NHL starting goalies have always captured the imagination of hockey fans. The Cerberus is one of the players most watched by fans on the ice. When the team loses, he is often the first one pointed at, since the slightest flaw in his play allows the opposing team to score. In playoffs, it is often said that a team with an ordinary goalie cannot aspire to great honours. It is difficult to rank the most outstanding goaltenders in NHL history because they have played at different times. The following is a list of the great goaltenders who have made their mark in their respective eras.
From the genesis of the NHL in 1917, a Quebec goaltender made his mark with the Canadian: the legendary Georges Vézina. It was he who pulled off the first shutout in NHL history. In 15 seasons in Montreal, he didn’t miss a single game, accumulating 175 wins (72 before the NHL was created). He maintained the highest average six times and won the Stanley Cup twice. In full glory at the age of 38, he died tragically of tuberculosis after collapsing on the ice early in the second period in the first game of the season. Curiously nicknamed the “Chicoutimi Cucumber”, the NHL honoured him with the honour of naming the trophy after him, which today rewards the best goaltender in the NHL.
Charlie “Chuck” Gardiner is not very well known. He played 7 seasons with the Black Hawks between 1927 and 1935. He won 2 Vézina trophies (awarded until 1981 to the goalie with the best average) and was named 3 times on the first all-star team. Born in Scotland, he was captain of the Black Hawks when they won their first Stanley Cup in 1935 (he is the only European captain to lead his team to the Cup). He died of a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 29, just three weeks after his triumph.
Bill Durnan is part of the glorious history of the Canadian. He has won the Stanley Cup twice, including one in his first season. In 7 seasons, he won the Vézina trophy 6 times and was named to the first all-star team 6 times. He was captain of the Canadiens in the 1947-48 season. He is also known as the only ambidextrous goaltender of all time, passing his stick from one hand to the other during the action.
Terry Sawchuk led the Red Wings to four Stanley Cup conquests. In his rookie season, he won the Calder Trophy with 44 wins in 70 games (a new record at the time). In the 1952 playoffs, in his second season, he had an 8-0 record and allowed 5 goals in total (average of 0.93) to win his first Stanley Cup. When he retired at the end of the 69-70 season, he held the mark for the most games played by a goaltender as well as the most wins (447) and shutouts (103). His right arm was two inches shorter than his left arm, the result of a fracture that had been poorly treated at age 12.
Late 50s and 60s
Two goalkeepers share the title for this period. Jacques Plante, the Canadian’s famous number 1 with his 6 Stanley Cups, 5 of them consecutive, is the most famous. He has been named three times on the first all-star team and is the recipient of 7 Vézina trophies. It was 35 years before another goaltender won the Hart Trophy after Plante won it in 1962. The day after Halloween 1959, he became the first goaltender to wear a mask during a regular season game.
Hall won the Stanley Cup only twice (including one as an alternate goaltender), but still had 407 wins and 87 shutouts. He won the Conn Smythe trophy in 1968 and the Vézina three times. Seven times he was named to the first all-star team. He is known as the ancestor of the butterfly style, a bit like Neil Young is the ancestor of “grunge”. He holds a record that will probably never be beaten by a goalie, that of having played in 502 consecutive games. He and Jacques Plante jointly led the Blues to the Stanley Cup finals in 1969 and 1970.
With the dominance of the Canadian in the ’70s, who else but Ken Dryden can be proclaimed the best goalkeeper of that time. In only 8 seasons, he won the Stanley Cup 6 times and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy before playing 10 regular season games. He went on to win the Calder Trophy, was voted First All-Star 5 times and won the Vézina Trophy 5 times. He retired in 1979 after winning a fourth straight Stanley Cup.
Late 80s and 90s
It took several years before a goaltender could dominate the NHL as much as Dryden did. Patrick Roy won the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy had its first playoff appearance. Four times he engraved his name on the Cup. He is the only player in history to have won 3 Conn Smythe Trophies. He also holds the mark for the most wins in the regular season and in the playoffs. He is also the first player to have surpassed the 500 win mark. He currently leads the NHL with 551. Chris Chelios has just surpassed him for the most games played in the playoffs. Let’s add 3 Vézina trophies and 4 First All-Star nominations.
90s to the present day…
Martin Brodeur has established himself as the best goalkeeper of the last 15 years. He follows Roy for the number of wins (538). He won the Stanley Cup 3 times, the Vézina trophy 3 times and the Calder trophy. He holds the mark for the most shutouts in his career, season and series combined.