*This article was most not too long ago up to date in July 2023
Sometimes there’s a skinny line between the talent ranges of No. 1 goalies and their backups within the NHL. Not solely has it turn into extra frequent for groups to platoon their goalies out and in, however increasingly one-time starters at the moment are discovering new life within the NHL as backups, to which this record will attest.
On the alternative finish of the spectrum, generally all an excellent goalie actually wants is a shot as a backup to show there’s one thing extra there. Taking under consideration stats, cost-effectiveness of their respective contracts, the extent of success they’ve loved thus far and their total potential, listed here are the highest 5 backups within the NHL:
5. Kevin Lankinen (Nashville Predators)
Kevin Lankinen might have discovered his area of interest within the NHL with the Nashville Predators. Three seasons after leaping on the NHL scene with Chicago Blackhawks, the 28-year-old posted his greatest season statistically, however with the least quantity of appearances (19).
After signing on with the Predators as an unrestricted free agent in 2022, Lankinen went 9-8-1 with a 2.75 goals-against common (GAA) and .916 save share (SV%), backing up Juuse Saros. His success shouldn’t have come as a complete shock although. That got here early on in his NHL profession with the woeful Blackhawks.
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In the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, Lankinen served because the Blackhawks No. 1 goalie, going 17-14-5. Overall, he had a 3.01 GAA and respectable .909 SV%, however solely after taking pictures out of the beginning gates of his NHL profession. Through his first very 12 video games, he went 7-2-3, with a .931 SV%, earlier than his numbers began to normalize.
Now with a decreased workload, the 28-year-old Lankinen re-signed with the Predators for one yr by way of 2023-24. Both events, it could appear, know what they’re getting from the opposite (and are greater than glad with the outcomes).
4. Pavel Francouz (Colorado Avalanche)
Ditto for Pavel Francouz and the Colorado Avalanche. Francouz has been within the NHL since 2018-19, all the time posting stable numbers, apart from in 2020-21, when surgical procedure saved him out of motion altogether (from “How Avalanche goalie Pavel Francouz persevered past double knee and hip surgeries: ‘I’m trying to enjoy every minute,’ The Denver Post, Jan. 30, 2022).
Francouz had come off a career-high 34-game 2019-20 season, arguably even outplaying Philipp Grubauer, who would go on to run with the ball and earn a Vezina Trophy nomination the following season in the former’s absence. Once Francouz returned to action, Grubauer had moved on to the Seattle Kraken as a UFA, but the Avs brought in Darcy Kuemper as a replacement for one season via trade.
It’s hard to blame the Avalanche for not looking to Francouz, seeing as they won the Stanley Cup that season. Kuemper then signed with the Washington Capitals, the Avs going on to bring in Alexandar Georgiev. Once again, the Avs passed over Francouz, this time in favor of a goalie who had been little more than a backup up to that point. Once again though, it proved to be the right decision.
Georgiev went on to post the best numbers in his career, playing 62 games, when he had never appeared in more than 34 beforehand with the New York Rangers. However, Francouz was no slouch, posting an 8-7-1 record with a 2.61 GAA and .915 SV%. There’s something to be said for his reliability, even if it comes across as an instance of “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.”
Ultimately, in a league the place it’s frequent for groups to undergo backups like ketchup packets, it’s been the reverse state of affairs with the Avalanche and their starters. They should know what they’re doing, although. Francouz too, seeing as he retains re-signing. Now 33, Francouz’ deal is up in 2024. It stands to motive the time for him to determine himself as a starter has handed, however not all is misplaced. He and the Avs simply hold profitable, with him as a key part of the components.
3. Antti Raanta (Carolina Hurricanes)
Take it from Carolina Hurricanes goalie Antti Raanta, who tried life on as a starter as soon as upon a time with the Arizona Coyotes. It simply wasn’t meant to be, regardless of a quasi-successful 2017-18 season, the place he went 21-17-6 with a 2.24 GAA and .930 SV%. The sustained, greater workload simply didn’t agree with Raanta, who ultimately fell down the depth chart, behind Kuemper and Adin Hill within the desert.
Raanta joined the Hurricanes in 2021, the place fellow-UFA Frederik Andersen ultimately emerged because the clear-cut No. 1. Both have been equally UFAs on the finish of the 2022-23 marketing campaign, however each additionally re-signed this offseason, because the tandem has confirmed to work, with the upstart Pyotr Kochetkov rising as a longer-term possibility.
Related: Hurricanes Should Re-Sign Raanta This Offseason, Not Andersen
It’s price noting, Raanta obtained in vital internet time throughout the playoffs for the second straight season. Andersen had been injured their complete 2022 playoff run and had been unavailable for a part of Round 1 this previous spring. To his credit score, Raanta got here by way of for all intents and functions.
Raanta helped lead the Hurricanes to a first-round victory over the New York Islanders with 5 appearances within the six-game sequence. When it comes all the way down to it, even when the Hurricanes clearly desire Andersen, they will depend on Raanta and appear to have no downside stepping into that route if vital. If that’s not the textbook definition of a backup, what’s?
2. Jeremy Swayman (Boston Bruins)
It could be straightforward to put no less than among the blame for the Boston Bruins’ playoff trainwreck this previous offseason at goalie Jeremy Swayman’s ft. As a refresher, after a record-setting regular season, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins blew a 3-1 sequence lead over the Florida Panthers in Round 1.
Swayman was in internet for the disappointing Game 7 loss, during which the Bruins got here again from a 2-0 deficit, took the lead within the third, solely to surrender the game-tying aim with one minute left in regulation and lose in extra time. However, head coach Jim Montgomery deflected blame onto the coaching staff, after having began Linus Ullmark in Games 1-6 within the sequence.
In protection of the Bruins’ group as a complete, Ullmark did simply win the Vezina Trophy. So, realistically, he’s your man, even amid studies he had been injured (when it was repeatedly burdened he had however been medically cleared). So, finally, Swayman can’t be thrown underneath the bus when a) he was thrown in comparatively chilly and b) he performed competently sufficient to win the deciding sport.
The reality is, the Bruins felt comfy going with Swayman, as a result of he had confirmed to be a dependable possibility all season lengthy. Ullmark might have gotten a lot of the glory, however Swayman began 33 video games, going 24-6-4 with a 2.27 GAA and .920 SV%.
True, these numbers are as spectacular as they’re partially due to the staff in entrance of Swayman. However, when you return just a few seasons, earlier than Ullmark joined the Bruins, the previous appeared to be Tuukka Rask’s inheritor obvious.
The 2021-22 Stanley Cup Playoffs appeared to bolster that notion when Swayman changed Ullmark after they misplaced the primary two video games of Round 1. Swayman then went the gap, taking part in the final 5 video games of the sequence, earlier than the Bruins misplaced to the Hurricanes in seven.
A yr later, little has modified in that regard. Swayman remains to be simply 24 (in comparison with Ullmark’s 30 years of age). A restricted free agent, Swayman nonetheless must be re-signed, however, if anybody’s going to balk, you’d suppose it could be Swayman on the prospect of taking part in behind Ullmark for the stability of the latter’s deal (till 2025).
Rumors to that effect have since been put to mattress, although. Look for Swayman to remain put… keep the 1B in the meanwhile (as a result of how can he find yourself something however, sharing the crease with the reigning Vezina winner?). Eventually, he’ll turn into the undisputed starter, however, till that point comes, he’ll keep the backup, only one with aspirations of larger success (and, undeniably, the instruments to get him there).
1. Semyon Varlamov (New York Islanders)
New York Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov had been a (if not “the”) prime backup on this league, even when he counted $5 million towards the cap. There’s little motive he wouldn’t stay within the operating, now that he’s re-signed for $2.75 million per season, albeit by way of 2027 (when he’ll be 39).
Varlamov had signed his $5 million-per-season deal forward of the 2019-20 season, however that was earlier than Ilya Sorokin’s early 2021 debut. Over the next three seasons the 2 goalies reversed roles to the purpose Sorokin has turn into an elite starter.
As a end result, Varlamov’s quantity of video games performed has understandably decreased. Of course, they’ve been lowering each season since 2017-18 when he was nonetheless with the Avalanche. However, he’s nonetheless contributing, having gone 11-9-2 with a 2.70 GAA and .913 SV% this previous season. Look for each traits to proceed for the foreseeable future.