Hockey is as subjective as anything else in life; statistics play a major role in these “best of all time” lists, but ultimately it comes down to one question: “if I were a General Manager, going into the playoffs, who would I want on my team?”
When it comes to the most important position in hockey (goaltending), a major concern would be, who do I want in my net? Out of the greatest goalies of all time, which one of them gives my team the best chance to win a seven-game series? While a few goalies active today have proven their ability to rise to the occasion when called upon, the glory days of goaltenders seems to be waning.
The goalies on this list all played in different eras, but many of them competed against one another, promoting some unbelievable competition amongst them, and fierce debate between pundits. Though I’d take any of these ten goalies, I’d prefer one in particular. Here we go…
10. Ed Belfour
Perhaps he’s a surprise on this list, but Ed Belfour was one of the most talented and reliable goaltenders of his era. He also remained prolific throughout his entire 15-year NHL career, only posting a losing record twice (not including his brief stint in 1988-89, a full year before his official rookie campaign).
As a rookie, Belfour won the Calder Trophy and his first Vezina Trophy in 1990-91 and the following year backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup finals where they lost to Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Belfour remained one of the league’s elite goalies throughout the 1990s, winning a second Vezina Trophy in 1993. After signing with the Dallas Stars as a free agent in 1997 Belfour finally won a Stanley Cup in 1999.
Perhaps most impressive about Ed Belfour was that he went undrafted. He finished his career third overall in wins by a goaltender and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.
9. Bernie Parent
Bernie Parent’s NHL career began innocuously enough in 1967 with the Philadelphia Flyers where for three and a half seasons he posted losing numbers before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. After a brief stint in Toronto where Parent posted similarly less-than-stellar numbers, he bounced around for a year before returning to the Flyers to begin the 1973-74 campaign.
The complete 180 in Parent’s play was immediately evident, and over the next two years Bernie Parent put together two of the greatest seasons in goaltending history, back-to-back no less. The Flyers won the Stanley Cup in both seasons following Parents return, where Parent also won consecutive Conn Smyth trophies, and for his regular season work two Vezina trophies.
These two seasons ultimately defined Bernie Parent’s career, and none of his play before or after ever matched the run between 1973-75. Parent remains an icon in Philadelphia and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984.
8. Tony Esposito
One half of the Esposito brothers that saw wild success in the NHL in the 1970s, Tony Esposito was claimed off waivers from the Montreal Canadiens by the Chicago Black Hawks (yes, it was two words back then) in 1969 and began his storied career.
In his first season alone Esposito won the Calder Trophy, the Vezina Trophy and set a modern single-season NHL shutout record with 15. Though Esposito’s only Stanley Cup win was as a back-up in Montreal prior to joining the Black Hawks, he continued his stellar career in Chicago by leading the Hawks to the finals numerous times, and winning two more Vezina trophies.
Esposito also played an instrumental role for Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union. Esposito retired with a career total of 423 wins, good for seventh all-time. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.
7. Glenn Hall
“Mr. Goalie” Glenn Hall was the first NHL goalie to firmly employ the butterfly style in his repertoire of stopping pucks, a style that many of the great netminders that followed would utilize to great effect. For this reason alone, his innovative style, Hall belongs on this list. The fact that his career was also filled with accomplishments makes Glenn Hall one of the greatest and most important goalies ever to ply the game.
As a rookie Hall won the Calder Trophy, played in 13 All-Star games, won three Vezina trophies and, most importantly, won two Stanley Cups. He even won a Conn Smythe Trophy, albeit in a losing effort, while a member of the St. Louis Blues. Hall was also an iron man during his playing career holding the record for most consecutive games played by a goalie with 502.
After an illustrious career, which ended with 407 career wins, Glenn Hall was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975.
6. Terry Sawchuk
Another one of hockey’s golden era goalies, Terry Sawchuk’s career was marred as much by injuries and personal tribulations as it was success on the ice. His road to the NHL was a long one, but not even a boyhood injury kept Sawchuk from becoming one of the greatest goalies to ever live, and during his career he built a resume of success during the same time as extremely talented counterparts Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall.
Most of Sawchuk’s success came with the Detroit Red Wings, with whom he won the Calder Trophy in 1951 and three of his four Stanley Cups and Vezina trophies. Even later in his career while playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs Sawchuk’s talent was formidable, winning his last Vezina as a Leaf in 1965, and also having the distinction of being the last goalie to win a Stanley Cup in a Maple Leafs uniform, which he did in 1967.
Sawchuck died tragically before he finished his career, but remains fifth all-time in wins, with 447, and second all-time in shutouts with 103, to this day. He was posthumously inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1971, the year following his death.
5. Jacques Plante
Another trailblazing goalie, and not only because he was the most well-known goaltender to first wear a mask during an NHL game, Jacques Plante invented the mobile, puck handling goalie who actively engaged with his defensemen to either stop the puck behind his net, or move the puck up ice to begin a rush.
Although he will forever be known as the goalie who made the mask everyday equipment, Plante had a remarkable career in which he won six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens (five of them in a row), seven Vezina trophies, and a Hart Trophy.
Not only was Plante the fastest goalie to reach 300 wins, he also finished his career with 437 career wins, good enough for sixth all-time, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978.
4. Dominik Hasek
Widely regarded as the most unorthodox goalie to ever play the game, the “Dominator” stopped the puck any way he could in his crease; standing up, on his back, contorted like an acrobat, it didn’t matter as long as the puck stayed out of the net. Most often with Hasek, it did.
Starting his career with Chicago, winning his incredible array of individual awards, doing most of his damage to opponents as a Buffalo Sabre, and capturing two Stanley Cups as a Detroit Red Wing, Hasek was a formidable presence in his crease. Known for his fierce competitiveness and quick temper, Hasek channelled that into a dominant run in the Sabres’ net, winning six Vezina trophies, two Hart trophies and 2 Lester B. Pearson trophies, as well as leading the Sabres to a Stanley Cup final as underdogs in 1999. He also lead the Czech National Team to an Olympic Gold Medal in 1998.
Following the 200-01 season Hasek was traded to the Red Wings, where a year later he won his first Stanley Cup. While Hasek suited up for the Ottawa Senators briefly and retired shortly after, he returned to the NHL in time to win a second Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2008, albeit as a back-up. Domink Hasek was just recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
3. Ken Dryden
Ken Dryden only played seven NHL seasons, but his impact in the Montreal Canadiens’ net was felt before he ever even played a full regular season. Much like another Habs goalie some 15 years later, Dryden stepped into the Canadiens net as a rookie, taking the starting job from all-star Rogie Vachon in the final games of the regular season, where he proceeded to win a Stanley Cup, and the Conn Smythe Trophy for his pivotal role in the Canadiens’ victory.
Over the next seven seasons that Dryden played (he missed one due to a contract dispute), he won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year, five Vezina trophies, and five more Stanley Cups. That’s a lot of hardware in seven NHL seasons.
Dryden retired from hockey at the age of 31 to pursue other career interests in law, teaching and politics, but he left the league as one of the greatest goalies of all time. His career winning percentage of .790 is the greatest in history, and his six Stanley Cups in eight playoff appearances are also a record.
Ken Dryden was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.
2. Martin Brodeur
Statistically speaking Martin Brodeur is the greatest goalie of all time. No question. And in many circles, statistics are what makes one the best at their position. It’s tough to argue; numbers don’t lie and Martin Brodeur has the numbers, in droves.
Martin Brodeur is the NHL’s all-time leader in games played, wins, shutouts, and remains the only netminder with eight seasons with 40 or more victories. Brodeur also won the Calder Trophy in 1995, and has won three Vezina trophies. On top of his individual awards, Brodeur also helped the New Jersey Devils, the only team he has played for thus far, win three Stanley Cups, and helped Team Canada win two Olympic Gold Medals.
As the only goalie to ever win over 600 games, Brodeur is far and away the NHL’s most victorious goalie, and may remain so. After twenty years, and at age 42, Martin Brodeur remains a free agent this season, hoping to play again, inevitably furthering his statistical legacy as the greatest goalie of all time on paper, and over all the second greatest goalie in league history.
1. Patrick Roy
No doubt another controversial choice for number one on this list, it comes down to championships, and the role Patrick Roy played in his teams’ Stanley Cup victories. While Roy retired without the statistical numbers Brodeur has, he did win four Stanley Cups to Brodeur’s three. But what was the biggest and most important difference in those wins? Brodeur has never won a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, Patrick Roy has won the Conn Smyth Trophy three times, the only player in NHL history to do so. Furthermore, Patrick Roy is the all-time playoff leader in wins with 151, so, if I’m picking a goalie for the playoffs, chances are I’m going with Roy.
The 1993 Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup winning team in particular had no business winning a championship; Roy carried that team. And let’s not forget that between his time in Montreal and with the Colorado Avalanche, Patrick Roy also won three Vezina trophies, and was named an All-Star 11 times.
It’s those Conn Smythe trophies and Stanley Cups however, that make Roy the greatest goalie of all time. The fact that Roy won a Conn Smythe during each phase of his career, from being a 21-year-old rookie in 1986, to a 35-year-old veteran in 2001, made Patrick Roy as consistent as he was talented.
Maybe not the greatest regular season goalie of all time, but without a doubt the greatest playoff goalie of all time, Patrick Roy was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.
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