The Pacific Division has developed a reputation as one of the toughest in hockey. Between the three tough California teams, the three western Canadian clubs, and Arizona, there are plenty of tough games on the docket for all concerned.
It’s been an off-season of change for Pacific Division goaltenders, as every team except Calgary has signed a goalie, traded a goalie or traded for a goalie. Here’s a handy primer on how the teams have changed their goaltenders thus far, and how they stack up against each other.
(For reference’s sake, ESV% = even-strength save percentage, and last season .920 or so was the league’s mid-point for goalies who played a lot. The league’s median team, Buffalo, had a .924 ESV%.)
Last Season: John Gibson & Frederik Andersen
Even-Strength Save Percentage: 91.92% (20th in NHL)
Changes: Traded for Anton Khudobin from Carolina. The Ducks now have three NHL netminders under contract.
Breakdown: The Ducks were defensively well-balanced and boasted a strong forward attack. Goaltending was arguably their weakness. Gibson was the youngest and best (.924 ESV%) of the Ducks’ two goalies, but also played the least. Andersen was good in the playoffs and solid all season with a .921 ESV%. I’m not sure why they grabbed Khudobin; he’s 28 and is historically significantly lower-quality than either of Anaheim’s existing goalies (for reference, he posted a .903 ESV% last year).
The Verdict: The Ducks are about as good as they were when they started the summer. Arguably Khudobin is an upgrade over Jason LaBarbara or Ilya Bryzgalov, but he probably shouldn’t supplant either of Andersen or Gibson.
Last Season: Mike Smith, mostly.
Even-Strength Save Percentage: 91.52% (26th in NHL)
Changes: Added Anders Lindback via free agency.
Breakdown: Smith played 62 games last season, with Devan Dubnyk spelling him off here and there before being rescued from the desert by the Minnesota Wild. Smith posted a disappointing .912 ESV%, and was one of the main reasons the Coyotes were in lottery purgatory for much of the season. Lindback joins the desert dogs after a similarly so-so .914 season split between the defensively-challenged Buffalo and Dallas clubs. At least he’ll be used to seeing high-danger shots.
The Verdict: The Coyotes had bad goaltending last year. Smith probably won’t post such awful numbers again – probably – but he’s also not a .937 ESV% goalie like he was in 2011-12. He may settle out in the high .910s, but he’ll need to be heroic to give Arizona a chance to win games.
Last Season: Jonas Hiller & Karri Ramo
Even-Strength Save Percentage: 92.15% (18th in NHL)
Changes: Re-signed Ramo, and prospect Joni Ortio becomes waiver eligible this season.
Breakdown: The Flames were the closest thing to a true 1A/1B in the division, effectively flipping the duties between Hiller (.927 ESV%) and Ramo (.919 ESV%) throughout the year. Hiller’s numbers were obviously a bit better than Ramo’s, so it’s probably not a shocker that he played a bit more during the year. Goaltending was an issue for the Flames before Hiller came to town; it’s not anymore. It’s unclear where Ortio fits in right now. Small sample size and all, but his sub-.900 ESV% probably helped Ramo’s contact talks.
The Verdict: Like the Ducks, the Flames didn’t do much to upgrade or downgrade themselves. Ortio’s still young and presuming he gets through the waiver wire, they have a good one-two punch in the NHL and a good starter in the AHL in case somebody gets injured.
Last Season: Ben Scrivens & Viktor Fasth
Even-Strength Save Percentage: 90.19% (30th in NHL)
Changes: Traded with the Rangers for Cam Talbot and with the Blackhawks for Anders Nilsson. They’ve got three goalies under contract right now.
Breakdown: Both goaltenders the Oilers used last season on a regular basis posted sub-.900 ESV%. That’s horrifying. So the Rangers went out to grab Talbot (.930 ESV%) and Nilsson, who has a career sub-.900 save percentage in 23 NHL appearances. I’m not sure why exactly they went to grab Nilsson, but Talbot will definitely help them in net. It’s not like their goaltending could get much worse than it was this season.
The Verdict: The Oilers definitely helped themselves get better in net, though there’s a question how good Talbot can be with Edmonton’s new-look defense in front of him.
Last Season: Jonathan Quick & Martin Jones
Even-Strength Save Percentage: 92.58% (12th in NHL)
Changes: Traded Martin Jones to Boston. Signed Jhonas Enroth as a free agent.
Breakdown: The Kings had the best goaltending in the division this season, by a fair margin. A great deal of that had to do with Jonathan Quick, who posted a .928 ESV%. I think a good deal of the hubbub about Martin Jones getting traded is a bit overblown; Jones posted a .916 ESV%, and Jhonas Enroth put up a .915 ESV% in 50 games. It’s a bit of a down-grade, and I don’t think Enroth steals nearly as many games as Jones did for the Kings, but fundamentally this team goes as far as Quick carries them. Enroth is just a cheaper .915 than Jones would’ve been.
The Verdict: They made a change, but it’s fundamentally a lateral move. This is Quick’s team.
Last Season: Antti Niemi & Alex Stalock
Even-Strength Save Percentage: 91.86% (22nd in NHL)
Changes: Traded Niemi to Dallas. Traded for Martin Jones from Boston.
Breakdown: You have to feel bad for Niemi on a certain level. He put up a .922 ESV% for the Sharks and was by far their better goalie, and you could argue he was quietly one of the better netminders in the Western Conference over the last few seasons. Unfortunately, it’d take a great goalie to push the Sharks over the top, and Niemi’s just a shade shy of good. He’s replaced by Jones, who put up a .916 ESV% last year in fewer games, and the hope here is that Jones grows into Niemi’s old role. Stalock (.910 ESV%) is nothing special, but he’s solid for occasional spot starts.
The Verdict: If you think Martin Jones is ready to be a number-one goalie, this is an upgrade for the Sharks. I’m not 100% sold quite yet.
Last Season: Ryan Miller & Eddie Lack
Even-Strength Save Percentage: 91.60% (25th in NHL)
Changes: Traded Lack to Carolina. Presumably Jacob Markstrom is promoted from Utica to back Miller up.
Breakdown: Ryan Miller was brought in to replace Roberto Luongo (and Cory Schneider) as the Canucks big-name, big-time starter. He ended up being out-played by his back-up, and was also injured for a big chunk of the year. Eddie Lack posted a pretty damn good .921 ESV%, and stood tall to cement Vancouver’s playoff hopes down the stretch. Miller struggled at times and posted a pedestrian .914 ESV%. Guess which one Vancouver kept? Markstrom will take over as Miller’s back-up. He’s a career .900 ESV% goalie.
The Verdict: The Canucks seemingly intentionally downgraded their goaltending, trading away a goalie that they knew for a fact was pretty damn good in order to make room for Markstrom, who hasn’t proven himself at the NHL level at all yet. There seemingly was another move coming – and there still might be – but it’s a bit confusing right now.