Here’s a common expression in hockey: “He won the job after training camp. I know you heard it. They even told me. But how often is a place actually up for grabs? And is it durable throughout a season?
Answering these questions is not easy because every team and every situation is different. As the 2022-23 NHL season approaches, many organizations need clarity in the goal crease. And I’m not convinced that will happen before the end of the season – if at all.
Here are four Western Conference NHL teams destined for a goalie battle.
COLORADO AVALANCHE: Pavel Francouz and Alexandar Georgiev
In early July, the Avalanche sent a package of draft picks to the New York Rangers in exchange for Georgiev. And it would have been easy to assume that the 26-year-old Belarusian goaltender would be the new starting goaltender for the defending Stanley Cup champion.
But don’t count on Francouz. While he rode the shotgun to Darcy Kuemper during the regular season, Francouz played some meaningful games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And he hasn’t had a save percentage below .916 in more than a decade of pro hockey in four different leagues.
The only catch is that Francouz is 32 and has yet to play more than 34 games in an NHL season. But the level of experience is the same for Georgiev, who couldn’t claim the Rangers crease in five seasons.
Georgiev’s save percentage has declined every year of his professional career in North America. Last year he saved less than 90% of shots faced. That won’t be enough in Denver.
I think Georgiev still has potential. But it’s a project. Francouz has just won the Stanley Cup. Colorado is in win-now mode. And I think Francouz – if he can stay healthy – has the inside track to play more games for the Avalanche.
KINGS OF LOS ANGELES: Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen
I don’t think last season went as planned in the Kings end zone. Petersen was supposed to succeed Quick. But Petersen faltered and Quick started the season in vintage form. The two-time Stanley Cup champion has played 46 games to Petersen’s 37.
But for all the accolades Quick brings and the potential Petersen has shown previously, the Kings are in a precarious position. Unless changes were made in the offseason, neither Petersen nor Quick possess the technical qualities required to be consistent in today’s NHL.
Both goaltenders won more than 20 games for the Kings last year. But Petersen’s .895 save percentage is concerning. And his contract too. The 2022-23 season is the first of a three-year contract worth $5 million a year for Petersen.
That’s a huge number for a goaltender with just 91 NHL games under his belt, especially with a career. 908 backup percentage. Petersen needs to be better this year or his contract will be a boat anchor.
When Quick is locked up, he can still steal games. But it’s been a huge season for Petersen, and I think the Kings will do everything they can to see him through. The team’s future in goal hangs in the balance.
SAN JOSE SHARKS: James Reimer and Kaapo Kahkonen
Last season was meant to be a reset in the Sharks’ crease. Reimer was signed to be the veteran stablemate, and Adin Hill was recruited via trade from the Arizona Coyotes to be the goaltender of the future at San Jose.
The Sharks gave Hill the majority of starts to start the year despite Reimer playing at an extremely high level. And the decision cost San Jose the win. Hill’s inability to land the No. 1 spot led to San Jose eventually acquiring Kahkonen at the 2022 NHL trade deadline.
On Monday, Sharks general manager Mike Grier killed the three-headed goalie monster by trading Hill to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a 2024 fourth-round pick. Reimer and Kahkonen are expected to form the San Jose tandem. .
I believe the Sharks have the same plan for Kahkonen they did with Hill: let him play and become a No. 1 goaltender. Kahkonen is still young at 26. But the Finnish goaltender was outplayed in Minnesota by veteran Cam Talbot, leading Wild general manager Bill Guerin to consider Kahkonen unnecessary.
Without a major overhaul to his game, I’m not sure Kahkonen will be able to improve his career stats. He plays with an extremely wide stance and has a bad tendency to get his feet stuck in the ice, which prevents him from turning effectively. Kahkonen spends a lot of time chasing the game laterally.
But the former Baz Bastien award winner as the AHL’s top goaltender in 2020 has incredible reflexes and athleticism. He’s an intriguing prospect if the Sharks can find a way to streamline his game.
Reimer is quite the opposite: robotic at times, but very consistent in his routes and mechanics. Reimer doesn’t have big hands, but he rarely finds himself out of position thanks to his precise skating.
Working with two goalkeepers with different styles will be a challenge for new goalkeeper coach Thomas Speer. If Kahkonen has a solid training camp, look for him to start early. But the Sharks know they have a reliable goaltender in Reimer. And the team needs to improve from last season. I think the leash will be short this year for both San Jose goalies.
GOLDEN KNIGHTS OF VEGAS: Laurent Brossoit, Logan Thompson and Adin Hill
Both Brossoit and Thompson factored in last season for the Golden Knights, with Brossoit performing admirably through the first half of the campaign until injuries derailed his season. Thompson featured well in the streak. And now, with Robin Lehner sidelined for the entire 2022-23 NHL season following offseason hip surgery, Adin Hill has been added to reinforce the Vegas goaltender.
On paper, the trio looks risky. Brossoit has never been a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL, and he had a tough time last season. Thompson has just 20 NHL games under his belt, but he was the AHL Goaltender of the Year in the shortened 2020-21 season. And despite glimpses of solid play with the Coyotes and Arizona Sharks, Hill plateaued last season with San Jose.
Thompson enjoyed a meteoric rise through the professional ranks after his WHL career ended with the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2018. The Calgary, Alta., native is just three seasons away from playing college hockey. Canadian for Brock University. Over 40 games in the ECHL, Thompson has dominated. Then he repeated his success in the AHL after signing with Vegas ahead of the 2020-21 season.
Last year, Thompson got his first real taste of NHL action and responded with a .914 save percentage in 19 games – the best among Golden Knights goaltenders. And I think he’s in line to start the majority of games for Vegas this season.
Brossoit has experience. He played 106 games in the NHL. But his .905 save percentage is in line with his enduring status as the No. 2 goaltender. The BC native has never played more than 24 games in an NHL season.
Not too long ago, Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon proclaimed Thompson and Brossoit as the team’s tandem for this season. So the trade for Hill was something of a headache. Either Brossoit is hurt or Vegas doesn’t believe in him.
As for Hill, the 6-foot-6 goaltender has a .908 save percentage in 74 NHL games. Last season didn’t go as planned in San Jose, where he was supposed to be the goaltender of the future. Hill has good instincts. But his hands – and especially his skating ability – are suspect.
The X factor is that new Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy has no loyalty to a goaltender. It’s a blank slate, and the team is truly in win-now mode. But if I’m the direction of Vegas, I want Thompson to claim first place. He earns less than $800,000 for each of the next three seasons. It should be noted that he is the only Guardian of the three to be waived.
It’s not often that a team can find a bargain in the net. But if Thompson can perform at the same level as last season — or better — the Golden Knights will have discovered great value. I think he’s going to get pushed. But the Golden Knights have options.
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