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August 10, 2011
The Blue Line
Top 10 Worst Backup Goaltenders

by Matthew Coller

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It seems that just about every year during the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, one or two backup goaltenders shine in relief or steal the headlines with a surprise start. This year's playoffs saw Mike Smith and Cory Schneider get starting nods and Brian Boucher steal a game in relief. While they may get their chance to shine come late April, backup goalies go mostly unnoticed during the regular season. Most coaches hold their breath as backups start out–of–conference games on the road against sub–.500 teams—but teams who have the luxury of confidence in their backup goaltender can give regular rest to starters and even feel confident in the event of injury.

There are a select few teams with backups who could easily be NHL starters next season—and may be at the trade deadline—but conversely, there are some backups who have coaches crossing their fingers. While things still can change, it appears most NHL rosters are set for 2011–12. So with that preamble, we look at the 10 backup goaltenders who won't be giving much relief to their team.

The criteria is simple: Goals Versus Threshold, Quality Start Percentage and the backup's projected use. If a netminder is not projected to be used often because of a star goalie, his total possible damage to the team goes down. But if a quality goaltender has to be used in excess because of how bad the backup is, he is rated lower.

Worst backup goaltenders

10. Blues – Brian Elliott: –2.6 GVT | 33.3 QS%

The Blues have the best of the worst backup goaltenders. Elliott is a tolerable goalie, but will likely have to play more games than most backups. Jaroslav Halak played 57 games last season and had fewer than 45 starts the two previous seasons. The best case scenario for the Blues is if Elliott plays well and is called upon at the trade deadline by one of the teams below who have even worse backups.

9. Wild – Josh Harding: did not play in 2010–11

It's possible that Harding will not end up as the Wild backup goalie. He did not play in 2010–11 and when he did play in 2009–10 he was not good. He gave up more than three goals per game with a .905 save percentage. The Wild got good production out of Theodore last season and may look for a veteran or call up a prospect to back up Backstrom.

8. Blackhawks – Alexander Salak: did not play in 2010–11

Corey Crawford locked down the starting goalie position last season and he's likely to play 65–plus games in 2011–12. Salak, a former AHL All–Star has never gotten a chance to play in the NHL. The question is: Can the Blackhawks afford to risk losing games because of a backup goalie like they did last season with Marty Turco? Chicago fans shouldn't be surprised to see a veteran backup brought in—if not before the season, then at the trade deadline.

7. Coyotes – Mike Smith: –6.2 GVT | 50.0 QS%

The Coyotes lost their elite goalie to the Philadelphia Flyers, now they must rely on two backup quality netminders. Smith has never been very good and was bad last year for the Lightning. Unfortunately, the Coyotes may have to make a trade or put 40 of their games in the hands of Smith. Their other backup goalie Jason LaBarbera has not played more than 19 games since 2007–08.

6. Canadiens – Peter Budaj: –11.7 GVT | 31.6 QS%

The fact is, the Canadiens don't need a backup. It doesn't matter if it's the relatively awful Budaj, as Carey Price is playing 70–plus games. Yes, if Price gets hurt, Montreal is in big trouble. As long as he's healthy, there's no need to worry about Budaj because you'll never see him.

5. Jets – Chris Mason: –9.7 GVT | 32.1 QS%

Mason was awful last season. If he begins the season saving less than 90 percent of shots as he did last season, the Jets should go a different direction. If Mason is their backup, then they potentially have one of the worst and least reliable backups in the NHL.

4. Avs – J.S. Giguere: –7.6 GVT | 46.2 QS%

Giguere was pretty awful last season and it's really tough to see him getting any better playing with Colorado. They will rank among the league's worst teams while he ranks among the league's worst backup goalies.

3. Leafs – Jonas Gustavsson: –9.7 GVT | 28.6 QS%

There isn't much question that James Reimer is the starting goaltender of the future in Toronto, but he only played 37 games last season. If the Leafs bring him along slowly—say 55–65 games—they will have little to rely on Gustavsson. Unfortunately, "The Monster" allowed 3.29 goals per game with a .890 save percentage. If Toronto is competing down the stretch, they'll either have to ride Reimer or do better.

2. Ducks – Dan Ellis: 9.2 GVT | 42.3 QS%

Last year, the Ducks were bailed out by Ray Emery's incredible return from a hip injury. Meanwhile, Ellis was traded to Anaheim by the Tampa Bay Lightning after they tired of his poor play. If Anaheim starter Jonas Hiller stays healthy, expect not to see much of Dan Ellis. And if Hiller has injury issues, expect Anaheim to be forced to make a trade.

1. Red Wings – Ty Conklin: –14.7 GVT | 31.6 QS%

Conklin was the worst backup goalie that played more than 20 games in the NHL in 2010–11. His numbers may improve because of the Red Wings' defense, but it still looks like he's going to be unproductive. Detroit's best option is to sign someone else or trade for a better backup.

Matthew Coller is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Matthew by clicking here or click here to see Matthew's other articles.

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