Best goalie entering season debated by NHL.com writers

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There is an abundance of quality goaltending in the NHL.

Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning has won the Stanley Cup in back-to back seasons, the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP last season and the 2018-19 Vezina Trophy voted as the best goalie by NHL general managers. He has been a finalist for the Vezina in each of the past four seasons.

But he has competition for the title of best goalie entering this season.

Marc-Andre Fleury won the Vezina last season with the Vegas Golden Knights before he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks on July 27. Philipp Grubauer finished third in Vezina voting with the Colorado Avalanche last season before he signed a six-year contract with the Seattle Kraken as a free agent July 28. Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy in 2019-20.

Who will be the best goalie this season? We asked seven NHL.com writers for their thoughts.

Here are their answers (listed alphabetically):

Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils

Blackwood will play behind a much-improved defense with the acquisitions of Dougie Hamilton as a free agent from the Carolina Hurricanes and Ryan Graves in a trade with the Avalanche. Goalie Jonathan Bernier, who signed as a free agent from the Hurricanes, should alleviate the pressure of playing on limited days of rest. Blackwood missed six games while in NHL COVID-19 protocol and played 19 games on one day of rest last season. He played 62.5 percent of New Jersey’s games (35 of 56) and his save percentage on two days of rest (.935) was better than on one day (.887). Blackwood had a 2.77 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and three shutouts playing 68.1 percent of games (47 of 70) as a rookie in 2019-20. The pieces are in place for a solid 2021-22. — Mike G. Morreale, staff writer

Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg JetsĀ 

Hellebuyck figures to be among the biggest beneficiaries of the Jets’ reshaped defense. Winnipeg added Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt via trades to improve its sturdiness and depth. The result could be beneficial to Hellebuyck, who went 24-17-3 with a 2.58 GAA, .916 save percentage and four shutouts in 45 games last season, when the Jets tied for the 12th-most shots against per game (30.6) and had the 10th-best goals-against per game (2.71). Hellebuyck has led the NHL with the most shots against and saves in each of the past three seasons. Even though he’ll play plenty, it’s likely his games will be less stressful. — Tim Campbell, staff writer

Video: WPG@MTL: Hellebuyck blanks Canadiens in 5-0 victory

Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche

Among goalies who played at least 100 games during the past three seasons, Kuemper’s .922 save percentage is tied with Vasilevskiy for second behind Robin Lehner (.923) of the Golden Knights. Now Kuemper steps into a perfect situation after he was acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on July 28. Colorado is one of the best teams at controlling the puck in the offensive zone, which helped it limit opponents to an NHL-low 25.4 shots per game last season; the Coyotes faced 30.5 shots per game. It should help Kuemper be even more effective for the Avalanche. — Tom Gulitti, staff writer

Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights

Now the starter for the Golden Knights, Lehner could have his best NHL season in an expanded role. He is 16-4-2 with a 2.20 GAA, .917 save percentage and two shutouts in 22 regular-season games with Vegas and 10-9 with a 2.25 GAA, .911 save percentage and four shutouts in 19 postseason games. The Golden Knights defense remains strong with Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez returning, and the only goalies with a better save percentage than Lehner (.918) during the past four seasons (minimum 150 games) are Vasilevskiy (.921) and Hellebuyck (.919). — Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor

Video: VGK@MTL, Gm6: Lehner denies Caufield on rush attempt

Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders

Varlamov will continue to benefit from the defense-oriented system the Islanders play, and fellow Russia-born goalie Ilya Sorokin pushing him for playing time. Varlamov was 19-11-4 in 36 games (35 starts) with a 2.04 GAA that was fourth best last season (minimum 20 games) and a .929 save percentage that was second behind Alex Nedeljkovic (.932), who was traded to the Detroit Red Wings by the Hurricanes on July 22. Varlamov’s seven shutouts were tied with Grubauer for the NHL lead. — William Douglas, staff writer

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

With all due respect to the other goalies on this list, for me there are three, not two, certainties in life: death, taxes and Vasilevskiy being great. He’s the best right now and there’s no reason to think he won’t be the best in the NHL this season, too. Vasilevskiy was 31-10-1 with a 2.21 GAA, .925 save percentage and five shutouts in 42 regular-season games, and 16-7 with a 1.90 GAA, .937 save percentage and five shutouts in 23 playoff games. You need a team effort to win the Stanley Cup two seasons in a row, like the Lightning have, but it starts in net. — Tracey Myers, staff writer

I agree with Tracey on Vasilevskiy, a choice that is easy for me. Sure, the numbers are impressive but it’s his inner fire and motivation that impress me the most. During the 2019 NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago, I asked Vasilevskiy what happened to the Lightning months earlier when they were swept in the Eastern Conference First Round by the underdog Columbus Blue Jackets. He didn’t mince words. “I think we got comfortable, and we just weren’t ready in the playoffs,” he said. Vasilevskiy has done his part to make sure it hasn’t happened again. Since that conversation, he is 34-14 with a 1.90 GAA, .932 save percentage and six shutouts in the playoffs. Along with the lofty skill and stats, he’s driven to be the best, a trait that has him and the Lightning seeking their third straight title this season. — Mike Zeisberger, staff writer

Video: Best Andrei Vasilevskiy Saves from the 2020-21 Season

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