Andrei Vasilevskiy is the best goalie in the NHL and that statement is not up for debate.
Truthfully, it's a shame that he only has one Vezina Trophy to his name as he should easily have at least two by now.
With the Russian puckstopper firmly established as the best in the league at what he does, the question now shifts to who is the second-best goalie?
The answer to that is far less obvious. The NHL hasn't had a goaltender in recent memory that has been anywhere near as dominant year after year as Vasilevskiy, which raises a good debate:
If you were in a one-game, winner-takes-all situation and your opponent had Vasilevskiy, which netminder would you select?
Here are the top contenders for that title, and the goaltender I'd ultimately take in that scenario.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers
Sergei Bobrovsky's play had fallen off a cliff prior to the start of the 2021-22 campaign.
His numbers over the past two seasons - a .902 save percentage and 3.10 goals-against average - had his name popping up in more "worst contract in the league" discussions than "best netminder" talks after he signed a seven-year, $70-million mega-deal with the Florida Panthers in 2019. An elite stretch of goaltending to begin this season has me believing that the real Bobrovsky is back and here to stay.
Get a load of these top saves from Sergei Bobrovsky! 😼 pic.twitter.com/RQDL5vab1T
— NHL (@NHL) September 3, 2021
What's important to note is that, while the last two seasons have been ugly, there's an extremely long track record of Bobrovsky being an elite goalie to consider. For starters, he's the only active goaltender in the NHL that has won two Vezina Trophies. Not even the great Vasilevskiy can make that claim.
As mentioned earlier, Bobrovsky seems to have put his recent struggles completely behind him. Through seven games played to open the year, he's posted an elite .948 save percentage, a 1.72 goals-against average, and a 14.4 goals saved above expected, which leads all goaltenders, according to MoneyPuck.
Given his outstanding history and a strong start to the season, I'm willing to overlook two sub-par campaigns from the 33-year-old.
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
Connor Hellebuyck hasn't begun the 2021-22 campaign particularly well, but after two seasons of covering up for a bad Jets defence, he's allowed a bit of a mulligan.
Since the 2019-20 season, the Winnipeg Jets' 1,745 high-danger chances against are the most of any team in the NHL, according to Natural Stat Trick. The Jets, miraculously, qualified for the postseason in each of the past two years, and it's been Hellebuyck who's making the miracles happen.
The 28-year-old has posted the best goals saved above expected in each of the past two seasons - earning a 24.2 mark in 2019-20 and a 19.3 grade in 2020-21. Additionally, his .918 save percentage since the 2017-18 campaign is tied for sixth-best in the league over that stretch, which is even more impressive when considering the high volume of quality shots he's faced.
Hellebuyck, who also has a Vezina Trophy on his resume, is certainly a strong contender for the No. 2 spot.
Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights
Robin Lehner has been one of the NHL's best goalies for a few years now.
Since the 2018-19 season, no other goalie has a better save percentage than Lehner's mark of .923 across 111 games played. He's started the 2021-22 campaign strong, too, posting a .919 save percentage through 10 starts and a 6.5 goals saved above expected rating which sits sixth in the league.
Robin Lehner’s incredible save… 🤯 pic.twitter.com/rRNXhSXqVe
— Tom Carnduff (@TomC_22) November 5, 2021
Lehner did have a bit of a down season in 2020-21, posting a .913 save percentage while being thoroughly outplayed by Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury, who owned a .928 save percentage last year.
Still, he's been one of the more reliable puck stoppers in the league and is among the best at his position.
Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers
By far the least-experienced goalie on this list with just 57 NHL games to his name, Igor Shesterkin is not short on talent.
Since entering the league in 2019-20, the 25-year-old's .923 save percentage is tied with Tuukka Rask for the best mark across the NHL. Through 10 games this season, he owns a sparkling .931 save percentage, a 2.37 goals-against average, and a goals saved above expected rating of 9.4, which ranks third.
Igor Shesterkin is not human pic.twitter.com/vGplHQn8vx
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) November 1, 2021
Shesterkin came to North America as an extremely accomplished goalie from the KHL. In 117 games played between Spartak Moskva and SKA St. Petersburg, he produced a .935 save percentage, 27 shutouts, and a fantastic 88-19-15 record.
Now dominating in the NHL, it's only a matter of time before Shesterkin becomes a household name for fans across the league.
My choice: Connor Hellebuyck
While I spent a lot of time debating between these four, specifically Shesterkin and Hellebuyck, I decided to go with the latter.
The fact that Hellebuyck has led the NHL in goals saved above expected in each of the past two years is astounding, and he faces an obscene amount of quality chances on a nightly basis. His long track record of NHL success also factored into my decision, but don't be surprised if a year from now Shesterkin vaults himself into the No. 2 spot. He's that special of a talent, and will only continue to get better as he gains more experience.
Top-5 NHL goaltenders
Here's how I have my top-5 puckstoppers ranked:
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy
2. Connor Hellebuyck
3. Igor Shesterkin
4. Sergei Bobrovsky
5. Robin Lehner
Hellebuyck is a fairly distanced No. 2 option to Vasilevskiy and he has Shesterkin breathing down his neck for the second seed. Bobrovsky's two Vezina Trophies and excellent beginning to the 2021-22 campaign were enough to slide him into the No. 4 spot ahead of Lehner, who rounds out the top-5.
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