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There’s nothing like a good goalie debate. And this is a debate about 30 good goalies, the 30 starting goalies in the NHL.
But first, a clarification. This is a ranking of the 30 No. 1 goalies in the NHL. Every team is represented once, no more and no less. Which means that there’s a few masked men who are not on this list who would certainly make the grade if it was a straight-up ranking of the NHL’s top 30 goalies. But it isn’t. It’s a ranking of the NHL’s top 30 starting goalies.
For example, perhaps you’ll notice that a certain all-time winningest NHL goalie isn’t listed. That’s right, we believe Cory Schneider will take over as New Jersey’s No. 1, supplanting 41-year-old legend Martin Brodeur. Of course, Martin being Martin, he’ll probably prove us wrong by winning 50 games and signing a new three-year contract. But unless he’s got a Dorian Gray portrait hidden in Lou Lamoriello’s office, Brodeur has to slow down sometime. Right…?
There are other notable omissions and difficult choices. We went with Brian Elliott over Jaroslav Halak (and up-and-coming puckstopper Jake Allen) in St. Louis. Despite his playoff implosion, we’re sticking with Marc-Andre Fleury over Tomas Vokun in Pittsburgh (although Fleury has tumbled down the rankings). Ben Bishop or Anders Lindback in Tampa Bay? (We picked Bishop.) Steve Mason or Ray Emery in Philadelphia? (Mason. Yes, Mason.) Is Jakob Markstrom ready in Florida? (Yes.)
And then there’s Miikka Kiprusoff. He hasn’t officially retired, but all signs indicate the longtime Flames netminder is calling it a career. So, we went with Karri Ramo as Calgary’s starter and the 27-year-old Finnish fill-in comes in at No. 30 on this list. Hey, somebody had to. Remember, it doesn’t mean he’s a bad goalie. Not for a minute. After all, Martin Brodeur, one of the very best goalies in the history of the game, didn’t even make the list.
And here we go, the NHL's top 30 starting goalies:
1. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles
It’s always a debate, but the Kings goalie has been the NHL’s best puckstopper over the past few seasons.
2. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Also a ‘King,’ he’s won the Rangers’ team MVP award seven straight seasons and is the standard by which other NHL goalies are measured (taking over from a certain Devils goalie who, we say again, does not appear on this list).
3. Pekka Rinne, Nashville
What’s that? You think the Predators netminder is the league’s best? Well, there’s a very good chance you’re absolutely right.
4. Tuukka Rask, Boston
The Bruins haven’t missed a beat since 2010 playoff MVP Tim Thomas packed up his mask and headed for the hills.Well, OK, perhaps Rask has one Final challenge left to match Thomas...
5. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus
A big surprise as the Blue Jackets goalie keyed Columbus’ rise to respectability and claimed the Vezina Trophy. Now, to do it all over again and prove it wasn't freak occurrence.
6. Mike Smith, Phoenix
The Coyotes haven’t had too many good-news stories in the past few years, but Smith’s emergence as an elite stopper is definitely one of them.
7. Carey Price, Montreal
Just when it looks like the Canadiens netminder has elevated his game and is ready to push for “best goalie” honors, he takes a step backwards like he did down the stretch and in the playoffs last season.
8. Antii Niemi, San Jose
Not overly flashy, just a quietly consistent winner who might deserve to be even higher on this list.
9. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver
Don’t forget to tune into the NHL’s most entertaining soap opera since Dallas (The Sean Avery Season.)
10. Cam Ward, Carolina
How valuable is the Hurricanes stopper? He was playoff MVP when they won the Cup in 2006, and Carolina went off the rails when Ward went down with injury last season.
11. Corey Crawford, Chicago
Blackhawks goalie receives the Rodney Dangerfield – that means he’s getting no respect, for you kids out there – after stellar season and leading Chicago to Stanley Cup. If he can perform at a similar level in 2013-14, Crawford will force his way into the top 10 and maybe higher.
12. Craig Anderson, Ottawa
The Senators goalie might have been the leading Vezina candidate when a sprained ankle derailed his season. Nevertheless, he had a 1.69 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in 24 games. If you’re into stats, those are outstanding numbers.
13. Cory Schneider, New Jersey
Talk about a guard-changer. Schneider took over as No. 1 from Luongo in Vancouver last season, and now he’s unseating Brodeur in New Jersey. What’s next, chasing Patrick Roy out of Colorado and going behind the bench?
14. Jonas Hiller, Anaheim
Like Niemi, Hiller loses out because he plays in California and doesn’t get the exposure. But he’s another guy who deserves to be in the top 10 conversation.
15. Kari Lehtonen, Dallas
A top prospect who took his time arriving as a full-fledged NHLer, Lehtonen has bloomed like a Texas rose (simile!) in the past couple of seasons with the Stars.
16. Ryan Miller, Buffalo
What to do with a problem like Miller? He was in the conversation for best goalie in the world less than two years ago, then got run over by Milan Lucic and hasn’t been the same since. To be fair, the Sabres haven’t given him a lot of support. It’s an Olympic year. Look for Miller to rebound in a big way.
17. Jimmy Howard, Detroit
He didn’t get much credit when the Red Wings were stacked, but Howard’s value has become more and more visible as the stars – especially Nicklas Lidstrom – have left Detroit.
18. Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota
The Wild folded in the playoffs when Backstrom was lost to injury in Game 1 warmups. He’s 35 and has logged a lot of games over the past seven seasons, but he remains as integral to Minnesota’s success as Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
19. Brian Elliott, St. Louis
It’s been a platoon with Halak the past couple of seasons, with youngster Allen getting into the mix when injuries and poor play plagued the Blues’ top two goalies last year. But Elliott started in the playoffs and was solid despite six-game ouster against Kings in Round 1.
20. Braden Holtby, Washington
Capitals netminder is moving on up, he just needs a bigger sample size to establish his crease credentials.
21. James Reimer, Toronto
Jonathan Bernier might be in the Leafs net by the end of 2013-14, but Reimer is the team’s starter heading into the season after a solid bounce-back effort coming back from concussion and neck issues two years ago.
22. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh
How the mighty have fallen. Fleury, who has flashed hot and cold throughout his career, completely unravelled in the playoffs (again) and ceded the starting job to Vokoun. No choice but to sink him in the rankings until the still-talented Penguins goalie rediscovers his game.
23. Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg
Like Fleury, Pavelec has struggled with consistency. When he’s on, he’s almost unbeatable. When he’s off, you want to cover your eyes. He turns 26 at the end of August; he’s still young and improving and should be in a higher position a year from now.
24. Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton
It hasn’t been easy to be an Oilers goalie for a number of years, and it’s even tougher when you’re thrown in and had to learn on-the-job. Dubnyk appeared to take a big step forward last season and – with a much better defense corps on a generally improving team – he has a chance to really establish his credentials in 2013-14.
25. Evgeni Nabokov, NY Islanders
A key to the Isles’ breakthrough return to the playoffs last season, Nabokov faltered a bit in the first round, allowing too many soft goals. All in all, he had a solid year, but at age 38 he’s got a lot of mileage and will be asked to play a lot of games. Can he keep up the pace?
26. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado
The Avs struggled and ended up in the West basement, dragging down Varlamov with them. Or was he part of the problem? Like several goalies on the bottom half of this list, the talent is there but it’s all about consistency.
27. Jakob Markstrom, Florida
The expectation is that Markstrom is part of the long-term answer to turning around a Panthers team that has mostly wandered in the non-playoff wilderness since a surprise appearance in the Stanley Cup Final as a third-year expansion team in 1996. Markstrom doesn't have much NHL experience, but he's got a great pedigree and the starting job is his to lose.
28. Steve Mason, Philadelphia
No doubt, Mason would be No. 30 on a lot of lists. A goalie who has struggled with confidence – and performance – enters the cross-hairs that is Philadelphia’s crease? No chance, right? Yet…call us crazy, but we have an inkling this might work out. Emery, who went 17-1-0 with Chicago last season, is also very much in the mix.
29. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay
Biggie-sized stopper might be the goalie the Lighting have been waiting on. He’ll get a shot at No. 1 job, with last year’s hope Lindback also vying for the starting position. At the very least, the Bolts have about 13 feet of promising netminding talent in Bishop and Lindback.
30. Karri Ramo, Calgary
It looks like the Kiprusoff era is over in Calgary. Ramo is the leading candidate to take over. He’s had a few cups of coffee in the NHL over the years, ultimately ending up back in Europe. The Flames are desperately hoping he figures it out this time.
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