It is an argument that inspires passion in every rink, sports bar and living room where hockey is being played or is on the television. It can incite elevated heart rates in person and long discussion threads on the Internet.
Who is the best?
NHL.com and NHL Network gathered 10 writers and television personalities and asked that very question. Each was asked to rank their top eight in eight categories -- centers, left wings, right wings, defensemen, goalies, coaches, general managers and guys who wore the No. 8 sweater.
The voting, which took place for all eight segments in mid-February, is complete and the points have been tallied. Here is our answer to the simple question, who are the best in the NHL?
GAA: 2.19 | SVP: 0.922
There is no question the overall talent level at the goaltending position continues to reach new heights. Better instruction at younger ages, better defensive systems in front of them, and a recent development of most NHL franchises employing two goaltending coaches instead of one have made the standard at the position even greater.That said, like a quarterback in the NFL, if a team doesn't have an elite goaltender it is at a significant disadvantage. Three of the goaltenders on this list have backstopped their team to the Stanley Cup, and by the end of this season it is possible all will have been at least a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
We've asked NHL.com correspondent and goaltender guru Kevin Woodley to offer his breakdown of each of the top netminders. As a reminder, the voting for this list was done in mid-February and, in general, voters have considered full bodies of work more persuasive than what individual players have done in this shortened season for all of these top eight arguments.
Here are the voting results. Note: A player received eight points for a first-place vote, seven for a second and so forth to one point for an eighth-place ranking (number of first-place votes in parenthesis).
1. Henrik Lundqvist (six first-place votes) -- 68 points
8 Debate: Top goalie voting results
- 1. Henrik Lundqvist (6) -- 68 points
- 2. Pekka Rinne (3) -- 59 points
- 3. Jonathan Quick -- 55 points
- 4. Carey Price -- 37 points
- 5. Craig Anderson (1) -- 21 points
- 6. Martin Brodeur -- 20 points
- 7. Ryan Miller -- 18 points
- 8. Marc-Andre Fleury -- 16 points
Others receiving votes: Roberto Luongo (15), Mike Smith (15), Tuukka Rask (8), Antti Niemi (7), Kari Lehtonen (8), Corey Crawford (7), Jimmy Howard (4), Viktor Fasth (1)
Lundqvist has been one of the NHL's elite goaltenders since arriving to the New York Rangers at the start of the 2005-06 season. He earned All-Rookie honors that season and won the Vezina Trophy for the first time in 2011-12.
Among goaltenders with at least 150 appearances since 2005-06, Lundqvist leads the League with a 2.27 goals-against average, is tied for the third-best save percentage at .920, and is tied for the second-most wins at 266.
"King Henrik" struggled in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a rookie, but since then he's been stellar with a 2.20 GAA and .921 save percentage.
Woodley's take: "Known for playing Benoit Allaire's deeper, goal line-out style -- and adopting incredibly fast to it after coming over from Sweden -- Lundqvist never stops trying to get better, narrowing his stance the last couple years to get taller, and adding early depth against specific rush chances and breakaways. Amid the tinkering, though, his ability to read shots and plays, staying patient and often end up on one knee while making truly reactive saves, separates him from the rest."
2. Pekka Rinne (3) -- 59
Rinne was the last pick of the eighth round in the 2004 NHL Draft -- the final year in which that round existed. Like Lundqvist, he was an unheralded late draft pick, and like him Rinne has been outstanding from the minute his team gave him the No. 1 job.
Since becoming the starter for the Nashville Predators during the 2008-09 season, Rinne is in the top five in GAA (2.34) and save percentage (.920). He's also tops in the NHL with 30 shutouts.
Rinne is in the first season of a seven-year, $49 million contract, which makes him the highest-paid goalie in the League, just ahead of Lundqvist.
Woodley's take: "Blessed with the size to thrive as a blocking goalie at 6-foot-5, Rinne rarely does, instead relying as much on athleticism that would be enviable in the NBA. Never out of a play with those long limbs and great hands, his propensity for catching pucks was born out of playing the Finnish equivalent of baseball growing up and is on display even on shots along the ice, eliminating rebounds that can lead to scrambles in Nashville's end."
3. Jonathan Quick -- 55Quick had a chance to win the Vezina last season, but just missed. His year ended OK, though -- he led the Los Angeles Kings to a Stanley Cup title and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. One season after Tim Thomas authored a historic playoff run for the Boston Bruins, Quick equaled it. He went 16-4 with a .946 save percentage and a 1.41 GAA.
The 2011-12 season was not Quick's first as an elite NHL goaltender, but it was the one in which he proved he could sustain such status. He wasn't always considered the goalie of the future in Los Angeles -- Jonathan Bernier was -- but with a 10-year contract, there's no doubting who will be in net for the foreseeable future in Hollywood.
Woodley's take: "Praised for athleticism and aggressiveness during last year's Stanley Cup run, the biggest evolution in Quick's rise to the top has been relying less often on his raw speed and Gumby-like flexibility to make spectacular saves. From a goalie who turned pro without a true understanding of proper leg recovery, to one of, if not the NHL's fastest lateral movements from down on his knees, as long as Quick doesn't go full splits, he's never out of a play."4. Carey Price -- 37
The top three on this list might qualify as underdog stories, but Price's path to stardom with the Montreal Canadiens is the opposite of that. The fifth pick in the 2005 NHL Draft, Price has been a phenom at the position for years. He allowed seven goals in six games to help Canada to a gold medal at the 2007 World Junior Championship, backstopped the Hamilton Bulldogs to a Calder Cup six months later, and was in the NHL not long after his 20th birthday.
After some struggles in the Montreal spotlight, Price has matured into the franchise goaltender so many expected him to be. He is a workhorse too -- Price has played the second-most games (behind Rinne) since Jaroslav Halak left town after the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Woodley's take: "As smooth as any goalie in the game, whether moving on his skates or sliding around on his knees, Price makes even the explosive saves look effortless at times. He is the poster boy for goalie coaches, exuding a calmness that radiates out from the crease and buoys teammates. Don't let that silky exterior and impeccable technique fool you, though -- he competes as hard as anyone and will throw it all out the window when a headfirst diving save is needed."
5. Craig Anderson (1) -- 21Anderson is actually the only player on this list who is not still with the franchise that drafted him. He was on his third organization and was 28 years old before he was ever truly a No. 1 goaltender. Even then, his follow-up season started poorly and the Colorado Avalanche traded him to the Ottawa Senators.
Now settled as the No. 1 with the Senators (though they have a pair of highly regarded prospects pushing him), Anderson was the overwhelming favorite to win the Vezina this season before his campaign was derailed by injury. He's close to returning, and Ottawa could be a tough out in the postseason because of it.
Woodley's take: "Already one of the game's better pure skate-and-react goalies, Anderson added a layer of technical foundation he had long dismissed while spending four weeks in Florida with butterfly guru Francois Allaire and Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo during the lockout. It's led to a nice mix, especially in post-save recovery situations, between more efficient movements to the next position and his innate ability to scramble when required."
6. Martin Brodeur -- 20
GAA: 2.08 | SVP: 0.912
There are also four Vezina trophies and his name is on the Stanley Cup three times. Older fans might have another name in mind for the title of greatest goalie of all-time, but Brodeur has proven he can win in different eras and with different styles.
Woodley's take: "One of the last of his kind, Brodeur has added more butterfly to his repertoire but still spends more time on his skates than any other goaltender, relying on experience and an incredible ability to read and anticipate to beat plays on his feet. While he has followed the trend toward a more conservative initial depth over the years, Brodeur still employs many of the lost arts of goaltending, like baiting shooters."
7. Ryan Miller -- 18If this project was done in conjunction with the launch of Windows 7, Miller would be higher on the list. He was the undisputed king of the position in 2010, after earning top goalie honors at the 2010 Winter Olympics and the Vezina Trophy a few months later.
Since then, his numbers have slipped -- but to be fair, so has the team in front of him. This season has been particularly rocky, with his longtime coach fired and the Buffalo Sabres facing long odds to make the playoffs. At 32 years old, with four consecutive seasons with at least a .916 save percentage on his resume before this one, don't bet against a bounce back from Miller in the near future.
Woodley's take: "Admittedly aggressive, Miller feels he is at his best when he is out beyond the top of the blue paint, bucking a trend of more conservative initial depth throughout the League. Not afraid to throw out a poke check and challenge shooters, he relies on good reads to stay ahead of the play without giving up too much of that extra space, and his long reach helps when he does need to scramble back to a post without time for a proper recovery."
GAA: 2.24 | SVP: 0.918
Like Price, Fleury has dealt with immense expectations throughout his career. The No. 1 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, he was the face of the Pittsburgh Penguins' rebuild until Sidney Crosby showed up. Fleury has had some famous pratfalls -- the game-winning goal for the United States in the 2004 WJC, the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs -- but he is someone who could legitimately chase some of Brodeur's records given his age (28) and success to this point.
Fleury is 24th all-time with 75 playoff appearances, and he was critical in leading the Penguins to back-to-back appearances in the Stanley Cup Final and claiming the Cup in 2009. He leads the NHL in wins this season, and if he can put his 2012 playoff performance behind him, Fleury could lift the Cup again in a few months.
Woodley's take: "One of the NHL's most explosive goalies when moving laterally, Fleury's butterfly slides from the knees actually became a teaching point for goalie coaches. But the Penguins' Stanley Cup-winner is arguably at his best when he relies less on that incredible mobility, remaining more contained within or near the edge of his crease rather than chasing plays and save positions outside that area, which can leave him needing that speed to scramble back and regain that space."Others receiving votes: Roberto Luongo (15), Mike Smith (15), Tuukka Rask (8), Antti Niemi (7), Kari Lehtonen (8), Corey Crawford (7), Jimmy Howard (4), Viktor Fasth (1)
|TOP 8 GOALTENDERS (VOTING BREAKDOWN)|
|1. Lundqvist||1. Lundqvist||1. Rinne||1. Rinne||1. Rinne|
|2. Quick||2. Rinne||2. Lundqvist||2. Quick||2. Lundqvist|
|3. Brodeur||3. Quick||3. Quick||3. Lundqvist||3. Brodeur|
|4. Miller||4. Miller||4. Fleury||4. Price||4. Smith|
|5. Fleury||5. Price||5. Price||5. Miller||5. Fleury|
|6. Anderson||6. Howard||6. Lehtonen||6. Fleury||6. Quick|
|7. Rinne||7. Anderson||7. Niemi||7. Rask||7. Price|
|8. Niemi||8. Brodeur||8. Luongo||8. Luongo||8. Rask|
|1. Lundqvist||1. Lundqvist||1. Lundqvist||1. Anderson||1. Lundqvist|
|2. Price||2. Quick||2. Rinne||2. Crawford||2. Quick|
|3. Quick||3. Rinne||3. Quick||3. Price||3. Rinne|
|4. Rinne||4. Smith||4. Price||4. Lehtonen||4. Luongo|
|5. Miller||5. Luongo||5. Luongo||5. Rask||5. Anderson|
|6. Smith||6. Brodeur||6. Anderson||6. Brodeur||6. Price|
|7. Niemi||7. Price||7. Niemi||7. Rinne||7. Smith|
|8. Anderson||8. Howard||8. Brodeur||8. Fasth||8. Rask|