These enigmatic athletes who are willing to put their body in front of a piece of frozen rubber traveling at 100 MPH are without a doubt some of the bravest athletes in the world of sports. The last line of defense, they are always the most important players on their respective teams, and on many nights they all but single-handedly win games. Here are my picks for the top ten NHL goalies to ever don the pads.
10 – Johnny Bower
Though not even Johnny Bower himself knows how old he is, there is no question he played between the pipes until a ripe old age. Bower played most of his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and led them to three straight Stanley Cups from 1962-1964. He won a 4th cup, the last by the Maple Leafs in 1967 while sharing the goaltending duties with fellow hall-of-famer, Terry Sawchuk. Over his playing career he won two Vezina trophies, awarded at the time to the goalie who allowed the fewest goals, but perhaps his most notable achievement was the invention of the poke check. He pioneered this athletic move, a daring gambit by goalies to attempt to poke the puck off an onrushing player’s stick. It is still widely used by today’s goalies, though none can duplicate Bower’s flamboyant style in executing the move.
9 – George Hainsworth
This one is going back a long way. George Hainsworth tended the net for the storied Montreal Canadiens back in the 1920s and 1930s. At the time he replaced the great Georges Vezina, who had died of tuberculosis. Under huge pressure to perform in the hockey mad city of Montreal, Hainsworth proved he was up to the challenge. He won three straight Vezina trophies, and two Stanley Cups for the Habs. in the 1928-1929 season he posted an astounding 22 shutouts in just 44 games, and finished the season with a miniscule 0.98 goals against average. He even served a season as captain of the team, one of only three goalies in league history to have that honor. Though it was most certainly a different league back then, and probably easier for goalies on good teams to put up these kinds of numbers, Hainsworth still deserves a spot on this list of the game’s greats.
8 – Bernie Parent
Though he was originally a Boston Bruin, and even spent some time with the Maple Leafs, Parent will always be known as a Philadelphia Flyer, and is without a doubt the best tender to ever suit up for the franchise. He was absolutely brilliant in the 1973-1974 and 1974-1975 seasons, winning back to back Vezina (best goalie in the regular season) trophies and Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) trophies on route to leading his team to two consecutive Stanley Cups. His idol growing up was Canadiens’ legend, Jacques Plante, and Parent, like Plante, no doubt inspired a generation of young goalies himself.
7 – Glenn Hall
While Gordie Howe was known as Mr. Hockey, Glenn Hall was known as Mr. Goalie. He tended the net for the Red Wings, Blackhawks, Bruins and Blues during his NHL career. He won two Stanley Cups and two Vezina trophies, but his greatest accomplishment was the incredible iron man streak he put together. Between 1955-1962 he played an incredible 502 consecutive games! It was a remarkable feat and is surely one of the truly untouchable records in the world of sport.
6 – Ken Dryden
Though he had a relatively short career, playing only seven full seasons, but in that short time span he managed to establish himself as one of the greatest goalies of all time, and a true NHL legend. He backstopped the powerhouse Canadiens to six Stanley Cups in the 1970s, capturing the Vezina trophy five times along the way. in the 397 regular season games he played he only came out on the losing end 57 times! It is hard to believe this great tender hung them up after the 1979 season, but he was driven to explore other aspects of life. The Canadiens’ dynasty crumbled after Dryden’s retirement. Though he didn’t play nearly as long as he should have Dryden is well deserving of a place on the list of the top ten NHL goalies.
5 – Jacques Plante
Another Montreal Canadiens legend, Plante guarded the net for the team in arguably their most dominant era. He won six Stanley Cups with the team between 1953 and 1963, including an NHL record five consecutive cups in the late 1950s. His personal achievements included a record seven Vezina trophies, and he became only the fourth goalie in league history at the time to win a Hart trophy as the league’s MVP. Despite all his success Plante is most famous for introducing the goalie mask. Though he was not the first to wear the mask, Plante popularized it after getting hit by a shot in a game against the New York Rangers. His nose broken, he defied legendary bench boss, Toe Blake, refusing to finish the game without the mask. With no backup goalie, Blake was forced to grudgingly acquiesce to Plante’s wishes. The rest, as they say, is history.
4 – Martin Brodeur
I’m sure there will be many who read this and decry that Marty Brodeur belongs at the top of this. His credentials are there, his achievements are there, and he is the all-time leader in every statistical category that matters. He has played his entire career for the New Jersey Devils, and despite having few stars playing in front of him, he has managed to lead the team to three Stanley Cups. In addition to the cups he also has a Calder trophy as rookie of the year, three Vezina trophies and an Olympic gold medal on his impressive resume. Perhaps that should rank him higher on this list, but in my opinion even this future Hall-of-Famer is eclipsed by the three gentlemen you see below.
3 – Terry Sawchuk
One of the most enigmatic men to ever don the pads, Terry Sawchuk did things his own way, coaches and teammates be damned. He played the position as it suited him, ignoring advice to improve his positioning. He was a true reflex goalie, relying on his lightning-fast hands and feet to deflect the puck away from the goal. Sawchuk set an NHL record during his career, posted an amazing 103 shutouts, surpassing George Hainsworth’s previous record of 94. He captured four Stanley Cups (three with Detroit and one with Toronto), along with four Vezina trophies. He is known for being one of the hardest battlers in the game, and third place on this list is a contest he lost by a hair’s breadth.
2 – Dominik Hasek
Perhaps the quirkiest, most unorthodox goalie ever to play the game, Dominik Hasek was, for a few years, not only the best goalie, but the most dominant player in the game period. His sprawling, flopping, do-whatever-it-takes-to-make-the-save style confounded opposing shooters, and at times he was completely unbeatable. Though his greatest NHL success came with the Detroit Red Wings when he helped them capture the Stanley Cup in 2002 and again in 2008, his best years came as a Buffalo Sabre. During his tenure with the team he captured six Vezina trophies, and even won the Hart trophy twice as league MVP. He also captured an Olympic goal medal in the winter of 1998, putting on one of the greatest displays of goaltending in hockey history as he back-stopped his team to improbable wins over hockey powerhouses from Canada and Russia.
1 – Patrick Roy
If Patrick Roy knew Martin Brodeur was going to track down so many of his records he might still be playing. Roy’s hugely competitive nature is what made him so successful in the sport. Sure he had talent to burn, but it was the fire in his belly that really puts him at the top of this list. Roy wasted no time establishing his legend, carrying a mediocre Canadiens team to an unexpected Stanley Cup win in his rookie season in 1986. He repeated the performance in 1993, shutting the door on his way to his second Stanley Cup. He was at his best under pressure that playoff year, winning ten consecutive overtime games on his way to helping his team capture the silver chalice. After a blow-up with coach Mario Tremblay in the 1995-1996 season Roy was traded away to the Colorado Avalanche, much to the dismay to the Habs’ faithful fans. The dagger was driven even deeper as Roy went on to lead the Avs to their first ever Stanley Cup. Roy further cemented his legend in 2001 as he again led them to the cup, the fourth and final one of his career. When he retired in 2003 he had nothing left to prove. His 551 regular season wins were the most of all time (since eclipsed by Brodeur), and his 151 playoff wins puts him miles above the competition in that particular statistical category. The numbers don’t tell the story for Roy though. When the chips were down and the game was on the line, Roy was the man you wanted in net. He is, simply put, the best big game goalie in NHL history, and for that reason, more than the numbers, he is at the top of my list of the ten best NHL goalies of all time.