The month of August will be one of lists and rankings, because who doesn’t like to debate things like that. This week I will be putting my focus on the men behind the masks, the goalies. I will rank each division’s goaltending tandem (one division per day) and then at the end of the week will put them into a 1-30 league rank.
Today, I will start as far away as possible, with the Pacific Division.
Anaheim Ducks (Jonas Hiller, Jeff Deslauriers)
Hiller is the undisputed #1 and seems to have put his scary vertigo problems of the previous season behind him to start a league high 73 games last year. However, despite playing more minutes than any other goalie, he had a sub-.500 record last season. Finding a suitable backup to take some of the pressure off Hiller has been a problem. Dan Ellis had the job until the New Year, but couldn’t get the job done in 10 appearances and succumbed to injury in early January. Jeff Deslauriers won 3 of his 4 starts after inheriting the role from Ellis, and should serve as the backup this season and might get into 10-15 games.
The Ducks finished 19th in Goals Against as a team last season.
Dallas Stars (Kari Lehtonen, Richard Bachman)
By shouldering the majority of the load (59 games played last season) for the second year in a row, Lehtonen is finally showing the consistency and ability that made him a #2 overall pick 10 years ago. With top prospect Jack Campbell waiting in the wings to fight for a spot in the next year or two, the Dallas crease is about to become very crowded. With the Andrew Raycroft experiment of last season behind them, the Stars will go with the solid Richard Bachman as the backup to Lehtonen, assuming Campbell doesn’t steal a spot in training camp.
The Stars as a team were 17th in the league in goals against last season.
Los Angeles Kings (Jonathan Quick, Jonathan Bernier)
As a Vezina Trophy finalist and Conn Smythe Trophy winner and Stanley Cup Champion, Quick has arrived as an elite goaltender in the NHL. He was the reason the offensively challenged Kings even qualified for the postseason and he continued his dominance there. Bernier is a solid backup, but is an asterisk as he has asked for a trade after Quick signed a long-term extension last month. Quick is the best goalie in the Pacific, but who his backup will be is a question mark as the Kings shouldn’t let him get burnt out after the deep but successful playoff run. Bernier is relatively unproven but could start on a number of teams and is looking for that opportunity.
The Kings were 2nd in goals against in 2011-12.
Phoenix Coyotes (Mike Smith, Jason LaBarbera)
One of the best bargains in the league was the Coyotes Mike Smith. Playing on a $2M contract, Smith was a revelation in the desert. He was among the league leaders in save percentage and wins, leading the Coyotes to their first Division Title in franchise history. LaBarbera played well in a backup role, although his play didn’t result in many wins (3 in 14 starts). The Coyotes will be heading into 2012-13 with the same tandem between the pipes.
Phoenix ranked 5th in goals against in 2011 – 12.
San Jose Sharks (Antti Niemi, Thomas Greiss)
Niemi’s numbers dropped off a bit from 2010-11, but we’re still very respectable. Likewise were the numbers of his understudy Greiss. Neither were outstanding, but somehow they got the job done in the regular season, with Niemi finishing in the top 10 in wins. Greiss also contributed a solid 9 wins in the backup role.
The Sharks finished 8th in goals against last season.
With that being said, how do they stack up against each other? Here is my ranking:
5. Anaheim Ducks – Hiller is All-Star caliber, but the gap between starter and backup is very wide.
4. Dallas Stars – Lehtonen seems to finally be able to stay relatively healthy, but the edge in the backup role puts Stars ahead of Ducks
3. San Jose Sharks – Niemi might not be the greatest in terms of style, but this tandem gets it done.
2. Phoenix Coyotes – Smith had a great year, can he make it back to back?
1. Los Angeles Kings – Quick is the best goalie in the Pacific, and Bernier could be a top 3 in the division. The question remains – Will Bernier be a King when the puck drops?
HAVE YOUR SAY
Tomorrow, I move to the Northwest Division, where questions also surround the tandem that could be ranked #1 in the league.