Commentary

Who is the best goalie in the NHL?

Updated: September 16, 2013, 10:36 AM ET
By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

BURNSIDE: Greetings, my friend. Well, our goalie rankings are in and, given the discussions we had with some of the top players in the league, I'm not all that surprised that there isn't a clear-cut favorite in the category of world's best goalie. Henrik Lundqvist, a former Vezina winner and five-time nominee, edged out former playoff MVP Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Boston's Tuukka Rask, who got a couple of nods from the players when we asked for their pick of the top netminder in the NHL. I guess I'm modestly surprised that Lundqvist found his way to the top of the heap given that he's a guy who has struggled to match his superlative regular-season play in the postseason. Not surprised that Quick is right there given his evolution and body of work. For my money, he would be No. 1, but I think it's fair to say the voting reflects the quality of goaltending around the NHL. It reminds me a bit of the NFL, where there are elite quarterbacks, but there is also a great collection of top quarterbacks just behind them.

If there was a bit of a surprise for me in looking at the top 10, it was that Cory Schneider edged out former teammate Roberto Luongo. And you know that storyline isn't going away anytime soon even though Schneider is now clear across the continent in New Jersey thanks to the draft-day trade that shocked the hockey world. Luongo's teammate Ryan Kesler told us recently that he believes Luongo is poised for a monster year, so it will be interesting to see if he regains the form that made him a Vezina nominee a couple of years back. If so, where would he fit on this list if we revoted at the end of the season.

LEBRUN: Canada's top three rated goalies are Luongo, Carey Price and Mike Smith at 11-12-13 on the list, and whether that's right or wrong, it's reflective of why some people view goaltending as Team Canada's Achilles' heel on what is otherwise a massively deep and talented squad that will try to defend Olympic gold in Sochi. Personally, I believe all three goalies will have bounce-back years. Smith feels the lockout hurt his preparation last season and we'll get more of the 2011-12 version -- the one that was arguably the top goalie in the NHL -- this season. Price was terrific most of last season until a collapse in the final month. Sidney Crosby told us last week he believed Price was the best goalie in the NHL. Look for Price to be dominant again this season. And Luongo? You touched on it, Scotty: Watch out. Bobby Lu is motivated in Vancouver as he reclaims the No. 1 job. But I do believe Schneider is too high on our voters' list. He hasn't proven enough yet to be ranked in the top 10. I'd have him 20th or so if it were my ranking. The guy that should be higher for sure is Kari Lehtonen, who has been super-solid in Dallas the past few years.

BURNSIDE: Agreed on Schneider, and it's going to be fascinating how that goaltending situation plays out in New Jersey. The incomparable Martin Brodeur was 18th on our list behind James Reimer of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Brodeur is 41 and missed time with injury last season, which likely cost the Devils a playoff berth, and he's as competitive as they come, so Peter DeBoer will have his hands full juggling that goaltending tandem. Frankly, I think Lehtonen is about where he deserves to be given questions about his durability and the fact he has just two postseason games to his credit. You mentioned the Canadian goaltending issue that promises to be a top storyline over the first three months of the season. The Swedes are set at No. 1, obviously, and the Finns boast Rask at No. 3 and Pekka Rinne, coming off a hip injury, at fifth. The Russians will be looking to defending Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, who ranked fourth, to backstop their gold medal dreams. But in terms of quality depth, no one tops the U.S., which has three in the top six of our rankings with Quick at two and then Jimmy Howard and Craig Anderson at sixth and seventh, respectively. Talk about a nice dilemma for U.S. general manager David Poile and his selection committee. And what about a guy named Ryan Miller, who was only the best goaltender in the world during the last Olympic year, winning MVP honors in Vancouver and then topping his season with a Vezina win that June. The Buffalo netminder, who enters the final year of his contract, has fallen to 14th.

LEBRUN: Miller begins the season in Buffalo, but I highly doubt that's where he'll finish. You wonder if contenders such as St. Louis or Pittsburgh or whichever top team isn't satisfied with what they're getting in goal will make Miller a highly sought-after commodity. Speaking of storylines, that's a juicy one. One guy on that rankings list who I believe will jump up this season is Jonathan Bernier. I predict the former Kings backup will supplant Reimer as the Leafs' starter this season and prove that he's the quality starter many of us believed he was when the Kings made him a first-round pick. And finally, one goalie I think is way too low is Devan Dubnyk in Edmonton. He actually had a very nice year for the Oilers last season but was hung out to dry on way too many nights by a young Oilers team that couldn't find the word "defense" in the dictionary. I think Dubnyk proved a lot to me last season.

BURNSIDE: Well, you're certainly a glass-half-full kind of guy today. Must be training camp time, everyone's in a good mood. Disagree on Dubnyk; in fact, I think the goaltending along with the still-not-quite-there blue line will once again doom the Oilers to a finish outside the top eight -- unless GM Craig MacTavish decides to upgrade between the pipes. And I'm still not sold on Bernier, who has a very small body of work at the NHL level on which to judge him and has never experienced the kind of marketplace that Toronto represents. I still think James Reimer emerges as "the man" in Toronto. If I was looking for a guy to make a big jump, it would be the Swedish mystery man Viktor Fasth who emerged in Anaheim as a very capable NHL netminder but languishes at 21st on our rankings. No shock in my mind if he takes over the No. 1 goaltending duties for a Ducks team that won the Pacific Division last season and should be a playoff team again this season. OK, before I let you go, is there a goaltender or two who isn't on this list that might be by the end of the year? I'll go with Anton Khudobin, who will back up Cam Ward in Carolina after apprenticing behind Rask in Boston. Very good netminder and, given Ward's injury issues, could turn out to be an important acquisition for Canes GM Jim Rutherford.

LEBRUN: Well, the best goalie in Anaheim is neither Fasth nor Jonas Hiller, it's John Gibson. But whether the young American netminder has to wait another year to make his NHL debut remains to be seen. Once he does, it's lights out in the Anaheim net, Gibson is not going to relinquish it. And if you actually think Khubodin will replace Ward as starter in Carolina, then you are crazy, my friend. I think Ward is motivated to show Team Canada it erred in not inviting him to the summer camp. He's going to be back to his old self this season.

Until the next time we debate, sir.

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