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State of the Crease: Age Breakdown

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Whether you are in a keeper league or a one-year league, knowing who the reliable elite goaltenders are is often a must. Since last season it seems apparent that there is a switch in which generation of netminders should be considered the top tier of pack. It was not long ago the best goaltenders in the league were regarded as being Ryan Miller (now 32), Ilya Bryzgalov (now 32), Miikka Kiprusoff (now 35), Niklas Backstrom (now 34), Roberto Luongo (now 33), and Martin Brodeur (now 40) among others. Certainly some of their reigns have overlapped with Marc-Andre Fleury, 27, as well as Henrik Lundqvist, 30 who come to mind as good regular season starters who have been top flight options for awhile. Cam Ward and Pekka Rinne are also goalies that have been starters for a while who are under the age of 30. This leads me to my first observation:

There is not a single goalie over the age of 32 that can be counted on to win 35 games each season.

Only Tim Thomas and Kiprusoff won 35 games last regular season among goalies over the age of 32 and there was not a single goalie in that age range to win more than 35 games. On an inconsistent Calgary Flames team, Kiprusoff is not a shoe-in to repeat but he is the best bet even at 35-years-old. Tim Thomas is taking a year off from hockey and likely will have to work hard to beat out Tuukka Rask by the time he returns.

Another contender to win 35 games in that age range is Bryzgalov but he had a pretty rocky year in Philadelphia, which culminated in a pretty poor playoff performance. Even if he does reach 35 wins, if his peripheral statistics are as dreadful as they were last season that could single-handedly assure you of not winning a few categories and certainly take Bryzgalov out of the discussion as a top goalie.

Other potential goalies in that range include Miller, Craig Anderson, and Luongo. Last season showed that there are suddenly question marks about Miller after he was noticeably not up to his normal form and it seems that he cannot be counted on for top goaltending anymore until he proves otherwise. The streaky Anderson has a talented duo of prospects knocking on his door with Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop. Once you mix those two things together for the Ottawa Senators and Anderson it looks doubtful that he will ever be a top option in net. Luongo's future is up in the air so no one really knows how good of a spot he will be in or even where he is at mentally as a netminder now.

Most of the 30-35 win goalies are unstable regressing goalies.

Among the eight 35+ win goalies during the 2011-12 season: half of them are under the age of 30 (Fleury, Rinne, Jimmy Howard, and Jonathan Quick). Marc-Andre Fleury and Pekka Rinne were the only goaltenders to reach 40 wins in 2011-12. However if that sounds like there are a lot of thriving starters between 25 and 29 years in age, consider that only four goalies in that same age range out of a total of nine among all ages won between 30 and 35 games during last regular season (Antti Niemi, Kari Lehtonen, Cam Ward and Corey Crawford).

So if Lundqvist and Mike Smith are the only goalies between the ages of 30 to 32 that produce elite numbers and are not regressing; that means that seven out of the 17 goalies who won 30 or more games are not heading downhill among the goalies that won 30 or more games.

We are about to see a major shift the elite NHL netminders over the next few years.

At this point it is hard to argue that the top goalies from a season or two ago are maintaining their big roles. Certainly some of them should rebound and win around 35 games again but I doubt we will see any of them push 40 wins with good peripheral statistics again.

At the same time there are not enough strong goalies in the 25-31 year-old range that are top options in net to say that the older generation can all be replaced. Younger goalies (26 and under) have been a mixed bag. At 26, you have a guy like Jonathan Quick who certainly has come into his own during the last few seasons. However you also have Devan Dubnyk and Corey Schneider. Dubnyk has had his moments but has failed to make many believe he will be a high quality goaltender without tremendous aid on defense. Schneider been stuck behind Luongo but now is considered the starter as soon as Luongo finally gets traded.

The largest number of goalies under the age of 26 is the 24 year-olds. The top three of this group are Semyon Varlamov, Ondrej Pavelec, and Carey Price. Price had a rough year for the Canadiens but certainly has elite ability. The Canadiens as a whole are a team in transition but Price will be an elite option again in the near future.

Varlamov had a better second half and 2012 World Championships. The Russian goalie has always had the talent but he never could sustain a good rhythm in his play for more than a week or two. He definitely benefits from being the top starter in Colorado with a capable veteran back-up like J.S. Giguere helping get him through rough patches. Long term he has the ability and situation to turn into a top goalie.

Ondrej Pavelec has been given the keys to the Winnipeg Jets' crease and it is up to him how he drives it. There are virtually no challengers at this point at any level of the organization. Pavelec, like Varlamov, is a very skilled goalie that has had moments of brilliance. He needs to avoid nights where he lets in more than four goals and find confidence. Given the long leashes and the natural ability of Pavelec as well as Varlamov, it appears that they should factor into the question of elite goaltenders eventually. They are two of the few that are unquestioned starters under the age of 26.

There are other 24-year-olds that are not faring as well or are still unproven. Michal Nuevirth has probably lost his chance at a starting role in Washington to 22-year-old Braden Holtby. Holtby is the youngest full-time starter heading into next season but if he falters, a tandem of the two would take place until one clearly stands out more than other for an extended period of time.

Steve Mason still has the starting role but the Columbus Blue Jackets' decision to acquire Sergei Bobrovsky showed that finally Columbus is quite concerned. He has the talent of Pavelec and Varlamov. However he has been dwelling in a longer stretch of poor play than either of the two have and bad games have become quite the norm rather than the exception for Mason. He must show improvements in order avoid consideration as the next Andrew Raycroft, one-year wonder.

Anders Lindback has the size but he is pretty unproven and he has very strong competition from Dustin Tokarski, especially if he shows any signs that he is not up for the job. As a former Nashville Predators backup, he could become the next Pekka Rinne or Tomas Vokoun but given how unproven he is he could also become the next Dan Ellis or Chris Mason. He could become an elite option but he has a long way to go in proving that.

James Reimer also has a lot of ability but the injuries are a concern. He does have some competition from Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas; but overall it is his durability that seems to hold him back. With Jonas Gustavsson out of the picture he has the next season to prove himself as a capable durable starter, which will make this a crucial season for evaluating his future in the NHL.

Other young goalies that could factor into the equation for elite talent one day are Tuukka Rask, 25, Jacob Markstrom, 22, and Jonathan Bernier, 24. A group of 24-year-olds with a lesser chance but still a reasonable one still are Leland Irving and Jhonas Enroth. There are plenty of other goalies that are not as close to NHL starting roles that are in the pipeline but as many of these young goalies would attest you might have to wait until you're 26 or older to get a real chance at a starting role-- not everyone gets a shot at 22 like Holtby.

All in all below are the young goalies (26 and under) in order that you should consider investing in long term that can still help you at least some next season. I tried to balance the long-term value and the short-term value to make an overall value. Some lower ranked goalies are better than some higher ranked goalies long term but are not as certain to produce this year, which is why they have lower rankings.

1) Carey Price
2) Tuukka Rask
3) Corey Schneider
4) Semyon Varlamov
5) Braden Holtby
6) Ondrej Pavelec
7) Jacob Markstrom
8) Devan Dubnyk
9) James Reimer
10) Anders Lindback
11) Jonathan Bernier
12) Steve Mason

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