The goaltender is often seen as not only the most important position in hockey but maybe in all of professional sports. If a team doesn't have a solid or better goaltender, it is probably losing a lot of games and in the process of trying to find an upgrade at the position.
Another position in the discussion is the NFL quarterback. There is no question having an elite goalie or an elite quarterback gives a franchise an advantage and a piece around which to build.
Where the two positions diverge is in overall depth. There are 32 NFL teams, and not only is the group of elite quarterbacks relatively small, there aren't enough who can provide consistent, competent play for every team to have one, let alone two or three.
As recent NHL seasons have proven, and none more so than 2013-14, there are enough competent goaltenders for many teams to have legitimate depth at the position. This 2013-14 season has also proven NHL teams need said depth, and should be planning for it moving forward.
To put it simply, NHL teams used to worry about finding two goaltenders that could play at this level, but general managers now need to have three.
The table below showcases 10 goalies that did not begin the season in the NHL but have made at least eight NHL starts this season. What might be just as remarkable as how successful some of them have been is the varied methods in which teams have acquired these No. 3s.
|Marek Mazanec, NSH
||Draft, 6th rd (2012)
|Justin Peters, CAR
||Draft, 2nd rd (2004)
|Reto Berra, CGY
||Trade, STL (4/1/2013)
|Antti Raanta, CHI
||Free agent, Europe, 2013
|Cam Talbot, NYR
||Free agent, NCAA, 2010
|Ilya Bryzgalov, EDM
||Free agent, NHL, 2013
|Martin Jones, LAK
||Free agent, WHL, 2008
|Frederik Andersen, ANA
||Draft, 3rd rd (2012)
|Philipp Grubauer, WSH
||Draft, 4th rd (2010)
|Jeff Zatkoff, PIT
||Free agent, AHL, 2013
It is a delicate line to walk for an NHL GM. The simplest solution is through the NHL Draft, except goalies can be incredibly hard to project at 17 years old and difficult to develop. Teams like the Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals, which continue to roll homegrown goaltenders off the assembly line, are more outlier than norm.
The third goalie has to be willing to patient and wait his turn in the American Hockey League. Given his success in Europe last season, it would have been easy for Antti Raanta to expect an NHL roster spot immediately, but he went to Rockford and seized his opportunity when it came.
Losing the starting quarterback is often a death knell for teams in the NFL. Look at the table again and then the teams below in the Super 16 this week. Four of the top-five teams have gotten a sizable contribution from their No. 3 goalie, and the fifth team, the St. Louis Blues, needed their third guy, Jake Allen, in a big way last season.
DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, the new-look version is going to focus more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings, and will likely take more of a long view than a short one. Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. Also, the statistics and team records are through the games on Wednesday night.
1. Chicago Blackhawks (29-8-9)
The Blackhawks have 10 players named to represent their native country in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and a couple of others who still might join them as injury replacements. Is it too many? Will the team be fatigued at season's end? Four years ago the Washington Capitals were bulldozing the League before the Olympic break and ended up watching the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on television. Ask any of the other 29 GMs if this is actually a "problem" for the Blackhawks, or if they feel bad for Stan Bowman.
MUST READ: Tim Sassone of the Daily Herald writes about how the defense ignites the offense for the Blackhawks.
2. St. Louis Blues (30-7-5)
Get a group of hockey fans together and have them rattle off the best players on the Blues. The names of Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes, Kevin Shattenkirk and probably Alexander Steen will come first, with Jay Bouwmeester, T.J. Oshie and maybe Jaroslav Halak or Chris Stewart to follow.
One name that doesn't get mentioned enough in the discussion of the Blues is Vladimir Tarasenko, who is having a monster season when it comes to possessing the puck. The Blues are an elite possession team, and Tarasenko leads the club in Corsi for percentage at even strength.
Even better, check out the table to the right, which shows the CF% with and without Tarasenko on the ice for each Blues skater who has spent at least 130 minutes playing with him at even strength (here's the full team).
Every player has better possession numbers with Tarasenko on the ice than without. This isn't a fluke. The Russian wing had strong numbers last season as a rookie. He hasn't had nearly the good fortune with team shooting percentage Jaden Schwartz has had, but Tarasenko is a big reason the Blues are so deep and tough to control the puck against.
MUST READ: Jason McAdams of St. Louis Game Time writes about the idea of Ryan Miller being an upgrade for the Blues in net.
3. Anaheim Ducks (32-8-5)
The Ducks just keep winning. Why aren't they at the top of this list? There are several reasons. Anaheim has the highest PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage) at even strength in the League. There's a very good chance that number (103.7) will regress. The Ducks are also well behind the Blackhawks and Blues in goal differential, meaning they are winning more close games but that's not typically a sustainable “skill” in larger sample sizes. Anaheim has also played 23 games against the inferior Eastern Conference, seven more than both Chicago and St. Louis.
MUST READ: Who is going to the win the Western Conference? Ben Nierengarten of Anaheim Calling breaks down the contenders.
4. Los Angeles Kings (26-13-5)
Jonathan Quick is back, and that's almost enough to push the Kings past their SoCal rival even considering the gap in points earned at this point. It's a good thing he's back too, because 13 of the next 14 games are against teams in the Super 16 this week. Martin Jones and Ben Scrivens have both been great, but now Quick has a chance to make his case to be the starter in Sochi for the United States.
MUST READ: From the way-back machine, Austin Murphy of Sports Illustrated was there for Wayne Gretzky's initial return to Edmonton with the Kings.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (32-12-1)
The Penguins have lost three times since Thanksgiving. They haven't lost at home in nearly two months (Nov. 13). The past two games haven't been pretty, but to quote a popular soccer chant from across the pond, Sidney Crosby scores when he wants. Marc-Andre Fleury is also a perfect 11-for-11 in the shootout this season.
MUST READ: If general manager Ray Shero is going to deal for a replacement for injured wing Pascal Dupuis, Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes it isn't likely to be a short-term answer for the club.
6. San Jose Sharks (27-11-6)
This is the lowest ranking of the season for the Sharks, and a growing number of unavailable bodies has a lot to do with that. San Jose looked like one of the deepest teams in the League at the start of the year, but the Sharks are now short Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, along with a few other depth forwards.
MUST READ: The Sharks had a strong first half, but Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area writes they want more consistency.
7. Boston Bruins (28-13-2)
In the 34 games with Dennis Seidenberg in the lineup, the Bruins have allowed 62 goals. In the nine games without hockey's best Panzer in the lineup, Boston has yielded 30 goals. That's a difference of about 1.5 goals per game. That could be an issue, considering Seidenberg is unlikely to play in any of the Bruins' games for the rest of the season because of a knee injury.
MUST READ: Speaking of East contenders looking to fill an injury-induced hole, CSN New England's Joe Haggerty breaks down potential targets for Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli in the wake of the Seidenberg injury.
8. Vancouver Canucks (23-13-9)
The Canucks have lost 11 of 15 games against the teams ahead of them on this list. Their next three games are at home against St. Louis and then a second two-game trip to Southern California in as many weeks. Vancouver has lost all five games against Anaheim or Los Angeles in 2013-14.
MUST READ: There is a lot to consume here from That's Offside! about developing NHL goaltenders in the Canadian junior leagues.
9. Tampa Bay Lightning (26-13-4)
When Steven Stamkos broke his leg, the Lightning were going to be desperate for players to step forward and make up for the loss. Ben Bishop has been great in net. Martin St. Louis has continued to produce points. Young players have done well with increased responsibility.
Here's the craziest part of this season for the Lightning: They are getting better at puck possession without Stamkos. Since Dec. 7, or just less than a month after Stamkos was injured, the Lightning have registered at least 50 percent of the shot attempts (Corsi for percentage) at even strength in each of their 15 games. They've been better than 60 percent in six of them.
In the 17 games Stamkos played, the Lightning were below 50 percent nine times and above 60 once. Stamkos' CF% is at 49.3, which is actually No. 19 on the team out of 20 skaters with at least 200 minutes of even strength ice time.
St. Louis is at 52.0, and there are 12 guys from that group of 20 ahead of him. Nikita Kucherov (57.2) has been great since being recalled, Victor Hedman and Sami Salo are stout on the back end and Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson are all above 52 percent.
Palat is averaging 16:44 of ice time this season, but he's been above 17:55 in every game but one since Dec. 7. Johnson is averaging 18:23, but has played at least 19:05 in every game since Dec. 7 and has topped 20 minutes in six straight contests.
A softer schedule has played a part, but Tampa Bay's improvement in the past 15 games is another reason coach Jon Cooper could have a Jack Adams Award acceptance speech in his near future.
MUST READ: Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times writes about one of the unsung heroes for the Lightning to this point (Palat).
10. Colorado Avalanche (26-12-4)
Three wins in four games has helped the Avalanche out of a mini-funk, but the team is still only 13-10-4 since the incredible 14-2-0 start. Calder Trophy candidate Nathan MacKinnon has settled nicely on the wing. He has 11 goals and 58 shots on net in his past 20 games.
MUST READ: Adrian Dater of the Denver Post makes the case for the Avalanche to follow Teddy KGB's advice and "pay that man his money" with Ryan O'Reilly.
11. Phoenix Coyotes (21-12-9)
The Coyotes certainly missed captain Shane Doan at the offensive end of the ice. Phoenix scored 28 goals in the 12 games he missed because of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (2.33 per contest) and have 97 in the other 30 (3.23 per), including nine in the two games since he returned. The past two games have been even more impressive considering Oliver Ekman-Larsson missed both.
MUST READ: It has been an interesting first half of the season in the desert, and Jamie Eisner of Five For Howling delves into how the Coyotes got here.
12. Montreal Canadiens (25-15-5)
The Canadiens appeared to be Boston's top challenger in the division with the Detroit Red Wings decimated by injury and the Lightning struggling to score without Stamkos. Since Dec. 7 (when Tampa Bay's run of strong possession began), Montreal is 6-6-2 while Tampa Bay has gone 9-3-3. At least the entire province didn't have to freak out about P.K. Subban being left off the Canadian Olympic team, right?
MUST READ: This is a pretty definitive look at the Douglas Murray era in Montreal by Curtis Kinden of All About The Habs.
13. Dallas Stars (20-15-7)
Colorado's MacKinnon has been the most consistent rookie forward, and is probably the frontrunner to win the Calder Trophy with Hertl lost to a long-term knee injury. One guy who might prove to be his greatest competition for the award is Dallas rookie Valeri Nichushkin.
After a slow start while he tried to adjust to all things North America, Nichushkin has found a home on the Dallas top line and is surging up the rookie scoring leaderboard. Check out the two charts below. They represent the current top 10 in rookie scoring, with each player's season broken down by points before Nov. 1 and since.
Nichushkin oozes star potential with his size and skating ability, drawing comparisons to Evgeni Malkin, and the Stars might decide to try him at center in the future. For now, the 18-year-old will continue to play next to Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn on one of the best lines in the League. He'll also play for Russia next month at the Olympics, and will be one of the youngest players in the tournament.
There will also be a few GMs who picked in front of Dallas at the 2013 NHL Draft revisiting their draft notes and wondering why they didn't call Nichushkin's name.
MUST READ: Benn's Olympic experience could help make him a better player, writes Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News.
14. Detroit Red Wings (19-14-10)
The list of numbers off to the right of coach Mike Babcock's depth chart, signifying injured players, on the white board in his office is finally starting to dwindle. The Red Wings need Pavel Datsyuk to reel off a string of games with good health, and for Jimmy Howard to use his selection to the American Olympic team as a reset button after some inconsistent performances and an injury.
MUST READ: Tomas Tatar is making a nice impact for the Red Wings, writes Graham Hathway of Winging It In Motown.
15. Minnesota Wild (23-17-5)
Missing two of their top three skaters (forwards Zach Parise and Mikko Kovu) certainly isn't going to help the Wild reverse negative trends in possession and in the standings. Minnesota has been a team with strong goaltending depth for several years, and don't be surprised if Darcy Kuemper gets more playing time after keeping the Kings at bay Tuesday night.
MUST READ: Gerry Devine of Hockey Wilderness writes the Wild need more from Niklas Backstrom.
16. Philadelphia Flyers (23-17-4)
In the first Super 16 of the season, the No. 16 “team” was the five clubs in the Metropolitan Division that don't play home games in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Manhattan. It turns out the Metro cluster is even bigger (and more mediocre) than predicted in this space. The Flyers have won three in a row and seven of eight to move into second place, thought the gap between them and the Penguins at the top is still four points greater than the one between Philadelphia and the New York Islanders at the bottom.
The Flyers have won 10 straight home games, and were the last team to beat the Penguins in Consol Energy Center on Nov. 13. No team from outside Pennsylvania has won an NHL game in the Keystone State since the New Jersey Devils won in Philadelphia on Nov. 7.
MUST READ: There is a flaw in the idea that Claude Giroux produces more when he plays less, and Broad Street Hockey points it out.