It seems with every season, the public opinion concerning goaltenders swings like a pendulum between two schools of thought: (1) You need an "elite" goaltender to win the Stanley Cup; (2) NHL teams should save their cap room for forwards and defensemen. The pendulum seems to swing to whichever side of the argument won the Cup the previous season. After Antti Niemi, an undrafted free agent, raised the Cup as goaltender of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, the word was that teams should seek cheaper options. Then Tim Thomas, an elite and highly paid netminder, led the Bruins to victory in 2011.
Where does the conversation sit now? With Jonathan Quick's incredible regular-season and playoff performances for the Los Angeles Kings, it's becoming more difficult to argue that great goaltenders are easily replaced.
Maybe the shortened 2013 season will shed more light on the debate. Each goalie's impact on his team will certainly be under the microscope in a 48-game season that could distort numbers based on hot and cold stretches. It could also allow a team to play its starter nearly end-to-end.
The following list of top 10 projected goalies, as generated by the VUKOTA projection system of Hockey Prospectus (explained here), shows the depth of talent in the crease around the league today, as well as the goaltenders who are most likely to be difference-makers in 2013. Included for each netminder is his projected number of appearances, save percentage and his value as measured by goals versus threshold (GVT, explained here).
Note: Thomas would have ranked seventh, but he is sitting out this season.
1. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
39 games, .921 save percentage, 11.9 GVT
After three years of hovering around average, Quick took a giant leap forward in 2011-12. In a whirlwind Cup run that saw Los Angeles go from an 8-seed to the top of the hockey world, Quick became a household name after allowing only 1.41 goals per game in 20 playoff games while posting an incredible .946 save percentage. His outstanding regular season was overshadowed by the Kings' struggles to score, but he earned his due in the playoffs.