Goalie may be the most important position in all of sports. In hockey they are not only the last line of defense, playing more minutes a year than any skater, they are often the spark plug for offensive breakouts. Some teams have impressive goaltenders who not have played well in the past, but have done so in their system.

Philadelphia Flyers

The last half dozen years have served as a great example of why this team needs solid goaltenders who can play that way in their system. Ilya Bryzgalov was great in Phoenix. In Philadelphia he was bought out two years into a forever contract. When they squared off with the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals a few years back they used three different goalies in one post season. It isn’t hard to make the case that a goalie better than Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher or Johan Backlund might have had them hoisting the Cup and not Chicago. This year we will see if their cursed crease can bring down the resurgent Ray Emery, and Columbus Blue Jackets discard Steve Mason. I doubt either goaltender gets taken in first five rounds of any fantasy hockey draft.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The serial meltdowns of Marc-Andre Fleury are too much for all but the willfully blind to ignore. If once is chance, twice is coincidence, and three times is a certainty, four consecutive playoff flame-outs should be enough for anyone. In the last four seasons his save percentages are .891 following the Stanley Cup win, .899, .834, and most recent .883. Those numbers won’t keep you employed in the regular season. Last year Fleury forfeited the crease to the 36 year old Vokoun who’s first playoff appearance came the year Fleury was drafted, turned in a Sv% of .933 behind the exact same defense, Vokoun is now out recovering from a blood clot.

Calgary Flames

When most of your fans can’t name your goaltenders you’ve either found the new sexy netminder or you found someone willing to get peppered for a pay check. Joey MacDonald is career backup who since entering the NHL in the 2006-7 season has only played in 122 games. Forty-nine of them were in 2008-9 for the New York Islanders. He has a career save % of .903. The likely starter broke into the NHL the same season. He then spent three seasons on the shuttle between the AHL and NHL before fleeing to Europe. While in the KHL Karri Romo never topped 45 games. In the KHL playoffs, all but one post season his Sv% dropped from the regular season. To make it worse, Romo and MacDonald are playing behind a defense that just isn’t good. You could as accurately name the player best in their own end with stats as by picking a name from a hat.

Florida Panthers

New owners, old owners the story has been the same in Sunrise for years: not much quality. If the aim is to improve, at minimum a quality, healthy backup for Jacob Markstrom is needed. Last year Markstrom split 56 games between the AHL and NHL, and tacked on three more world cup games for good measure. The other goalie under NHL contract is Scott Clemmensen the less said about his play last season the better. They’ve brought in Tim Thomas on a professional tryout, but however good he has played in the past hasn’t been signed, and hasn’t played in a year.

Some o these teams are doomed from the start, for others their weakness won’t be exposed until the post season, all of these teams have some form of crease crisis.

With the Philadelphia Flyers out of the greatest sports tournament it all comes down to goaltending. We have a living legend in New Jersey. Martin Brodeur is arguably the greatest goaltender of all time. His statistical records hold records. Mike Smith was discarded by the Tampa Bay Lightning and seen by many in Phoenix as no more than a stand in until a “good goalie” could be found. Well, surprise surprise, Mike Smith is possibly the next best puck handler in the NHL among goaltenders after New Jersey’s juggernaut. The stand-in also has a modest .948sv% this post season. Either the King Henrik Lundqvist, or the baby of the bunch Braden Holtby will advance in the other series, neither has much to complain about this post season. And then there’s the hands down favorite to win the Conn-Smythe, the All American Jonathan Quick, the King of King’s owns the playoffs this year.

With the draft approaching and the resolution of ownership issues for several teams (Sabres, Jets, Blues, Stars, Devils and in theory the Coyotes), the trading action as teams attempt to clear space to go after this summers big fish could be the biggest we’ve seen in years. Parise and Suter will be the biggest fish on the market, but don’t expect Carlo Colaiacovo, Semin, Parenteau, and the rest of the second or even third tier to come cheap. If the market for skaters is shallow, the goalie market probably isn’t even deep enough to wet the whole tread on your average sneaker. Clemmensen, Harding, Vokoun and that’s about it.Vokoun ended the season on the shelf, Harding is injury prone, and Clemmensen has never managed to hold down a starting job.

Most years in order to win a championship in the NHL you need to have a goalie play above average and contribute to the win. That isn’t the same as giving a team the chance to win, or simply not costing the team a win. There have been exceptions to this, namely belonging to the Red Wings teams of the last two or three cups.

16: Brayden Holtby. With only 21 NHL games to his credit, he’s got to be the best defense on a team who’s effort has been highly uneven all year. Realistically he’s got almost no pressure on him considering he’s third on the teams depth chart. (Alternates for the Capitals would be Neuvirth or possibly Vokoun)

15: Corey Crawford: He’s not had an impressive season, no goalie likely to start this post season had a worse save percentage this off season. Keeping that in mind, last year as a rookie he stepped up and improved both his save percentage and goals against average in the playoffs.(BlackHawks alternate Emery)

14: Scott Clemmensen: His next NHL playoff game will be his second. He does have the advantage of familiarity with his first round opponent. (Alternates for the Panthers Theodore or maybe Markstrom)

13: Marc-Andre Fleury: The flower has wilted in his last two playoff appearances with sub .900 save percentages. If he hadn’t been to the promised land he’d be lower. Even the year he was part of the Cup win, he gave up more goals than any other goalie. (Alternate for the Penguins is Johnson)

12: Ilya Bryzgalov: Not a playoff goalie thus far in his career. His last two post season have had worse numbers than the regular season. (Alternate for the Flyers Bobrovsky)

11: Anti Niemi: Yes he’s been there and done that, but not with this team. Further his post season numbers have dipped in comparison to the regular season in each post season appearance. (Alternate for the Sharks Greiss)

10: Jimmy Howard: Gamer. One of those guys who’s numbers improve in the post season. (Alternates for Red Wings Conklin, Macdonald)

9: Roberto Luongo: Despite the loss in the finals last year, he still had a better save percentage than the previous two winning goaltenders. (Alternate for the Canucks Schnieder)

8: Martin Brodeur: Been there, done that three times but the last trip to the post season was double plus ungood.  (Alternate for the Devils Hedberg)

7: Craig Anderson: One playoff series one save percentage of .933 on a team that only got into the playoffs because he could scramble. (Alternate for the Senators Bishop)

6: Pekka Rinne: Not great playoff numbers, and an off season but one of the best pure talents in the league. (Alternate for the Predators Lindback)

5: Henrik Lundquist: Whatever he’s done in the regular season over his career has been nearly undone by an aggressively mediocre playoff performance, but that’s bound to change right? (Alternate for the Rangers Biron)

4: Mike Smith: With a little more experience he might break the top three, on the other hand holding the eventual Stanley Cup champions to two goals in your first 120 minutes of NHL playoff experience isn’t a bad baptism by fire. Not a bad regular season this year either. (Alternate for the Coyotes Labarbera)

3: Jonathan Quick: Career year behind a team playing confidently, and ready to go far. (Alternate for the Kings Bernier.)

2: Brian Elliott & Jaroslav Halak: Either one is having a high end year, Halak has ripped the heart out of opponents as a duo, there’s not a better pairing this year in the NHL. (Alternate for the Blues would be whoever doesn’t start.)

1: Tim Thomas: Reigning Conn-Smyth winner, reigning Vezina trophy winner, defending Stanley Cup champion, he’s been there and done that recently. Looked sharp of late and has elevated his numbers every post season in the last three seasons. (Alternates fort he Bruins possibly Khudobin, Rask, Hutchinson….)

While I don’t see the Bruins trading Rask any time in the near future, the possibility does exist that with all the key contracts up this off season the Bruins will need to move someone to make it work. He’s an RFA to be with arbitration rights, and he’s put in some impressive numbers in limited play. There are several teams who need a goalie either right now or soon. The Bruins could go for either a short term deal that let them fill in for a long term injury or was a move designed to put the team over the top. A long term deal would almost have to include tow or three pieces coming to Boston that fit into the three year plus plans, it could be draft picks, highly regarded prospects, roster players or some mix.

One of the more interesting bits of speculation going around is a Tuukka Rask for Zach Parise deal. This one has floated around for a good two years, maybe longer. The fact that the Broduer Era is essentially over, and their current backup is even older than he is just provides more fuel for it. Take the Devils inability to sign Parise to a long term deal, and you’ve got all that is needed for an unkillable discussion. Parise is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and arguably the biggest fish in the sea. For the Bruins pulling the trade off in season not only gives them the best left wing depth in the NHL, if he fits in, the team is just short of a lock to become the first back to back cup winner in the salary cap era. Getting an inside track on negotiations before he hits the open market July 1st is just icing on the cake.  For New Jersey they get arguably the best backup in hockey, who is also young enough to still be in his prime as Larsson, Henrique and other youngsters peak.

The Florida Panthers may not need goaltending now, but Jose Theodore has highly variable seasons, Scott Clemmensen has never started even half the games in a season, despite playing his first NHL game in the 01-02 season. Worse from their prospective is that Clemmensen is signed only through the end of this year, and Theodore through the end of next year.  Both have played well so far, but neither is exactly young. They do have Markstrom who his young, and played his first NHL games this season, but clearly they don’t think he’s ready. The team has surprised a lot of people, and maybe in win real soon mode, but you can’t help but wonder what Dale Tallon’s long term plan is. Swapping Rask for Markstrom and Garrison. or Markstrom and draft picks is something that works both ways.  Markstrom would get to develop behind a completely different style goaltender and wouldn’t face the same pressure as Rask will in stepping into Thomas’s shoes, Rask get’s to take over the reigns on a team that is clearly on the way up now.

The Minnesota Wild have to be considered the biggest positive surprise in the whole western conference this year. Everyone knew the Oilers had the offensive goods to beat up teams who weren’t wary, but I’d be willing to bet not many people had the Wild in the Northwest division drivers seat, nor leading the NHL a day before Thanksgiving. They are a team more in need of goalscoring today than they are goaltending, but they have two UFA to be goaltenders. One is the 33 year old Backstrom, the other the 27 year old Harding. It’s likely that Backstrom is retained, but he’s played a shrinking number of games over the last three years from a high of 71 to just 51 last year due to injuries. Harding has grown into his responsibilities, and has pretty solid regular season numbers with just one playoff game to his credit. Assuming the Wild are giving up Harding, for Rask, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Bruins wanted a long term project like Charlie Coyle and a 2nd round pick in the deal.

The Tampa Bay Lightning thought they had a solution in Dwayne Roloson. Not so. The offensively gifted team has been let down by a goalie who time has caught up to.  Their backup is career journeyman. They could stand to beef up their defensive depth, but priority one is finding an answer in the crease.  Enter Tuukka Rask. With him they’d arguably have the best goaltender in the division, certainly the best young goaltender in the Southeast Division. While reuniting Tim Thomas with St Louis as the return for Rask is certainly fit to make Bruins and University of Vermont followers have a fangasm, he is 38 years old with a largeish contract for three more years. Ryan Malone is another intriguing forward the Bolts might move, he does currently have an NMC, but climate aside, I can’t see him complaining about the chance to play in Boston. They don’t have a great deal of prospect depth,  but shoring up one position has to make it easier to focus on the rest.

I can’t see the Bruins trading Rask within the division, but the crease in Toronto eclipses even the Islanders for chaos, and is significantly lower in talent. Not even the Columbus Blue Jackets have given up more goals than the Leafs. What would the Bruins get in return? Good question. The defense is as faulty as the goaltending, and the forward crew seems to only work there. The number of guys who have been discarded by other teams with cause is amazing. I don’t think a straight Rask for draft picks is a good investment, but Burke has been a willing trade partner.

The other divisional team that might be clamoring for a goalie is the Senators. I don’t think they’ve had an elite goaltender in their history. They have a surprising amount of depth in skaters, but an NHL ready goaltender is one thing they don’t have. The potential returns range from prospects like Rundblad and Cowen or Zibenajad to an NHL veteran like Alfredsson. If the return is picks, and not yet NHL ready prospects, maybe the talented but oft injured Milan Michalek is worth taking a gamble on.