NHL Crease Watch: 10 teams with goaltending questions in 2019-20

Here are 10 NHL clubs that could see a changing of the guard in net in 2019-20.
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Thomas Greiss

Steven King/Icon Sportswire

Several NHL teams are set to enter the 2019-20 season with creases in flux. Here are 10 clubs that could see a changing of the guard in net.

ARIZONA COYOTES
Starter: Antti Raanta
Backup: Darcy Kuemper
Raanta has been solid when healthy, but he’s missed a lot of time over the past two seasons in Arizona. Kuemper, meanwhile, stepped into the breach last season and played like a Vezina Trophy candidate. Raanta gets the first shot, but if he slips – or gets hurt again – Kuemper is more than capable of taking over and taking off.

BUFFALO SABRES
Starter: Carter Hutton
Backup: Linus Ullmark
Hutton, who turns 34 in December, is coming off his first season as a No. 1 in the NHL. He wasn’t the problem in another losing year for Buffalo, but he wasn’t the solution, either. Hutton’s a placeholder until 26-year-old Ullmark steps up or, in the longer term, goalie-of-the-future Ukko-Pekka Luukonen arrives in the big leagues. That won’t happen this season, though.

CALGARY FLAMES
Starter: David Rittich
Backup: Cam Talbot
Rittich stole the No. 1 job last season when Mike Smith faltered, then lost the starting gig just prior to the playoffs. Talbot bounced from Edmonton to Philadelphia in 2018-19, and endured a second consecutive lackluster campaign. ‘Big Save Dave’ and Talbot have potential, but there’s a lot to prove here. The Flames are a Stanley Cup contender at forward and defense. But do they have a Conn Smythe-esque goalie?

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Starter: Joonas Korpisalo
Backup: Elvis Merzlikins
The Blue Jackets are about to find out about life after ‘Bob.’ With two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky leaving for UFA big bucks in Florida, Columbus’ crease competition is wide open. Korpisalo, the incumbent backup, has first dibs on the starting job. If he falters, however, the Jackets have high hopes for the unproven Merzlikins, a Latvian-born stopper who’s been toiling in Switzerland for years. How will Joonas and Elvis fare? They’re the best-named tandem in the NHL, at the very least.

EDMONTON OILERS
Starter: Mikko Koskinen
Backup: Mike Smith
Do two risks make a right? The Oilers committed to Koskinen with a long-term deal in the middle of last season, which was his first year in the big leagues. For insurance, Edmonton went out and signed the veteran Smith, who struggled in Calgary over the past couple seasons. If Koskinen’s the real deal, or if Smith rediscovers his form at 37, the Oilers will be fine in net. But if one or both stumble, it could be yet another long, cold winter in Edmonton.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Starter: Mackenzie Blackwood
Backup: Cory Schneider
While the hockey world was swooning over Carter Hart’s midseason arrival in the NHL last year, Blackwood came up around the same time and posted slightly better numbers. Schneider, meanwhile, has been injured more often than not for the past couple of seasons, and went more than a calendar year between wins. The Devils are hoping Blackwood is ready for the big-time – and if he isn’t, they’re hoping Schneider can continue the progress he showed in the latter stages of last season.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Starter: Semyon Varlamov
Backup: Thomas Griess
Eyebrows were raised when the Isles let Robin Lehner walk on a one-year, $5-million deal with Chicago, and then turned around and signed the older Varlamov to a four-year, $20-million contract. New York is evidently trusting that coach Barry Trotz – and renowned goalie coach Mitch Korn – can help Varlamov return to form. And if he doesn’t, hey, Greiss was every bit as good as Lehner last season.

OTTAWA SENATORS
Starter: Craig Anderson
Backup: Anders Nilsson
Anderson, 38, has one year left on his contract. He’s the presumptive No. 1 until otherwise notified. But with the Senators, ahem, expected to struggle this season, perhaps they give Nilsson more of a chance to prove his worth. There’s also Marcus Hogberg and Filip Gustavsson developing in the AHL, but there’s no sense in throwing them into the NHL fire yet, especially with the barrage that Sens goalies will face this season.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Starter: Carter Hart
Backup: Brian Elliott
As mentioned, Hart arrived amid great fanfare in the middle of last season and helped stabilize the Flyers’ crease. Is he the answer to Philadelphia’s prayers for a go-to No. 1 goalie? It sure looks like it – and if there are growing pains, Elliott knows the drill as an experienced, platoon-friendly netminder.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Starter: Jacob Markstrom
Backup: Thatcher Demko
The Canucks have been waiting on Demko for a while, and it appears he’ll be in the NHL to stay this season. But Markstrom, coming off his best big-league campaign to date, isn’t going to cede the crease, so Demko will have to outdo the incumbent.

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