The Pacific Arms Race: Goaltending

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%.)

ANAHEIM

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.

ARIZONA

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.

CALGARY

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.

EDMONTON

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.

LOS ANGELES

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.

SAN JOSE

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.

VANCOUVER

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.

  • supra steve

    I know this isn’t the Pacific division.. but does does anyone else think that Hiller would make a good fit with the Blues?

    I’m struggling to think of a team that would make a trade for Hiller?

    • DoubleDIon

      I don’t think anyone would. At least not until an injury happens. Hiller is a serviceable guy, but not a guy you use assets to acquire unless you have to. There’s no upside to him really at this point in his career. The attractive element to him is that if you have a goalie go down for the year his contract expires when your starter is healthy again. Same deal with Ramo, but I still think there is a chance he has upside. A team without a backup that loses their starter like the Avs or Pens would be a good destination for Hiller.

      • Tomas Oppolzer

        Actually the Pens make a lot of sense.. I’m just going on the assumption that Hiller will most likely be moved, but maybe Treliving will wait before he moves a goalie.

    • Scary Gary

      I think the Islanders have the cap space and need, the only problem is they’ve just signed Greiss to two years. A Halak/Hiller combo would instill a lot more confidence for a team that should be looking to go deep into the playoffs while their core is in its prime. Hiller would actually be an improvement over Halak; I have no idea why they’ve signed Greiss.

  • Tomas Oppolzer

    With Vancouver moving Lack, Calgary`s playoff chances got significantly better. You gotta think it`ll be San Jose, LA, and Calgary fighting for the 2&3 spots in the division (I`m assuming the Ducks will be disgusting again).Of those three teams, San Jose is the least intimidating. There`s a division in the locker room, their goaltending is iffy, and on the backend they aren`t blowing the doors off (Vlasic is awesome, but they don`t hold a candle to Calgary or Anaheim`s D corps now).

    • DoubleDIon

      I just don’t see Anaheim as having anywhere near as good defense this year. Bieksa instead of Beauchemin? Downgrade.

      The Ducks have good younger guys though. And there Forward group is the best in the West. They should win the Pacific, but not by as much as last year.

    • Randaman

      I see it like this and I think of myself as one of the level headed Oiler fans.

      Anaheim is a pretty sure bet to finish first.

      Vancouver finishes last and may even be a lottery team.

      L.A. could be a bit worse than last year.

      San Jose is a crap shoot as their getting older up front.

      Calgary’s defence is awesome assuming Gio is healthy.

      Edmonton could be a dark horse just like the Flames were last year.

      Don’t underestimate the value of coaching. Hartley ring any bells?

      I see L.A., Calgary and just maybe Edmonton fighting it out for second and third.

  • DoubleDIon

    The goalie situation is one of the bigger reasons Vancouver won’t make the playoffs this year.

    I suspect Miller, a year older, gets hurt again and Markstrom either sinks or swims. My guess is he sinks like a mafia snitch.

  • Tomas Oppolzer

    The situation with the Flames goaltending is still awkward. If the Flames send Ortio down to the AHL in that pre-season window discussed elsewhere, they Flames can’t recall him without possibly losing him. They would have to recall Gillies and leave Ortio to do the heavy lifting for Stockton.

    If they don’t trade someone and keep Ortio, that just makes the forward situation even more difficult because of the finite number of slots with the big club that are available.

    Flames need to move a 1a/1b goalie and may not get the price they hoped because of the goalie market. Dammit.

    • DestroDertell

      Re-entry waivers don’t exist anymore, so if the Flames send him down during the waiver free window they can call him up at any time… but once they do that’s it. They can’t send him down again.

      • everton fc

        his is exactly what will happen to Ortio. They’ll give him a long look and lots of opportunities. If he does what he did last season, one of the other two will be moved. My feeling is Ramo will be the one moving, as Hiller is more experienced and proven NHL starter with a proven track record of consistency, as Destro mentions above. Personally, I’d rather have our goalie situation from last season, as opposed to some of the current scenarios highlighted for the teams above, going into training camp. San Jose and Vancouver, in particular, are rolling the dice a bit.

  • DestroDertell

    Not sure why people hate this idea of Hiller being the starter – his career ESSv% of .927 is above average and better than, say, Quick and a mere .002 below Henrik Lundqvist.

  • Bananaberg

    Contracts are what they are for the Flames in net. Ramo signing was smart — keep rights to his upside. Hiller not a trade target elsewhere in the league, unless someone loses their starter during the season, as someone already mentioned above.

    BT et al are probably telling Ortio to be patient, but to own that AHL net until he gets the opportunity to show what he’s got later in the season. Difficult to make a case to rock the boat this offseason when our 2-goalie system got us to the second round of playoffs. Hiller’s contract comes off in a year; might be able to get a pick(s) for him prior to the trade deadline, which opens the door for Ortio to get some NHL starts.

    That said, I don’t see BT and crew trading Hiller before the deadline if the boys are playing well…unless Ramo is lights out and playing like Kiprusoff. What happens in net hinges on what Ramo does.

    • Randaman

      Maybe it’s just that fewer goalies are perceived that way (and consequently paid that way). Teams are starting to look for economy in goal so they can spend elsewhere.

      Take Nikolai Khabibulin as an example. He was regarded as a #1 goalie for years before he “declined”. Funnily enough, he was never actually good in the first place. In his entire career, he had four non-consecutive seasons (as well as a few playoffs, none of which coincided with good regular seasons) where he was above-average/great. The rest he was awful.

      • CofRed4Life

        And I think it also has something to do with backups being a lot better than they used to be. Back in the day, if you played your backup, it was either a throw-away game, or it was one of the worst teams in the league. Coaches didn’t trust backups like they do today (and rightfully so).

  • FinFlamesFan

    We have so many young guys pushing for a spot + all the regulars AND 3 goalies. That to me shouts trade incoming all the way.

    Wonder if there’s one coming and if yes, how big.

  • Toofun

    I don’t mind the Hiller + Rambo combination with a healthy Ortio ready to come up if one gets injured or if their play faulters. With Calgary’s possession stats and shots for/against stats set to rise, I’d expect the save percentages to climb up along with it.

  • Randaman

    Hiller has a cap hit of 4M? That alone will be a hard sell unless someone is desperate.

    The cap seems to be more constrictive than ever.

    I think free agency has told us that with GM’s actually playing hardball.

    Bout time they smartened up

  • Randaman

    If you are standing still you are getting relatively worse.

    I like our asset management concerning our goalies. But moves are obviously going to happen this year. Rebuild-wise this bodes well… we are in a position where truly merit should win out. No one is on a long term contract and I think everyone will get a shot to prove there worth… maybe even Gillies.

    Break it down and ANA is still a powerhouse. VAN is slowly getting worse but hey never know they could surprise. LA… not sure what to say here. Are they going to implode? SJ made didnt do anything notable but have a great drafting history. ARI last. EDM can they get results? Xcept for last and 1st this division seems wide open.

  • Randaman

    LA…. man….lol

    They paid a first round pick for a guy who is playing against them in the division. Man that kind of thing burns you long term.

    The new NHL grab the Cups while you can cause you arent going to be on top for long. Past contenders LA and BOS going down the tubes.

    Going to be super interesting to see what happens to Chicago. Pittsburg too. They have a couple D prospects but trading first rounders over the last few years will… they will likely feel the effects soon. Crosby and Malkin approaching 30. Only one cup. I think people expected a dynasty here and that time is passing. They will be all out.

    • DoubleDIon

      Chicago will be fine. They sell assets when they need to and usually get a good return. They also draft well and seem to get half the undrafted free agents everyone wants. LA is looking shaky. Boston’s time is completely over.

  • Slowmo

    The only Reason we signed Ramo is so OIlers didn’t Grab him as far as goalies go for the lilers you have Boissoitt He is a great goalie and that trade is going to bit us in the A$$. Ramo gone in a few motns orthio back down Gillies up going to do a Hammond and take us to the finals. OK perhaps a little zealous but fun to hear what happens next fire away

  • FlamesRule

    Everyone is way too high on Ortio – he’s still a prospect. Run with Hiller/Ramo again and bring up Gillies for his cuppa if one is injured. Let Ortio prove himself with a full season of injury-free starting with the Heat. Waiver concerns gone.