The 2018-19 season is just around the corner, which not only means that hockey is on its way back, but also that it’s once again time to take a look at the best the Metropolitan Division has to offer. First up, the men between the pipes.
Honorable Mention: Joonas Korpisalo, Michal Neuvirth, Thomas Greiss
10. Petr Mrazek (CAR)
Last year’s rank: N/A
One of the newcomers to the Metro scene, Mrazek spent parts of the last six seasons manning the net for the Red Wings before finishing out last year with Philadelphia. He didn’t stick with the Flyers but did bounce over to another Metropolitan team, signing as a free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes. He has excelled at times, particularly in his first two full seasons as the Wings’ starting goalie, but has seen his numbers drop off significantly over the last two years and posted a save percentage of just .891 in his brief time with the Flyers. The ‘Canes will need him to return to his previous form as they kick off the post-Cam Ward era hoping to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
9. Keith Kinkaid (NJD)
Last year’s rank: NR
The New Jersey Devils surprised just about everyone last season, with a red-hot start that propelled them to their first playoff spot in five seasons - and a big reason for their success, particularly early in the year, was the play of Kinkaid. The Devils’ backup stepped up last year to shoulder some of the workload when starter Schneider missed time with injuries, and finished out the season with 26 wins and the third-best save percentage of anyone on this list. Not bad for an undrafted goalie nearing his 30s.
8. Robin Lehner (NYI)
Last year’s rank: N/A
The other new face in the Division is Lehner, who signed on with the Islanders this summer after three years in Buffalo. Despite playing for a young, rebuilding, and... well, let’s just say it, bad Sabres team, Lehner’s numbers in recent seasons and over the course of his career have been pretty impressive overall, with a .915 save percentage and eight shutouts (a career-high three last season alone). He’ll step into an interesting situation in New York, where he’ll be backstopping a rough-looking team but will also have the benefit of studying with the Goalie Guru himself, Mitch Korn.
7. Brian Elliott (PHI)
Last year’s rank: 9
Elliott became the latest to hop on board the Flyers’ goaltending carousel when he signed with the team on the opening day of free agency last summer, and the early results have been... okay. He put up decent, but not fantastic, numbers with the Flyers last year, and was not enough to hold off the Penguins in the playoffs, losing the starter’s role after falling behind 3-1 in the series. Still, he’s probably got a bit more in the tank, and the young but very talented defense in front of him has a year of experience (along with a brief playoff run) under their belts, which shouldn’t hurt.
6. Scott Darling (CAR)
Last year’s rank: 6
Carolina brought in Darling last year hoping that he would have the same sort of success he’d seen in Chicago and help begin the transition away from longtime goalie Cam Ward. The results weren’t quite what they were looking for, to say the least. Darling put up the worst season of his brief career, with an inflated GAA of 3.18 and a save percentage well under .900 - a significant dip from his time with the ‘Hawks, where his “worst” season was a .915. There’s no question that he’s got the ability to play better than he did last season, and with a retooled defense in front of him he’ll have a better shot of bouncing back.
5. Cory Schneider (NJD)
Last year’s rank: 4
Schneider has been one of the League’s elite goalies in recent years, but there’s no question that his performance over the last two seasons has been nothing like what we’ve come to expect from the New Jersey starter. Injuries have certainly played a role in this brief decline, but at 32 it’s also possible that his best days are behind him. It’ll be interesting to see what he’ll be able to do this season behind a rejuvenated team, and with what is hopefully a clean bill of health going forward.
4. Matt Murray (PIT)
Last year’s rank: 5
Murray’s emergence as the Penguins’ starter in recent years was what made it possible for the team to jettison Marc-Andre Fleury to the expansion Golden Knights last summer. It’s easy to look at that move knowing how last year turned out for both Murray and Fleury - you know, besides the fact that both ultimately lost in the playoffs to a scrappy team from Washington - and think it was the wrong move for the Penguins. But at just 24 years old, Murray is perfectly capable of bouncing back from what was admittedly an off year and returning to the form that helped backstop the Penguins to consecutive Cups.
3. Henrik Lundqvist (NYR)
Last year’s rank: 3
The 2016-17 season was easily the worst of Lundqvist’s career, but knowing what we know about the Rangers’ venerable goaltender, it seemed like it was going to be something of an outlier and that he’d be able to bounce back in 2017-18 - advancing age be damned. And to some extent that ended up being true, despite the fact that the team in front of him gradually fell off a cliff into a rebuilding abyss. All of his numbers improved in 2017-18 from the season before, despite the fact that the Rangers gave up a ton of shot attempts - and more crucially, that he played all 63 games with a lingering knee injury. With the team in full rebuild mode and Lundqvist turning 37 before the season ends, the future is somewhat murky for one of the greats of goaltending.
2. Sergei Bobrovsky (CBJ)
Last year’s rank: 2
The two-time Vezina winner didn’t have exactly the same level of success last season that he’d had in previous years, and certainly not what he managed to do in 2016-17, but last season was another strong one for Bobrovsky, who posted a .921 save percentage (.935 at even strength) in a career-high 65 starts. Where he struggled the most, however, is where he’s had issues since leading the Jackets to their first playoff berth back in 2014 - and that’s the playoffs themselves. He gave up at least three goals in all six of his first-round appearances against the Caps, including five in the elimination game, and never really found that next level to his game that’s needed for postseason success. With all of the regular-season accolades he’s racked up over the years, it’s really the one thing that holds him back from being considered a true elite.
1. Braden Holtby (WSH)
Last year’s rank: 1
No goalie has racked up more wins over the last six seasons than Holtby, who has accumulated 211 over that span - and while wins aren’t really a great stat by which to measure goaltending ability, it’s safe to say that a fair percentage of those 211 wins can be attributed to Holtby’s performance. His ongoing success in both the regular season and postseason goes well beyond mere win totals, and the body of work over six seasons as the team’s starter is so strong that his lackluster showing last season is but a mere blip on the radar. It was a rough year to be sure, and yet after briefly losing the starter’s net to backup Philipp Grubauer, Holtby never pouted or acted like anything but a true professional. He was ready when the team needed him most, as well, stepping in to help save the postseason and proving his greatness... all the way to the Stanley Cup.