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Who is the best goalie in the world?
The answer, as always, is Dominik Hasek, and will be until he takes his last breath on this mortal plane.
But being that Hasek is 48 and the National Hockey League is completely ageist, we’re left to ponder which goaltender is the best in the NHL.
Y! Sports NHL editor Sam McCaig recently did his ranking of the NHL’s 30 starting goalies, with the typical debates about who is or is not a starter – personally, I don’t see how Martin Brodeur isn’t the starter until he’s injured – and the overall ranking of the netminders. (If you’re a Mike Smith fan or a Marc-Andre Fleury basher, this was your list.)
Sportsnet also had some weird-ass eight-tier ranking system for its starting goalie countdown, in which Semyon Varlamov has as “much to prove” as Ben Bishop and Jakob Markstrom despite, you know, being a starting goalie in the NHL while the others were busing between AHL arenas.
Both lists are nice and all, but I figured I’d share what’s obviously the definitive list of the NHL’s top 10 goalies, because it sprung forth from my brain bone. Enjoy.
Here are the top 10 goalies in the NHL right at this very moment, presented in reverse order to really amp up the drama:
10. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
I agree with everyone that’s taking a wait-and-see approach with Bob, including Blue Jackets management’s decision to give him a two-year deal. His numbers were stellar last season, and a case could be made for him as both the Vezina winner and a Hart finalist. That’s good enough to get him in the Top 10; whether he remains there depends on whether he’s Jim Carey or the next Kiprusoff. Or the next Vokoun: Awesome goalie on a non-playoff team. (Hey, we hope for the best with Columbus, but have you seen the Metrosexual Division?)
9. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
The best indication that Howard’s the real deal is that he forced the Red Wings to actually invest real dollars in the goaltending spot under GM Ken Holland. That his numbers didn’t fall off post-Lidstrom was a major test passed for Howard, who frankly made the blueline corps in front of him better than it looked on paper. His playoff numbers could be better, but he’s as dependable as they come. Plus we're fond of any goalie with the "-y" nickname, much like Timmy Thomas and the various Cor(e)ys. Memo to Mason: Go with "Stevie."
8. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
Winning the Stanley Cup doesn’t make you a better goalie anymore than a crappy contract makes you a worse one. (More on that later.) Crawford was everything the Blackhawks needed during their run to the Cup, even if he didn’t start feeling the love until the Final. He had Conn Smythe worthy numbers for the postseason, and won some duels with Tuukka Rask. That said, Ray Emery gave us 17 reasons last season why playing in back of the Blackhawks’ lineup can turn very good goalies into all-stars.
7. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators
The difference between Anderson and Howard/Crawford is that the Senators goalie can be downright Hasek-ian in his performances. Anderson wins games on his own, and that’s been the case through every stop in his career. Last season, he was the best goalie in the NHL (1.69 GAA) and would have waltzed away with the Vezina were it not for his injury. That level of consistency isn’t commonplace for Anderson, but if 2012-13 wasn’t an anomaly he’ll move up this list faster than a sweat bead falling off his bald noggin while he ogles an ice girl.
6. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Look, there’s no denying that Rask was fantastic last regular season and perhaps even better in the postseason. He erased any lingering desire to take a can opener to Tim Thomas’s bunker door and pry him out. But he’s not the fourth-best goalie in the NHL, via McCaig; and I’m not sure how he doesn’t fall into the “prove it again” territory Sportsnet believes Bobrovsky inhabits. He sung for his supper on a show-me contract, and managed to put up Thomas-like numbers while playing behind Zdeno Chara for 28 minutes (as well as Seidenberg, Ference, Boychuk and Bergeron). The system didn’t make him, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t impact his numbers.
5. Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks
Niemi didn’t arrive in 2012-13 – it’s more like he finally got the credit he’s deserved. He’s a workhorse that puts up very good numbers and provided the Sharks with consistently strong efforts, especially on special teams. Does he have his soft stretches? Sure, and every goalie does. But a 1.87 GAA in the postseason through 11 starts gave the Sharks a chance to advance to the Western Conference Final had it not been for their offensive struggles against the Kings. Oh yeah: He has a Cup ring he earned. That too.
4. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Rinne won 43 games with a .923 save percentage in 2011-12. He was one game under .500 with a .910 save percentage in 2012-13, his first without Ryan Suter on the Predators blueline. I’m inclined to believe that Rinne sub-2.40 GAA netminder who faces a ton of shots and can single-handedly keep his team in contention even when he’s given zippy goal support. I’m also inclined to believe he’ll never be worth a $7 million cap hit. But judging a goalie by his contract is rather foolhardy. Which brings us to …
3. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks
Sorry, but remind me again when Luongo suddenly turned terrible? Was it when the Canucks decided to pass the baton? Was it when his contract was deemed un-tradable? I’m willing to chalk up some of his underwhelming stats to mitigating circumstances, such as loathing the way one's employer has treated them. But he’s shown enough flashes that I don’t believe his skills have eroded. For my money, he’s still the third best goalie in the League. For his money, he had better be, for the Canucks' sake.
2. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
This is really a ‘1’ and a ‘1-A’ situation between the first and second goalies on this list. Mix’em up, flip’em around, you’ll get no quarrel from me. Lundqvist is unbeatable when he’s on, can win games on his own and deserves every accolade and dollar he’s given. He covers for mistakes and rarely makes one of his own. The Rangers would have given him a ring by now if their offense wasn’t so pathetic in the postseason. But that’s Vancouver’s problem now. (OK, it’s been their problem, which is ironic considering their guy is now the Rangers guy while the Rangers guy is their … my head hurts.)
1. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
In the last full season they played, Quick was better than Lundqvist. There’s no question Hank was the better of the two in the truncated season, and Quick has a long way to go to match the Rangers goalie’s career accomplishments. But in 50 playoff games, he has a 2.03 GAA and a .929 save percentage with seven shutouts. He’s just as unbeatable when he’s on as Lundqvist is, and his athleticism and reflexes have earned him comparisons to Hasek and Ed Belfour.
Again: ‘1’ and ‘1-A’ between those two. But right now, I’d still give Quick the nod. Wonder if they can settle things in Sochi …
I’d have Carey Price at No. 11 on this list, and were it not for Bobrovsky’s emergence he’s Top 10. Right there with him: Jonas Hiller (another game-stealer) and Kari Lehtonen, whose only problem is health. Mark me down in the “Mike Smith is a product of the Coyotes’ system” naysayers … but hey, he makes that system work. McCaig had Cam Ward at No. 10 – way too high – and Ryan Miller at No 16 – way too low. I’m not entirely sure where Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider fit in a top 30. Ditto Fleury, who is Top 12 in the regular season and the worst goalie alive in the postseason.
What's your top 10?
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