Speaking of goaltenders, Philadelphia’s Ilya Bryzgalov famously was quoted last season as saying “the universe is humongous big”. Seeing as that’s difficult logic to argue with, I will not concern myself with attempting to determine the best goalie in the universe. Rather, I will narrow my search to determining the best goalie on the planet. I do not feel as though I am going out on a limb by nominating New York Rangers’ netminder Henrik Lundqvist.
In the two decades between 1990 and 2010, three goalies dominated this discussion, and someday in the imminent future they will all be members of the hockey Hall of Fame: Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur. For a span of a few seasons in the late ’90’s, Hasek put together the most dominant string of seasons in modern hockey history. Roy set virtually every goaltending career mark between 1985-2003 while winnning four Stanley Cups. Brodeur has broken virtually all of Roy’s records between 1992 and the present, taking home three Stanley Cups for his New Jersey Devils. Hasek and Roy are now retired, while Brodeur is still a respected starter though, at 40 years old, perhaps not as impenetrable as he once was.
This leads the field open for the next generation of puck-stoppers, and Lundqvist heads the list. “King Henrik” took over the Rangers’ starting job in 2005-06 and has won 30+ games every season since. Last season he set career highs in wins (39), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.930) and was rewarded his first ever Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. While he has yet to win a Stanley Cup, Lundqvist won the Olympic gold with a sparkling performance for Sweden in the 2006 games and took the Rangers to the Eastern Conference finals last spring. He is competitive, consistent, unflappable and without a weakness in his game.
Following, for the sake of argument (I like being called idiotic on Twitter), I will list my top 10 goaltenders in the NHL. In my rankings, I am including the past three seasons. I mean, sure Craig Anderson and Tuuka Rask look like top goaltenders after stellar starts to the 2013 season, but I cannot include them that high unless they sustain that success for a reasonable amount of time. Also, I am incorporating post-season resumes, unfortunately for ace goalies like Kari Lehtonen whose teams are not necessarily good enough to make the playoffs.
The Top 10:
1)Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: The competition came down to Henrik and Quick, and though Quick won the cup last year after a superb season comparable to Lundqvist’s, the Rangers’ netminder has sustained his success for a far greater duration of time.
2)Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: No one gets post to post, uh, quicker. His reading of of the play has greatly improved over recent years, and he came a hair away from winning the Vezina away from Lundqvist in 2011-12. No matter, he won the big prize, taking home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP as his Kings took home their first ever Stanley Cup.
3)Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: Statistically, his argument is as good as Lundqvist’s and superior to Quick’s over the past few seasons. Remarkably athletic for his huge 6’5″ frame, Rinne has won 108 games over the past few years with con sistently terrific GAAs and save percentages. However, Rinne plays on a very defensively conservative team which allows few shots and take few chances, and he has yet to put together a deep playoff run. Last season he was severely outplayed by Mike Smith, who led a far less talented Coyotes team past Nashville in the Western Conference semis.
4)Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils: Determined to play next year as well as this one, Brodeur is still going strong at age 40. Perhaps the best netminder ever to play the game, Marty took the Devils to within two wins of a fourth Stanley Cup with a spectacular playoff run last spring. Some may doubt his ranking this high, but Brodeur is still a man who can carry a team into the playoffs and still a man a team wants between the pipes when they get there.
5)Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres: The Vezina Trophy winner in 2009-10, a cavalcade of injuries have slowed him since but he still topped the 30-win plateau over the past two seasons. Yet to win a Stanley Cup, he was brilliant in leading Team USA to within one goal of the gold medal in the 2010 Olympics. The unquestioned leader of the Sabres’ locker room, when healthy Miller is an absolute beast between the pipes.
6)Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames: What would he and Jarome Iginla have accomplished were the Flames ever able to build a team around them? Over the past seven seasons, “Kipper” has averaged 39 wins per year. Last season, on a mediocre (at best) squad and at 36 years old, Miika was brilliant with 35 wins, a 2.35 GAA and .921 save percentage. Expect teams to fall all over each other if he becomes available at the trade deadline.
7)Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues: Halak exploded onto the scene in the 2010 playoffs, unseating starter Carey Price and leading the upstart Canadiens to the Eastern Conference finals behind his stalwart goaltending. Traded to the Blues before the 2010-11 season to clear the way for Price, both goalies have blossomed since. Last year, Jaroslav won 26 games with seven shutouts in just 46 appearances. This year Halak has been bit a bit by the injury bug, but thus far his Blues are 5-1-1 with him and 6-7-1 without him.
8)Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: With this kid’s astounding physical athleticism and air of constant cool between the pipes, I can see him rising near the top of these rankings quite quickly. In 2010-11 Price was one of the top goalies in the league, but he slumped much of last year. In the Canadiens’ one big playoff run during the course of Carey’s career he was usurped between the pipes by Jaroslav Halak. Thus far this year, Price has been undeniably brilliant — perhaps the biggest reason for Montreal’s unlikely rocket towards the top of the Eastern standings.
9)Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes: With Brodeur aging, Smith is now the top puckhandling goaltender in the NHL. He is also outstanding at stopping it, leading a no-name Coyotes team to the Pacific Division title and then the Western Conference finals last year by stifling the high-octane Chicago offense in the first round and then sorely outplaying Rinne in the second.
10)Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks: If this list was a top-10 for lightning rods of media attention, Luongo would surely be number one on the list. Often lambasted for his play in big games, he did take the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011 (though he was awful in the finals) and won the gold medal game for Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics. The most mercurial of all players at the most mercurial position, Luongo has as much physical talent as anyone who has ever played the position. When he’s on his game he can be otherworldly in his greatness; when he is cold he looks like he doesn’t belong between the pipes in a beer-league game.
I was tempted to add a couple of my personal favorite goalies, Kari Lehtonen and Cam Ward, but they just missed the cut. Ottawa’s Craig Anderson will surely find his way onto the list in the future. Marc-Andre Fleury was the most difficult, however, to leave off. He has won a Stanley Cup and is impenetrable when hot, but lacks consistency at times, such as in last year’s playoffs when he was, to put it lightly, absolutely abominable.
Thoughts? Arguments? Cooking recipes? Feel free to chime in on the comments section below, or hit me up on Twitter at: @StIves72.
Writer/lunatic, hockey columnist, mlb.com, aspiring cryptozoologist, estrogen addict, patron saint of vertigo, unintentional ghost hunter. Brooklyn, New York