeault a chance to earn some starts?
Regardless of the fact that Juuse Saros has put up solid stats since joining the Nashville Predators in 2015-16, backing up a legend like Pekka Rinne was never going to help highlight his name. That’s no longer the case, with Rinne now freshly retired, leaving Nashville’s crease open for the taking.
With the Predators now counting on Saros to be an undisputed starter, can he maintain the same level of production through an increased workload?
New Jersey Devils
Roster revisions have been inevitable, as the New Jersey Devils work to progress back towards relevancy. They’ve had a few netminders come and go throughout recent seasons, with the only consistent names remaining being MacKenzie Blackwood and Scott Wedgewood. Joining their crew, with hopes of enhancing the collective effort, is Bernier.
Is an open competition between Blackwood, Bernier, and Wedgewood the best way for New Jersey to gain an advantage in net?
New York Islanders
Semyon Varlamov may have earned the edge in games played through 2020-21, but that didn’t discourage Ilya Sorokin from putting up all-star numbers of his own. Although the tandem is touted as one of the best in the league, and for good reason, split starts won’t be possible if Varlamov remains out due to injury.
Kicking off the season as the Islanders’ go-to, will Sorokin’s numbers be strong enough to suggest that he’s the better option moving forward?
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers are another example of a team that’s trying to get the most out of having multiple starter-quality netminders. Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin having shared a lot of the workload throughout the past two seasons. In that span, Georgiev played 53 games while Shesterkin got into 47.
Will the Rangers continue teetering between Shesterkin and Georgiev, or finally provide one with the necessary runway to help their career take off?
To say that Matt Murray’s first season with the Ottawa Senators was a disappointment would be putting it lightly. Murray’s $6.25 million salary is currently the sixth-highest among goalies in the league. Yet, his 2021-22 goals-against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%) weren’t even good enough to crack the NHL’s top 75.
Should the Senators temper their expectations of Murray or can the two-time Stanley Cup winner return to his all-rookie ways?
After a debut that forced people to take notice and the impressive sophomore campaign that followed, another elevation was expected out of Carter Hart. However, a streaky season forced Brian Elliot into more action than anticipated. Hart losing seven of his final eight contests through 2020-21 likely contributed to the Flyers’ willingness to take a gamble on signing Martin Jones, shortly after being bought out.
Can the 23-year-old Hart turn into the star he once seemed destined to be in Philadelphia or will the chip on Jones’ shoulder get in the way?
After the Pittsburgh Penguins chose to move on from Murray, Tristan Jarry transitioned from being the goalie of their future to the one they needed now. Along with Casey DeSmith, Pittsburgh’s goalies put up relatively strong numbers throughout the 2020-21 season. Until they reached the playoffs, where Jarry seemed unable to maintain any sort of momentum.
With a fresh start upon him in 2021-22, can Jarry return to form or is his job at risk if DeSmith outperforms on any given night?
San Jose Sharks
One way for an organization to encourage change is by cleaning house in their crease. That’s exactly what the San Jose Sharks did when they decided it made more sense paying Jones to leave rather than have him play out his contract. San Jose didn’t take long to find solutions, though, as they signed Reimer and traded for Hill shortly thereafter.
Both having earned respectable individual numbers last season, will the Sharks prioritize 33-year-old Reimer’s experience or 25-year-old Hill’s age advantage?
With at least one goalie from the other 31 franchises made available to the Seattle Kraken for their 2021 Expansion Draft, it’s not like they didn’t have choices. Seeing one of the game’s best in Price up for grabs makes it seem like a simple process, but there was a lot more to it than that. Yet, the Kraken put together a solid inaugural duo when they stuck with their selection of Driedger and signed Grubauer in the offseason.
With both having impressed in recent seasons, will it be Grubauer or Driedger who end up bringing Seattle the surprise success that no one sees coming?
St. Louis Blues
Following the improbable turnaround to their 2018-19 campaign, en route to their first Stanley Cup, the St. Louis Blues have seemed snakebitten in the postseason ever since. The same holds true of their breakout star during that Cup-winning campaign, as Jordan Binnington went winless in both playoffs that followed.
Did consecutive First Round exits motivate Binnington and the Blues to rise above or leave them less confident than ever heading into 2021-22?
Tampa Bay Lightning
When a franchise dominates in the manner that the Tampa Bay Lightning have of late, with no signs of slowing down throughout back-to-back Stanley Cup runs, one can only imagine how much higher their peak may be. The same can be said of Andrei Vasilevskiy, their all-star netminder who has sat the bar for what it means to be the league’s best.
Has Vasilevskiy already achieved all there is to accomplish in the NHL or is there more to come for the 27-year-old Conn Smyth Trophy winner?
Toronto Maple Leafs
The five-year relationship between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Andersen came to a mutual end this past offseason, propping the door wide open for Jack Campbell. Before he was able to make it through, though, Toronto went out and acquired Mrázek to share the workload. Not a bad tactic, given that both are trending in the right direction.
Will deploying a 1A/1B approach between Campbell and Mrázek prove to be what Toronto’s strategy has been lacking in recent years?
Holtby’s tenure with the Vancouver Canucks was short-lived and unimpressive, after going 7-11-3 through 2020-21, including a 3.67 GAA and a .889 SV%. With Thatcher Demko still in the system, entering his fifth year as a Canuck, Vancouver added veteran Jaroslav Halák into the mix for good measure.
Is it finally Demko’s time to truly own the role as Vancouver’s starter or will Halák impress to the point of stealing that opportunity away?
Vegas Golden Knights
Despite the Vezina-worthy performances that the Vegas Golden Knights extracted out of Fleury over the past four years, trading him solidified that their loyalty remained with Robin Lehner. Objectively, that stance can be rationalized by recognizing that Lehner is seven years younger, with an unbridled passion to achieve. Vegas needs fire if they hope to remain hot.
Can the Golden Knights expect to cash in on their gamble or should they hedge their bet by adding another proven veteran to work alongside Lehner?
After watching Holbty depart the Washington Capitals organization just a few years after he helped them achieve their first-ever Stanley Cup, fans quickly familiarized themselves with the names Ilya Samsonov and Vítek Vaněček. Then, the Kraken stole Vaněček and it seemed supporters would be welcoming another new netminder. Until the Capitals re-acquired him shortly thereafter.
Each entering the prime of their careers, will it be Samsonov or Vaněček that prove worthy of a bigger payday when their current terms expire at the end of 2021-22?
Connor Hellebuyck quickly became one of the most elite in the league and has remained among that group ever since. As evidenced by multiple All-Star appearances and his 2020 Vezina Trophy. However, having led all goalies in games played three of the past four years, burnout could be to blame for inconsistent postseason production.
Is it time for Winnipeg to encourage more of a contribution from goalies not named Hellebuyck, so that their starter can remain ready for the contests that matter most?
Weekly Report on All Things Goalies
Accounting for a fraction of the countless goaltending questions heading into 2021-22, there are sure to be a plethora of netminder-centric narratives that emerge throughout. Which storylines are you looking forward to following this season?
Whether it’s witnessing surprise performances unfold in real-time, hearing that rising stars are forcing fear into every opponent, or experiencing an elevation among the best class of athletes the NHL has ever seen, the THW Goalie Report will keep you up to date and engaged on all things goalies.
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