Zach Weissbach The Hockey Writers
NHL’s Top 5 Goaltenders of the Decade
Everyone is very aware of the age-old adage “defense wins championships.” For a National Hockey League team, this statement rings as true as ever before. But, for every championship-caliber defense, there is also a dominant goaltender who needs to stand tall between the pipes. When you think of the legendary runs certain teams pieced together over the last 10 seasons there was always a staple to that success: a goaltender who could steal any given game. A guy who made it his mission to end up on the TSN Top 10. An individual whose saves literally defied logic, and had fans wondering “how did he do that?”
This brings us to the big question: who are the best of the best when it comes to goalies? Specifically, who are the top five of the past decade? Beginning with the 2010-11 season let’s work backward to identify the five netminders who define clutch moments, steal victories for their team and are truly the pinnacle of premier NHL goalies.
Everyone’s first question must be: how do we determine who deserves a spot? It’s a great ask, because every individual who had this task put upon them came up with a different list. Here are the criteria utilized for the selections:
- Regular season success and raw statistics
- Postseason success and raw statistics
- Individual award accolades
- Team success (also factoring in how deep the roster was)
- Which goalie would the opposing team not want to face in a hypothetical must-win elimination game, given their performance this decade?
5. Braden Holtby
Without a doubt, this was the hardest selection to make. Narrowing the best of the best down to five names is ridiculously difficult, and picking Braden Holtby meant leaving some prestigious options on the table. That being said, Holtby deserves a spot on this list because he combines all of the measuring criteria into an indisputable package.
Since the 2010-11 season, Holtby has racked up 274 wins and 35 shutouts, while posting a 2.50 goals against average (GAA) and .917 save percentage (SV%). Now factor in that Holtby didn’t take over as the Washington Capitals starter until 2012-13 and those are incredible numbers among his peers. Holtby has been a rock for the Capitals since taking the No. 1 job and has backstopped the team to two Presidents’ Trophies (2016 and 2017), four straight Metropolitan Division titles (2016-2019) and a Stanley Cup.
On the personal side, you have to acknowledge Holtby took home a Vezina Trophy in 2015-16 and stands out as one of the best playoff goaltenders of all-time. He ranks sixth in all-time SV% (higher than any of the other individuals on this list), 19th in GAA (best among active goaltenders), and 22nd in wins when it comes to the postseason. Holtby is as clutch a goaltender as they come.
What truly separated him from those who narrowly made the list? Consistency and big-game performances. “Holt-Beast” has posted a .920, or better, SV% in six of the 10 seasons of the decade, tied the NHL record for wins in a single season (48) and owns a Stanley Cup ring to boot. His resume is still growing at 30 years young, but the former fourth-round pick has been worth his weight in gold for the Capitals and takes home the No. 5 spot.
4. Pekka Rinne
Is there a better regular-season goalie in recent memory than Pekka Rinne? I sincerely doubt it. Rinne has totaled 30 or more wins in seven of the past 10 seasons for the Nashville Predators (more than anyone in this top five) and forms the foundation of their defensive structure. Since the 2010-11 season, he has 292 wins (second-best among NHL goaltenders) and 44 shutouts (more than any other goalie in that stretch). Here’s what it means in simple terms: when Rinne is on his game, you aren’t beating him.
Just like Holtby, Rinne took home some hardware in the form of a Vezina Trophy in 2017-18. The 6-foot-5 Finnish product is terrifying to face and he’s managed to stay atop his game throughout the entire decade. Even now with Juuse Saros ready to take the reigns, Rinne is not done cementing his legacy in Tennessee. The Predators don’t seem ready to relinquish his services yet either, which just showcases how much he means to the franchise.
The one knock against No. 35? No Stanley Cup etching involving his name. The Preds came close against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016-17, but were ultimately defeated. However, that’s not to say Rinne has been at fault. He’s posted a very respectable 2.49 GAA and .914 SV% in the playoffs with 45 career wins to date. The factor that stands out about Rinne is his ability to steal any game, and against any opponent. During the trip to the Stanley Cup Final, Rinne posted an absolutely absurd stat line: a 1.96 GAA and .930 SV%. Nashville just couldn’t muster enough offense to support him, which ultimately robbed him of a cup ring and likely, a Conn Smythe Trophy.
Rinne is the only Finnish product to make this list, and does so after being drafted in the eighth round of the 2004 Draft. Finishing in the No. 4 spot isn’t bad for a guy drafted 258th overall!
3. Henrik Lundqvist
With a nickname like “The King” you had to know Henrik Lundqvist was going to make the top five. There were some solid arguments made for him being the number one goalie of the decade, but ultimately he settles into the three spot. “The King” owns the NHL record for most 30-plus win seasons upon joining the NHL with seven straight, running from 2005-06 to 2011-12.
What an entrance to the National Hockey League after leaving the Swedish Elite League at 23 years old! The exciting part about “Hank’s” game is that he’s created success very deep in his crease compared to other modern goaltenders. His theory is that by staying back further in his net he has more time to react to shots coming in. Needless to say, it’s worked for him to this point.
Overall, Lundqvist has eleven 30-plus win seasons under his belt with six of those occurring in this decade. That was second only to Pekka Rinne. From 2010-11 to 2014-15 he somehow managed to hold his GAA at 2.36, or lower. With the likes of Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, Sidney Crosby and others lurking in his division that’s astonishingly low. His consistency reigned supreme throughout the decade, and it’s apparent in his save percentage statistics. Six seasons at .920, or better, and only one season (2018-19) that fell below the .910 mark.
Another NHL record for you? King Henrik is the only goalie in NHL history with 13 straight 20-plus win seasons in his career. The guy wins games, and he looks good while doing it (maybe referencing his modeling career). The 2011-12 Vezina winner sits fifth all-time in regular-season wins (458) and 15th in all-time playoff victories (61). Even with mediocre Rangers rosters put in front of him, he has managed to provide scary consistency and game-altering ability. New York has never been considered a favorite over the past 10 seasons, but they’ve made the postseason eight times in that stretch. That includes a trip to the Cup Final in 2013-14 that was surprising to say the least.
The biggest reason that Lundqvist cracks the top three? In a hypothetical must-win elimination game he is one of the main goalies nobody would want to see in the opposing net. Throughout the decade he has been one of the fiercest competitors and has stolen crucial games repeatedly for the New York Rangers. Among goalies who have played 50 or more career playoff games, Lundqvist’s .922 SV% is eighth all-time. His 2.22 GAA sits a comfortable 13th all-time with the same playoff criteria. From 2011-12 to 2014-15 Hank had four straight postseasons with a GAA below 2.14. Talk about showing up when it counts!
Another steal of a draft pick (seventh round in 2000), Lundqvist has re-written a good share of NHL records already and has been one of the most influential NHL athletes of the decade. He leads every major goaltending category among all-time Swedish netminders, and is the second European to crack our top five! He is well deserved of this spot and could’ve easily moved up the rankings without a debate.
2. Marc-Andre Fleury
The first-overall pick of the 2003 Draft and a three-time Stanley Cup champion: Marc-Andre Fleury. It was an easy decision to insert “The Flower” into the top five given his championship pedigree. Three cup runs with the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009, 2016 and 2017) and a Stanley Cup Final visit with an expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights. Everywhere that Fleury goes, success seems to follow. It’s easy to understand given how talented “Flower” really is: his cat-like reflexes, dynamic flexibility and uncanny ability to make jaw-dropping desperation saves. If you’re ever bored on a Sunday afternoon just search up “Marc-Andre Fleury great saves” on YouTube and your afternoon is made.
Fleury leads all NHL goaltenders in wins since the 2010-11 season with 307. He’s also managed 42 shutouts in that time and six 30-plus win seasons. Not to mention that seven of this decade’s seasons saw M.A. finish with a GAA lower than 2.40! The 35-year-old has been unstoppable throughout recent years and, like Lundqvist, is preparing to write more records as he goes. His 455 career wins are sixth all-time trailing Lundqvist by a narrow margin, and it’s quite safe to say he’s on pace to finish near the top of the charts. The Vegas Golden Knights go as Fleury goes, and their roster is scary talented moving forward boding well for his circumstances.
Now a lot of people are going to say that Fleury rode the coat-tails of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and an elite Penguins roster. That’s fair to see more beneficial circumstances than Lundqvist, for example. But, Fleury’s numbers don’t lie. Only one regular season below the .910 SV% mark during the decade and success with multiple teams says he has been the real deal as a leader for his NHL clubs. His postseason numbers (GAA and SV%) are the worst of the top five, but he has found a way to get the job done. It’s about winning games and the psychological effect you have on the opposing team after all. Fleury is a frightening goaltender to face when you desperately need a win and he comfortably slides into the runner-up position.
1. Carey Price
Who is the one goaltender that you don’t want to play against ever if you can avoid it? Carey Price. The boogeyman of all goaltenders, Price is by far and away the most intimidating opponent to face on any given night. You can just see the respect that he has earned throughout the NHL ranks in any interaction. The premier players of the game look up to Price, because of his unparalleled skill level and calm composure. (from ‘Canadiens’ Carey Price voted best goalie in the NHL by players,’ Montreal Gazette, 03/20/2019) His demeanor is the attribute that seems to set him apart from others, as he never seems to be phased by anything going on around him. Whether it’s a preseason game or a must-win elimination game in the playoffs he is always relaxed and ready.
Fun fact for you? The Montreal Canadiens have the last two goaltenders to win the Hart Trophy (player judged to be the most valuable to his team): Price (2015) and Jose Theodore (2002). You read that correctly, Jose Theodore won the Hart Trophy once upon a time. No other goaltender has won the prestigious award in the 2000s, which highlights a big reason Price is No. 1 on the list. He also claimed the Ted Lindsay Award in 2014-15, which is awarded to the NHL’s most outstanding player as voted by the NHLPA. The last goaltender to win that piece of hardware was Dominik Hasek in 1997-98 (it’s been a while).
No NHL team relies upon their goaltender the way the Habs do. Every season it seems they put a mediocre roster on the ice, but find a way to compete with the best NHL franchises. Why? Their netminder. When it comes to pure game-stealing talent, nobody does it better than No. 31 for the Canadiens.
The one knock on Price has been his injury history, which cost him all but 12 games in 2015-16. Coming off his historic Hart Trophy season the year prior (44 wins, 1.96 GAA and .933 SV%) you have to wonder what could have been given his 10-2 start. He still has managed a dominant 277 wins and 41 shutouts since the 2010-11 season, despite playing behind the thinnest roster of the top-five netminder crew. Price finished below the 2.50 GAA, and above the .915 SV%, mark seven times in the 10 considered seasons.
When it comes to the postseason, Price hasn’t achieved nearly as much as Fleury or Holtby. But, this is more related to the Canadiens’ lack of depth, as opposed to shouldering the blame on their goaltender. Price has done his part posting a GAA lower than 2.37 in four of the last five playoff appearances. He gives Montreal a chance to win every night, but the team has lacked offensive production for years now.
The final reason Price is considered exceptional above all? His puck-handling. The Canadiens are cheating in a way, because they always have the luxury of a third D man. Price is the best in the NHL when it comes to handling the puck with a goalie stick, and it provides a substantial boost to his team. His play-making prowess has become so well known that the opposition actually develops strategies to avoid putting the puck anywhere close to Price.
As a fellow goaltender to say this selection process was taxing would be an understatement. There have been so many quality goalies over the past decade that we, as fans, have truly been spoiled. It wasn’t easy creating this list, and it would be a disservice if we didn’t provide honorable considerations to three other netminders: Jonathan Quick, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Tuukka Rask. All three could have easily cracked the top five but fell just shy of the mark. We have concluded the decade, but I believe it’s very safe to say we haven’t concluded witnessing great goaltending performances. Make sure to check out the other “Top 5 of the Decade” articles being posted for various types of players, as there are some great reads to be had!
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