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InGoal 2017-18 Preview: Metropolitan Division

InGoal 2017-18 Preview: Metropolitan 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).

CAROLINA HURRICANES

SCOTT DARLING

Age: 28
Contract Status: $4.15M through 2021
Games Played: 32
Save %: 93.7
Adjusted Save %: 93.94
High Danger Save %: 87.2

Optimism high in Raleigh, and rightly so after a large acquisition in the offseason – the 6-foot-6 Scott Darling. It will be an adjustment for him, coming over from the Chicago Blackhawks, as the Carolina Hurricanes noticeably play a more “run and gun” style. The team has always had good puck possession numbers, but haven’t had a lot of success in recent years with the likes of Eddie Lack, Anton Khudobin, and of course, Cam Ward.

Darling relies on conservative depth management to achieve success, which is typical for larger goaltenders. Where Darling differs is in his flexibility and ability to be aggressive in situations that call for it. He’s not afraid to make a bold move – whether it’s a sweeping poke-check, or an aggressive move outward to take away a lane from a shooter. How Carolina’s defence adjusts to Darling’s style of play will be the key to achieving success, as is the case with most goaltenders that move to a new team. It may not happen right away, but it looks very encouraging for this team’s future.

CAM WARD

Age: 33
Contract Status: $3.3M through 2018
Games Played: 61
Save %: 91.3
Adjusted Save %: 91.28
High Danger Save %: 79.5

For the first time since the 2005-06 season, Cam Ward comes into the NHL season as a backup goaltender. The veteran has had a steep decline in recent years, and finally lost his spot as the starter to the newly-acquired Scott Darling. Ward has not posted a save percentage higher than .910 since the 2011-12 season. At 33, it’s difficult to see him having a late-career resurgence, but crazier things have happened. He can still provide value as a mentor, and has played well in stretches – which could be useful to give Darling a few long breaks throughout the season. Darling has never started in the NHL, and could certainly benefit from some guidance.

Other Options

The Hurricanes have a pair of very capable goaltenders waiting in the wings with their AHL affiliate in Charlotte. Jeremy Smith was signed in the offseason, after spending last season with the Colorado Avalanche organization. He appeared in 10 NHL games, and has proven himself to be a top-performing AHL talent – fully capable of stepping into the NHL if need be. Youngster Alex Nedeljkovic gets another crack at the AHL after a difficult beginning to his pro career. He ended up splitting the year with Florida of the ECHL and Charlotte, but made some key adjustments throughout the season – which culminated in an excellent ECHL playoff appearance. Callum Booth, fresh out of the QMJHL, will begin his pro career with Florida this season – but don’t expect him to make any NHL appearance unless there is an emergency.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

(Photo by Derek Cain / InGoal Magazine)

SERGEI BOBROVSKY

Age: 29
Contract Status: $7.425M through 2019
Games Played: 63
Save %: 93.9
Adjusted Save %: 93.94
High Danger Save %: 87.4

With the second Vezina Trophy of his career under his belt, it’s hard to picture what the next step is for Sergei Bobrovsky. He’s fully established himself as one of the premier goaltenders in the NHL (when healthy). Winning the Stanley Cup is clearly the ultimate goal, but from a personal perspective, there isn’t a lot that he hasn’t accomplished. The Blue Jackets do have the resources to make a run at Lord Stanley this season – but they’ll need their Vezina-calibre goalie to steal them some games. Bobrovsky’s goals-saved-above-average last year was 33.45, a whopping 14 goals higher than the next closest goaltender (Braden Holtby). That is a huge impact, and they’ll need to see more of the same from him in 2017-18 if they want to compete at the top of the league.

Bobrovsky’s game is built around speed. His edgework and controlled skating ability ensures that he is able to be in excellent position most of the time with his feet set – ready to track the puck. He prides himself on his post-integration. His transitions in and out of reverse-VH are some of the quickest in the game, and his pushes off the post are as explosive as you will ever see. He is one of the more exciting goaltenders to watch closely, and the results don’t lie. He’s primed to have another monster season.

JOONAS KORPISALO

Age: 23
Contract Status: $900K through 2019
Games Played: 14
Save %: 90.8
Adjusted Save %: 90.28
High Danger Save %: 77.5

There was some concern that Joonas Korpisalo would be lost to the expansion draft, but the Blue Jackets quickly quashed that idea. They weren’t about to lose one of the most exciting, young backups in the league for nothing in return. He wasn’t an overly-touted prospect before reaching the NHL, which is why his NHL statistics are a bit staggering. Korpisalo boasts one of the best glove hands in the league, and his vision is exceptional. If Bobrovsky happens to miss some time, there is no reason to panic in Columbus.

Other Options

With some interesting prospects stewing overseas (namely Elvis Merzlikins and 2017 draft pick Daniil Tarasov) the Blue Jackets decided to go with one veteran and one rookie for their AHL club. 31-year-old Brad Thiessen will be sticking with the Cleveland Monsters this year, after posting a .924 in 12 games with them last year. Behind him is the 21-year-old Latvian Matiss Kivlenieks, who is getting his first taste of pro hockey. He is fresh out of the USHL – so he is very much a gamble, even at the AHL level. They also have Ivan Kulbakov in the mix, who is yet another USHL signing. Both Thiessen and Kulbakov are in Cleveland on AHL contracts and would need to be signed before getting called up to the NHL. Their goaltending depth, as it stands this season, is a bit concerning to say the least.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

CORY SCHNEIDER

Age: 31
Contract Status: $6M through 2022
Games Played: 60
Save %: 92.2
Adjusted Save %: 92.18
High Danger Save %: 86.0

The wins haven’t come easy for Cory Schneider since being traded to New Jersey. Winning the draft lottery helps the immediate situation, but there is still a lot of work to do defensively. Once again, the Devils will be running with a bare-bones defensive unit and relying on Schneider to carry the load. He’s been one of the most underrated goaltenders in recent years because of that.

One of the biggest changes to the Devils coaching staff this offseason was when they hired Rollie Melanson away from the Vancouver Canucks, reuniting Schneider with the goalie coach that brought him into the league. This bodes very well for the Devils, since Melanson is not only one of the most respected goalie developers in the game – but also already has an instant connection with the team’s starting goaltender.

KEITH KINKAID

Age: 28
Contract Status: $1.25M through 2019
Games Played: 26
Save %: 93.0
Adjusted Save %: 92.89
High Danger Save %: 83.7

Reliable backups fill an important role on any NHL club, and Keith Kinkaid is no different with the New Jersey Devils. He isn’t going to steal Cory Schneider’s job, and he understands that. He’s there to give Schneider a spell every once in a while and ensure that he doesn’t get overworked in practice on game days. It’s a thankless job in some respects, but when you’re paired with a top-tier goaltender like Schneider, it’s how things work. It happened for years in New Jersey with Martin Brodeur – and the tradition continues today.

Other Options

There is finally a visible development system in place behind New Jersey’s NHL goaltenders. Year after year during the Brodeur era, goalies like Ari Ahonen, Jeff Frazee, J-F Damphousse and Jordan Parise made their way through the minor league system with no hope of ever competing for an NHL job. Now, the AHL team alone will have competition from goaltenders like Ken Appleby, Mackenzie Blackwood, and Scott Wedgewood. Those goaltenders are all legit NHL prospects (although Wedgewood is on the older side) and will give the Devils depth at the position like they have never had before.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

THOMAS GREISS

Age: 31
Contract Status: $3.3M through 2020
Games Played: 51
Save %: 92.0
Adjusted Save %: 92.26
High Danger Save %: 85.6

For a team with as much expectation that the New York Islanders had going into last season, the result could only be described as a failure. A lot of those failures were chalked up to goaltending, although Greiss wasn’t that bad. He just wasn’t .925 good like he was the year before. It cost Jack Capuano his job during the season, and Doug Weight decided to hire Fred Brathwaite as the team’s new everyday goaltending coach.

After a brief stint in the minors, Jaroslav Halak returns to push Greiss for the starter’s role. Greiss set a new career high with 51 appearances last season, but if the platoon works well, that number won’t be as high this season. He is still capable of being an above-average goalie for stretches, but if the Islanders want to achieve success, they’ll need both of their goaltenders contributing.

JAROSLAV HALAK

Age: 32
Contract Status: $4.5M through 2018
Games Played: 28
Save %: 91.8
Adjusted Save %: 91.74
High Danger Save %: 80.7

Jaroslav Halak will be looking for revenge in 2017-18, after spending significant time in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers last season. His up-and-down play led to new head coach Doug Weight’s decision to run with Thomas Greiss as their full-time goaltender. He certainly proved that he has some gas left in the tank, as his AHL numbers were exceptional – and he even played well after he was recalled later in the season.

Other Options

With two highly-touted goaltenders Ilya Sorokin and Linus Soderstrom both plying their trade overseas, it feels like the Islanders are just biding time. They traded for Latvian wonder Kristers Gudlevskis, who wore out his welcome with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. He is a very clear low-risk, high-reward type of acquisition. He provides some depth right now, and could still potentially figure things out and become an NHL regular. Christopher Gibson and former third-round pick Eamon McAdam will battle it out for the other spot in Bridgeport.

NEW YORK RANGERS

HENRIK LUNDQVIST

Age: 35
Contract Status: $8.5M through 2021
Games Played: 57
Save %: 91.8
Adjusted Save %: 91.8
High Danger Save %: 82.4

There isn’t much to say about Henrik Lundqvist that hasn’t already been said. The wily vet had a down season by his standards, but a terrific playoff performance got rid of any thoughts that he is nearing the end of his career. At 35, that day will come soon, but maybe not quite yet. Although he is another year past his prime, Lundqvist is an exceptional talent – and will be playing behind yet another pretty darn good Rangers team, with new defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk at his disposal.

Age will be the question going forward for the rest of Lundqvist’s career. With some great prospects breathing down his neck, he’ll need to keep playing up to his career standard if he wants to stick around. But don’t fret too much if you’re a Rangers fan. Lundqvist plays in a way that keeps him glued to the goal line for most situations – more than any other NHL goalie. This reduces the length that he has to travel around the crease, which is ideal for an aging body. We’ve likely seen the best years from Lundqvist already, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still contribute as a top-tier goaltender.

ONDREJ PAVELEC

Age: 30
Contract Status: $1.3M through 2018
Games Played: 8
Save %: 90.9
Adjusted Save %: 91.42
High Danger Save %: 83.7

After never quite living up to his potential in Atlanta and Winnipeg, Ondrej Pavelec was finally able to test the open market in 2017. He landed in New York, and will play a minor role as the backup to perennial all-star Henrik Lundqvist. It’s a fresh start for Pavelec, but the interesting thing to watch will be how he adjusts his style to imitate Lundqvist. For years, unnecessary movement has forced Pavelec to overplay situations. He has the ability to make spectacular saves, but reducing their occurrence will help his overall consistency. It will be interesting to check as the season goes on to see if he reels back his depth while working with Benoit Allaire – because there is nobody in the NHL that plays deeper than Lundqvist.

Other Options

The New York Rangers have had a very good track record in recent years of developing young goaltenders behind Henrik Lundqvist. Benoit Allaire will have his hands full once again, with Brandon Halverson, Alexander Georgiev, and NCAA signee Chris Nell vying for time with the Hartford Wolfpack. Igor Shestyorkin continues to tear up the KHL, and they also have two NCAA goaltenders in their system in Adam Huska and Tyler Wall. It is an excellent collection of talent, so the Rangers should have no issue transitioning away from Lundqvist once his career comes to a close.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

BRIAN ELLIOTT

Age: 32
Contract Status: $2.75M through 2019
Games Played: 49
Save %: 92.1
Adjusted Save %: 92.09
High Danger Save %: 81.0

After a rough start with the Calgary Flames, Brian Elliott actually turned in a good second-half that went unnoticed by a lot of the league. A quick playoff exit didn’t help, but he managed to drag his save percentage above .910 by the end of the regular season – which was bolstered by a 13-1-1 run in January. The Philadelphia Flyers must have noticed, because they wasted no time bringing Elliott into the fold. They’re hoping he can return to his form from St. Louis, where he posted a .925 over the course of five seasons. At only 32 years old, that isn’t out of the question.

Elliott is excellent at adapting his game based on the team around him. That’s an underrated skill that a lot of goaltenders don’t have. Practicing and improving a technique that is uncomfortable at first, or doesn’t mesh with your style immediately isn’t something that a lot of goalies like doing. Elliott is a master of it, and that adaptability allows him to fit with multiple kinds of systems. He did it with Calgary, it just took some time to figure it out. The results in Philadelphia may not come immediately, but give him time and he should adjust.

MICHAL NEUVIRTH

Age: 29
Contract Status: $2.5M through 2019
Games Played: 28
Save %: 90.2
Adjusted Save %: 90.82
High Danger Save %: 80.5

After seeing his save percentage drop over 30 points from the year before, Michal Neuvirth will be looking for a bounce back season with the Philadelphia Flyers. He has a new goalie partner in Brian Elliott, who he needs to push if the Flyers are going to have any success this season. Elliott is the type of goaltender that thrives on internal competition, and as long as Neuvirth remains healthy – he will get that. If Neuvirth returns to his 2015-16 form, he could even push to start over Elliott at points during the season.

Other Options

There was some thought that 2017-18 may be the year that Anthony Stolarz made the jump to the NHL in a more regular role – but earl-season knee surgery has ruined that idea. Alex Lyon will now carry the bulk of the load in the AHL for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He will be joined by Leland Irving, Mark Dekanich, and veteran John Muse – who are all signed to AHL deals. The Flyers have one of the deepest goaltending prospect pools. With names like Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom, they will be very exciting to keep an eye on for years to come.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

(InGoal Photo by Buren Foster)

MATT MURRAY

Age: 23
Contract Status: $3.75M through 2020
Games Played: 49
Save %: 93.4
Adjusted Save %: 93.16
High Danger Save %: 84.6

For the first time in the post-lockout era, a goaltender not named “Marc-Andre Fleury” will be starting the home opener for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Most Pens fans are okay with that, as the 23-year-old multiple Stanley Cup-winning Matt Murray is taking over. It’s an official changing-of-the-guard with Fleury off to Vegas, and Murray will likely appear in over 50 games for the first time in his professional career.

After a somewhat average junior career with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Murray’s career really took off with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. He broke all kinds of AHL records, including the consecutive shutout streak. Those numbers instantly translated to success at the NHL level. It was enough for the Penguins to wave goodbye to their former first overall pick for nothing in return. Even with his success, Murray is still a developing goaltender. Ridding himself of poor post-play habits and fixing rotation issues from the butterfly have been key themes in his recent development.

ANTTI NIEMI

Age: 34
Contract Status: $700K through 2018
Games Played: 37
Save %: 90.9
Adjusted Save %: 90.46
High Danger Save %: 78.1

Antti Niemi was one half of the most expensive goaltending duo in the NHL during his time with the Dallas Stars. The results did not follow, as he and fellow Finn Kari Lehtonen failed to deliver in the crease over the course of a pair of seasons. Now he turns to the Stanley Cup Champions to resurrect his career, and at $700,000 for one season, it’s well worth the gamble for both sides. With some more defensive structure in front of him, we’ve seen what Niemi can do.

Other Options

The goaltending pipeline keeps on flowing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, which is a great sign. Even if Matt Murray remains the starter for years to come, having extra NHL-calibre goaltenders in the system is an excellent position to be in, and allows you to trade them for other assets. That is exactly what the Penguins have in Tristan Jarry, Sean Maguire, and Casey DeSmith. Jarry is the most NHL-ready of the group, but could stand to spend a few more years seasoning in the minors. Maguire is a longer term project, who played very well last season coming off a serious injury in college. DeSmith is a wildcard who has had excellent AHL numbers – but the jury remains out on whether he can translate that to the NHL game.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

BRADEN HOLTBY

Age: 28
Contract Status: $6.1M through 2020
Games Played: 63
Save %: 93.6
Adjusted Save %: 93.59
High Danger Save %: 83.4

The Washington Capitals have had great success in recent years when it comes to developing goaltenders, and they are reaping the benefits now. Braden Holtby has been one of the most consistent top-performing goaltenders in the NHL in the last five seasons. At age 28, he is very much in his prime and is ready for another run at the Stanley Cup. The rest of the Capitals roster is in flux, with some key losses this past season, but if Holtby is able to play up to his capability, the Caps should be just fine.

This season will be the first season without having goaltending coach Mitch Korn with the team on a daily basis. Pekka Rinne had a tough adjustment after Korn left Nashville, so it could be a similar situation for Holtby. He’s a man of intense focus and determination, and that requires a lot of daily upkeep – usually managed by the team’s goalie coach. That job is now Scott Murray’s challenge, and will be an important storyline to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

PHILIPP GRUBAUER

Age: 25
Contract Status: $1.5M through 2018
Games Played: 24
Save %: 94.0
Adjusted Save %: 94.09
High Danger Save %: 85.7

There was some thought that the Vegas Golden Knights were going to target young Philipp Grubauer at the expansion draft, but that never came to fruition. They might be kicking themselves later, as he looks to be an extremely promising goaltender. At 25, Grubauer is ready for the next challenge – but he remains stuck behind Braden Holtby, who is something of a workhorse. He’s only appeared in 56 NHL games since 2012-13, but his numbers show that he can be a goalie that consistently hangs around the .920 save percentage mark. That is a huge weapon to have on the bench if you are the Capitals.

Other Options

When the Capitals re-acquired Pheonix Copley, it gave them three goaltenders signed to NHL contracts behind Holtby and Grubauer. Vitek Vanecek and Adam Carlson will be fighting for the second spot with the Hershey Bears, which creates some interesting internal competition. Copley is very clearly the next in line for a call-up if necessary, but Vanecek has some very intriguing upside – so they will want him to appear in as many games as possible. Carlson may be the odd man out early on, simply because he is seen as more of a long-term project. The Caps certainly have some excellent options coming through the pipeline – and we haven’t even mentioned Ilya Samsonov.

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer, broadcaster, and goaltending coach. His career began in Hamilton, Ontario as the voice of the Junior 'A' Hamilton Red Wings, before moving to Vancouver to cover the Canucks for CISL 650. A lifelong goaltender, he has been teaching the position for over a decade. He is currently an instructor for Pro4 Sports, and is the goaltending consultant for the BCHL's Surrey Eagles.

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