Top 10 NHL Backup Goaltenders

Backup goalies in the NHL are tragically underappreciated. It’s hard enough for a team to find a starting goaltender that they can rely on game in, game out. It is an outright luxury to have a dependable backup goalie. Top NHL backups need to be able to perform well during their intermittent opportunities, but they also need to be ready to step up for long stretches if their partner goes down to injury. It’s a thankless, tireless, and underpaid position. But the bests are some of the most valuable players in the league.

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Backup goalies get their position in numerous ways. They might be former starters near the end of their career, or future starters getting their first shot in the big leagues. The names on this list come from all backgrounds. Some are even among the top goaltending prospects in the NHL. They have different backgrounds and different futures, but they share one thing in common: they can be relied on in a pinch, and their teams are very thankful to have them.

10) Braden Holtby — Dallas Stars

The best days of Braden Holtby’s career are clearly behind him. The 32-year-old Saskatchewanian won a Vezina Trophy in 2015-16, followed by a Jennings Trophy the next season. He then capped off that incredible run by leading the Washington Capitals to their franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup Championship in 2017-18. He is beloved in America’s capital city, and with good reason.

Braden Holtby, Dallas Stars
Braden Holtby, Dallas Stars (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Now, Holtby is reduced to a backup as he ages, serving in that role behind the emergent Jake Oettinger, he started only 22 games this season, carrying a .913 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.78 goals-against average (GAA), with 4.1 goals saved above average (GSAA). Those aren’t world-beating numbers. But they’re more than solid, and having a reliable number two option with Stanley Cup-winning experience is a valuable luxury for a playoff-level team.

9) Jonathan Quick — Los Angeles Kings

You can wash and repeat much of what was said about Holtby for Jonathan Quick. A tremendous veteran who steered the Kings to Stanley Cup wins in 2012 and 2014, Quick has seemingly done it all in this game. No one can forget his Conn Smythe Trophy-winning performance in 2013-14, when he held onto an .946 SV% and a 1.41 GAA en route to a Cup win in just 20 games — a performance that beggars imagination. Though the Vezina Trophy has eluded Quick, he has two Jennings Trophies to his name on his record, and he’ll flirt with the Hall of Fame when he retires.

Related: Kings’ Quick Turning Back the Clock in 2021-22

Unfortunately, though, the good times came crashing to an end for Quick, who posted dreadful numbers for three straight seasons from 2018-2020. So bad was his performance that the Kings turned to Cal Petersen as the full-time starter, and relegated Quick largely to a backup role this season. But that change did Quick a world fo good, and he rebounded to stalwart form as a result: he ended up starting 46 games due to Petersen’s issues with injuries, with a .910 SV% and a 2.56 GAA. Once again, those aren’t jaw-dropping results, but they are a huge turnaround in Quick’s career. And to have those numbers in a backup role for a goalie with his level fo experience, the Kings have to be pretty pleased with their situation in net.

8) Eric Comrie — Winnipeg Jets

It’s not Eric Comrie’s fault that he’s behind one of the best goaltenders in the world, Connor Hellebuyck. In another organization, he might well be the starter right now. The Winnipeg Jets drafted him in the second round, which is a high selection for a goaltender. He had a strong career with the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League, and great numbers in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Manitoba Moose (and other teams). He even won gold at the World Junior Championship. Now, he’s in the NHL, and he had a .920 SV% and a 2.58 GAA playing in 19 games this season — better numbers than Hellebuyck himself posted. Of course, his counterpart isn’t going anywhere, but Comrie might look for an opportunity to be a starter elsewhere. He’s an unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season.

7) Pavel Francouz — Colorado Avalanche

In his first full NHL season, Czech Republic import Pavel Francouz was a revelation. Playing in relief of Philipp Grubauer, he won 21 of 30 starts, held a .923 SV%, and carried a 2.41 GAA. On top of that, he managed 13.1 GSAA as a rookie (though he was 29-years-old ad had played many seasons of professional hockey in Europe). Since then, he has struggled mightily with injury. He missed the entire 2020-21 season due to double hip surgery.

Pavel Francouz Colorado Avalanche
Pavel Francouz, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But Francouz bounced back during the 2021-22 season. He played in 21 games and went 15-5-1, and while much of that can be attributed to the brilliant team in front of him, they aren’t solely responsible for his .916 SV% or his 5.5 GSAA. Those are great numbers for any backup. Better yet, Francouz is on a cheap contract which is critical for the cap-burdened Avalanche. All he needs to do now is stay healthy.

6) Daniel Vladar — Calgary Bruins

The Bruins must have had an embarrassment of riches in net, because they traded a goaltender as good as Daniel Vladar to the Calgary Flames for just a third-round pick. Despite his extreme inexperience (he’d played in just five games prior to arriving in Calgary) the Flames had no hesitations about making him their backup. Their confidence paid off quickly, as it quickly became apparent that the Flames had one of the best goaltending duos in the league.

Dan Vladar Calgary Flames
Dan Vladar, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vladar’s numbers fell off later in the season, and he finished with a .906 SV% and 2.75 GAA. But he had a 57.9 percent quality start percentage (QS%). He was reliable when the Flames needed him to be, and behind a terrific starter like Jacob Markstrom, they didn’t need much more. At just 24, there is plenty of time for Vladar to develop further into a truly great NHL goalie.

5) Logan Thompson — Vegas Golden Knights

Logan Thompson is maybe the most unlikely name on this list. Undrafted, he had to prove himself for years in the WHL (with the Brandon Wheat Kings) and the ECHL (with the South Carolina Stingrays) before the Golden Knights took a chance and signed him to a two-year contract in 2020. He posted astounding numbers the following season in the AHL, carrying a .943 SV% in 23 games. But with two standout goaltenders in front of him, there was no clear road to the NHL.

Logan Thompson Henderson Silver Knights
Logan Thompson, Henderson Silver Knights (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

After the Golden Knights traded Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks, the path to playing time became clearer. With Robin Lehner missing time to injury, Thompson got his opportunity. In all, he played 19 games, with a .914 SV% and a 2.68 GAA and a 3.9 GSAA. He also ended up carrying most of the water for the Golden Knights as they tried to secure a playoff spot late in the season. And while they ultimately fell short, none of that blame can be placed at Thompson’s feet. The final three games went to a shootout, and Vegas shooters went 0-for-17. Thompson got plenty of well-deserved praise and will be a prized backup entering the new season.

4) Antti Raanta — Carolina Hurricanes

Some goalies become backups for a period, others serve for longer. But few occupy the role as long as Antti Raanta has. No matter where he has gone in his career, he can’t seem to lock up a starting role. And yet, in 226 career games, he has a .919 SV%, a 2.46 GAA, 62.4 percent of his starts have been quality, and he carries 43.8 GSAA. In his latest stop, with the Carolina Hurricanes, he’s gone 15-5-4 with a .912 SV% and a 2.45 GAA, locking up the Jennings Trophy with teammate Frederik Andersen. He has another season left in Carolina, and at 32, it’s tough to imagine he’ll lock up a starting role this late in his career. But wherever Raanta goes, he is as reliable a backup as they come. The goalies ahead of him on this list are backups who will one day become starters, or starters who have only recently become backups. But Raanta may be the greatest true “backup goalie” anywhere in the NHL.

3) Semyon Varlamov — New York Islanders

Speaking of starters who have only recently become backups, Semyon Varlamov did nothing to lose his starting role with the New York Islanders. In fact, his first two seasons on the Island were two of the best of his career. But when the Islanders signed Varlamov to an expensive four-year, $20 million contract, it was always with the understanding that he would mentor his countryman Ilya Sorokin, who is expected to be one of the great starters of the next generation. And that is the role he stepped into this season.

Varlamov’s numbers certainly faltered a bit from the high marks and league-leading GSAA that earned him fifth-place in the Vezina Trophy standings last season. But a .912 SV% and a 2.88 GAA, along with 4.7 GSAA are perfectly adequate, especially as the team around him struggled to keep pace in the difficult Eastern Conference. Entering his final season with the Islanders, Varlamov has delivered on everything general manager Lou Lamoriello could have hoped for and more. He will be a prized backup for several more seasons, whether in New York or elsewhere.

2) Jeremy Swayman — Boston Bruins

The 111th overall pick in 2017, Jeremy Swayman made his way to the Boston Bruins fairly quickly for a low-drafted goaltender. He is still just 23-years-old, and basically evenly split the workload with Linus Ullmark this season. We’re considering him the backup due to his age, experience, and contract. In either case, either Bruins goalie could occupy this spot — they have one of the best tandems in the League. For his part, Swayman went 23-14-3 in his first full NHL season, with a .914 SV%, a 2.41 GAA, and 7.3 GSAA. The Anchorage, Alaska native has a very bright future ahead of him.

1) Spencer Knight — Florida Panthers

Spencer Knight won’t hold a spot on this list for very long. There is every reason to believe he will one day develop into one of the very best goaltenders in the league. At just 21-years-old, the Stamford, Connecticut native is already a “veteran” at the NHL level, even having two outstanding playoff games under his belt. This season, he had a .908 SV% and a 2.79 GAA. Other goalies have better numbers, but few have a better pedigree. The Panthers took Knight 13th overall, and eventually, he will be their starter. But with Sergei Bobrovsky playing well on an expensive contract and years left before Knight is even the typical age for a rookie NHL goalie, there is no reason to rush. For now, Knight will stay one of the most luxurious backups anywhere in the league.

Who Did We Miss?

Do you think your backup belongs on this list? Do you think we gave someone too much credit? Let us know in the comments below. The role of backup goaltender in the league is a volatile and ever-changing one. But right now, we believe these are the ten best in the world.

3 thoughts on “Top 10 NHL Backup Goaltenders”

  1. I understand why he isn’t here, but by the end of this season, Jhonas Enroth will be on this list.

    His 9-2-2-1 stretch last season (most of those wins coming in March) was key in the Sabres making the playoffs. Since Biron left, Miller’s major bane (besides a soft D) was a lack of a competent backup.

    Not so anymore!

    • I wouldn’t doubt it! Enroth has showed a lot of promise (which is why I listed him as an honorable mention), and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he started turning a few more heads around the league. I think Buffalo as a whole is one of the most underrated teams in the NHL, goaltending included

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