With the start of NHL training camps and the 2023-24 season rapidly approaching, it is time to take a look at some positional rankings for the season.
We start today with the top 10 goalies.
No position can be more impactful than a starting goalie. Good ones can lift an average team to the postseason, and bad ones can turn a Stanley Cup contender into a fringe playoff club.
What makes the position so maddening is that as important as it is, it can also be one of the toughest to project.
When it comes to the rankings, we're looking at a combination of what each goalie has already accomplished in recent years while also trying to project their value going into this season. Does the goalie have a strong resume of good play in the past few years? Are they already in their prime or on their way to their prime? Or are they starting to regress?
Let's get into it, starting with some honorable mentions.
Frederik Andersen, Carolina Hurricanes
The big issue for Andersen at times in recent years has simply been injuries. When he's healthy, he has been a very productive goalie who has posted some big numbers for both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes. At this point in his career, he's probably best suited for the type of role he has had in Carolina where he splits the net. There are better goalies than him. But you could also do significantly worse.
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames
There were a lot of reasons the Calgary Flames were such a huge disappointment during the 2022-23 season, and a very down year from starting goalie Jacob Markstrom was high on that list. If he had been able to put together a better season, he would have been significantly closer to the top 10 and maybe even cracked it at the bottom. But given that he's 33 years old, there has to be some concern that a down year could be a sign of things to come. This season will tell us a lot.
Logan Thompson, Vegas Golden Knights
When healthy, Logan Thompson has been outstanding for the Vegas Golden Knights. Injuries, however, have seriously impacted his development over the past two years. That leaves his status as Vegas' starting goalie, and among the league's top goalies, up for debate. But if he is healthy and ready to go, he is going to reclaim that starting spot from Adin Hill.
Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins
Tristan Jarry is pure chaos. When he's bad, he can be really bad, and he has had some tough minutes in big spots for the Pittsburgh Penguins since becoming their starting goalie. Even with those moments, his overall body of work is probably better than you might realize. He has played in two All-Star Games, and his career save percentage is a respectable .914. Somewhere in the middle of the pack is a fair ranking for him.
Darcy Kuemper, Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals paid Darcy Kuemper big money to solve their goaltending spot, and even though his debut season with the team was at times a bit of a disappointment, he still has a strong track record in recent years as a starter. Is he a superstar? No. Is he the reason that his team is going to win games? Probably not. But he is also not going to be the reason his team loses many games. He is a very dependable, very good goalie. You might need a lot of talent around him, but you can win with him.
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks
If you are looking for a strong bounce-back candidate during the 2023-24 season, Thatcher Demko should be high on your list. He had back-to-back years with a .915 save percentage before struggling through the 2022-23 season, when he was limited to 32 games. He should have a better defense in front of him this season and with better injury luck could find himself back in the .915 range that could eventually help propel him into the top 10.
10. Alexandar Georgiev, Colorado Avalanche
Alexandar Georgiev was entering a tough spot in 2022-23, not only being a No. 1 starter for the first time in his career, but also having to do so for the defending Stanley Cup champions. It was a big spot, and he handled it extremely well. His .918 save percentage was well above the league average, while he also won a league-leading 40 games. Colorado's goalies tend to get a boost given how good the defense is in front of them, but Georgiev played well and looks like he has an opportunity to be an excellent starter. He might be the ultimate fantasy goalie because he is going to post a pretty high save percentage while also getting an opportunity to stack wins on a great team.
9. Filip Gustavsson, Minnesota Wild
This is a wild-card pick simply because the track record and resume are so small. Gustavsson has only really played one season as a full-time NHL goalie, but he excelled during that year. The Minnesota Wild acquired him prior to the 2022-23 season in a one-for-one swap with the Ottawa Senators that sent veteran goalie Cam Talbot the other way. It turned out to be one of the most lopsided moves we have seen in the past few years. While Talbot struggled in Ottawa and was a key reason the Senators missed the playoffs, Gustavsson excelled and ended up taking the primary job from Marc-Andre Fleury, posting a .931 save percentage. The question is whether he can come close to repeating that level of play. Given the Wild's salary-cap issues and the headaches those cause with their roster, they're going to need him to repeat it.
8. Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins
Jeremy Swayman is good enough to be a full-time starter in the NHL but finds himself in what is basically a platoon situation in Boston. It works very well for the Bruins. The duo of Swayman and Linus Ullmark (more on him in a minute) is the one major thing that should give Bruins fans hope that they will still have a chance to be very competitive this season even after losing a ton of talent from last year's roster. Swayman has only played 88 regular-season games but has a very impressive .920 save percentage in that time. Even though the job is shared, Swayman should be considered the long-term solution here.
7. Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins
Is this too low for the NHL's reigning Vezina Trophy winner? It would be if you expect Ullmark to post another .938 save percentage, as he did during the 2022-23 season. Realistically speaking, however, you should not be expecting that.
Ullmark is almost certainly in line for a significant save-percentage regression that very well could—and probably should—bring him back closer to his career level in the .910-.915 range. That is still an excellent goalie and a great performance if he does that, but it is probably not quite among the league's elite.
6. Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars
This ranking could dramatically rise, depending on how this season goes for Jake Oettinger and the Dallas Stars. He does not have a huge resume or track record, having been a full-time starting goalie for just two years, but he has shown flashes of dominance. When he is on top of his game he can be as good as any goalie in the sport and just needs to find some consistency with a little bigger resume to keep climbing. He is a big reason the Stars should be on the short list of top Stanley Cup contenders to open the season.
5. Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators
In an era when every team seems determined to find bigger and bigger goalies, the 5'11", 180-pound Juuse Saros is one of the smaller players at the position. That lack of size does not stop him from helping to lift the Preds to levels they probably have had no business being at in recent years.
Over the past two seasons, no goalie has started more games than Saros' 130, while his .918 save percentage over that time is fourth-best in the league (minimum 50 games played). That performance has helped keep an undermanned roster in contention for playoff spots as the front office has sold off veteran players for future assets and salary-cap space (not to mention the injuries they have at times dealt with).
Saros has only been a full-time starter for a few years but has rapidly established himself as one of the best at his position, receiving significant Vezina Trophy consideration in each of the past three seasons.
He still has two years remaining on his contract, so it will be interesting to see how the Predators handle that.
At 28, he is still young enough to be a long-term answer in goal for the Predators, but he is also a significant trade chip if they decide to go in that direction and take on a full-scale rebuild.
4. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
It is a shame for Connor Hellebuyck that most of his prime years have been hidden and wasted on a painfully mediocre team. It is also a testament to how mediocre the Winnipeg Jets have been that they have not accomplished more with a goalie this good and durable.
He rarely misses games, has the durability to play more than 65 contests per year, is consistently among the league's minutes leaders for goalies and has had three seasons among the top 10 in the NHL in save percentage.
He does all of that while playing behind a team that hasn't traditionally been particularly good on defense. A lot is asked of him, and he handles it as well as a goalie could.
The question for him and the Jets in the short term is what happens next for him.
He is in the final year of his contract and is set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season. He has already been a hot name in trade speculation, and if the Jets are not able to stay in playoff contention, a trade before the NHL trade deadline seems like a given. Put him on a team like the New Jersey Devils or Los Angeles Kings and they become major Stanley Cup contenders.
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
You might think this is a reputation pick based more on what he did a few years ago, but even if Andrei Vasilevskiy's overall numbers have regressed the past two years, he remains one of the league's elite goalies in both production and durability.
When he is playing at his best, the 2019 Vezina Trophy winner takes an already great Lightning team and can make it nearly unbeatable. At times, it has been almost unfair to have a goalie this good behind a team that good, and he is a big reason Tampa has been a regular in the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final over the past decade.
Even when his production regresses from its height of a .925 save percentage, he is still posting a .915-plus mark that puts him among the best at the position. The 6'4", 220-pounder is a staggering combination of elite size and athleticism in goal and has played some of his best hockey on the biggest stage.
He has not finished lower than sixth in Vezina Trophy voting since the 2016-17 season, and when combined with his postseason success, he has a strong argument for being one of the best goalies of his era.
2. Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers
Even though Igor Shesterkin did not totally duplicate his ridiculous 2021-22 performance where he posted a .935 save percentage, he was still outstanding for a New York Rangers team that seems to go out of its way to rely on its goalie to steal games.
He has filled Henrik Lundqvist's skates almost perfectly in the sense that he is a top-tier goalie who also doesn't seem to get much defensive support—and at times offensive support—from the skaters in front of him.
The Rangers love relying on their goalies to carry the franchise.
It is a good thing for them they keep getting great ones.
In true Rangers goalie fashion, he even posted a .931 save percentage in their opening-round playoff series, which still wasn't good enough to get them through.
Still, there is no denying how much he elevates them overall.
Over the past two seasons, when Shesterkin has been the goalie of record, the Rangers have played at a .711 points pace. That is a 116-point pace over 82 games.
When he is not the goalie of record, they only play at a 91-point pace per 82 games.
The former is a Presidents' Trophy pace.
The latter is a miss-the-playoffs pace.
Shesterkin is one of the biggest game-changers in the league.
1. Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders
Forget simply being a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie—there was a strong argument to be made that Ilya Sorokin probably should have been a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP during the 2022-23 season.
He checked every possible box.
Do you want a player who is simply one of the best in the NHL? That is Sorokin, who is statistically among the elite of the elite at his position.
Do you want the subjective argument of "value" to his team? Well, there is no way that this New York Islanders team even sniffs the playoffs, let alone makes them, without Sorokin.
He not only finished with a sensational .924 save percentage (for the second year in a row), he also faced a huge workload by appearing in 62 games and playing behind an Islanders team that ranked 21st in the league in expected goals against in all situations and 23rd during five-on-five situations. They not only asked him to play a ton of games, they asked him to face an absurdly high shot quality.
And he was still one of the most productive goalies in the league based on save percentage while also recording a league-best six shutouts. He has not only matched all of the hype the Islanders had for him prior to his arrival in the NHL, he has arguably exceeded it.
Data in this article via Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com.