There are several things that impact a team’s success in the National Hockey League. Forwards obviously play a critical role in scoring, defenseman keep the opposition at bay, and the two need to chip in with each other’s primary roles in order for a team to flourish. However, no one is under more pressure than the goaltender.
In the famous words of Don Cherry, “a good goalie can make a bad team good, but a bad goalie can make a good team bad”. You see it all the time. A team outplays another in dominant fashion, but the dominant team has poor goaltending and the other netminder won’t let anything by him. In so many cases, the team with the best goalie wins. Just look at these 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs. Yes, the Vegas Golden Knights have played incredibly well, but the superior goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury has carried them all the way to the finals against all expectations. On the other hand, teams with the worst goalie stats in the playoffs (Philly, Toronto, Colorado, Anaheim), were all ousted in the first round. And while it’s tough to win while playing against a good goalie, it’s almost impossible to do so when you’ve got a bad one in your crease.
That’s the case with the teams outlined below. Some weren’t all that bad, and some were even in the top third of the league that year in scoring. But their inferior goaltender dragged them down into the basement of the league. So with that we present the three worst starting goalies in the NHL each year since the 2009-10 campaign.
27: Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes, 2016-17
Cam Ward has long been ‘the guy’ in Carolina. In his very first NHL season in 2005-06, he was called upon to replace starter Martin Gerber early in the playoffs after Gerber faltered, and the rest is history. The now 34-year-old led the Hurricanes to their first ever Stanley Cup, becoming the first rookie goalie to lead his team to the Cup since Patrick Roy in 1986. He also won the Conn Smith Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs, the first rookie goalie to do so since 1987.
Since then Ward has essentially been their starter every year, but not a lot of success had been found by the team. They only made the playoffs once in 2009 since that cup, and Ward has never quite returned to that 2006 form.
One of his worst years came in 2016-17, when the Saskatoon native started 61 games for the Hurricanes. He finished with a record of 26-22-12, and had a goals against average (GAA) of 2.69 and a .905 save percentage. While those numbers aren’t terrible, they were the worst in both categories for goalies who played 60+ games (13), and he was 4th in the league in goals against with 162.
26: Cristobal Huet, Chicago Blackhawks, 2009-10
Sporting the best goals against average of anyone on this list is Cristobal Huet, who played his last NHL season with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009-10. After beginning his career with the team that drafted him, the Los Angeles Kings, the Frenchman was essentially Montreal’s 1A goaltender for three seasons (splitting time with the likes of Jose Theodore, David Aebischer and Carey Price), before heading to Chicago after a brief stint with Washington.
While many people remember Antti Niemi backstopping the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup in 49 years in 2010, many forget that Huet was actually their starter heading into the season and played 48 games for them.
While his GAA was respectable at 2.50, his save percentage left something to be desired, sitting with the worst among goalies who played over 40 games at .895.
His record of 26-14-4 was good, but was definitely more indicative of the team in front of him than his actual play. As the season wore on, it became clear that Niemi was the better choice for the stretch run, as he ended up earning the same number of wins in eleven fewer starts (26-7-4). Huet would only play one period of playoff hockey that spring as his Finnish counterpart posted a 16-6 record and the Hawks won the cup.
25: Cam Talbot, Edmonton Oilers, 2017-18
Another member of the list who isn’t completely to blame, Cam Talbot had the second highest workload in a single season out of anyone on the list with 67 games played in 2017-18. That number tied for the league lead during the season with Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, but the Jets netminder finished with a record of 44-11-9 while Talbot ended at 31-31-3.
Though he did play a ton that year, Talbot’s numbers simply weren’t good enough for a number one. After playing 73 games last season with a 2.39 goals against average, he had just a 3.02 average this past year. The Oilers did struggle to score, sitting 20th in goals for per game (2.79), and that along with the 5th worst goals allowed per game (3.20) led them to a stunningly poor year after reaching the Conference Semi-Finals in 2017.
Talbot allowed the most goals in the league among all goalies with 188.
After serving as the backup to Henrik Lundqvist for a few seasons in New York, Talbot came over to Edmonton for the 2015-16 season, instantly becoming their starter. His numbers took a drastic dip in 2017-18 compared to his first two years with the Oil, and a lighter workload will probably need to be on tap next year if he’s to return to form. Laurent Brossoit and Al Montoya combined for fifteen starts and just five wins as Talbot’s back-ups last year, so Edmonton will need to do a better job solidifying that position if Talbot is to return to top form.
24: Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers, 2012-13
After goalie problems persisted for the Philadelphia Flyers for what seemed like forever, GM Paul Holmgren made some bold moves in June of 2011 to try and rectify the issue. Holmgren signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million contract, and traded captain Mike Richards and star forward Jeff Carter away in order to accommodate the cap hit from the Russian netminder.
Despite the investment in shoring up the position, Bryzgalov never turned into the player Philly was looking for. He wasn’t terrible in his first season with team, winning 33 games and posting respectable numbers (2.48 GAA, .909 SP), but floundered in the playoffs with 37 goals against in 11 games.
Things got much worse in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, as the now retired Bryzgalov had the worst save percentage (.900) of any goalie who played 40+ games (the season was only 48 games), and Philadelphia failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007. On June 25th, 2013 the Flyers bought out the remaining seven years on Brygalov’s contract, essentially paying him $23 million to not play for them.
Since the buyout with Philadelphia, the soon-to-be 38-year-old had short stints in Edmonton, Minnesota and a return to his first NHL team, the Anaheim Ducks, before essentially retiring. Most recently, he can be found trolling Flyers fans after they had more goaltending struggles in this year’s playoffs.
23: Tim Thomas, Florida Panthers, 2013-14
Tim Thomas was a journeyman goalie who played in numerous leagues throughout his career before finally sticking in the NHL with the Boston Bruins during the 2005-06 season. After earning the starters job in 06-07, Thomas never relinquished it and ultimately led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011, winning the Conn Smith Trophy as playoff MVP as well as the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender. After being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in the 11-12 season, Thomas opted to sit out for the following year.
After taking the year off, he made a return to the league with Florida at 39 years of age for the 2013-14 season. The Flint, Michigan native had a sub-par year by his standards, posting a 2.88 GAA, .908 save percentage and just 18 wins in 48 games played. With the Panthers sufficiently out of the playoff race (and Roberto Luongo being acquired from Vancouver), Thomas was traded to Dallas at the trade deadline to serve as the backup to Kari Lehtonen.
In addition to his relatively poor play, Thomas didn’t have much help as Florida scored the 2nd fewest goals in the league, and backups Jacob Markstrom and Scott Clemmensen earned just seven combined wins in 23 starts as the team had the 2nd most goals allowed as well. Fittingly, they finished 2nd last in the league with 66 points.