Initially it was my intent to make this a list of the top 10 NHL goalies of 2013-14, but as I sat down to comprise my list I realized I was leaving off a couple of criminally underrated goaltenders. Since I didn't want to contribute to that crime I figured I'd extend the list by a couple of spots. They are probably still unfairly ranked lower than they should be, but hey, at least they can say they made the list!
We are truly in the golden age of goaltending right now. Despite the NHL's attempts to open up the game in an effort to bump up goal-scoring, the men behind the masks just continue to hone their craft to a level never before seen in the history of the game. The preparation, the amazing athleticism and the hulking size of the majority of today's goaltenders make it truly a daunting task for even today's best shooters (see best goal scorers of 2013-14) to bulge the twine. And it's not just the starters opposing forwards need to worry about. Even today's back-ups are so good that the days of feasting on the hapless #2 are gone.
Still, even with 60 great goalies plying their trade in the NHL right now there are a few keepers who have managed to distinguish themselves from their brethren. Like Terry Sawchuk and Jacques Plante in the 50s, or Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek in the 90s, these twelve men are the cream of the crop, and like the aforementioned gentlemen a number of them may well be bound for the Hockey Hall of Fame one day. So who are these masked men? Let's get on to the list:
12 - Antti Niemi
Antti Niemi may very well be the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL. Seriously, what does the guy have to do to get any respect? He backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in 2010, and he's done nothing but win since arriving in San Jose, posting 93 'W's in the last three seasons with the Sharks. Look for him to have yet another strong, consistent season this year, yet be completely ignored in the discussion of the best goalies in the NHL.
11 - Jimmy Howard
As I mentioned in my opening, I expanded this list to 12 in order to avoid snubbing a pair of goaltenders that really deserve more accolades than they get. Niemi was one, and the other is Detroit's Jimmy Howard. Not since the days of Terry Sawchuk and Glenn Hall have goaltenders in Detroit really gotten their due. Over the last twenty years or so the Wings have been considered the best team in the NHL, winning four Stanley Cups. Yet goalies like Chris Osgood, Mike Vernon and even Dominik Hasek took a back seat to flashy stars like Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom. Jimmy Howard is now facing the same problem, dwelling in the shadow of Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Look for him to have yet another outstanding season while getting no press whatsoever.
10 - Roberto Luongo
Niemi and Howard are largely ignored by the media. This veteran Vancouver Canucks goalie has exactly the opposite problem. Bobby Lu would probably enjoy the snubbing that his two counterparts endure. Vancouver has long been dubbed a goalie graveyard, yet never has the ongoing issue been as much of a soap opera as it has been over the past year and a half. After the Canucks declared Cory Schneider their number one goalie, Luongo was relegated to a back-up role, a humbling experience for the Olympic Gold medalist. Yet, when the Canucks were unable to move him due to his contract, management made the decision to deal Schneider to the New Jersey Devils, suddenly making Luongo the number one again. Needless to say, Luongo was not very happy with how it all panned out. Still, he is a professional, and a fierce competitor. He will have something to prove this year to fans and media. Look for a motivated, if unhappy, Luongo to have a bounce-back year.
9 - Carey Price
Speaking of having a bounce-back year, this cool as ice Habs' backstop could certainly use one of those. He played pretty well in the first half of the regular season last year, but the tail end of the season and the playoffs were an unmitigated disaster for Price who saw his GAA and save percentage tank and even suffered an injury during the Habs' first round loss to the Ottawa Senators. With the addition of Stephane Waite as the team's new goalie coach, Price will have a clean slate. A fresh pair of eyes on him should tighten up his game, and motivated not only by a desire to regain his form but also make a push for the Canadian Olympic team Price should have a strong season. If he can, the Habs have a good shot of making the playoffs for a second year in a row.
8 - Corey Crawford
Yes, he posted very strong numbers last season, and he helped the Chicago Blackhawks to their second Stanley Cup in four years, but he did so behind one of the strongest teams the NHL has seen in the modern era, so he only makes it to number eight on this list. Crawford's play can best be described as consistently solid, but not spectacular. Certainly consistency is a prized asset in a number one goalie, but a little more outright larceny would probably have him higher up this list. If he can duplicate the numbers he posted last season, and even better, help Chicago become the first team to win back to back cups since the '97 & '98 Red Wings he will deservedly make the top five next year when I make this list.
7 - Cory Schneider
It was really hard to rank Cory Schneider. He has a small body of work at the NHL level, yet even a small glimpse is enough to land him at the number seven spot on the list of this year's best NHL goalies. Schneider put up great numbers last year after displacing Roberto Luongo in the number one role in Vancouver. His .927 save percentage, 2.11 GAA and five shutouts put him among the league leaders in all three categories. Unfortunately an untimely injury late in the regular season saw him miss the start of the playoffs, and he clearly wasn't 100% when forced into action against the San Jose Sharks in the first round. Vancouver fans got a rude shock when Gary Bettman made the announce at this past summer's NHL Entry Draft that Schneider, not Luongo had been traded to the New Jersey Devils for that team's first round (9th overall) pick. Now, Schneider finds himself fighting for work with another great French Canadian goaltender, Martin Brodeur - a four time Vezina Trophy winner and the winningest goalie in NHL history, no less. Don't be surprised to see Schneider split the workload if not steal the number one spot outright from the future Hall of Famer. Yes, he is that goal.
6 - Sergei Bobrovsky
Yes, like Corey Crawford, he'll have to have more than one good season to crack the top five. Still, I've got to give some love to the defending Vezina Trophy winner. Bobrovsky put the Columbus Blue Jackets on his back last season, posting a .932 save percentage and a sparkling 2.00 GAA in helping the Blue Jackets push right to the final days of the regular season before finally narrowly missing a playoff spot. Bob's remarkable play earned him a fat contract with the Jackets. Will he be complacent now that he's got the big contract, or will he prove this season that he isn't another one hit wonder?
5 - Tuuka Rask
It's hard to conceive that the Bruins lost a two-time Vezina Trophy winner in Tim Thomas and may actually have improved in net, but Tuuka Rask is making a strong case for that argument with his stellar play since Thomas left town. Rask matched Bobrovsky's 2.00 GAA last year, and his .929 save percentage was nothing to sneeze at either. He was far from done when the curtain fell on the regular season though. After a somewhat shaky start in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs Rask really found his game, helping the Bruins breeze through the next two rounds into the Stanley Cup Finals. His performance in the semi-finals was particularly impressive. In a four game sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins he allowed just two goals, completely stifling the high-powered offense led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang. Though his Bruins eventually fell in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals, Rask proved that he can carry the mail for the Bruins. They don't miss Thomas one bit.
4 - Craig Anderson
If not for an injury that derailed him mid-season it may very well have been this gentleman, not Sergei Bobrovsky, who added a shiny new Vezina to his trophy case last summer. Prior to his injury Anderson had appeared in 24 games for the Sens, posting a jaw-dropping 1.69 GAA and .941 save percentage, making him the league leader in both categories. Even more impressive is the fact that he posted those numbers backstopping a team so riddled with injuries they resembled an AHL franchise more closely than an NHL one. There is little doubt that Anderson will pick up right where he left off this season, and his job should be a little easier with All Star defenseman Erik Karlsson back in the lineup for the Sens.
3 - Pekka Rinne
6'6" tall and seemingly made of rubber, this acrobatic goalie confounds shooters much like Dominik Hasek did in his prime. Perhaps no goalie in the league is more relied upon by his team to be brilliant every night. The Preds boast a woeful offense and if Rinne gives up more than two on a given night the Preds are likely headed for a loss. His numbers may not have been up to his usual high standards in the lockout-shortened season, but look for this giant Finn to have a big bounceback year for the Preds in 2013-14.
2 - Jonathan Quick
Though he doesn't have Pekka Rinne's height, the aptly named Jonathan Quick covers the net every bit as well as his Finnish counterpart. His aggressive style takes away time and space from shooters and his lateral movement allow him to take away what look like sure goals time and again. Like many of his peers Quick never seemed to find his top form in the short season, but was back on the top of his game come playoff time, helping the Kings make it to the semi-finals before they finally bowed out to the powerful Hawks. With Jonathan Bernier gone, Quick will probably log as many as 70 games this season. Good news for Kings fans who will almost certainly see their team not only make the playoffs, but go for yet another deep run.
1 - Henrik Lundqvist
When your nickname is "King" Henrik how can you not get top billing on the list of the best goalies of 2013-14? Lundqvist has earned the praise that has been heaped upon him during his NHL tenure. In 2011-12 he became the first goalie in NHL history to win at least 30 games in each of his first seven seasons, and if the lockout hadn't shortened the season he would have surely stretched that streak to eight. In his relatively short career he has already notched 276 wins, 45 shutouts and sports an incredible .920 career save percentage. Though he only has one Vezina Trophy to date, you can bet it won't be his last. Look for the Henrik to be "King" again this year in the NHL.