Back when Cage Match was still my weekly column, you had to wait until the summer and winter for tournaments/polls; but the good news is now you’ll get one every month! And what better way for me to kick things off than having a tournament involving goalies, which I never got a chance to cover while doing Cage Match.
The premise of this tournament/poll is deceptively simple – pick the five goalies who’ll get the most wins in the next five seasons, starting next season. But it’s more difficult than it appears, since it has as much, if not more so, to do with a netminder’s age, the team he plays for and his contract/cap situation as it does with his pure skill. Keeping those things in mind, here are the choices (in alphabetical order, along with their current age plus their contract status and cap hit). Vote for the five whom you believe will have the most cumulative wins from the 2019-20 season through the 2024-25 campaign. Although not listed below, the tournament/poll will also include a “none of the above” choice in case you think a goalie who’s not listed here and either currently playing in the NHL or not will be among the five goalies with the most wins during this period. Look for the link at the end of the column to cast your votes; but without further ado, here are the 18 contenders:
Jake Allen (age = 28; signed through 2020-21 at $4.35M per season)
Once thought to be a surefire Tier 1 goalie, Allen has instead struggled with injuries and inconsistency, to the point where for now he’s lost his hold on the starting gig to Jordan Binnington (more on him below). With what they’re paying Allen, he should continue to get chances to recapture #1 netminder status; and who knows, perhaps if he connects the dots – and assuming Binnington doesn’t just steal the starting job away from him for good – Allen could become one of those netminders who finally hits his stride in his late 20s and then excels into his 30s.
Frederick Andersen (age = 29; signed through 2020-21 at $5M per season)
If Andersen was a lock to stay in Toronto, then on paper it would be difficult not to vote for him, what with the Leafs arguably built to be one of the top teams the NHL over these next five years. But with Andersen only signed for two more seasons and the Leafs likely to be feeling a cap crunch in the coming years, it’s not impossible to think he might find himself on a new team for 2021-22; and if that happens, who knows if he’ll excel to the extent he is now.
Jordan Binnington (age 25; signed through 2018-19 at $0.65M per season)
It’s not that Binnington wasn’t on anyone’s radar when the season began – he was a virtual nobody just over a month ago, with a grand total of one NHL appearance prior to this season and 146 AHL games for two different organizations. Fast forward to now, however, and he’s won 12 of his first 14 starts this season, with four shutouts and allowing more than two goals a grand total of twice. Is it more likely than not teams will find a way to adjust and he’ll come back to earth, ala Andrew Hammond a few years ago? Quite possibly; however, his beyond stellar play merits him at least being a voting choice here.
Ben Bishop (age = 32; signed through 2022-23 at $4.916M per season)
One of the two oldest netminders on the list, Bishop has proven to be a great signing for the Stars and, unlike in his past, has managed to stay healthy for the most part. He’s the type who might not lead the league in wins for any given season but could be high enough on the list to end up within the top five when all is said and done.
Devan Dubnyk (age = 32; signed through 2020-21 at $4.33M per season)
The other elder statesman on the list, Dubnyk benefits by playing a lot of games (he’s started the second most contests of any NHL netminder since 2014-15, behind only Braden Holtby – more on him below) and having no threat to take his job on the immediate horizon. The question is whether the Wild will opt to retain him in a couple of seasons when he’s a UFA and, if they do, how good the team will be given its ageing core.
John Gibson (age = 25; signed through 2026-27 at – starting next season – $6.4M per season)
If winning was based on talent alone, Gibson likely would be a shoo-in for the top five. But what we cannot ignore is he’s had a history of injury issues and the Ducks look to be a team on the decline. While some goalies have played well enough to carry a team on their shoulders, as we’re seeing this season that might be too tall an order for Gibson despite how skilled he is.
Carter Hart (age = 20; signed through 2020-21 at $0.73M per season)
Although always a highly touted prospect, Hart’s big splash came earlier than expected, resulting in him having been anointed the NHL’s next young goalie phenom. Even more importantly he’s already proven himself to be a true difference maker, with poise and maturity that wins him games often less so due to the team in front of him as much as notwithstanding them. Of course much the same could’ve been said of former Flyer upstart netminders like Brian Boucher and Antero Niittymaki, who began their careers with so much promise then quickly faltered. Plus, Philly has been known as the place that chews goalies up and spits them out, so Hart would need to defy those odds to be a true star netminder.
Connor Hellebuyck (age = 25; signed through 2023-24 at $6.16M per season)
After inking a deal that, on paper, labelled him one of the league’s top netminders, Hellbuyck has taken somewhat of a step back this campaign. But the wins are still there, and this poll is solely about wins, not peripheral stats. With him inked to play for Winnipeg at least four of the next five seasons and the team seems poised to be a top squad for that entire time, the ingredients seem to be in place for him to be a wins stalwart.
Braden Holtby (age = 29; signed through 2019-20 at $6.1M per season)
Surprisingly – at least to me – still only 29 years old, Holtby likely would be a clear pick if this was two seasons ago or even last year at this time. But with the exodus of Barry Trotz during the summer and Holtby getting a year older, he’s looked barely above average for most of this season. That being said, plenty of other goalies have suffered from a Stanley Cup hangover then rebounded to their formerly elite selves; and Holtby’s skill, combined with Washington likely to be a top team for at least a few more seasons, makes him a viable selection.
Martin Jones (age = 29; signed through 2023-24 at $5.75M per season)
Think of Jones like you would Devan Dubnyk, only except three years younger. Lacking any near or even long-term threats to his spot as the top Sharks goalie, Jones looks poised to rack up wins. The big question is how good San Jose will be in the years to come, as their core is ageing and it’s not clear whether their younger players are poised to step in and keep the team elite enough to help Jones pile on the wins.
Robin Lehner (age = 27; signed through 2018-19 at $1.5M per season)
What do you get when you have a player who’s always had talent and finally put his demons behind him, then couple that with the wisdom and tutelage of goalie whisperers Barry Trotz and Mitch Korn? You get the season Lehner is having, with a GAA and SV% among the league’s best. The problem is the same magic that Trotz and Korn are working on Lehner is also the cure for what ailed Thomas Greiss. With Greiss signed through next season, will Lehner be able to secure enough wins, and beyond that, keep his demons at bay? Time – and your votes – will tell.
Jacob Markstrom (age = 29; signed through 2019-20 at $3.66M per season)
If you’re like me, you were surprised to see that Markstrom is 29, as it’s difficult not to think of him still as still a young prospect. But as he’s aged he’s found his game and the Canucks might be poised to do better – and sooner – as a team than many would’ve expected, all leading to Markstrom being a sneaky pick to do well in wins.
Matt Murray (age = 24; signed through 2019-20 at $3.75M per season)
With his injuries and failure – thus far – to truly recapture his early magic, some are anointing Murray the next Cam Ward. Murray has put together stretches of play where he’s unbeatable, only to follow that with a few stinkers. Still only 24, he can likely work out the kinks in his game to be more consistent, unless of course injuries take their toll. And although the Pens are ageing, they still figure to be among the most successful teams in the NHL in the near term, so the recipe for Murray to earn wins is there.
Carey Price (age = 31; signed through 2025-26 at $10.5M per season)
With by far the biggest contract among the voting choices, Price likely has the safest #1 netminder job in all of hockey. But now on the other side of 30 and after a couple of seasons of injuries, he doesn’t look like a former Vezina winner on some nights nowadays. Beyond that, although the Habs have made strides this season it’s not clear the team itself will be good enough for Price to pile on the wins – not unless he can get back to stealing games for them.
Tuukka Rask (age = 31; signed through 2020-21 at $7M per season)
Another season, another case of early talk of Rask losing his skill followed by him silencing his critics with superb second-half play. If Rask was a couple years younger and signed for a few more seasons, he’d look to be a safe pick; however, at some point in the future he might not be able to recover from a slow start, and Boston might choose to let him walk as a UFA, in which case who knows if Rask will land on a team like the perennially strong Bruins.
David Rittich (age = 26; signed through 2018-19 at $0.8M per season)
For a while, it was assumed Rittich’s hold on the Calgary crease was merely temporary until either he inevitably faltered or Mike Smith managed to find his game. Yet here we are in February and Rittich owns one of the best winning percentages of any netminder and appears to have staked an official claim as the #1 goalie on a Calgary team that’s poised to get better in the coming years. The wrinkle is Rittich is signed only through this season and has to show he’s more than a one-year wonder. But if he secures this #1 spot and his play continues to be comparable to what we’ve seen from him this season, the wins will surely pile up.
Juuse Saros (age = 23; signed through 2020-21 at $1.5M per season)
As covered in my column last week, past precedent suggests that Saros should be – at worst – the 1B netminder for the Predators next season. And with his already apparent skill and Rinne’s advancing age, Saros could realistically step in and seize the reins even before Rinne’s deal runs out in 2021, in which case Saros could have no trouble earning wins on a Nashville team that is built to be a top contender for a number of years to come.
Andrei Vasilevskiy (age = 24; signed through 2019-20 at $3.5M per season)
A top goalie on a top team – what’s not to like? But is Vas truly one of the best netminders in the NHL? Last season he hit a major wall in last third of the season, so he might be the opposite of Rask – a netminder who gets worse as the season drags on. There’s also the challenge of finding enough cap space to be able to re-sign him next summer without at the same time disrupting the strong skater core of the Lightning.
There you have the choices – now it’s up to you to pick the five you believe will earn the most wins from the 2019-20 season through the 2024-25 campaign. To cast your vote, click here.
Mailbag questions needed for next week
Next week will be my monthly mailbag column. You can send me questions in one of two ways – (1) emailing them to [email protected] with the subject line “Roos Mailbag”, or (2) as a private message to me (“rizzeedizzee”) from within the Dobberhockey Forums. See you next week!