It’s a well-known adage in the hockey world that behind every good team is a great goaltender. Or…so we thought anyway. In recent years, elite teams have relied on strong puck possession to control the flow of games and suppress the opposition’s offensive zone time. It’s a sound strategy that mitigates scoring chances against and makes the goaltender’s job much easier. It also helps boost goalies’ statistics between the pipes, whether it’s wins, goals against average, or save percentage. If you want to truly determine a goaltender’s worth, throw him behind a mediocre possession team and watch him scramble to make 40 saves three to four times a week.
The benefit of embracing a puck-possession game is that you don’t have to invest an inordinate amount of money on an elite puck stopper…unless, of course, that system fools many into believing certain goaltenders are significantly more valuable than their market value. If you don’t like numbers, you probably don’t like facts. And the numbers aren’t always kind to goaltenders who are perceived as elite. We’re not suggesting that the goalies on this list are bad; many of them are in fact decent or even good. The purpose of this feature is to shed some light on NHL goaltenders who are simply overrated.
So sit back, prepare to be enraged, and get those fingers warmed up to type a mean-spirited reply in the comments section below (or leave a nice message, that’s always nice too). We present to you 10 goaltenders who aren’t as good as their reputation:
10. Corey Crawford
Corey Crawford keeps piling Stanley Cups. For that, many hockey fans anoint him as one of the league’s top goaltenders. No disrespect to the Blackhawks’ puck stopper, but whether he deserves to be mentioned among the elite is debatable. Is he above average? Very likely, but the 30-year-old has also had the benefit of playing in front of one of the best defensive teams in the league. Their puck possession has been second to none in recent years, meaning Crawford sees limited action in his own end on most nights. No one can take away his hardware, and for that he deserves credit, but it does beg the question whether wins should measure a goaltender’s worth.
9. Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Quick is a classic case of a good goalie on a great team who also has the added benefit of frequently appearing on highlight reels—with a Stanley Cup ring or two. While some consider that to be an accomplishment, goaltenders who repeatedly find themselves in highlight packages aren’t always endearing to fans. It’s fun to watch, sure, but it often stems from them being out of position on a consistent basis. And goaltenders who rely on agility are often the subject of such scenarios. Quick, while an above average starting goaltender, is not elite with his .915 career save percentage. It’s solid, make no mistake about it, but he also plays for one of the best possession teams in the league over the last few years, meaning his team is among the elite from a defensive standpoint.
8. Marc-Andre Fleury
The long-time Pittsburgh Penguin has had an inconsistent career in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fleury often relies on his agility to make scintillating saves, and it’s pretty to watch, but the highlight reels also don’t show his blunders. Most goaltenders who abandon sound positioning in favour of agility tend to struggle with consistency, and age also plays a role as their talent level naturally decreases. To Fleury’s credit, he looked much more composed in the 2014-15 campaign, and his save percentage rose to .920 and put up his best overall season. That’s significantly better than his underwhelming .911 career save percentage.
7. Mike Smith
For whatever reason, Mike Smith played a (small) role on Team Canada’s 2014 Olympic Gold squad. It’s not that the 33-year-old is a bad goaltender, he’s a decent starter, but it’s hard to justify his inclusion among the elite. For one, his career .912 save percentage is average, and he’s coming off a disappointing .904 campaign, albeit with the struggling Arizona Coyotes. His career path has always been inconsistent, however, as he’s registered a save percentage below .910 in five out of his 10 seasons. Still, this hasn’t deterred some members of the media from anointing him as one of the league’s best.
6. Cam Ward
Cam Ward gained recognition in the league after winning a Stanley Cup in his rookie campaign. Much like his career, his first season was a bag of mixed results. He was abysmal in his 28 regular season games, registering a woeful .882 save percentage. Shockingly, he followed that up by catching fire in the playoffs and posting .920 save percentage in 23 games, earning himself the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player in the post-season. Perhaps expectations were too high from the outset, but Ward has never managed to reach those heights again, averaging a .910 save percentage as a starting goaltender. He’s not a liability, but he’s best-suited as a back-up goaltender.
5. Manny Legace
Like Chris Osgood, Manny Legace was the benefactor of an elite team. His career .912 save percentage is decent, but it’s worth nothing that he experienced a sharp decline as soon as he left the Red Wings. He put up a .925, .920, and .915 in his last three seasons in Detroit before moving to the St. Louis Blues and registering a .907, .910, and .885. Oof. Legace isn’t the elite goaltender some make him out to be, and anyone who relies on winning percentage to argue a player’s worth simply doesn’t understand individual accomplishments. It’s as simple as that.
4. Dwayne Roloson
If most people had to guess Dwayne Roloson’s career save percentage, few would think it’s a lowly .908. It’s a testament to the power of narratives and how the media can control a player value based on impressive but small sample sizes. He gained star status after he helped bring the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes. Roloson registered a remarkable .927 save percentage during that run, and for that he deserves credit. But to assume a hot streak is representative of his overall value is myopic. And his career save percentage is proof of that.
3. Chris Osgood
Chris Osgood’s name is often brought up as a potential Hall of Fame inductee. Let’s just take a look at the numbers here: in 744 career games, Osgood registered a .905 save percentage, well below the league average for starting goaltenders. While you could point to his 401 wins, that stat is conducive to playing on a strong team…and Osgood spent the majority of his career with the Detroit Red Wings, one of the best teams in the NHL over the past two decades. While his playoff numbers are much better, a .916 save percentage is hardly worthy of Hall of Fame consideration considering his underwhelming regular season numbers.
2. Brian Elliott
Brian Elliott has been a serviceable goaltender for the St. Louis Blues. Like many strong teams, an elite goaltender is not a necessity if a system promoting puck possession and defensive awareness is in place. Elliott, before arriving in St. Louis, posted consistently mediocre numbers as a goaltender with the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche. In his first season with the Blues, he put up a sterling .940 save percentage. So did he just happen to find his form or was he the beneficiary of good luck and an elite team? Well, he followed that up with an average .907 save percentage before putting up two consecutive solid seasons. His career-high in games played with the Blues, however, is 46 games. At 30 years old, Elliott is best utilized as a tandem goaltender, despite the claim that he’s an above average starter.
1. Ondrej Pavelec
The Winnipeg Jets goaltender is, well, not a good goaltender. Sure, he posted an impressive .920 save percentage last season, but that was only his second successful season in the NHL, his last being with the now disbanded Atlanta Thrashers…think about that for a second. His career .908 save percentage is well below average, too, suggesting that Pavelec should probably be used a back-up goaltender. With Michael Hutchinson nipping at his heels, it’s only a matter of time before Pavelec is supplanted as the starting goaltender, and that’s good news for Jets fans. Don’t be surprised if he follows up his 2014-15 campaign with mediocre numbers.