Predicting goaltending has proven to be very difficult from season to season, let alone day to day. So how can we expect to properly analyze the position when we're looking to place the savviest NHL bets possible?
It's difficult, but PuckLuck's model has proven to be the best tool we've got in the public realm in order to properly stress the importance goalies can have on a game by game basis while also identifying the difference in impact between a team's starter and backup can have.
The goaltending situation is unique within each team, especially when you begin to realize that not every team's "number one" goalie is necessarily their best option to man the net. Due to this, I decided it's time to run down each NHL team's goaltending, in order to help get a better idea of what to expect when you see those goalie confirmations each day.
We'll note each goalie's GSAx/60, which is their PuckLuck projected goals-saved above expected per game based on a three-year weight. This season a netminder may have outperformed or underwhelmed this number to date, but in order to stay ahead of the curve we're projecting what will happen as opposed to what has happened. This allows us to more appropriately predict a goalie's value without recency bias.
Today, let's review the Eastern Conference.
Ullmark's current season is absolutely outstanding, so it's no surprise he's garnering the bulk of starts for the Bruins. Swayman came into the season poised to run with the number one job, but injuries never really gave him that chance. Unless Ullmark really cools, coach Jim Montgomery is rightfully going to stick with the Swede.
Comrie came into the season as a bit of an analytic darling in his limited NHL action, but a rough start to the year and a long-term injury carved a path for the Sabres to get a good look at prospect Luukkonen while the vet Anderson continued his spot-start duty. While Luukkonen struggled early-on, he's really picked it up of late as Buffalo has climbed the standings.
With Comrie back, this is likely to be a three-headed monster. The free agent acquisition will get a chance to reclaim the net, but Luukkonen could be the long-term solution at the position.
Speaking of three-headed monsters, Andersen's injury opened up room for the animated Kochetkov to show what he can do. Along with Raanta, all three Canes goalies are saving above expectation, making this one of the strongest tandems in the league no matter how things shake out.
Kochetkov was just awarded a new contract in-season, so a trade of either Andersen or Raanta when Andersen is healthy is the likely route Carolina will go here.
Columbus Blue Jackets
We go from one of the league's best goaltending situations to one of the league's worst. The problem? The Blue Jackets keep trotting out Korpisalo even though he's consistently one of the NHL's worst at the position. There's a little hope Merzlikins can right the ship as a reliable backup, but perhaps Tarasov adapts better into that role. Either way, Columbus will need to look elsewhere for their answer in net next season.
Detroit Red Wings
Husso entered Detroit coming off a surprisingly really strong season for the Blues in 2021-2022, and he's assumed the starter's role admirably earning 65% of the starts. Nedeljkovic was last year's version of this, but injuries have hampered his performance this season. Still, he's expected to regain form and be an above-average netminder.
Hellberg, who can't ever clear waivers and stick with one team, is about as good a third-stringer you can expect in the NHL.
Coming into the season, there was a big question mark around the projected net share in Florida. Bobrovsky has the big contract and former-Vezina pedigree. Knight has the high draft status and is the clear future for the Panthers. However, neither can seem to get a firm grasp on the starter's role as both have been up and down this season.
You may notice Lyon projects quite favorably from a limited sample. In a league desperate for good goaltending, he may be worth a flier as a backup for some team next season.
Allen is an established 1A at this point in his career, and Montembeault's stock is rising as Montreal has had to rely upon its goaltending to keep them in games this season. The Canadiens are a good example of why GSAx is a more telling stat than save percentage, as Allen and Montembeault are both around .900 but are saving above expected. It's simply their team in front of them hindering their box score stats.
The Canadiens organization was once optimistic that Primeau was the future in net, but his putrid performance last season has hushed any of that chatter.
New Jersey Devils
Vanecek has proved invaluable as the Devils surged atop the standings earlier this season. Maybe uncoincidentally, New Jersey started to slip again when Blackwood returned from injury. Things seemed to have leveled out as Vanecek is undoubtedly their go-to guy now, but goaltending will continue to be the wildcard as the rest of the team looks like a well-oiled machine.
New York Islanders
There's no questioning the Islanders' net share, as Sorokin is dominate for the second straight season. It is nice, however, to see Varlamov playing really well this year as well. Varlamov is likely to regress with more action, so the Isles will be smart to continue to trot out Sorokin two-thirds of the time as they have.
New York Rangers
Shesterkin's been underperforming this season compared to last. Also, Shesterkin's saving well-above expected. When both of these things are true, you know you have a complete stud in net.
It's unfortunate Halak hasn't even been average in his backup role, which pretty much assures that the Rangers will look elsewhere for next season's backup. Perhaps that's in-house with Domingue, who was impressive in emergency playoff duty with the Penguins last season.
When it comes to trotting out the wrong goaltender most nights, that's exactly what Ottawa is doing. They traded for Talbot to be the incumbent starter, yet Forsberg has been the more consistent goalie. Since Forsberg should really only be relied upon in spot-duty, the Senators will continue to struggle until they find someone who can carry the bulk of the load.
The reemergence of Hart this season has to be a sigh of relief for Flyers fans, abut the last couple seasons suggests to the model that some regression is in order. Sandstrom was really impressive in 2021-2022, and Ersson has been really impressive in his five appearances this season, leaving room for any three of these goalies to be the long-term answer.
Nothing is certain - let alone imminent - but all have another season after this under contract to sort out the correct and appropriate pecking order.
As far as tandems go, the Penguins boast one of the few that can consistently rely on either netminder in extended stretches with much success. Both Pittsburgh goalies are saving above expected yet again this season, and with the seasons Jarry has put together back-to-back, it's hard to argue against his 60%+ start rate.
Tampa Bay Lightning
To no one's surprise, Vasilevskiy is dominating the net share once again this season. He's a perennial star in net, but the Lightning are in trouble if Elliott is spurred into a significant role via injury.
Toronto Maple Leafs
There were huge questions regarding the Maple Leafs' approach to revamping the goaltending position this season. Murray and Samsonov were brought in as the 1A and 1B, and, when healthy, both have performed admirably. History suggests some serious regression is in order, although Murray's second half of last season was super strong.
As to which one should merit the majority of starts, Samsonov's current season and overall projection numbers are a little better. He should probably get a more extended look in the second half as Toronto will likely want to ride with one netminder come playoff time.
Much like the Maple Leafs, Washington overhauled their goaltending in the offseason and it's paying dividends. Kuemper is performing even better than he had in Colorado, and Lindgren was one of the clutch backup finds in the league. The start percentage for Kuemper should continue to increase now that he's back healthy, which means be ready for some hefty total GSAx numbers by season's end.