In Part 1, we looked at the criteria that should be used to judge
a successful goaltender. In Part 2, we apply those criteria to
establish a list of the top goalies of all-time. We've got a four-way
tie at #5, and part of the suspense is over because our current
hero sits right here:
#5 (tied): Martin Brodeur - Peak: 247.8 Long: 35.9 Poff: 63.9 Total: 347.6 Top 5s: 3 / 3
The favorite of the moment, Brodeur comes into a 4-way tie for #5. Brodeur has been exceptionally durable in his career, and is in second place in games played among all the goaltenders on this list. Brodeur’s other quality is his consistency: he has never had a truly bad year in his career, quite a feat given that he is finishing his 15th full year in the league. Brodeur seems to have been rejuvenated by the lockout, as his statistics noticeably improved after 2004. Although many people think of him as a playoff god, the fact is like most goaltenders he has had his good years and bad ones; however, two of the Devils’ Stanley Cups would have been impossible without him, in 1995 and 2003 (he was robbed of the Conn Smythe in 1995, and would have won it in 2003 if not for the superhuman play that year of Jean-Sebastien Giguere). Although the conventional wisdom of him as the greatest ever goaltender is overdone, his career isn’t over: he could well be #3 on this list by the time his playing days are over.
#5 (tied): Ken Dryden - Peak: 273.7 Long: 0.0 Poff: 83.7 Total: 357.4 Top 5s: 5 / 5
Few players accomplished as much in as little time as Ken Dryden. He played only 7 full seasons in the league, won 6 Stanley Cups, was league regular-season MVP once and runner-up twice, was playoff MVP twice, and basically dominated the league in every imaginable way for the whole time he was playing. Obviously, some of Dryden’s statistics can be attributed to the fact that he played for possibly the most powerful dynasty the NHL has ever seen, the late 70s Canadiens, but let’s not forget that the Canadiens only won the 1971 Cup, upsetting the powerhouse Boston Bruins of Orr and Esposito, thanks to a late-season call-up of Dryden, that Dryden held out for the 1974 season and the team went nowhere without him, and after he retired in 1979 the team never was the same. Dryden ranks at the 7th greatest playoff performer of all-time.
#5 (tied): Ed Belfour - Peak: 260.3 Long: 15.2 Poff: 82.0 Total: 357.5 Top 5s: 4 / 3
While few people will agree with my assessment that Brodeur and Belfour are equal, the numbers speak for themselves. Belfour was one of the outstanding goaltenders of his generation, first resurrecting the Chicago Blackhawks at the beginning of the 90s and then leading the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup within 2 years of signing there. Belfour was the league MVP in 1991 and the runner-up in 2003 with the Toronto Maple Leafs, was the best or second-best player in the playoffs in 1995, 1999 and 2000. Like Brodeur until 2003, Belfour had the disadvantage of playing his career in the shadow of two greats… who are coming up.
#5 (tied): Glenn Hall - Peak: 298.0 Long: 47.1 Poff: 13.0 Total: 358.1 Top 5s: 8 / 2
While Glenn Hall is best known in hockey circles for his ironman streak of 502 consecutive games, he was actually a phenomenal goaltender during many of those games. From 1956 to 1967, Hall shared goaltending supremacy in the NHL with Jacques Plante, with Hall being the league MVP 5 times and Plante 4 times. Much like Brodeur today, Hall was a workhorse, and played over 90% of the games during the time he was the Blackhawks’ #1 goalie. If there’s a knock against Hall, it’s that he was never an excellent playoff goaltender: he won the Stanley Cup in 1961 and was the playoff MVP that year, but many other years he was average or downright bad, and his playoff GVT is the lowest of any of the goaltenders on this list. Hall still holds the record for the greatest number of first-team All-Star selections for a goaltender, with 7.
#4: Tony Esposito - Peak: 314.9 Long: 48.2 Poff: 26.4 Total: 389.6 Top 5s: 9 / 1
Another forgotten star, Tony Esposito is the third of the troika of great goaltenders from the 70s (along with Dryden and Parent) and was the longest-lived of the three. He burst into the league with great fanfare, setting the modern shutout record with 15, which has yet to be beaten. During the next 12 years, Esposito would be the most consistent goaltender in the NHL: he finished in the top 10 in GVT in 11 out of those 12 years, a feat only one other player has ever achieved (hint: his name ends with –etzky). Unfortunately for Esposito, by 1975 his Blackhawks were no longer among the league’s elite, and he never won the Cup despite making it to the finals twice, including an MVP performance in 1971. Nevertheless, Esposito’s place among the greats is assured.
#3: Jacques Plante - Peak: 326.3 Long: 44.8 Poff: 67.6 Total: 438.7 Top 5s: 8 / 5
We now move into the true elite of goaltending with the inventor of the goaltender mask, Jacques Plante. Plante broke into the league with the Canadiens in 1953 and, within 3 years, would backstop the greatest dynasty in history, a Canadiens team that would win 5 Stanley Cups in a row. The foundation was Plante: he was a cut above every other goaltender in the league. While we don’t have save percentage numbers from the regular season, we do have them for the playoffs, and here Plante was peerless: he was the MVP of the playoffs 3 times, in 1957, 1958 and 1960, and was strong the other years as well. Proof that Plante was not a team creation would come later in his career, when he would make the St.Louis Blues the strongest expansion team then backstop them to the Cup Final twice, and the next year in Toronto when he would post a 1.88 GAA (the league average was 3.12). Reconstructed statistics for this year put his save percentage at 0.942, which would be the highest ever.
#2: Dominik Hasek - Peak: 427.9 Long: 36.2 Poff: 65.9 Total: 529.9 Top 5s: 7 / 2
Few players have been as unorthodox or as controversial as Dominik Hasek. After starting his career in the NHL late because he was from Czechoslovakia, Hasek emerged in 1993 as the #1 goaltender of the Buffalo Sabres and immediately asserted himself as the top goaltender in the NHL, a perch from which he would not be removed until his first retirement in 2002. During those years, Hasek’s reputation as a “winner” came under fire because the Sabres were so awful (other than him) and consequently were not as successful as a team as, say, Brodeur’s Devils. Despite this, Hasek managed to bring his team to the conference final in 1998 and to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999, losing on the infamous Brett-Hull-skate-in-the-crease goal. Hasek was of course the playoff MVP that year. Once he signed with a good team, Detroit, in 2001, it took him exactly one try to win the Stanley Cup.
At his peak form, Hasek was the strongest goaltender the NHL has ever seen, and one of the top 3 most dominant players period, with Gretzky and Orr. His numbers were unmatched by anyone before or since, and had he played another 6 or 7 years in the league as he would have were it not for geopolitics, he would be the consensus choice as the top goaltender of all-time. As it is, he will have to settle for #2.
#1: Patrick Roy - Peak: 308.7 Long: 112.5 Poff: 131.9 Total: 553.1 Top 5s: 6 / 6
The #1 goaltender of all-time should come as no surprise to anyone well-versed in hockey. Patrick Roy entered the league as a rookie in 1985 and, by the time he left in 2003, had redefined the level to which a goaltender could aspire. Roy was among the top 10 goalies in the league for 17 consecutive seasons; he was regular-season MVP twice, in 1990 and 1992, and in the top 3 five times; he was playoff MVP 4 times, deserving his 3 Conn Smythe trophies (he should also have won in 1989, even though the Canadiens lost in the final). Roy’s trade to the Colorado Avalanche single-handedly changed the balance of power in the NHL, creating a powerhouse in the West that would win 2 Cups. The two Montreal teams he led to the Stanley Cup are among the weakest winners of the last 40 years, owing their success almost entirely to their goalie.
While Roy can’t match Hasek’s performance at his peak, he was good for much longer. He is also the top playoff performer in NHL history, even ahead of Gretzky. His title as the NHL’s greatest even goaltender is unlikely to be challenged for some time. And certainly not by Martin Brodeur.
Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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