Welcome to the final installment of the annual Top 30. It’s been a fun ride over the long summer months, but with hockey season upon us, let’s take a gander at the Top 10. In case you missed it, here are parts one and two. Before we get to the best tenders in the land, let’s take a look at the final two tenders who were relieved from their Top 30 duties of a year ago…
Miikka Kiprusoff- Retired: The reason Kipper is no longer on the list is pretty obvious: he chose to retire at the end of last season, even vetoing a trade to the Maple Leafs prior to calling it quits. The Finnish keeper was #15 on the list last season, and surely would have made another appearance had he not decided to hang ‘em up.
Nikolai Khabibulin- Chicago Blackhawks: The Bulin Wall checked in at #26 last season, when he was getting fairly consistent reps in Edmonton. However, since he decided to take on the role of veteran backup behind the newly extended Corey Crawford, he is sure to see his playing time significantly reduced. While I believe Khabby is still a solid keeper, the role change really forced my hand.
With that out of the way, ladies and gentlemen, rankings 10-1…
10. Mike Smith- Arizona Coyotes. Last year’s ranking: 10
- Smith had something of a lateral year in the desert this past season. It wasn’t as strong of a campaign as his Vezina nominated 2011-2012, but it was enough to parlay it into a 6 year/$34 million contract. I’m not fully convinced of any tender’s performance during a lockout shortened season, and I think Smith will continue to be a big time performer for Arizona going forward. Smith is a big guy, so I’m curious to see how the new equipment restrictions affect him.
9. Ryan Miller- Buffalo Sabres. Last year’s ranking: 7
- Miller has had a few ups and downs the past couple years since leading the US Olympic team to a silver medal in 2010. He will have a lot to prove this year in order to get significant playing time in Sochi. Unfortunately, he is still in Buffalo, which makes the whole “have an elite season” thing a little tougher. I wouldn’t bet against Miller at this point, he is still one of the best in the game, even if he isn’t the first choice keeper for the red, white and blue anymore.
8. Cory Schneider- New Jersey Devils. Last year’s ranking: 11
- I feel bad for Cory Schneider. He went from an incredibly difficult situation in Vancouver, thought he had taken the reigns of the starting job, only to be shipped off to New Jersey on draft day. Vancouver’s loss was Lou Lamoriello’s gain, since with one fell swoop, he grabbed his future franchise goalie and heir to the immortal Marty Brodeur. Until Marty actually retires though, things could be a little sticky. Supposedly Marty will be #1 to Schneider’s #1A. Best laid plans and all that. At the end of the day, though, Schneider will end up being a huge coup for Jersey and I’m sure we will all grow to despise him very soon.
7. Tuukka Rask- Boston Bruins. Last year’s ranking: 19
- Rask had a breakout season in the starting role for the B’s this past season, leading the boys from Beantown to the Stanley Cup Finals. He was tremendous in the playoffs and was rewarded with a shiny, new 8 year/$56 million contract. The 26 year-old Finn removed many of the inconsistencies from his game that held him back the past few seasons and has emerged as a truly elite tendy. However, while he may have successfully stepped out of Tim Thomas’ shadow, he still may have the ugliest mask in the history of goaltending.
6. Cam Ward- Carolina Hurricanes. Last year’s ranking: 4
- The 2012-2013 season was pretty much a lost year for Ward, who managed to play in only 17 games before going down with a sprained MCL. While he was correctly given an invite to the Canadian orientation camp, he is a long-shot to make the team in light of the injury. A strong start from Ward would go a long way in getting him back into the conversation. I still love Ward from a stylistic standpoint, and I’m betting on him to have another strong campaign in Raleigh this season.
5. Carey Price- Montreal Canadiens. Last year’s ranking: 5
- The presumptive starter for Team Canada in Sochi had a very strong regular season until he imploded in the playoffs. I’m not exactly sure what was to blame for Price’s malaise in the Habs first round exit to the Ottawa Senators, but Price is too good to let it keep him down. The Canadiens were a surprise contender last season, and while Montreal is always a pressure cooker, let’s see how Price responds when the expectations are elevated. His Olympic aspirations may hang in the balance.
4. Jimmy Howard- Detroit Red Wings. Last season’s ranking: 6
- Last year I made a comment about how little money Howard made in the final year of his contract. His outstanding season forced the Wings’ hand and forced them to shell out a 6 year/$31 million contract to keep the Ogdensburg, NY native in Hockeytown. This is an impressive feat in and of itself, since the Detroit hasn’t shelled out big money for a goaltender, in, well…ever. I like Howard as a legit #2 option for the United States in Sochi behind Jon Quick. With Miller and Schneider also competing, the US is stacked between the pipes.
3. Pekka Rinne- Nashville Predators. Last year’s ranking: 3
- Last year was a very disappointing campaign for the 30 year-old Finn. As I mentioned before, though, it is a very small sample size to draw from and Rinne is still one of the best in the world. With an outlandish size-to-agility ratio, he can cover the net better than most goalies and maximizes his coverage with elite mobility. While I am pretty confident Rinne should be starting for Finland, it will be interesting to watch him and Rask battle it out to represent the blue and white in Sochi. This added incentive should be more than enough to bring Rinne back to his old form in 2013/2014.
2. Jonathan Quick- Los Angeles Kings. Last year’s ranking: 2
- Quick had a down season statistically last year, but elevated his game to it’s customary level down the stretch and into the playoffs, where he fought valiantly before falling to the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks. Quick still boasts his trademark agility and mobility that range somewhere between elite and mind-blowing. He should be the clear-cut starter for the Americans in Russia, and will integral in any aspirations the Kings have in fighting for The Cup again. I could again entertain an argument for the top spot for Quick, but without the statistically ridiculous season and the Stanley Cup/Conn Smyth, it’s very tough to argue with #1…
1. Henrik Lundqvist- New York Rangers. Last year’s ranking: 1
- Which brings us to The King. Hank was nominated for his fifth Vezina trophy this season, finishing 2nd after taking the hardware home last off-season. Lundqvist is the definition of consistency, and at 31 years-old, his numbers are still trending in the right direction. His contract situation will be headline news until he is extended, but he is absolutely essential to any aspirations the Rangers have of contending. The club needs to show him that they are serious about winning and have the ingredients to bring that elusive Stanley Cup back to Broadway. At the end of the day, it’s very difficult to see Lundqvist bolting, but let’s not tempt the fates here, ok?
I set out not to let a (more or less) half-season of hockey effect the rankings too much, and this held true for the Top 10. However, there seems to be a lot of goaltending transitions happening around the league. Young guys are stepping up in hopes of becoming franchise cornerstones in net and veterans are beginning to phase into backup roles. It’ll be interesting to see if the progress shown by guys like Bobrovsky, Neimi and Crawford are for real, or a product of small sample sizes and less of a grind than the standard 82 game slate. Do you guys agree with my rankings? Do you still feel Hank deserves the top spot? Sound off in the comments below, and as always, your feedback is greatly appreciated. I hope you enjoyed this edition of the Pre-season Top 30, I’ll be excited to put it together again next year!