Once again we find ourselves mere days away from the start of a brand new hockey season. And with the return of skates to ice and the (imagined) crispness in the air, it’s time to turn our attention to our annual look at the best the Metropolitan Division has to offer.
So without further ado, let’s kick off the festivities with the Metro’s 10 best goaltenders:
Honorable Mention: Mackenzie Blackwood, Casey DeSmith, Brian Elliott, James Reimer
10. Joonas Korpisalo (CBJ)
Last year’s rank: Honorable Mention
Korpisalo has spent his first four seasons backing up one of the best netminders (in the regular season, at least) that the NHL has to offer in Sergei Bobrovsky. With Bobrovsky’s departure this summer, however, and with no other free-agent starters signing on to take his place, the net is now Korpisalo’s… for better or for worse. He had a promising start as far as backups go, but he’ll need to show he’s capable of putting up better numbers than he has the last two seasons – and behind a much different looking Columbus team – if he wants to hang on to that starter spot.
9. Alexandar Georgiev (NYR)
Last year’s rank: Not Ranked
Speaking of a backup whose job is to spell one of the League’s best, Georgiev has had the somewhat unenviable task of following up Henrik Lundqvist’s performances – a role he’s warmed to pretty well in his first two years. Last year was the tougher test of the two, with a heavier workload of 33 games, and he rose to the occasion with a .914 save percentage and his first two career shutouts. With Lundqvist expected to see his workload cut drastically this season, the door is open for Georgiev to step up and make a claim on the starter’s role.
Just remember to keep a firm grip on that goalie stick, kid.
8. Thomas Greiss (NYI)
Last year’s rank: Honorable Mention
Greiss would probably be the first to tell you that his decision to sign with the Islanders back in the summer of 2015 was one of the better career choices he’s made. Despite one off-year in 2017-18 when his save percentage dipped below .900 for the first time since his three-game rookie debut ten years prior, his numbers as an Islander have been very strong – culminating in a tag-team effort with former netminding partner Robin Lehner to capture last season’s Jennings Trophy. Whether he can replicate that with new goalie buddy Varlamov remains to be seen, and the team in front of him has lost a bit in free agency – but Barry Trotz does have a reputation for building systems that favor goalies, so don’t expect too big of a drop-off (if any) from last year.
7. Petr Mrazek (CAR)
Last year’s rank: 10
Sometimes player and team find each other at the exact right moment, and that seems to have been the case with Mrazek and the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes. Looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2017-18 campaign that ended in Philadelphia, Mrazek signed on with a young bunch of jerks with something to prove – and they both went on to do so. Mrazek looked more like the goalie who had seemed like the Next Big Thing when he started out in Detroit, winning 23 games for Carolina with four shutouts before helping backstop his team to the Eastern Conference Final last spring. Can he keep it up this year? A more seasoned team overall combined with an increasingly badass defense would suggest it’s highly likely.
6. Cory Schneider (NJD)
Last year’s rank: 5
No one who has watched the Metropolitan Division over the last decade needs to be told what Cory Schneider can bring to the table when Cory Schneider is 100% healthy. And while his last three seasons have been mediocre at best, the rest of the division should look at this quote and feel a little scared about what Schneider can do with a revitalized Devils team:
Cory Schneider: “This was the best summer I’ve had in a long time. Physically this is the best I’ve felt in a long time in terms of aches and pains. We’ve seen before how quickly it can go well or how quickly it can go badly. Getting off to a fast start will alleviate pressure."— Emily Kaplan (@emilymkaplan) September 22, 2019
5. Semyon Varlamov (NYI)
Last year’s rank: N/A
It’s been eight years since the Caps sent Semyon Varlamov’s rights to the Avalanche for the pick that would become (sigh) Filip Forsberg. Since his departure, nothing about Varlamov’s career – on the ice, at least – has been surprising to those who watched his early development. He’s shown flashes of brilliance intertwined with lengthy and frequent injury battles, which combined have resulted in a fairly decent albeit inconsistent career. Now he’s back on the east coast, poised to help the Islanders try to prove that last year wasn’t just a fluke – and if he can stay healthy (and if Trotz’s previously mentioned goalie-whispering abilities continue) he might be able to do just that.
4. Carter Hart (PHI)
Last year’s rank: Not Ranked
There have been times when taking on the role of starting goalie in Philadelphia is akin to becoming the drummer for Spinal Tap – so when someone is able to step into that role and not spontaneously combust, it’s worthy of attention. And that’s why someone like Hart, a seasoned veteran of a whole 31 NHL games under his belt, has all eyes on him heading into this season. He debuted in December of last year and won his first two starts, giving up just three goals on 54 shots combined, then went on a tear from mid-January to mid-February, winning eight in a row and 10 of 11 to briefly drag the Flyers into the playoff picture. Hart finished the season with 16 wins, a sub-3.00 GAA and a save percentage of .917 – and now gets to take that strong start out for a ride in his first full NHL season.
3. Matt Murray (PIT)
Last year’s rank: 4
Setting aside the fact that he’s had a couple of recent playoff disappointments – including manning the net for all four losses in the Pens’ first-round sweep by the Islanders, and a second-round ousting at the hands of the eventual Cup champs in 2018 – Murray continues to be what Pittsburgh hoped he’d be when they drafted him in 2012: a very good goalie who can start to fill the void left by Marc-Andre Fleury. Having just turned 25 in May, the best years of Murray’s career could still be ahead of him (which must be nice when you’ve already won two Stanley Cups). For him, the question is not whether he can continue to hang onto and excel in the Penguins’ starter role (neither Tristan Jarry nor Casey DeSmith seem to be much of a threat for that job); the question is whether he can stay healthy enough to do so, as he’s suffered a number of injuries already including several concussions.
2. Henrik Lundqvist (NYR)
Last year’s rank: 3
At 37 years old and coming off a wildly inconsistent and overall disappointing 2018-19 season, it would be easy to write off Lundqvist as well past his prime. It would also be easy to keep him highly ranked out of nostalgia or just a general appreciation for his entire body of work which (despite lacking a Cup) is pretty darn impressive overall. We’re leaning toward the latter on this go-round despite that disappointing 2018-19 season, in part because of the rebuilding team in front of him last year and in part because… well, he’s still Lundqvist. Expect his workload to drop off significantly – gone are the days of him dressing for 60-70 games, never to be seen again – but in a more limited role and with a bunch of new teammates, don’t discount him stealing more games than he probably should this year.
1. Braden Holtby (WSH)
Last year’s rank: 1
While his last two regular-season outings weren’t up to his usual standard – for a variety of reasons, ranging from a systems and coaching change in front of him to simply being a human – Holtby’s body of work continues to be pretty awe-inspiring, capped off by his stellar rebound from glorified backup to Stanley Cup Champion and author of The Save. This is a big season for Holtby, as he heads into the final year of a five-year deal with the chance to bring home a huge payday next July (thanks, Bobrovsky and Vasilevskiy!). He’ll have a pretty decent team in front of him this time around, with a little more focus on the defensive side of the ice, which should help get those numbers back into a traditionally Holtby-esque neighborhood… as long as he can shut out the distractions of a contract year and the questions about whether he’ll be staying in DC.