InGoal 2015-16 Preview: Atlantic Division
It’s October, which means a new NHL season is beginning. To prepare, the InGoal staff took a deep look at every team’s goaltending situation, from starters to backups to the minors and more. Taking into account both statistical and observational evaluations, we give you a look into what might happen for each team.
The statistics in this series are drawn from War-on-Ice.com. Because every goaltender sees a different amount of time on the power play and penalty kill, we are using 5-on-5 stats only. All save percentage figures are for the 2014-15 season only. Age and contract data are for 2015-16 and beyond.
For those unfamiliar with these stats, Adjusted Save Percentage accounts for some differences in the kinds of shots each goaltender faces, mostly location but also some rebounds and rush chances. High Danger Save percentage includes only shots from the slot. This is the part of adjusted save percentage that appears to predict future performance best and thus may tell us the most about individual goaltenders. More information is available here.
Contract Status: $7.0M until 2021
Games Played: 70
Save %: 93.09
Adjusted Save %: 92.49
High Danger Save %: 81.70
Tuukka Rask is consistently one of the top goalies in the league. His active, aggressive tendencies do require defensive support, even if he isn’t as extreme an example of that as Jonathan Quick. To some extent the state of the Bruins’ blueline will impact Rask’s performance. That’s true of all goaltenders, of course, but especially for someone like Rask. A defensive core that can see how plays develop and understand how Rask will play them is key. It’s less about limiting dangerous chances than about limiting unpredictable errors.
The Bruins have already noted that they hope to limit Rask to around 50 games. It’s a strategy they followed for years both with Rask and with Tim Thomas. It does require being willing to call on your backup, however, and that’s still up in the air.
Jonas Gustavsson/Jeremy Smith
Contract Status: unsigned/$600K until 2016
Games Played: 7/0
Save %: 93.69/–
Adjusted Save %: 92.52/–
High Danger Save %: 76.00/–
At the time of this writing, it is still unknown who will back Rask up this year. Malcolm Subban was assigned to the AHL, leaving the Bruins with a choice between veteran backup Gustavsson and NHL rookie Jeremy Smith. The 30-year-old Gustavsson brings 148 games and 6 years worth of NHL experience, but he played only 9 games last season between the NHL and the AHL. Smith is 26 and has never played a single NHL game. Neither plays anything like Rask’s mobile, challenging style.
It is hard to say who has the upper hand here or to know anything about how either player will do. This is an extraordinary gamble for a team that wants to limit their starter’s workload. The Bruins are expecting more from these goalies than seems wise.
UPDATE: The Bruins announced Sunday that they have signed Jonas Gustavsson to a one-year, one-way contract worth $700,000. Expect him to back Rask up.
Malcolm Subban was listed as the second-best goaltending prospect in InGoal’s Top 50 prospect ranking and he is one of three goaltenders in the past five years to be drafted in the first round. There is no question that he is expected to become a top goalie. It appears that Boston is more comfortable with Subban getting AHL playing time right now than with him sitting on an NHL bench. Will he get a chance to transition into the NHL during the season? It is not unheard of.
After not making the playoffs, the Bruins let go of GM Peter Chiarelli and promoted Don Sweeney who decided to trade Dougie Hamilton because reasons. Also gone are Milan Lucic and Niklas Svedberg. They addressed offensive needs with Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes and brought in Zac Rinaldo.
In the absence of a reliable backup, Tuukka Rask will play much more than 50 games, but fewer than last season’s 70. Somewhere in the 65-68 range. That’s still a very heavy workload these days, and fatigue may become a factor. A bigger factor will be the Bruins ability to play with structure.
Contract Status: $2.225M until 2017
Games Played: 25
Save %: 90.89
Adjusted Save %: 90.51
High Danger Save %: 82.50
Last season Buffalo openly embraced the tank when they turned Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth into Chad Johnson and Anders Lindback. Johnson never played a single game for Buffalo last year and Lindback was surprisingly effective, but the Sabres still ended up being historically bad. Now that they have Jack Eichel, they’re embarking on a rebuild and need goalies who will grow with the team.
Enter Robin Lehner. Now 24 years old, he joins the Sabres from the Ottawa Senators where he lost out to the surging Andrew Hammond. Lehner came to the NHL with high expectations earned in the American league, but has seen his technical foundation slide since. How much a new beginning helps him will depend largely on the relationship he can build with new Sabres goalie coach Andrew Allen.
Contract Status: $1.30M until 2016
Games Played: 19
Save %: 90.07
Adjusted Save %: 90.23
High Danger Save %: 78.57
Chad Johnson had a rough 2014-15. In 19 games with the New York Islanders, his numbers were considered tank-worthy by the Sabres who acquired him at the deadline in their attempt to seal their own fate. Hours before his first Sabres game was set to begin, he suffered a lower body injury that kept him out of the crease altogether. He may be due for some regression upwards, but chances are strong that will not be an extraordinary improvement. Aside from his time with the notoriously structured Bruins, Johnson has been average or below in the NHL and the Sabres will still be bad this season.
Nathan Lieuwen is next on the Sabres depth chart followed by Andrey Makarov. Neither should be expected to pull much beyond emergency duty in the NHL this season. Let them ripen in the AHL.
Buffalo is undergoing an extreme makeover, adding new head coach Dan Bylsma, new goalie coach Andrew Allen, Jack Eichel, a now healthy Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, Jamie McGinn, and Cody Franson, not to mention Robin Lehner himself. Gone are Anders Lindback, Andrej Meszaros, and Andre Benoit.
Accept the badness, Sabres fans. Pain now is gain later. Lehner might be able to dig himself out of the hole he’s stuck in, but it will take a lot of work and a lot of time and it’s still no sure thing. Progress now might look like a .912 or .915 overall save percentage. It’s not this year but the next that will be the point of decision.
Contract Status: $5.592M until 2019
Games Played: 53
Save %: 92.15
Adjusted Save %: 91.85
High Danger Save %: 82.48
Howard has been quite good for a long time, if never spectacular. He is aging, though, having turned 31 in March. In addition, he will have to earn his crease back from Petr Mrazek and he knows it. The Red Wings need Howard to provide goaltending around league average no matter what his workload is. Anything more would be a bonus.
Howard’s aggressive tendencies have been tempered somewhat in recent years, but he is still willing to attack shooters beyond the paint. This is a style that has a risk of stranding a goalie and he’s not immune to that, as his susceptibility to backdoor tap-ins indicates. Aggressive play demands extra effort to stay on angle and make lateral adjustments and Howard will need to have great timing and attachment to avoid losing the ice he likes to gain. Detroit watchers should be paying attention to how he adjusts as his body and vision age, making the necessary lateral recoveries and timing more difficult.
Contract Status: $737.5K until 2016
Games Played: 29
Save %: 93.08
Adjusted Save %: 92.75
High Danger Save %: 84.29
The reason the Red Wings can afford not to rely so heavily on Howard is Petr Mrazek. It is fairly obvious that the franchise is hoping Mrazek fulfills all the potential he has been showing in recent years. But for now the team might do better to ease him into a starting role, because he still has some developing to do. If anything, Mrazek is more aggressive than Howard these days, and relies heavily on mobility and reaction. In order to be successful he needs to develop elite level pattern recognition. As shown at moments in last season’s playoffs, he can still be fooled. When he doesn’t bite, however, he can be formidable.
The Red Wings have patiently been developing their young goalies and there isn’t anyone behind Mrazek threatening to make the jump. Tom McCollum should be their number three and will man the net in Grand Rapids. He is able to provide emergency spot duty, which should be all that’s needed at the moment with the Detroit crease still up for grabs.
The Red Wings didn’t make many changes this offseason. The biggest, of course, is the loss of head coach Mike Babcock, who will be replaced by Jeff Blashill. Blashill coached the Red Wings AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins. They also brought in Brad Richards and Mike Green on defense.
Howard and Mrazek will likely get close to an even amount of games in net. I admit that I say this based on the notion that Mrazek needs both playing time and time to absorb what he’s learning. And it depends on Detroit being willing to let their $5M man sit for half the season. The smart money is on both of these players doing well enough for the team’s needs and neither doing so well that there’s a huge gap between them. That depends on Mrazek developing at a steady pace. Time will tell. Overall, this may be the best tandem in the division.
Contract Status: $5.333M until 2022
Games Played: 61
Save %: 93.16
Adjusted Save %: 92.38
High Danger Save %: 86.35
Luongo has been one the the league’s top goalies for more than a decade. Last season, at age 35, Luongo managed to remain well above average. Will he do it again? Luongo’s contained style may require fewer and less drastic adjustments as he ages as long as he remains healthy, but he is getting older and may already be showing signs of declining. It’s tough to tell, given that save percentage fluctuates as a matter of course, but his numbers have been off his career highs for a few years now.
Luongo will nonetheless be counted on to carry a Panthers team still trying to grow their way into playoff contention. There’s a good chance that he provides a solid performance floor and a greater-than-zero chance that he maintains something close to his high standards. The Panthers will have to hope so, because it will be tough to manage his workload.
Contract Status: $1.05M until 2016
Games Played: 20
Save %: 89.59
Adjusted Save %: 89.26
High Danger Save %: 80.81
The worst case scenario for Florida has to be Luongo being injured and out for a long period of time. The 30-year-old Montoya had some of the worst stats in the Atlantic Division last year, no matter which measurement is used. There might be some improvement—save percentage is random enough to allow for that and he has had periods of good play in the past. But Montoya is what he is—a player who can be expected to provide replacement-level goaltending in limited minutes.
The Panthers are missing a young stud prospect ready to take on NHL challenges. They do have Mike McKenna who has built a solid AHL career. Last season with the Portland Pirates, affiliated with the Phoenix Coyotes, McKenna posted a 92.6 in 52 games. This season he’ll be back with the Pirates, now the Panthers affiliate. McKenna is a solid third goalie option.
Dan Ellis was allowed to go to Washington as a free agent, along with Brad Boyes to Toronto. Reilly Smith was acquired from Boston in the Jimmy Hayes trade.
Luongo should have another above-average year playing 60 or so games. Montoya will Montoya. McKenna can provides spot duty. The Panthers will still miss the playoffs.
Contract Status: $6.50M until 2018
Games Played: 66
Save %: 94.27
Adjusted Save %: 93.63
High Danger Save %: 86.15
Coming off one of the best goalie seasons in modern NHL history, Price is generally regarded as one of the top two goaltenders in the world for good reason. He is known for a nearly pristine technical foundation combined with great reflexes and play reading. As good as he is, he is unlikely to repeat the spectacular statistical performance of last season, if for no other reason than that no one puts up numbers like that for any significant length of time.
The Canadiens have had a bad habit of riding Price’s extraordinary play, asking him to bail out a team that ought to be better than it has been. There is little reason to think this year will be different. They won’t need Price to be as superhuman as he was in 2014-15, but they will need him to be very, very good and stay very, very healthy.
Contract Status: $562K until 2016
Games Played: 17
Save %: 91.05
Adjusted Save %: 90.71
High Danger Save %: 79.41
Partly, that is because Dustin Tokarski has yet to show that he is a strong, steady hand in net. At 26, he still has time to take a developmental leap, but at this point it would have to be a leap. Tokarski is a small goalie who plays small. He is slow, often late, and needs to keep his skates longer and read plays better. He may at this point be what he seems to be: someone who’ll give a team replacement level to league average goaltending but not much more.
The cupboard is pretty bare at the moment for the Canadiens. Mike Condon has done alright in limited action in the AHL, but has only one full season there. Zach Fucale, the Habs’ most hyped prospect, has been struggling some lately and is only beginning his pro career. Neither is really a viable NHL option at the moment.
Not much movement here, either. In a way, the biggest offseason change for the Canadiens is the loss of Brandon Prust, who is now the Pacific Division’s problem. The Habs also added Zach Kassian and Alexander Semin.
Montreal Canadiens fans will spend much of the season whispering “stay healthy, Carey Price” into the wind. He should be fine. Everyone else is a question mark. Should the Habs gain structure in the defensive end that will make things easier on Price and the rest, but the question remains whether that will actually happen.
Contract Status: $4.20M until 2018
Games Played: 35
Save %: 93.69
Adjusted Save %: 93.00
High Danger Save %: 84.34
Craig Anderson has been largely underestimated for some time now. Never included in conversations about the top goaltenders, Anderson has nonetheless been very good for Ottawa consistently for years. When he returned from injury during last season’s playoffs to relieve a struggling Andrew Hammond, he proved once again why the Senators should trust him: a sparkling 96.2 at even strength.
And it appears that they do trust him. Signing Hammond and letting Lehner go seems to signal that–for now at least–the Ottawa crease belongs to Craig Anderson.
But he will turn 35 before the season is out. Age is going to be a concern not only now but for the future, whether people want to think so or not. The Senators may find themselves in a position fraught with a lot more uncertainty than they bargained for.
Contract Status: $1.35M until 2018
Games Played: 24
Save %: 94.06
Adjusted Save %: 93.73
High Danger Save %: 88.97
Hammond is an intriguing proposition. He stormed onto the scene last year with an extraordinary set of numbers (and developed a huge following at the same time). But it was only 24 games and Hammond is 27 years old. He showed no signs of that level of talent in the AHL. Still, the part of Adjusted Save Percentage that is the most predictive is the High Danger portion, and in this Hammond did very well indeed.
Is that an indication of future play? Is Hammond just a late bloomer? They are a lot rarer than many think, so a healthy amount of skepticism is warranted. It is inevitable that Hammond’s numbers will fall, just as Carey Price’s will, because no one stays at that level for extended periods of time, although many make it there in the short term. The question is how far they will fall and how much Ottawa will rely on goaltending to steal games.
Behind Hammond are 21-year-old Chris Driedger, who has worked his way up from the ECHL, and recently-signed NCAA standout Matt O’Connor. It’s likely neither will be seeing much NHL time this season, barring injury, but this is an intriguing situation. O’Connor came in at number 22 in InGoal’s Top 50 Prospects, but he is in his first pro season. Should Hammond falter, the Senators have to hope that one of these two will be ready soon.
Aside from the Lehner trade, Ottawa also lost Erik Condra in free agency and Eric Gryba in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers. Both Hammond and Matt O’Connor signed three-year deals.
The crease will remain in Craig Anderson’s capable hands and Hammond will fall back to earth with a minor thud. Ottawa will be unphased.
Contract Status: $5.95M until 2017
Games Played: 62
Save %: 91.99
Adjusted Save %: 92.21
High Danger Save %: 83.10
Big Ben Bishop will be starting 2015-16 with a significant pay raise, one that he negotiated after his Vezina-finalist season in 2013-14. The Lightning might have done better to wait to see how he played his second year as a starter before pulling the trigger on that one. Still they rely on Bishop heavily and for the most part he has provided a fairly solid floor for them.
Still a 91.99 at 5 on 5 is actually just below league average and that’s something that should give the Lightning pause. Bishop’s HD numbers weren’t much better. Granted, he was victimized by a defense corps that was largely young and/or Matt Carle, so some leeway must be given. He faced a lot of unpredictable situations and that does matter to a goaltender.
Nonetheless, Bishop has some issues of his own, poor tracking in particular, and if that doesn’t get fixed he will find that his numbers stay closer to average than Vezina-worthy. He is an above-average puck mover, though, and has become an integral part of the Lightning’s breakout strategy, especially on the power play.
Contract Status: $925K until 2017
Games Played: 16
Save %: 92.75
Adjusted Save %: 93.08
High Danger Save %: 90.29
Sidelined since before training camp while recovering from surgery for a blood clot, Vasilevskiy hasn’t been able to show whether he has or has not progressed since last season. And last season he was very, very good. It was only 16 games, of course. And he is very young. And he may have been promoted to the NHL a bit too early, but Vasilevskiy is an exceptional talent.
The Lightning have him on a two-year plan to being “their guy,” and they keep trying to throw speed bumps in his path to make sure he gets adequate development time. Towards the end of the season, Vasilevskiy did start showing signs of some poor habits and small delays. These are things that can and should be fixed. He’s got time to work on some of that now.
He is expected to return by some time in December.
And that leaves the Lightning with a temporary hole in their depth chart. Ideally, Kristers Gudlevskis would be the go-to option for backing up Bishop for a few weeks, but the young Latvian has been wildly inconsistent since he arrived in North America and it isn’t clear how much the Lightning actually trust him. Adam Wilcox is just out of the NCAA. The Lightning gave Ray Emery a shot but that didn’t work out and he has already been released. They claimed Kevin Poulin off waivers from the Islanders but they would be foolish to expect too much from him at the NHL level.
So what now? Another waiver claim? Trade for a solid backup? It is wisest perhaps to wait and see if Gudlevskis can rise to the challenge, especially considering the Lightning’s cap situation.
The biggest change for the Lightning was the acquisition of Erik Condra in free agency. The also opted not to extend a qualifying offer to Mark Barberio on defense or to bring back Brenden Morrow at forward.
The most likely out come is that Bishop will end up somewhere around league average and still get most of the starts. It’s possible that Vasilevskiy comes in and forces the Lightning’s hand, but also possible he will see some growing pains. There is enormous pressure on the Lightning to win now and at heart Jon Cooper is an old-fashioned conservative coach who sticks with the guys he trusts and he trusts Ben Bishop. The Lightning will need every save these guys can muster.
Contract Status: $4.15M until 2017
Games Played: 58
Save %: 92.18
Adjusted Save %: 92.31
High Danger Save %: 84.41
As InGoal contributor Paul Campbell wrote last month, it is about time that Toronto put their ongoing goaltender controversy to bed. It is a comparatively close contest, but there are several indications that between Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, Bernier is the better goalie.
That won’t really stop the questions, of course, and it’s far too soon to know exactly how Toronto’s new managment and coach will actually approach the position. If the offseason is any indication, however, the Maple Leafs are going to be asking Bernier to prove himself to them. Before they could get a deal done for Bernier this summer, the parties had to sit through an arbitration hearing. They signed before the decision was handed down, but it indicates that the Leafs are not taking Bernier’s position for granted.
Contract Status: $2.30M until 2016
Games Played: 35
Save %: 91.27
Adjusted Save %: 91.70
High Danger Save %: 83.79
Perhaps that’s because James Reimer would be a heck of a backup goalie. On another team, he might even be a starter. It’s a great dilemma to have, one that many GMs would be happy to deal with. Should he have to, Reimer could hold down the fort for the Leafs with a minimum of concern or disruption.
The Maple Leafs are another team with a thin depth chart. They signed Rob Madore to fill out a stable that also includes Antoine Bibeau and Garrett Sparks. Madore is unlikely to see NHL time, but Bibeau might be able to provide spot duty in an emergency.
The two biggest changes for Toronto were the hiring of Mike Babcock as head coach and the trade of Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Goalie Christopher Gibson was also flipped to New York in the deal that brought in Michael Grabner.
It is worth nothing that while the Maple Leafs have overhauled their front office and coaching staff–including adding Steve Briere as goaltending coach–they have yet to overhaul their roster in any dramatic fashion. Mike Babcock may be able to coax structure out of the defense but it is a tall order for the defense and goaltending to gel immediately. Expect the goalies to feel the effects.