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InGoal 2017-18 Preview: Central Division

InGoal 2017-18 Preview: Central Division

It’s another new NHL season – and for a number of teams across the league, there’s going to be a drastically new look in net.

With the expansion draft sending one well-known starter out west – and a number of other teams doing the goalie shuffle as a result of the addition of Vegas to the league – it’s a lot to keep up with.

InGoal has taken a deep dive into the in-net situations for all 31 (yes, there are now 31) teams around the league. From the starters to the minors, each and every franchise has been broken down into what you’ll see now, who’s coming up in the future, and what that means for the team.

All stats have been pulled from First Line Stats, unless something is otherwise noted. To make things a bit more even across the board, all stats will be at even strength only, to eliminate special teams biases and the subsequent noise they can bring to a player’s statistics.

To help out those new to advanced stats, we’ll be looking at even-strength save percentage (a goaltender’s raw save percentage during 5 vs 5 play), adjusted save percentage (his save percentage during 5 vs 5 play adjusted slightly to account for shot location), and high-danger save percentage (his save percentage for shots faced from the slot only).

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

COREY CRAWFORD

Age: 32
Contract Status: $6.0 MM through 2020
Games Played: 55
Save %: 92.9
Adjusted Save %: 93.03
High Danger Save %: 84.3

Crawford has long been underappreciated by much of the hockey world, seen as a goalie being carried by his elite teammates. The last few seasons, as Chicago lost many of its supporting cast due to cap concerns, have proven that the 32-year-old can carry a team when needed. Crawford’s moderately conservative style has developed over that time. He’s gone from trying too hard to be aggressive and active to being slightly too susceptible to getting locked into a blocking position to a more comfortable and focused point somewhere in the middle. As he ages, he’s learning to remain patient and mobile rather than dropping and blocking. As Chicago got younger and less experienced (if cheaper) this offseason, Crawford’s own experience will be key in allowing him to trust his reads and make necessary in-season adjustments.

ANTON FORSBERG

Age: 24
Contract Status: $750K through 2019
Games Played: 1
Save %: 88.0
Adjusted Save %: 84.41
High Danger Save %: 50.0

Anton Forsberg was acquired from the depth-rich Columbus Blue Jackets this summer as Stan Bowman attempted to rework his roster to be younger and cheaper. The 24-year-old Swede has performed well in the AHL with the Lake Erie Monsters, including a Calder Cup championship in 2016. In his 51 games with Lake Erie last year, he tied with Troy Grosenick for the second-highest save percentage in the league.

While his NHL stats are less impressive, he only has 10 games to his credit. There’s simply no way to project from that kind of sample. He’ll still be an RFA when his current contract expires in 2019, which allows Chicago to take their time making decisions about his future. Still this is unquestionably a gamble for a team that will need strong goaltending to compete.

Other Options

Jean-Francois Berube, Jeff Glass, and Collin Dellia round out the depth chart. Chances are that Glass and Berube will be manning the net for the AHL Rockford Ice Hogs. Neither should be expected to make much of a splash on the NHL stage. Injury at the NHL level could spark a difficult reckoning about the management of goalie depth.

COLORADO AVALANCHE

SEMYON VARLAMOV

Age: 29
Contract Status: $5.9 MM through 2019
Games Played: 24
Save %: 90.1
Adjusted Save %: 89.74
High Danger Save %: 76.6

The 2015 Vezina winner hasn’t been living up to his billing the past few seasons and that could turn out to be a problem for the Avalanche. In fact, the 29-year-old hasn’t posted higher than league average numbers in three seasons. Partly injury-related, partly related to the team’s porous defense, it’s nonetheless a concern, especially given his price tag. With new goaltending coach Jussi Parkkila on board after Francois Allaire’s retirement, there’s always hope that things can turn around. Parkkila has been working with Varlamov for years and may be able to help him return to a more patient, fluid goaltender. Changing his workout routine to improve his biomechanics and reduce wear and tear on his hips should help him stay healthy and move better.

JONATHAN BERNIER

Age: 29
Contract Status: $2.75MM through 2018
Games Played: 39
Save %: 92.2
Adjusted Save %: 92.15
High Danger Save %: 84.3

Now on his third team in three season, Bernier needs to perform well enough to earn a new contract somewhere if he wants to get his career back on track. How he connects with Parkkila may make the difference here. If Bernier can make the adjustments needed to succeed behind the Avalanche’s less-than-stingy defense, he might have a chance. Otherwise, he’ll be a 30-year-old goalie with basically average NHL numbers. That’s a hard sell in an NHL committed to developing cheap, young talent.

Other Options

Behind Varlamov and Bernier the Avalanche have Spencer Martin (only 22 with two seasons of pro experience) and Joe Cannata (27 and in his fifth AHL season). Martin’s .904 last season placed him 34th on the AHL’s leaderboard for the year, but represented a drop from the .921 he earned in 18 games the season before. The Avalanche may be hoping he turns a corner into NHL viability over the coming year or so, but little should be expected other than spot duty in the NHL. The glitch in that formula is that the San Antonio Rampage are affiliated with both the Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues this year, and the Blues have assigned both Ville Husso and Jordan Binnington to the team, so playing time is not guaranteed.

DALLAS STARS

Kari Lehtonen

BEN BISHOP

Age: 30
Contract Status: $4.9 MM through 2023
Games Played: 39
Save %: 92.4
Adjusted Save %: 92.7
High Danger Save %: 86.4

The two-time Vezina finalist has done some traveling lately. After being traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Los Angeles Kings at the 2017 trade deadline, Bishop will now settle in with a Dallas team that might or might not be different from the past. At times overaggressive and prone to getting stranded on his knees and off angle, Bishop is nonetheless excellent at using his size to cover net and is unmovable along the goal line. He is an active and powerful puckhandler, so much so that he became an integral part of the Lightning’s breakout strategy over the years. A lot of Bishop’s success will be determined by his ability to track pucks, one of his weaker skills, and his team’s ability to limit defensive errors. Bishop just might thrive in a tight defensive environment if the Stars can come up with one. At any rate he’ll have six seasons to get it right.

KARI LEHTONEN

Age: 33
Contract Status: $5.9 MM through 2018
Games Played: 59
Save %: 92.5
Adjusted Save %: 92.87
High Danger Save %: 83.7

Both of Dallas’s Finns suffered under former Head Coach Lindy Ruff’s short-leash approach to goaltending management, although Antti Niemi caught the worst of that. Last season was one of Lehtonen’s worst seasons in the league, but there are reasons not to write him off completely. For one, his problems were largely isolated on the penalty kill and in so-called “low danger” shots. This means that improvements in the Stars defense could really help him. These are also areas that tend to be more susceptible to regression year to year. In other words, there’s reason to think that to some extent Lehtonen’s dismal performance last season was an outlier. Just how much of one remains to be seen.

Other Options

Mike McKenna has signed on to head up the Texas Stars. Joining him will be one of Landon Bow and Philippe Desrosiers, both of whom spent time in the ECHL as well as the AHL last year and neither of whom should be expected to make the NHL. So if a callup becomes necessary, McKenna will be the most likely candidate.

MINNESOTA WILD

DEVAN DUBNYK

Age: 31
Contract Status: $4.3 MM through 2021
Games Played: 65
Save %: 93.1
Adjusted Save %: 92.05
High Danger Save %: 83.8

It wasn’t that long ago that Dubnyk rebuilt his game, salvaging a career that had begun to slide downward. He reined in his depth, committed to working on tracking techniques, and generally improved his mechanics. The changes have allowed him to remain on his skates a little longer, retaining access to his edges and the control that comes with that. You’re never faster than you are on your skates, especially when you don’t have far to go. His top-end performance through the first half of 2016-17 helped Minnesota bank points towards the playoffs, which was good when things started to fall apart down the stretch. Everyone has rough patches during a season; the key is to limit their depth and duration. How well Dubnyk does that will be the key to his season.

ALEX STALOCK

Age: 30
Contract Status: $650K through 2019
Games Played: 2
Save %: 92.9
Adjusted Save %: 92.05
High Danger Save %: 75.0

Stalock spent last season with Minnesota’s AHL affiliate Iowa Wild, posting a .926 in 50 games. That placed him in a three-way tie for the second best save percentage in the league, which is pretty impressive on a team that ended up squarely in the middle of the pack on the year. Overall, though, Stalock’s .914 in the AHL is just above league average, and it has been tough for him to break out into a permanent NHL spot. A smaller goalie who relies on skating and rhythm, Stalock has had trouble maintaining the consistently above average play that would garner him a more permanent spot somewhere. The Wild have to hope that he can handle the unique demands of a backup goaltender, something that rhythm goalies can struggle with. When you’re reliant on timing, long periods sitting on the bench can make it tough to get into games quickly.

Other Options

Niklas Svedberg is back in North America after two seasons in the KHL and he’ll be suiting up for Minnesota’s AHL affiliate Iowa Wild. Joining him at the minor league level are Steve Michalek, a Minnesota draft pick entering his third pro season, and possibly Adam Vay, a 23-year-old free agent signee out of Hungary. Svedberg has less than 20 NHL games under his belt, all with the Boston Bruins, but that’s more than either Michalek or Vay, both of whom are still working their way through the Wild’s farm system. It’s likely that Vay cold spend another season in the ECHL with the Quad City Mallards and that Svederg will be the go to call up, at least initially, while the franchise gives Michalek plenty of development time.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

PEKKA RINNE

Age: 34
Contract Status: $7 M through 2019
Games Played: 61
Save %: 92.9
Adjusted Save %: 92.17
High Danger Save %: 80.5
Rinne’s active, aggressive style hits all the hot buttons for driving controversy and the big Finn has become one of the more hotly debated goalies in the league. For all of that, Rinne has modernized his game a bit in recent seasons, pulling back on his initial depth somewhat and adding the Reverse Vertical Horizontal to his post integration. He’s still an aggressive goaltender whose style is going to be harder and harder on an aging body. but Rinne seems to feel most comfortable when mobile and active. Defensively the Predators have a reputation for limiting shots, but nearly half of the goals Rinne allowed in 2016-17 were on screens and deflections, well above the average of 38%. The team’s propensity for getting in Rinne’s line of sight was noteworthy. Correcting that could go a long way towards helping Rinne have a successful season.

JUUSE SAROS

Age: 22
Contract Status: $925K through 2018
Games Played: 21
Save %: 92.7
Adjusted Save %: 92.37
High Danger Save %: 85.0

Physically and stylistically, Saros is on the other end of the spectrum from Rinne. He’s a small goaltender who with a far more conservative, efficient game. Nonetheless, Saros manages not to “play small” even when he’s deep in the blue, owing to his smooth skating that allows him to cover space on his feet without opening too many holes. He’s considered Rinne’s heir but only has 22 NHL games going into the season. If the Predators are smart, they’ll see that he gets plenty of playing time, both reducing the workload on Rinne and allowing Saros to develop.

Other Options

The Predators dumped most of their depth chart this offseason, electing to sign Matt O’Connor and Anders Lindback on the free agent market. They’ll helm the AHL Milwaukee Admirals and barring injury to Rinne or Saros, that’s all that’s really needed. Lindback is older and has far more NHL experience than O’Connor, and he stayed up with the NHL club a few days longer this training camp. Expect the first callup to go to him unless he’s vastly outplayed in-season.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

JAKE ALLEN

Age: 27
Contract Status: $4.3 MM through 2021
Games Played: 61
Save %: 92.5
Adjusted Save %: 92.26
High Danger Save %: 81.9

Allen struggled some after taking over the St. Louis crease in 2016-17, but that had a lot to do with a new defensive scheme instituted by Ken Hitchcock. Before the longtime Blues Head Coach was let go in February, Allen was often too aggressive, challenging shooters before he needed to in an attempt to make up for an inability to trust his reads. But when Mike Yeo reestablished a zone defensive scheme, Allen’s natural abilities began to come through. He’s as good as anyone in the NHL at edgework and lateral movement from his knees, making him tougher to beat on second chances. He’s also the undisputed number one in St. Louis, so it’s all riding on his performance. As he showed in the last few months of the season, he’s more than capable of top-end performance; the question is how long those good stretches can be sustained.

CARTER HUTTON

Age: 31
Contract Status: $1.125 MM through 2018
Games Played: 30
Save %: 92.1
Adjusted Save %: 92.43
High Danger Save %: 83.3

Hutton backed Allen up ably last season, putting up around league average numbers in 30 games. There’s no reason to expect much less in 2017-18, although there’s no reason to expect much more, either. Hutton is an adequate backup goaltender who can be counted on to give Allen a rest when needed or even to fill in for a longer stretch if it becomes necessary. In his sixth season as an NHl backup, he has a good understanding of his role on the team and how to prepare and stay ready during stretches on the bench.

Other Options

Hutton’s deal will be up on July 1, opening the door for either Jordan Binnington or Ville Husso to make the jump to the NHL. Husso is still waivers exempt and has performed better at the AHL level than Binnington, but is  only 22. Adding to the confusion is a shared affiliation on the part of the San Antonio Rampage, who will be trying to balance players from both St. Louis and the Colorado Avalanche, who have assigned Spencer Martin there. Husso is possibly the best goaltender of the bunch, but there could be difficulty finding adequate playing time for all of these prospects.

WINNIPEG JETS

Connor Hellebuyck

STEVE MASON

Age: 29
Contract Status: $4.1 through 2019
Games Played: 58
Save %: 91.8
Adjusted Save %: 91.07
High Danger Save %: 79.2

Unaccountably let go by the Philadelphia Flyers this summer, Mason brings competence and experience to a Jets team that has been hurting for both. Mason is a stats darling, putting up numbers in the top of the league for the past few seasons despite faltering somewhat this past year. In his time in Philadelphia, Mason tightened up his game and upgraded his equipment. He’s now a more efficient and confident player. “Time will tell” is a cliche for a reason. The Jets are hoping that Mason is #ActuallyGood, especially since goaltending has been rather more miss than hit for them over the years. This is a “prove yourself” contract for Mason, who could be let go again in 2019 if Connor Hellebuyck makes progress.

CONNOR HELLEBUYCK

Age: 24
Contract Status: $2.25 MM through 2018
Games Played: 56
Save %: 91.7
Adjusted Save %: 91.37
High Danger Save %: 80.9

When the Jets finally tired of the Ondrej Pavelec experiment and handed the crease over to their highly touted prospect Hellebuyck, they were hoping for a lot better than they got. Hellebuyck’s overall save percentage was the lowest of any starting goalie last season, and if the fancier goalie stats are indicative, he was underperforming the demands put on him. At this point it’s not clear whether there is a plan for Hellebuyck to take the majority of starts ahead of Mason or vice versa. There is a delicate balance for goalies at this stage in their careers between getting enough playing time to develop and enough off time to incorporate lessons. Somewhere between 30 and 45 games could be the sweet spot.

Other Options

Filling in the depth chart for Winnipeg are Michael Hutchinson and Eric Comrie. Comrie has long been talked about as a goaltender on a level above his peers, although the 22-year-old has struggled behind a porous AHL Manitoba Moose defense. In the meantime, he’ll need to outplay Michael Hutchinson for crease time this season. Hutchinson, 27, brings a veteran presence and NHL experience to the Manitoba crease. There’s a lot riding on this season for the franchise, as all three of Comrie, Hellebuyck, and Hutchinson are on expiring contracts.

 

About The Author

Clare Austin

Clare Austin is a reluctant "stats nerd" living in Nashville, where she has never worn a cowboy hat or boots.

1 Comment

  1. Mike

    What about the pacific division?

    Reply

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