Questionable depth in the crease

Chicago, Detroit and others have a big drop-off behind their starters

Updated: August 23, 2013, 12:56 PM ET
By Neil Greenberg | ESPN Insider

Corey Crawford and Jimmy HowardGetty ImagesCorey Crawford and Jimmy Howard are great goalies, but their backups leave much to be desired.

When the Los Angeles Kings traded goaltender Jonathan Bernier to the Toronto Maple Leafs, there was talk he could become the starter. It was a bit puzzling to some, considering incumbent Leafs netminder James Reimer posted a 19-8-5 record with a .924 save percentage in 2013. Bernier had served as Jonathan Quick's backup with the Kings over the past four seasons after being Los Angeles' first-round selection in 2006.

As a backup, Bernier performed admirably, winning 47 percent of his games with a .912 save percentage and six shutouts. Now Bernier will get a shot at the No. 1 role between the pipes.

That could be good news for Toronto fans. With Bernier, Toronto has either a reliable backup or a bona fide starter waiting in the wings.

Teams have missed out on the postseason when a goalie they had counted on to be a starter -- or take on a significant workload in a platoon role -- simply had a dreadful season, such as in 2006-07, when Jose Theodore of Colorado turned in a clunker season, or Nashville's "Dan Ellis problem" of 2008-09.

Overall, the drop-off between a starter (defined here as a player who suits up for more than half a team's games) and his backup has been significant over the past three seasons, with backups winning less than 40 percent of their games in large part due to a below-average save percentage. You can see the disparity between starters and backups over the past three seasons in the chart at right.

Here are three teams from each conference that have the largest drop-off in performance between their starters and their backups.

Vancouver Canucks

Roberto Luongo is Vancouver's No. 1 goalie again, after the team traded Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils at the 2013 NHL draft. The 34-year-old Twitter sensation went 9-6-3 with a .907 save percentage in 20 appearances in 2013. That might not sound very impressive; however, among goaltenders with more than 10,000 even-strength minutes played since 2007-08, only Tim Thomas (.935) has a better even-strength save percentage than Luongo (.930).

His backup is Eddie Lack, who was warned on Twitter not to get any ideas about being the starter. Lack has yet to play at the NHL level but did post a .923 save percentage over three seasons in the AHL.

Neil Greenberg is ESPN Insider's NHL analytics expert. His columns have appeared on the Washington Post website, and he is a regular guest on Sirius XM NHL Radio.