Building out potential Team Canada Olympic lineups is an excruciating task. No matter what you do, you’re going to end up cutting some great players with a strong case to be there.
Up front, depending on your outlook, as many as nine spots could already be considered locks, leaving one line to more or less fight over. On defence, there’s going to be tons of turnover from the last NHL Olympics and, again, as many as four spots that could be locked in already.
When it comes to the goalies, though, there are no locks anymore and the tough decisions start right at the top.
After the Montreal Canadiens went to the Stanley Cup Final last season on the back of their starting goalie, it seemed the net would be Carey Price’s to lose. He’s won Olympic gold before, showed a recent ability to carry a team at important points and, crucially, came off as the most dependable of the bunch. But after he entered the NHL’s Player Assistance program this season, his spot on this team is up in the air. Price will hopefully return to the ice in the somewhat near future, but it’s still unclear when he’ll return to the Habs’ lineup. If and when he does come back, Price will be considered in a ranking such as these but, for now, we’re keeping him out of the mix.
Without Price the goalie picture for Canada is fascinating. Here are the other five goalies in the running and how we’d rank them today.
1. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers
The latest: Hart was the guy you could see coming as the future Team Canada goalie. A three-time winner of the WHL’s best goalie award, silver and gold medals at the World Juniors, and even three games for Canada at their World Championship silver medal effort in 2019 where he had a 0.70 goals-against average. Then last year happened. The 2020-21 season brought unique challenges and it was hard to gauge proper takeaways from both individual and team performance perspectives around the league. But Hart’s numbers were so uncharacteristically bad (.877, 3.67) that we reasonably could have expected him to recover under more normal circumstances.
So far that has proven to be right.
The Flyers allow among the most shots in the league, 33.5 per game, and are 30th in high danger chances per 60 minutes of play. When you account for all situations and ice time, the rate at which Hart faces net front opportunities is surpassed by only Anton Forsberg and Sergei Bobrovsky and Hart is making a huge difference — his .896 high danger save percentage is fourth-best in the league. In terms of goals saved above expected, Hart is the No. 1-ranked Canadian goalie and seventh in the NHL. He’s all the way back.
The latest: At first it didn’t seem like Blackwood would even be in consideration here due to his vaccination status, but in the past few weeks he has gotten that done and should be back in these conversations.
His early numbers are very strong, but it’s worth pointing out that Blackwood’s season didn’t start until November so he’s only played four games (and was pulled by the concussion spotter in his most recent start). He allowed three goals in three of those games and got a 42-save shutout in the other. The Devils are a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of shot suppression, but are top 10 in defending against the highest quality opportunities in front of the net.
By raw numbers, Blackwood’s .937 save percentage in all situations is among the league’s best and comes in at No. 1 among Canadian goalies. Adjusting for quality, his goals saved statistic is 14th in the league.
In a normal time where Price would already be Canada’s locked-in starter, there may only be room for one “young” goalie on the roster and that would have come down to either Blackwood (24) or Hart (23). Now both of them may be able to play their way onto the Canadian men’s Olympic team — and maybe even the top two options.
The latest: Perhaps surprisingly, the Blues give up a good number of high quality shots against — only Vegas, Detroit, Philadelphia, Edmonton and the NY Rangers have averaged more at 5-on-5 so far this season. Binnington on his own has faced the second-most high danger shots against at 5-on-5 (behind only Robin Lehner), so his workload has been pretty heavy so far. His save rate on those quality chances is .845, which comes in below some other goalies who have faced a similar amount of dangerous chances such as Thatcher Demko, John Gibson and Jack Campbell.
Binnington has played in 12 of St. Louis’ 15 games so far, but relative to expectations based on the kinds of shots he’s faced, his ranking falls down the page a little. According to Natural Stat Trick, in all situations Binnington has a minus-0.11 goals saved above average, which ranks 29th among all goalies with at least five games played. In November alone Binnington has an .896 save rate and 3.13 GAA.
The latest: A slow start by the Avs is starting to come around and you can see it in Kuemper’s numbers. Allowing 16 goals in his first five starts has made way for just 10 goals against in his most recent five games. That surely has something to do with Colorado’s defence improving somewhat — they have allowed just under 30 shots against since Oct. 28 and were at 33.5 in the couple of weeks before then. Notably, Kuemper’s workload is perhaps somewhat the most similar to what Team Canada’s ‘tender might see in that his team doesn’t give up much in the way of quality chances. Among 57 qualifying NHL goalies who’ve played at least two games, Kuemper ranks 51st in the amount of high danger chances he faces per 60 minutes of action (all situations). And his .889 save percentage on these shots is sixth-best overall.
So Kuemper is doing well with what he’s faced so far, but is he standing out as a difference maker on his own? Kuemper has saved 0.59 goals above expected, which places him below some of the other serious contenders on this list.
Last year’s Vezina winner, things have been very rocky for Fleury in a Chicago uniform this season and while some of that can be attributed to his going from Vegas’ strong team defence to Chicago’s leaky defence, the Hawks have actually been slightly improved in this regard from a year ago. Through 10 starts, Fleury has been more likely to allow four or more goals against than not.
With a sub-.900 save percentage and 3.50 GAA, Fleury might be playing his way off this team — which perhaps he played his way back into consideration for after his 2020-21 performance at 35 years of age. It’s a little volatile and a risky leap to expect he could return to his Vegas form if playing behind Canada’s defence. In terms of goals saved above expected, Fleury ranks 52 of 58 qualifying NHL goalies with a minus-4.53 mark.
We should note, however, that his November has been better. He’s won three of his past five starts and has posted a .920 save rate in that time, so if he can keep that going perhaps Fleury can move back up these rankings. But he is playing from behind now.