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(Rankings are based solely on players' projected performances in 2011-12. Players are listed at their official position when the rankings were created.)

There are only 30 starting goalies in the NHL, so a top-25 ranking is almost as much about who didn't make the list as who did. On that note, the five projected starters who didn't make the cut are Colorado's Semyon Varlamov(notes), who still has star potential but is coming off a couple of injury-plagued seasons in Washington; Florida's Scott Clemmensen(notes), who'll compete with 2002 NHL MVP Jose Theodore(notes) for the No. 1 job; the Islanders' Rick DiPietro(notes), the first overall draft pick in 2000 who seems destined to be remembered for his 15-year contract and penchant for injuries; Phoenix's Mike Smith(notes), who couldn't hold on to the top job in Tampa Bay last season; and, Toronto's James Reimer(notes), who rose from the minors to play a starring role for the Leafs in the second half of last season.

Varlamov, Reimer and a healthy DiPietro are the best candidates to crack the 2012-13 edition of this list, with Edmonton's Nikolai Khabibulin(notes) (No. 23) and Ottawa's Craig Anderson(notes) (No. 25) a couple of keepers in danger of going the other way. Of course, goaltending is a crazy, topsy-turvy profession, and you never really know how things will work out until the mask comes off at the end of the season. Just ask Boston's Tim Thomas(notes), who won the Vezina Trophy in 2009, was relegated to backup duty due to injuries and sub-par play in 2010, and then rebounded with a storybook season in 2011.

Best backupsTuukka Rask(notes), Boston Bruins; Cory Schneider(notes), Vancouver Canucks; Michal Neuvirth(notes), Washington Capitals; Sergei Bobrovsky(notes), Philadelphia Flyers; Antero Niittymaki(notes), San Jose Sharks.

25. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators: He's had world-beating stretches and is used to seeing a lot of shots, which bodes well for the Sens.

24. Steve Mason(notes), Columbus Blue Jackets: At his best, he's one of the best. His challenge is to consistently play at that high level.

23. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edmonton Oilers: Age and injuries are the big cracks in the Bulin Wall.

22. Ondrej Pavelec(notes), Winnipeg Jets: He's improved every season, and could be much higher on this list next year.

21. Jimmy Howard(notes), Detroit Red Wings: Steady, reliable stopper with flashes of brilliance.

20. Kari Lehtonen(notes), Dallas Stars: Finally managed to play a whole season, and enjoyed a career year as a result.

19. Dwayne Roloson(notes), Tampa Bay Lightning: He turns 42 in October, but the Bolts believe he has at least one more good year left in him.

18. Corey Crawford(notes), Chicago Blackhawks: It's not often that a rookie takes over starting duties for the defending Cup champions, but Crawford performed admirably and nearly rallied the 'Hawks past the Canucks in the first round of the playoffs.

17. Jaroslav Halak(notes), St. Louis Blues: The Blues are getting better, and Halak is a big part of the equation.

16. Jonas Hiller(notes), Anaheim Ducks: A bout with vertigo torpedoed his season. Here's hoping the dizzy spells are over.

15. Niklas Backstrom(notes), Minnesota Wild: Minny hasn't had much success in recent years, but goaltending isn't the problem.

14. Jonathan Quick(notes), Los Angeles Kings: A statistical star the past couple of seasons, the aptly named netminder needs to follow through in the playoffs, too.

13. Tomas Vokoun(notes), Washington Capitals: Veteran stopper gets his first crack at starting for a bona fide contender after signing one-year bargain deal ($1.5 million) with the Caps.

12. Antti Niemi(notes), San Jose Sharks: Started slowly, but was dominant during the Sharks' red-hot second half and playoff run to the Western Conference final.

11. Martin Brodeur(notes), New Jersey Devils: The all-time gold standard for goaltending, but age is finally becoming a factor. Injuries have sidelined him for big chunks of two of the past three seasons, including last year when he posted his first-ever losing record (23-26-3).

10. Miikka Kiprusoff(notes), Calgary Flames: The eternal Flame has started between 71 and 76 games the past six seasons and averaged 40 wins.

9. Ilya Bryzgalov(notes), Philadelphia Flyers: The Bullies' best goalie since Ron Hextall? He better be — because Toto, you're not in Phoenix anymore.

8. Cam Ward(notes), Carolina Hurricanes: Firmly entrenched in the NHL's fraternity of elite netminders.

7. Marc-Andre Fleury(notes), Pittsburgh Penguins: Something of a slow starter and sometimes inconsistent, but when he's on his game there's nobody better.

6. Roberto Luongo(notes), Vancouver Canucks: Rocky performance in Cup final stings, but he's still a Grade-A goalie on a Grade-A team.

5. Carey Price(notes), Montreal Canadiens: Superlative breakout season turned all those boos into cheers.

4. Ryan Miller(notes), Buffalo Sabres: An improved defense corps in front of the Sabres MVP is bad news for goal-scorers everywhere.

3. Henrik Lundqvist(notes), New York Rangers: Give Captain Shutout a goal, and he gives you a victory.

2. Pekka Rinne(notes), Nashville Predators: Yes, he benefits greatly from the Preds' defensive shell game. Just like the Preds benefit greatly from his stellar netminding.

1. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins: In the span of a couple weeks, he won the Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup. Who else did you think would be No. 1?

Sam McCaig is the NHL editor for Yahoo! Sports and Yahoo! Canada

Photo credits: Getty Images

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