After revealing numbers 51-60 several days ago, it’s time to unveil the next ten goaltenders in my extensive look at ranking the 60 men who man the pipes in the NHL…
41) J.S. Giguere, Colorado Avalanche
Career NHL stats: 693 GP, 291-266-49, 2.52 GAA, .913 save pct.
It feels a little weird to see Giguere this low on any goaltending list given what he’s accomplished in his career, but realistically, he’s somewhere in the middle of the pack at this stage of the game. The Conn Smythe winner in 2003 despite his Anaheim Ducks losing the Stanley Cup to the Devils, he was able to hoist the game’s biggest prize over his head just four years later. One of the game’s top goaltenders for a long period of time, Giguere was eventually dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a blockbuster midway through the 2009-10 season, handing the number one job in Orange to Jonas Hiller. But he’d last just a season and a half in Toronto, only briefly claiming the starting job there before being supplanted by James Reimer. The 36-year-old is now in his third season with the Avalanche, and after an outstanding first year behind Semyon Varlamov, he struggled on a team that followed suit last season. It would not be out of the realm of possibility by any means to think that Giguere could make another run as a starter in the NHL. But, barring injury, that’s unlikely to happen in Denver, where Varlamov has been on fire to start the season.
42) Martin Biron, New York Rangers
Career NHL stats: 648 GP, 288-248-27, 2.56 GAA, .910 save pct.
At 36 years old, Biron may be showing a noticeable decline in his performance for the first time in his career. Once considered to be a part of arguably the top tandem in the NHL in New York with Henrik Lundqvist, the affable French-Canadian has struggled this year. The Rangers briefly brought in Johan Hedberg to challenge for the backup spot while Biron was tending to a personal matter, and upstart Cam Talbot was also given a chance to win the job on the preseason. But for now, it remains Biron’s, who has yet to post a goals against average over 2.46 with the Rangers, for whom he’s played since 2010-11. Biron has played in over 60 games twice in his career, suiting up in a whopping 72 for the Buffalo Sabres in 2001-02 and 62 for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007-08. But, two seasons later, his transition to a backup began after he joined the New York Islanders for a largely miserable season. However, he appeared to have rejuvenated his career in the Big Apple as the clear number two behind Lundqvist. If Biron can turn around a lousy start in which he’s allowed nine goals in his first 71 minutes of play this season, he’ll remain cemented as the backup this year. If not? He may be playing for his career.
43) Peter Budaj, Montreal Canadiens
Career NHL stats: 273 GP, 115-100-33, 2.78 GAA, .903 save pct.
You’re lying if you thought Budaj had played in that many NHL games. 273? For Peter Budaj? Really? One of those under the radar netminders, the 31-year-old Slovakian-born Budaj has been a full-time NHL’er since the 2005-06 season, when he broke in with the Colorado Avalanche. Eventually, he took the starting job, and even got the bulk of the starts with Jose Theodore in town. But once Craig Anderson put together his outstanding year in 2009-10, Budaj’s days as a number one NHL goaltender had come and gone. After splitting time with Anderson in 2010-11, Budaj joined the Montreal Canadiens the following year, and has served as Carey Price’s backup ever since. As durable as goaltenders come in the NHL, Price is typically good for a 60-70 game workload, leaving only a handful of starts for Budaj. But he’s performed well, posting sub-2.60 goals against averages in each season. Although Dustin Tokarski is very capable, Budaj is at no risk of losing his backup job, and could get into 15-18 games this year.
44) Michal Neuvirth, Washington Capitals
Career NHL stats: 123 GP, 56-36-11, 2.67 GAA, .909 save pct.
It’s hard to believe that “Neuvy” is just 25 years old. This is, after all, his sixth NHL season. The on-again, off-again starter for the Capitals, the Czech native finds himself in the backup role again, this time to fellow homegrown netminder Braden Holtby. In 2010-11, Neuvirth fought off Semyon Varlamov and Holtby to secure the number one spot; he appeared in a career-high 48 games and played in nine postseason contests as well. But the numbers have slowly gone downhill since then, and so his playing time has followed on a similar gradual decline. Although neither Holtby or Neuvirth instill confidence in Capitals fans for a long playoff run, it seems it would be Holtby who would once again get the opportunity to make the attempt this year. Should he falter, however, Neuvirth could once again claim the starting job. For now, however, anywhere from 20 to 30 games seems reasonable.
45) Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild
Career NHL stats: 125 GP, 44-53-8, 2.62 GAA, .915 save pct.
It is impossible to not root for Josh Harding. Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis during the 2012-13 season, the 29-year-old not only kept playing, but pitched a shutout in his first game after it was made public. Harding has been with the Wild throughout the duration of his nine-year pro career, but has never truly been the starter, only seeing significant time when Niklas Backstrom was injured. It’s hard to project any sort of season forecast with Harding, given the uncertain nature of being able to manage his symptoms throughout the year. Under regular circumstances, he’d likely be slated for 20-25 games behind Backstrom. Darcy Kuemper proved himself to be a worthy backup candidate when pressed into action last year, but for now, the number two job belongs to the Masterton Trophy recipient.
46) Jacob Markstrom, Florida Panthers
Career NHL stats: 35 GP, 11-20-2, 3.14 GAA, .903 save pct.
Markstrom is believed to the Panthers goalie of the future. It just doesn’t seem Florida feels the future is now just yet. Entering this season, it seemed that Markstrom and Scott Clemmensen would be the tandem in Sunrise, with Markstrom expected to take the majority of the games. But rumors regarding Tim Thomas turned into reality, and the two-time Vezina Trophy winner was brought in to be the number one. Just 23 years old, Markstrom has little left to prove at the AHL level with two solid seasons in San Antonio under his belt over the past two years. But, depending on what they want to do with Clemmensen, how Thomas responds to his recent injury, and where they feel Markstrom is at in his development, he may have to make a return trip to Texas. The 6-foot-6 Swede’s AHL numbers are far more indicative of his skill level than his NHL stats are, but he still isn’t quite there just yet. Bringing in a reliable veteran like Thomas is likely the best thing for him, but he’s not far off from becoming a regular NHL starter.
47) Dan Ellis, Dallas Stars
Career NHL stats: 186 GP, 78-66-17, 2.74 GAA, .908 save pct.
Dan Ellis problems? They’ve certainly been worse for the 33-year-old, who finds himself back in the NHL after starting last year in the American Hockey League for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Curiously, he was with the Stars organization at the time, an organization that gave him his start. 13 years after they drafted him, and he’s back, serving as the backup to the oft-injured Kari Lehtonen. Ellis established himself as an NHL starter in the 2007-08 season, posting an excellent 2.34 goals against average and .924 save percentage for the Nashville Predators. But, unable to match his performance over the next two seasons and with Pekka Rinne challenging for the number one job, Ellis needed to move on, and has been in four different organizations over the past four years. Dallas evidently doesn’t believe Jack Campbell, drafted 11th overall in 2010, is NHL-ready yet, so Ellis will hold the fort for now. However, with Lehtonen’s injury history, Ellis will need to play well during his stints between the pipes or risk Campbell or Christopher Nihlstorp taking his job.
48) Joey MacDonald, Calgary Flames
Career NHL stats: 126 GP, 42-57-15, 3.01 GAA, .903 save pct.
One of the better examples of on-ice perseverance in the entire National Hockey League, no less its goaltending ranks, the undrafted MacDonald appeared destined to be a career minor leaguer. He played in five full seasons below the NHL before finally breaking into the game’s top level with the Detroit Red Wings in the 2006-07 season. He played well enough to attract interest from the Boston Bruins when he had to clear waivers, and appeared in seven games for them before joining the New York Islanders organization. It was with the Islanders where he caught his big break, getting the bulk of the contests for a 2008-09 team that was largely forgettable. After bouncing around between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings (again) organizations in the three seasons that followed, the 33-year-old has since seemingly found a home with the Calgary Flames. An afterthought on a team that brought in Karri Ramo to be its starter, its been MacDonald that’s taken the reins, winning three of his first four appearances for a team that has been better than many expected them to be early on this year. With Ramo still unproven at the NHL level and Calgary still realistically in a rebuild, MacDonald could approach his 49-game mark that established an NHL-best for him in Uniondale.
49) Jonas Gustavsson, Detroit Red Wings
Career NHL stats: 114 GP, 41-47-16, 2.98 GAA, .899 save pct.
Prior to the 2009-10 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs brought over the 6-foot-3, 195 pounder over from Sweden, hoping that he’d be the solution to their long-lasting goaltending issues. He was not. The “Monster” is known more for injuries than anything else, and has super-talented Petr Mrazek as a serious challenger to the backup job to Jimmy Howard in Detroit. Since joining the Red Wings last year, the soon-to-be 29-year-old has played in just seven games. Having already missed time to start this year, and already small workload behind incumbent starter Howard will likely get even smaller. With Mrazek having little left to prove after a breakout rookie season in which he won a Calder Cup, it would not be surprising to see Gustavsson either traded or sent to the minors before the year is over.
50) Thomas Greiss, Phoenix Coyotes
Career NHL stats: 46 GP, 18-16-3, 2.48 GAA, .913 save pct.
For years, Thomas Greiss was a “2B” goalie in the San Jose Sharks organization. Basically, he was either their top option in the AHL, or he was the backup until a better option came along. After just 44 appearance in the NHL spread out over four seasons in San Jose, it was apparent that a change of scenery would in his best interests. He got that this season, signing with the Phoenix Coyotes as Mike Smith’s backup. If given the opportunity, Greiss could be a solid starter for a handful of NHL teams. A member of the German Olympic team in 2010, Greiss’ strengths are staying square to the shooter and anticipating the play, and he should be in line for 20 games or so behind Smith, perhaps more if Smith can’t recover from a sub-par 2012-13 season.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com