Many NHL teams addressed the goaltending position this offseason, as was expected with the expansion draft complicating their respective situations. Some squads made predictable moves while others left us scratching our heads. Some teams decided to stay put and ride on their goalies from last season. Here are 3 goalies I think are going to “boom” in the 2017-18 season and 3 that I think are going to “bust.”
Darling, 28, broke into the league in the 2014-15 season with the Chicago Blackhawks by backing up Corey Crawford and salvaging the Hawks’ first round victory en route to the Stanley Cup. Darling has served as Crawford’s backup for the past three seasons, playing in 32 games last year going 18-5-5, with a 2.38 GAA and .924 SV%. Albeit with limited experience, Darling has shown promise of being a starting goaltender, and after his trade to the Carolina Hurricanes this offseason, it appears he will be given the chance to prove himself. I believe that Darling will effectively take the reigns from Cam Ward, and be the stabilizing presence in net the ‘Canes have so desperately needed as of late.
Vasilevskiy, 22, has spent three seasons backing up the hulking Ben Bishop for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa was one of the teams pressed with moving a goalie prior to the expansion draft, and that is just what they did, trading Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline. Vasilevskiy is now tasked with carrying the Lightning on his back at the young age 22, as he did last season in starting 50 games going 23-17-7, with a 2.61 GAA and .917 SV%. Last season, the Lightning just missed the playoffs and much of that failure can be attributed to injuries. With a hopefully healthy squad this season and a better performance in front of Vasilevskiy, he is positioned to truly become a good starting goalie sooner rather than later.
Lehner, 25, has spent two seasons establishing himself as the starter with the Buffalo Sabres. Playing in 59 games last season, going 23-26-8 with a 2.68 GAA and a telling .920 SV%, Lehner had stretches of fantastic goaltending. Behind a Buffalo squad that has done some re-tooling this offseason with focus on their blue line, adding the likes of Marco Scandella and Nathan Beaulieu, Lehner could very well “boom” this upcoming season, perhaps leading the Sabres from behind into the playoffs, cementing himself as the true starter in Buffalo.
Varlamov, 29, was part of an abysmal last-place Colorado Avalanche this past season. Since coming over from the Washington Capitals for the 2011-12 season, Varlamov has been the Avs’ starter. In his time with the Avalanche they have missed the playoffs in 5 of 6 seasons. Out of the lineup much of last year, Varlamov played in only 24 games, going 6-17-0 with a 3.38 GAA and .898 SV%. After losing his backup Calvin Pickard in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights, (which made me scratch my head as I see Pickard as being a very good starter not too far from now), it looks as though Varlamov remains the man in Colorado. I predict he will be a pretty disappointing “bust” this upcoming season.
Mason, 29, played in 58 games with the Philadelphia Flyers last season, going 26-21-8, with a 2.66 GAA and .908 SV%, failing to lead the mediocre Flyers into the playoffs. The Flyers decided not to offer him another contract after his expired with the conclusion of the season, which landed him in Winnipeg where the Jets signed him to a 2-year, $8.2 million contract. How Mason demanded and received that much money is beyond me, not to mention the fact that he is not much of an upgrade to either Ondrej Pavelec or the young Connor Hellebuyck. I cannot see Mason stepping up and taking this Jets team to the next level. If the Jets squeeze into the playoff picture, it will likely be with a high-powered offense and average-at-best goaltending.
As much as I hate to say it because I hope Raanta will in fact have a good season, I do not see him ushering the Coyotes into prominence just yet. Raanta, 28, played in 30 games as backup to Henrik Lundqvist last season with the New York Rangers. Going 16-8-2, with a 2.26 GAA and .922 SV%, Raanta has been a lights-out backup his whole career. With the Coyotes parting ways with Mike Smith, they intend to fill the role with the acquisition of Raanta. Aside from acquiring a hopeful starter in goal, General Manager John Chayka also made a splash in trading for Derek Stepan from the Rangers and Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Chicago Blackhawks. I still do not think the Coyotes’ roster is even close to where it needs to be, however, with some more years of experience that could quickly change. For next season, Antti Raanta will be a “bust,” but in the years to come he could be a solid No. 1.