The Western Conference has a stable of quality goaltending, despite losing a top net minder in Evgeni Nabokov to the Kontinental Hockey League. Despite his departure, the Western Conference still boasts a strong goaltending core, led by stalwarts Ilya Bryzgalov of Phoenix, Roberto Luongo of Vancouver, and Miikka Kiprusoff of Calgary.
Young stars like Red Wings‘ Jimmy Howard, Kings’ Jonathan Quick, and Predators’ Pekka Rinne will look to build on successful 2009-2010 campaigns. Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom should bounce back from an injury plagued season while the Oilers look to find anyone who can consistently stop the puck.
The up-and-coming goalies of the conference are led by the best goalie product in the minors, Dallas’s Jack Campbell. He is joined by Columbus’s Gustav Wesslau, Nashville’s Chet Pickard, St. Louis’s Jake Allen, and San Jose’s Alex Stalock as the NHL goaltenders of the conference’s future.
NHL Central Division
[adinserter block=”1″]• Chicago Blackhawks
• Starter: Marty Turco (53 GP, 52 GS, 22-20-0-11, 2.72 GAA, 91.3 Sv%) – w/ Dallas
• 2010-2011 Projection: 57 GP, 36 W, 2.58 GAA, 91.7 Sv%
• Backup: Corey Crawford (1 GP, 1 GS, 0-1-0-0, 3.04 GAA, 91.4 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 25 GP, 12 W, 2.62 GAA, 90.5 Sv%
The defending Stanley Cup champs welcome in a polished veteran in Marty Turco to the net after playoff hero Antti Niemi was released following an arbitration fight with the team. Following the exit of Niemi, the Blackhawks quickly signed Turco in early August to a one-year contract. Turco struggled last year behind a porous Dallas defense, compiling a 2.72 GAA, 91.3 save percentage and a career low 22 wins as the number one goalie. Turco’s best days are behind him, when he had his career year in 2003-2004, when he won 37 games and had a 1.98 GAA a 91.3 save percentage.
Back-up Corey Crawford played a majority of his games in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs. He went 24-16-2 with a 2.67 GAA and 90.9 save percentage in 43 starts. Crawford did make one start with the Blackhawks, stopping 32 of 35 shots in a 4-2 loss to Anaheim on March 17. Crawford is considered the goalie of the future for Chicago and could push Turco as the year progresses.
Look for Turco to get around 55 starts on the season. His win total should be higher now that he’s in Chicago and could top out around 35 wins with a GAA around 2.60 and a save percentage around 91%. Crawford should get an extended look to prove his worth to the organization and his stop for next season. If Crawford begins to outperform Turco, their roles could switch.
• Columbus Blue Jackets
• Starter: Steve Mason (58 GP, 55 GS, 20-26-0-9, 3.05 GAA, 90.1 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 55 GP, 27 W, 2.47 GAA, 90.7 Sv%
• Backup: Mathieu Garon (35 GP, 27 GS, 12-9-0-6, 2.81 GAA, 90.3 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 30 GP, 14 W, 2.73 GAA, 90.2 Sv%
If a so-called “sophomore jinx” exists, then Steve Mason is a prime example. In his rookie season, Mason was sensational once he came up in November of 2008 and claimed the starting job shortly thereafter. He finished his rookie season with a record of 33-20-7, a GAA of 2.29, and a save percentage of 91.6 % in 61 starts. In the playoffs, however, Mason bombed in Columbus’s first playoff appearance in franchise history. He lost all four games to Detroit, giving up 17 goals in the series. In the offseason, he was awarded the Calder Trophy for his efforts and was in the running for the Vezina trophy with Boston’s Tim Thomas and Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom.
Last season, the jinx reared its ugly head, as his performance fell off as he started poorly, going a combined 9-6-4, a 3.38 GAA, and an 89.2 save percentage. He improved in December with a 2.79 GAA, but followed that up with a putrid January, going 2-5-0, a 3.67 GAA, and 87.5 save percentage. His best month was February, where in four starts he went 3-1-0 with a 1.26 GAA and 96.0 save percentage. Backup Mathieu Garon stepped in when Mason was ineffective, going 12-9-6 with a 2.81 GAA and 90.3 save percentage in 27 starts.
In the new campaign, Mason will be looking to reclaim whatever magic he had during his rookie season and reestablish himself as a rising star between the pipes. Columbus will give him every opportunity to be their franchise goalie. Expect around 55 starts for Mason, with around 25 wins, a GAA of 2.45, and a save percentage of 90.5%. Garon could prove himself worthy of more starts should he outperform Mason in spot-duty.
• Detroit Red Wings
• Starter: Jimmy Howard (63 GP, 61 GS, 37-15-0-10, 2.26 GAA, 92.4 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 58 GP, 38 W, 2.32 GAA, 93.1 Sv%
• Backup: Chris Osgood (23 GP, 21 GS, 7-9-0-4, 3.02 GAA, 88.8 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 24 GP, 6 W, 2.91 GAA, 89.1 Sv%
The Chris Osgood era in Detroit came to an abrupt halt in 2009-2010. Osgood started off poorly in October, compiling a 3.10 GAA and an 88.9 save percentage. The Red Wing offense shielded Osgood from a poor record, going 4-2-2 for the month in nine starts. In November, Osgood had a good overall month, going 2-3-1 with a 2.31 GAA and 90.9 save percentage in six starts. Osgood will end up playing just eight more games in the season.
Eventually, however, Osgood’s play declined as the Red Wings began to turn to young net minder Jimmy Howard. Howard outshined Osgood in November, going 6-2-0 with a 2.10 GAA and a 92.3 save percentage in eight starts. Howard would get the majority of starts the remainder of the season, going 37-15-10 with a 2.26 GAA and 92.4 save percentage in 61 starts.
Howard will get the majority of the starts in 2010-2011 as he continues to establish himself as one of the best young net minders in the game. Expect Howard should earn around 60 starts, with at least 35 wins, a GAA around 2.30 and a save percentage around 93%. In the remainder of the games, Osgood will serve adequately as the backup in limited action.
• Nashville Predators
• Starter: Pekka Rinne (58 GP, 54 GS, 32-16-0-5, 2.53 GAA, 91.1 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 55 GP, 34 W, 2.55 GAA, 91.5%
• Backup: Anders Lindback
• 2010-2011 Projection: 27 GP, 12 W, 2.48 GAA, 90.7%
The Nashville Predators have gone through a slew of goalies since the depature of longtime net minder Tomas Vokoun to Florida following the 2006-2007 season. Part of the rotation in goal has been net minders like Chris Mason, Dan Ellis, and Pekka Rinne. Last season, Rinne broke through to claim the job with stellar play down the stretch, going 9-3-1 with a 1.81 GAA and 93.4 save percentage in 13 starts. In the playoffs, Rinne went 2-4 in six starts with a 2.68 GAA and a 91.1 save percentage in Nashville’s first series defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks. In the offseason, the Predators made a long-term commitment to Rinne as they shipped fellow goaltender Dan Ellis to Montreal in exchange for left wing Sergei Kostitsyn.
Anders Lindback comes to the Predators from the Swedish league Elitserien, playing for Timra IK. He played 42 games last season, with a GAA of 2.46 and a save percentage of 91.3%. Lindback beat out fellow prospect goalies Mark Dekanich and Chet Pickard in training camp for the backup spot.
Barring injury, expect Rinne to get the boon of starts for Nashville. Expect around 55 starts, 30-35 wins, a GAA around 2.50 and a save percentage around 91.5%. Expect Lindback to get his fair share in net as well, starting around 25 games with 10-15 wins, a GAA around 2.60 and a save percentage around 90.5%. Should either Rinne or Lindback falter, Dekanich and Pickard will be waiting in Milwaukee with the AHL’s Admirals.
• St. Louis Blues
• Starter: Jaroslav Halak (45 GP, 43 GS, 26-13-0-5, 2.40 GAA, 92.4 Sv%) – w/ Montreal
• 2010-2011 Projection: 58 GP, 36 W, 2.37 GAA, 92.2%
• Backup: Ty Conklin (26 GP, 21 GS, 10-10-0-2, 2.48 GAA, 92.1 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 24 GP, 12 W, 2.57 GAA, 92.0%
The St. Louis Blues struck quickly for the opportunity to acquire Jaroslav Halak from the Montreal Canadiens. After ousting two eastern powerhouses – Washington and Pittsburgh – from the playoffs, the Canadiens traded the soon-to-be restricted free agent to the Blues in exchange for forwards Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. Halak then signed a four-year, $15 million deal to remain with the Blues in early July.
The sudden rise of Halak started down the stretch last season, as he outplayed Carey Price and wrestled the starting spot away. He went a combined 9-3-3 with a 2.07 GAA and 92.6 save percentage in 14 starts to thrust Montreal into the playoffs. In the postseason, he led the Canadiens with a 2.55 GAA and 92.3 save percentage, going 9-9 in 18 starts.
Ty Conklin will continue to fill the backup role with St. Louis. Last season, his first with the team, he appeared in 26 games, 21 of them starts, going 10-10-2 with a 2.48 GAA and 92.1 save percentage. Conklin is one of the best backups in the league as is capable of contributing a larger role if need should arise.
Expect Halak to start on most nights for St. Louis. Halak will be tested in his first year as the full time starter, but he has the tenacity to excel after his baptism by fire in the playoffs a year ago. Look for Halak to make around 50-55 starts with 30-35 wins, a GAA around 2.40 and a save percentage around 92%. Conklin will step in when Halak needs a rest, and he should make around 25 starts with around 10-15 wins, a GAA around 2.50 and a save percentage around 91.5%
NHL Northwest Division
• Calgary Flames
• Starter: Miikka Kiprusoff (73 GP, 72 GS, 35-28-0-10, 2.31 GAA, 92.0 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 70 GP, 37 W, 2.36 GAA, 92.7 Sv%
• Backup: Henrik Karlsson
• 2010-2011 Projection: 12 GP, 4 W, 2.47 GAA, 91.2 Sv%
Miikka Kiprusoff has been a staple in net for the Flames since arriving in Calgary prior to the 2003-2004 season. Kiprusoff was formerly a backup to Evgeni Nabakov in San Jose before being traded in November of 2003 for a second round draft pick. The trade for Calgary was necessitated by an injury to then-Flames goalie Roman Turek. Kiprusoff was immediately placed into the lineup and made 17 starts, winning 12 of them through December before being forced from the lineup for four weeks due to a sprained medial collateral ligament. When he returned, he reclaimed his starting spot, finishing the first season in Calgary with 24-10-4 record, a 1.70 GAA and a 93.3 save percentage.
Since that first season in Calgary, Kiprusoff has been a force in net, playing in no less than 73 games from 2005-2006 through last season. He has won 40 games three times and recorded a GAA of no less than 2.46 during this span. Last season, Kiprusoff finished the year with a 35-28-10 mark, a GA A of 2.31 and a 92.0 save percentage in 73 games (72 starts).
Kiprusoff should continue being a durable force in goal for Calgary. Expect him to start around 70 games, with 35-40 wins, a GAA of around 2.35 and a save percentage around 92%. Kirpusoff will be backed up by former Swedish elite goaltender Henrik Karlsson. In 34 games with Farjestads BK, he had a GAA of 2.45 and a save percentage of 91.4%. Karlsson should be adequate in limited action for Calgary.
• Colorado Avalanche
• Starter: Craig Anderson (71 GP, 71 GS, 38-25-0-7, 2.63 GAA, 91.7 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 68 GP, 36 W, 2.57 GAA, 92.1 Sv%
• Backup: Peter Budaj (15 GP, 11 GS, 5-5-0-2, 2.64 GAA, 91.7 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 14 GP, 6 W, 2.80 GAA, 91.4 Sv%
In the 2009-2010 season, career backup Craig Anderson got his chance to be a full-time goaltender in the NHL. Following stints as the backup with the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers, Anderson signed a two-year contract in July of 2009 with added expectations. Anderson began his Avalanche career with a stellar October, going 10-2-2 with a 2.04 GAA and 93.9 save percentage in 14 starts. He had a couple bad months in November and December, going a combined 9-8-3 with a 3.14 GAA and 89.9 save percentage in 21 starts. Anderson bounced back in January and February, going a combined 12-6 with a 1.88 GAA and a 93.9 save percentage in 18 games. Down the stretch, he seemed to tire, recording a 3.47 GAA in fourteen starts.
Backup Peter Budaj was sporadic in limited action, making only two starts in October. He recorded a 4.30 GAA in those two starts, cementing his position behind Craig Anderson. In January, March, and April, he only appeared in a combined five games, making four starts.
Craig Anderson should continue his dominance in net for the upstart Avalanche. Expect Anderson to start between 65-70 games, winning around 35 with a GAA of 2.50 and a save percentage around 92%. Budaj should be adequate at best as the backup, winning just a handful of games in very limited action.
• Edmonton Oilers
• Starter: Nikolai Khabibulin (18 GP, 18 GS, 7-9-0-2, 3.03 GAA, 90.9 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 60 GP, 28 W, 2.88 GAA, 90.4 Sv%
• Backup: Jeff Deslaurines (48 GP, 48 GS, 16-28-0-4, 3.26 GAA, 90.1 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 22 GP, 10 W, 2.94 GAA, 91.0 Sv%
Prior to the start of last season, the Edmonton Oilers were looking to solve their issues in goal with the signing of Nikolai Khabibulin on the first day of free agency. The team signed the “Bulin Wall” to a four-year, $15 million dollar deal with the expectations that he would provide the team with a veteran presence for a young and up-and-coming defensive corps. His first season in Edmonton was however cut short, as he appeared in just 18 games before undergoing season-ending back surgery to repair a herniated disc in January. In those 18 games, Khabibulin was awful, going 7-9-2 with a 3.03 GAA and 90.9 save percentage.
Young net minder Jeff Deslaurines and rookie Devan Dubnyk were asked to hold down the fort for the remainder of the season. What the Oilers saw from the two goaltenders was nothing short of unremarkable. Deslaurines played the majority of the remaining games, going 16-28-4 with a 3.26 GAA and 90.1 save percentage. Dubnyk appeared in 19 games, going 4-10-2 with a 3.57 GAA and 88.9 save percentage.
In the offseason, Khabibulin had off-the-ice issues, as he was found guilty of excessive speeding and “extreme” driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol level that exceeded 0.08. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail in late August, a move that put Khabibulin’s contributions in net into question. His sentence is currently under appeal, and Khabibulin will be in net to start the season. When it comes time for him to serve his penalty, Jeff Deslaurines will take over in net. Expect Khabibulin to start around 45 games, with 20-25 wins, a GAA of at least 2.80 and a save percentage around 91%. Deslaurines and Dubnyk will both fill in when needed.
• Minnesota Wild
• Starter: Niklas Backstrom (60 GP, 58 GS, 26-23-0-8, 2.72 GAA, 90.3 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 57 GP, 30 W, 2.55 GAA, 91.2 Sv%
• Backup: Jose Theodore (47 GP, 43 GS, 30-7-0-7, 2.81 GAA, 91.1 Sv%) – w/ Washington
• 2010-2011 Projection: 25 GP, 14 W, 2.67 GAA, 92.1 Sv%
A year after starting franchise-record 71 games in net in 2008-2009, Niklas Backstrom dealt with lingering injuries and illness to limit him to just 60 games. The Wild discovered that they had some depth in goal, with Josh Harding and rookie Anton Khudobin. Backstrom began the year in strong fashion, but peaked in December when he went 9-4-1 with a 2.45 GAA and 90.6 save percentage in 13 starts. The rest of the season was hit-or-miss for Backstrom, as he won just seven more times while giving up 72 goals in just 24 games.
Backup Josh Harding made 22 starts for Backstrom, going 9-12 with a 3.05 GAA and 90.5 save percentage. Rookie Anton Khudobin appeared in two games, making one start. In that one start, Khudobin defeated the Flyers, 2-1, stopping 38 of 39 shots on February 6.
[adinserter block=”2″]Niklas Backstrom will continue to be the main goaltender for the Wild going into 2010-2011. Expect Backstrom to start around 65 games, winning 30-35 with a GAA around 2.40 and a save percentage around 91.5%. Harding was expected to compete with Anton Khudobin to be Backstrom’s backup. That plan changed, however, when Harding tore an ACL and an MCL in a preseason game, putting him out for the year. The move made the Wild nervous and they brought in veteran Jose Theodore to back up Backstrom, sending Khudobin back down to start everyday for the AHL’s Houston Aeros. Theodore should be a reliable backup for Minnesota, starting around 25 games while recording 10-15 wins with a GAA around 2.50 and a save percentage around 90.5%.
• Vancouver Canucks
• Starter: Roberto Luongo (68 GP, 67 GS, 40-22-0-4, 2.57 GAA, 91.3 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 72 GP, 42 W, 2.42 GAA, 91.7 Sv%
• Backup: Cory Schneider (2 GP, 0-1-0, 3.81 GAA, 91.5 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 10 GP, 3 W, 2.68 GAA, 90.7 Sv%
The Canucks have had a rock in net with Roberto Luongo since he came to Vancouver from Florida in a deal that sent disgraced winger Todd Bertuzzi to Florida prior to the 2006-2007 season. Since arriving in the Northwest, Luongo has established himself as one of the most durable and effective goaltenders in the league. Last season was no different, as he won 40 games for the second time in Vancouver, going 40-22-4 with a 2.57 GAA and a 91.3 save percentage in 68 games (67 starts).
Luongo’s play led the Canucks to a Northwest division crown, earning 103 points on the season and the third seed in the Western Conference bracket. In the playoffs, however, Luongo struggled, going 6-6 with a 3.22 GAA and 89.5 save percentage. The team defeated the Kings in the first round in six games, but were later ousted by eventual Stanley Cup champs Chicago in the following round in six games.
In 2010-2011, Luongo will continue to be a workhorse for Vancouver. Expect him to get around 65-70 starts, winning 35-40 games with a GAA around 2.50 and a save percentage around 91.8%. The backup position will be a revolving door between prospects Cory Schneider and Tyler Weiman. They both are supposed to be severely limited in ice time, barring injury to Luongo.
NHL Pacific Division
• Anaheim Ducks
• Starter: Jonas Hiller (59 GP, 58 GS, 30-23-0-4, 2.73 GAA, 91.8 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 57 GP, 32 W, 2.65 GAA, 91.7 Sv%
• Backup: Curtis McElhinney (20 GP, 14 GS, 8-5-0-2, 2.99 GAA, 90.2 Sv%) – w/ CAL, ANA
• 2010-2011 Projection: 25 GP, 9 W, 2.84 GAA, 90.4 Sv%
Jonas Hiller came to the NHL with Anaheim in the 2007-2008 season following four seasons with the Swiss league NLA, where he won championships in 2004 and 2006 with Davos. He entered the 2007 season as the backup to J.S. Giguere, who was coming off a stellar 2006-2007 season where he won 36 games and had a 2.26 GAA in 53 starts. In spot time in his first year, Hiller impressed the Anaheim brass with a 10-7-1 record, a 2.06 GAA, and a 92.7 save percentage in 23 games, making 18 starts.
Since that first season, Hiller has slowly progressed into the full-time starting goaltender in Anaheim. In 2008-2009, Hiller split time with Giguere as he made 38 starts, going 23-15-1 with a 2.39 GAA and 91.9 save percentage. Last season, Hiller’s performance forced the Ducks to finally deal Giguere to Toronto in January. In 18 combined starts between February and March, Hiller went 8-8-1 with a combined 2.78 GAA and 91.8 save percentage.
In the new campaign, the Ducks are going to turn over the top goaltending duties to Hiller fulltime. Expect Hiller to start around 55 games with around 30 wins, a GAA of 2.60 and a save percentage of 92.0%. Backing up Hiller will be Curtis McElhinney, who was acquired by Anaheim in March from Calgary. In spot duty with the Flames and Ducks, McElhinney went 8-5-2 with a GAA of 2.99 and a save percentage of 90.2%.
• Dallas Stars
• Starter: Kari Lehtonen (12 GP, 6 W, 2.81 GAA, 91.1 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 53 GP, 30 W, 2.81 GAA, 91.1 Sv%
• Backup: Andrew Raycroft (21 GP, 14 GS, 9-5-0-1, 2.42 GAA, 91.1 Sv%) – w/ Vancouver
• 2010-2011 Projection: 29 GP, 14 W, 2.52 GAA, 91.4 Sv%
When the Dallas Stars acquired Kari Lehtonen from Atlanta in exchange for defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy and draft choice, they essentially said goodbye to their long-time goalie Marty Turco. Lehtonen, the former number one pick of Atlanta, battled through injuries constantly during his tenure with the Thrashers. Since appearing in a career high 68 games in 2006-2007 for Atlanta, Lehtonen has been unable to play in more than 48 games on a season. Last season, Lehtonen was limited to just 12 games on the season as he underwent back surgery at the beginning of the campaign. Those 12 games came after his arrival in Dallas, as he went 6-4-0 with a 2.81 GAA and 91.1 save percentage.
Andrew Raycroft, a former Calder Trophy winner with Boston in 2003-2004, was signed by Dallas to a two-year contract in July. Since his younger days in Boston, Raycroft has bounced around with stops in Toronto, Colorado, and Vancouver – mostly as the backup. He did set a career high in games in 2006-2007, when he played in 72 games, going 37-25-9 with a 2.99 GAA and 89.4 save percentage for Toronto. Raycroft should provide veteran depth to Dallas.
The key to Lehtonen’s season will be to avoid injuries and be the productive goalie that his talent level would support.
In training camp, the injury bug still hampered Lehtonen as he battled a groin injury. If healthy, Lehtonen should provide solid goaltending for the Stars, starting around 55 games with 30-35 wins, a GAA around 2.60 and a save percentage around 91.5%. Should Lehtonen succumb to injury or ineffectiveness, the Stars could turn to Raycroft. The Stars also have a wealth of young net minders in the minors, with Brent Krahn and Richard Bachman at the AHL level and 2010 draftee Jack Campbell at the junior level.
• Los Angeles Kings
• Starter: Jonathan Quick (72 GP, 72 GS, 39-24-0-7, 2.54 GAA, 90.7 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 64 GP, 35 W, 2.62 GAA, 90.5 Sv%
• Backup: Jonathan Bernier (3 GP, 3 GS, 3-0-0-0, 1.30 GAA, 95.7 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 18 GP, 8 W, 2.48 GAA, 91.4 Sv%
The Kings received a surprise in goal last season as Jonathan Quick became a rock in goal, starting 72 games with a 39-24-7 mark, a GAA of 2.54 and a save percentage of 90.7%. Quick made no less than 12 starts in five of the seven months last year and had his best month in January, when he went 10-3-0 with a GAA of 2.31 and a save percentage of 91.9%. The previous year, he appeared in 44 games, making 41 starts as he shared time with Erik Ersberg. In those 44 games, he went 21-18-2 with a 2.48 GAA and a 91.4 save percentage.
The backup to Quick this season will be AHL sensation Jonathan Bernier. Bernier was thrust into the national spotlight in 2007-2008, when he started the season opener for the Kings against in the Anaheim Ducks in London, England. In that game, he allowed just one goal on 27 shots, winning 4-1. He started three more games for the Kings before being sent back to the AHL’s Manchester Monarhcs for regular duty in goal. Last year, Bernier had a stellar season for the Monarchs, going 30-21-6 with a 2.03 GAA and 93.6 save percentage in 58 games. He appeared in three games for the Kings, winning all three games while allowing just four games in 185 minutes played.
A goalie controversy could erupt in Los Angeles despite the success of both Quick and Bernier at their respective competition levels. Quick should garner the majority of the starts, as he should make 50-55 starts with 35-40 wins, a GAA of 2.47 and 92.1 save percentage. Bernier could look to steal time from Quick, playing between 20-25 games with a GAA around 2.35 and a 91.4 save percentage.
• Phoenix Coyotes
• Starter: Ilya Bryzgalov (69 GP, 69 GS, 42-20-0-6, 2.29 GAA, 92.0 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 67 GP, 41 W, 2.25 GAA, 92.5 Sv%
• Backup: Jason Labarbera (17 GP, 13 GS, 8-5-0-1, 2.13 GAA, 92.8 Sv%)
• 2010-2011 Projection: 15 GP, 7 W, 2.20 GAA, 92.1 Sv%
Ilya Bryzgalov waited nine seasons for his big break in the NHL. Since coming over to the States from Russia, he toiled in the AHL for four seasons with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks before earning his shot as Jean-Sebastian Giguere’s backup in the 2006-2007 season. He lasted just two years as the backup as the Ducks signed Giguere to a contract extension and added Swiss goaltender Jonas Hiller prior to the 2007 season. The Ducks tried to trade Bryzgalov but were successful and Bryzgalov was placed on waivers. It was this move that opened up the opportunity for Brygalov as the Phoenix Coyotes jumped at the chance to acquire his services.
In Phoenix, Brygalov has established himself as one of the best goalies in the league. He has been underrated for much of his Coyotes tenure because of the lack of success by the team as whole. Last season, however, Bryzgalov cemented himself as an elite goalie, winning 42 games with a 2.29 GAA and 92.0 save percentage. In the playoffs, Bryzgalov had a spirited run in the first round, pushing the Red Wings to the brink before being defeated in the seventh game.
Bryzgalov will continue to be one of the top net minders in the new campaign. Expect him to start around 65 games with 35-40 wins, a GAA around 2.40 and a save percentage around 92.6%. Backup Jason Labarbera will continue to be efficient in spot duty and provide Bryzgalov with relief every couple of weeks.
• San Jose Sharks
• Starter: Antti Niemi (39 GP, 35 GS, 26-7-0-4, 2.25 GAA, 91.2 Sv%) – w/ Chicago
• 2010-2011 Projection: 50 GP, 28 W, 2.30 GAA, 91.7 Sv%
• Backup: Antero Niittymaki (49 GP, 46 GS, 21-18-0-5, 2.87 GAA, 90.9 Sv%) – w/ TB
• 2010-2011 Projection: 32 GP, 17 W, 2.57 GAA, 90.8 Sv%
The Sharks lost their best goalie in franchise history when Evgeni Nabokov left for the KHL. In ten seasons in Silicon Valley, Nabokov won 293 games with a combined 2.39 GAA and 91.2 save percentage. Nabokov won the Calder trophy in 2001 as the top rookie, made the all-star team twice (2001 and 2008) and was a Vezina finalist in 2008. With the departure of Nabokov, the Sharks welcome a pair of goaltenders in Antero Niittymaki and Antti Niemi that are expected to have a season-long battle for the top goaltending spot for the Sharks.
Last season, Niittymaki was the starter down the stretch for Tampa Bay, going 21-18-5 with a 2.87 GAA and 90.9 save percentage in 49 starts. Niittymaki was signed by the Sharks on July 1 to a two-year, $4 million contract with the expectations of being the starting goalie for San Jose.
That scenario changed when the Sharks signed Antti Niemi from Chicago when he was released following an arbitration hearing that was in his favor against the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks “rewarded” Niemi was his release from the team and the Sharks jumped at the chance to sign him. In the regular season, Niemi went 26-7-4 with a 2.25 GAA and 91.0 save percentage in 39 games. In the playoffs, he went 16-6 with a 2.63 GAA and 91.0 save percentage en route to the championship.
The signings of Niittymaki and Niemi present a good problem for the Sharks, as they have two goalies that are capable of carrying the load long-term. When the dust settles, however, the Sharks could give Niemi the edge based on his performance down the stretch and in the playoffs for Chicago. Expect Niemi to make around 50 starts with 25-30 wins, a GAA around 2.45 and a save percentage around 91.5%. Expect Niittymaki to also be effective in his time in goal, with around 32 games, 15-20 wins, a GAA around 2.55, and a 90.5 save percentage.
TOP FIVE WESTERN CONFERENCE PROSPECTS
• Jake Allen, Blues (22 GP, 18-3-0-0, 1.75 GAA, 93.3 Sv% in QMJHL) – With Halak now in St. Louis, Allen has more time to develop in the minors as the goalie of the future for the Blues. Last season, Allen ended his amateur career with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, going 18-3-0 with a 1.75 GAA and 93.3 save percentage. Allen is considered the fourth best prospect in the St. Louis system and the top goalie. He will begin the season with the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen and is expected to split starts initially with fellow goalie prospect Ben Bishop.
• Jack Campbell, Stars (11 GP, 6-3-0-1, 2.21 GAA, 91.7 Sv% in USHL) – The Stars drafted Campbell 11th overall in June’s amateur draft and he was the first goalie taken overall. Campbell served as the starting goaltender for the USA at the World Juniors and won gold medals at the 2009 and 2010 World U18 Championships and a gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championships. Campbell decided to forego his commitment to the University of Michigan and will play for the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires in preparation of going pro in the near future.
• Chet Pickard, Predators (36 GP, 14-16-0-3, 2.85 GAA, 89.2 Sv% in AHL) – Pickard continues to be a top goalie prospect for Nashville despite having a poor 2009-2010 campaign at the AHL level with the Milwaukee Admirals. With the emergence of Pekka Rinne for the Predators, Nashville can afford for Pickard to continue his progression with Milwaukee. Expect one or two more seasons of preparation for Pickard before given the opportunity with the Predators.
• Alex Stalock, Sharks (61 GP, 39-19-0-2, 2.63 GAA, 90.8 Sv% in AHL) – Stalock’s stock has continued to rise as the Sharks undergo a transition in goal with Nabokov’s defection to the KHL. Last season with the Worcester Sharks, Stalock led the AHL in wins with 39 and had a 2.63 GAA and 90.8 save percentage for Worcester. Stalock will continue to be the starter for the AHL Sharks as the top team decides how to proceed with a potential two-headed monster between the pipes.
• Gustaf Wesslau, Blue Jackets (32 GP, 2.29 GAA, 91.7 Sv% in SEL) – The Blue Jackets signed Wesslau in May to a one-year, two-way contract that will allow him to see time with Columbus and the AHL’s Springfield Falcons. He comes to the states following a successful career in Swiss leagues. Wesslau could find his way to Columbus barring an injury or ineffectiveness from Steve Mason or Mathieu Garon.