This an update, a re-do, or refaire in French, if only French Canadian goalies were still the rage. They’re not. None made this list, neither did any Finns. Where does Thatcher Demko of the Vancouver Canucks rank and how has that ranking changed since we attempted this in the off-season?
This is not about tandems or pairs, this was and is about projected or guaranteed number-one’s. We’ll do the tandems in the next couple of days. VHN’s rankings on September 9th before camp:
1) Robin Lehner – Vegas Golden Knights
2) Philipp Grubauer – Seattle Kraken
3) Jacob Markstrom – Calgary Flames
4) Thatcher Demko – Vancouver Canucks
5) Mike Smith – Edmonton Oilers
6) John Gibson – Anaheim Ducks
7) Cal Petersen – Los Angeles Kings
8) James Reimer – San Jose Sharks
Then: Utilizing a combination of aggregate Corsi goalie ratings, “smooshed” mega-algorithms, ancient knowledge, and team circumstance and psychology, I’ve come up with a ranking of the best netminders in the Pacific Division. Just for fun, instead of going down 1-through-8, let’s go in alphabetical order and allow for some surprises. (The “thinking then’s” below are only partial re-prints of the September analysis)
Now: Performance thus far with some of the other criteria thrown in for good measure.
— Anaheim Ducks – Thinking then: John Gibson was dinged up early last season but survived to play 35 games for a team that’s completely in rebuild mode. Sometimes analytics can’t quantify “hung out to dry”. I’ve seen this guy at his very best in person, ice water running through his veins, stone-cold owning it, in leading Team USA to Gold at the 2013 World Juniors in Ufa, Russia while picking up tournament MVP honours. He has the stable demeanour, although he can come across as aloof …
Thinking now: I went on to say “I wondered where his head would be at.” Psychology played a bigger part in his early September evaluation than it did for anyone else. Now you know that I didn’t get my psychology degree. He as fully engaged and on board as his young team appears to be. His straight up numbers, a .927 save percentage and a 2.34 goals against are very strong, while his funky numbers, the Corsi aggregate, rank him 25th in the league. Why I’m not a big fan of funky numbers. That’s a conversation for a different time. He just beat the Canucks head-to-head and was the biggest factor in the win. For now, he moves up to Number-3.
— Calgary Flames – Thinking then: Oooooo, touchy subject, and it will probably remain so through the length of Jacob Markstrom‘s six-year contract up the road in Alberta. Hey, the Canucks moved on from the now 31-year-old with other plans. Just don’t win the Vezina big guy. He has the size, 6’6″, is strong positionally in the butterfly, and remains agile. He was 9th in the Corsi last season but low in the aggregate, especially in categories focused on preventing goals unexpectedly. As in, not spectacular …
Thinking now: Ten starts, four shut-outs. No other Western Conference goalie has more than one. His early stats are stupid good: .940 save percentage and a 1.69 goals against. He’s top ten in the Corsi aggregate. Oddly, he’s only won five games. 5-2-and-3. Number-2
— Edmonton Oilers – Thinking then: Talk about flippers – holy moly, MIke Smith with the fastest kick save in the West. Last season, age 39, he kicked out a goals against average of 2.31 with a .923 save percentage. Damn! He’s funky, he’s a bit nuts, he’s competitive, and he’s scored a goal in both the ECHL and the NHL eleven years apart. His Corsi is awful but his flare for the dramatic almost makes up for it …
Thinking now: He’s hurt. So plug in Mikko Koskinen, who shares the lead in the Western Conference with seven wins. He touts a .920 save percentage and a 2.54 goals against, but is way down the funky stat charts. He made the saves he had to, including some big ones late in the game, head to head against Vancouver. Both Oilers goalies have beaten the Canucks this season. This team will at times still simply try to outscore its problems. Just win baby, but I’m still putting him at Number-5.
— Los Angeles Kings – Thinking then: Cal Petersen? Really. This $850,000 man over the $5.8-million two-time Stanley Cup champ’ Jonathan Quick? Does it matter? Given the rebuild, General Manager Rob Blake can afford to wait out year-nine of Quick’s ten-year contract and see what happens. I mean, the Kings are still paying ex-defenceman Dion Phaneuf for two more seasons. Things will clean up. For now, share the wealth between the pipes, what the heck …
Thinking now: And that’s exactly what they’ve done. “Quickie” has seven starts, Petersen has six. Either way, based on the full package, the LA Kings guy, fill in the blank, checks in at Number-7.
— San Jose Sharks – Thinking then: EEK! Adin HIll and James Reimer. OK. The Sharks needed a goalie this summer so they traded for one. They snagged Hill from Arizona. The big 25-year-old has played 49 NHL games. Reimer meanwhile, is Reimer. NEXT!
Thinking now: James Reimer’s standard numbers have been magnifique, with a Conference-best .946 save percentage over six appearances. Meanwhile, his corsi numbers are ranked in the thirties among active goalies. It’s a team game. “Reims”, who literally everyone I know has a soft spot for, has benefitted from the Sharks decent start. It won’t last. Adin Hill leads NHL goalies with two assists. So there’s that. They stay put at Number-8.
— Seattle Kraken – Thinking then: Tough personal projection or arc to evaluate when you’re going from the President’s Trophy winners to an expansion team. That’s the situation for Philipp Grubauer. The German was outstanding this past regular season in Colorado with a goals against average under two, but his save percentage slipped 8-points when the playoffs rolled around. Is that his mental make-up under pressure? He previously had some horrendous playoff performances in Washington as well. Lucky for him we’re not looking at the playoffs …
Thinking now: Tough sledding. His Corsi aggregate just tucks into the top-20 but his standard numbers go hand-in-hand with what you’d expect from a traditional expansion team goalie. And these aren’t your older brother’s Vegas Golden Knights. No other option but to drop him to Number-6.
— Vancouver Canucks – Thinking then: Thatcher Demko. Honestly, he’s primed for a full break-out. He has size, he’s athletic and agile, he never quits on pucks, he’s level-headed, and he’s positionally strong. He’s top-10 in the NHL in “goals saved above expected”. In other words, he can rob people; he can be streaky good. Many goals that should have gone in, didn’t. His generic numbers haven’t been great because neither have the team’s. Vancouver gave up scoring chances and goals at a pace near the top of the league. It made his .915-save-percentage better than respectable. The break-out concept is also tangible because the team’s break-out could come hand-in-hand, which is obviously the best-case scenario …
Thinking now: I’d say we pretty much nailed it, other than the team game coming around hand-in-hand. Yet. Take a glass half full approach to this and in the meantime, enjoy the “Thatcher Demko Show”. Based on the aggregate, he stays at Number-4.
— Vegas Golden Knights – Thinking then: Robin Lehner. Let’s face it, dude has played with some bad to mediocre teams going through tough times. When’s he’s had at least a decent to very good team in front of him, he’s played a huge part. Think of the 2019 New York Islanders when he banged out a .930 save percentage and a 2.13 GAA. Yes, good defensive team. In his 22 starts with Vegas thus far his numbers have been ri-donkulously good. Again, very good team. How refreshing for him, after early runs in Ottawa and then Buffalo …
Thinking now: Despite the team’s unhealthy start, literally due to injuries and Covid, he’s managed to perform. Tops in the west in terms of Corsi numbers and top-ten in traditional numbers despite the VGK’s slow start. Six wins in eleven starts and he’s played the most minutes in the NHL. Until someone bumps him, still Number-1.
When we do the tandems, these rankings will change, as you’d expect. Definitely for the Canucks.