50 Greatest Goaltenders in NHL History
Goaltenders are a different breed.
Let’s face it, you’ve got to be different to play the most unique position in all of sports. But as eccentric or as quirky as some goalies may be, they all share a common trait of competitive courage. After all, the very notion of stopping a vulcanized rubber disc traveling at speeds exceeding 100 mph defines the lack of fear.
It is a miracle that no one has ever lost their life playing this position, especially in an age where goalie equipment had the protective properties of soggy cardboard.
The position in and of itself is also unique in that it’s often the wild card to the equation of competition, especially in the playoffs. It can single-handedly decide the outcome of the game for better or worse, against any foe or strategy.
So in ranking these goaltenders, I found that defining greatness in these men was also a very different challenge.
After all, what qualified you to be great? Championships? Statistics? Individual accomplishments?
In a sport with such a long-and-storied history and many different eras of play, it wasn’t easy. Of course, it stands to reason that many will disagree with this list, given the difficulty of evaluating the position.
Whether you agree or disagree with any of the selections, I hope you enjoy reading as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
This article was originally submitted by me to Bleacher Report on May, 6th, 2011.
50. Jose Theodore
During the writeup of this article, at least 10 different players have occupied the 50th slot at one point or another. Marc-Andre Fleury, Felix Potvin, Dwayne Roloson, Nikolai Khabibulin and even Andy Moog were just a few of the names deserving of mention.
Oddly enough, this slot was the most difficult to nail down on this list, but Jose Theodore deserves this position.
Posting a .931 save percentage in the 2001-2002 season, Theodore backed the Montreal Canadiens to a 36-31-12 record. His brilliant play late in the season powered a Montreal surge that brought the Canadiens back to the playoffs for the first time since 1998.
Theodore edged Patrick Roy for the Vezina and won the Hart, despite St. Patrick’s 1.94 goals-against average and nine shutouts in the regular season.
Winning the Vezina on the strength of first place votes, Theodore joins rare company as a goaltender to have won both the Vezina and Hart trophies in the same year.
His career failed to live up to that standard, however, as injuries and inconsistency have plagued his career post-lockout.
Inside the Numbers: 1 Hart trophy, 1 Vezina trophy, 1 Roger Crozier trophy, 1 Masterton trophy, 2 All-Star games
49. Cam Ward
Cam Ward entered the NHL in 2005, and wasted no time making an immediate impact for his Carolina Hurricanes. Ward was the difference in his second calender year after the Hurricanes were down 2-0 to the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Behind his stellar play, the Hurricanes turned the tables before moving on to face the New Jersey Devils and Martin Brodeur. Cam Ward carried the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup finals, becoming the first rookie goaltender to do so since Patrick Roy in 1986.
Winning 15 playoff games as a rookie, Cam Ward also became the first rookie goaltender to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as a rookie since Ron Hextall in 1987.
Although winning the Stanley Cup for the expansion Hurricanes may have been a great beginning for Ward, he’s made the playoffs just once since then.
Inside the Numbers: 1 Stanley Cup, 1 Conn Smythe.
What sets him apart: Cam Ward’s second calender year in the NHL had him joining hockey’s elite, winning the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup in 2006.
48. Curtis Joseph
“Cujo” shot out of the gate to career with the St. Louis Blues, and won 100 games in his first 209 appearances, becoming the fastest to do so in club history.
Like many goaltenders in the 90s, Joseph was overlooked in the NHL draft and signed with St. Louis as a free agent. One of the best signings in team history, Joseph gave the Blues championship-caliber goaltending and confidence in net.
Joseph was as big as they got and carried his team on his back to success on multiple occasions early in his career. Cujo led the overmanned Blues to a sweep against the conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks in 1993, and has knocked off the one-seed four times in his career.
Inside the Numbers: 2 All-Star games, 1 King Clancy trophy.
What sets him apart: Cujo was a big-game goaltender who could be the difference for his team on any given night.
His performance for the Edmonton Oilers in Game 7 of the first-round series against the Dallas Stars was superb. His desperation save against Joe Nieuwendyk in overtime was simply magical and allowed the Oilers to win on the following faceoff.
47. John Vanbiesbrouck
“Beezer” is one of the most technical and positionally sound goaltenders to ever mind the net in the NHL. His career may have fallen short of the ultimate goal, but he was often the best player on ice for his team and never let his teammates down.
The pinnacle of his career was perhaps during the 1995-96 playoffs where he led the Florida Panthers on a Cinderella run all the way to the finals.
In a run earmarked by the fateful Scott Mellanby slapshot that ended a rat’s life in the “vomitory,” Beezer was the difference maker for Florida.
It was a magical run that saw Beezer mow down the Mario Lemieux-Jaromir Jagr led Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern finals, and a glut of plastic rat sales.
One Uwe Krupp triple overtime slapshot later, the Colorado Avalanche sent the Panthers home with nothing to be ashamed of, Vanbiesbrouck most of all.
Inside the Numbers: 1 Vezina trophy, 3 NHL All-Star games
What sets him apart: The diminutive Vanbiesbrouck did the unthinkable when he backstopped the three-year-old expansion Panthers to the finals.
With a team comprised of expansion draft castoffs, and AHL call-ups, Beezer beat the Lindros-led Flyers, and the Lemieux-led Penguins before falling to Patrick Roy and the Avalanche in the finals.
46. Hugh Lehman
Hugh Lehman is another marvelous goaltender who was an innovator for professional hockey everywhere, as he was the first goaltender to leave the crease and play the puck.
Playing for multiple leagues to begin his career, Lehman finally found his home with the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. He joined Vancouver after his brief stint with the New Westminster Royals, in the association’s first year of existence.
An excellent skater and puck-handler, Lehman also won the Stanley Cup in the 1914-15 year for the Vancouver Millionaires, making them the first PCHA team to win it all.
Inside the Numbers: 1 Stanley Cup, 11 All-Star selections.
What sets him apart: One of the many innovators on this list, Lehman added the dangerous element of puck-handling outside of the crease to his team.
45. Bill Ranford
You’d be hard pressed to find a better goaltender in the early 90s than Bill Ranford, whose athletic style and tough mentality entertained fans everywhere.
Filling the rather sizable shoes of Grant Fuhr proved a difficult task, and Gretzky being in L.A. certainly didn’t help matters.
His Conn Smythe-winning year featured some ugly performances to start the playoffs, but Ranford recovered quite nicely en route to beating the Bruins for the Stanley Cup.
Inside the Numbers: 2 Stanley Cups, 1 Conn Smythe trophy, 1 All-Star game.
What sets him apart: Ranford was a competitor who could carry his team on his back, and won Game 1 in a triple-overtime thriller against Boston in the finals.
Normie Smith led the Detroit Red Wings to back-to-back titles in the early 1930s, the first of which was against his former team in the Montreal Maroons just three years after leaving.
During an era in which most goaltenders played a stand-up style of play, Smith was a bit ahead of his time and never afraid to flop around to stop the puck.
Setting two NHL records in the memorable series against the Maroons, Smith recorded 92 saves and shutout Montreal for 176 straight minutes.
Inside the Numbers: 2 Stanley Cups, 1 Vezina trophy.
What sets him apart: The diminutive goaltender checked in at just 5’7″ and 155 lbs, but set a NHL record for playoff-shutout minutes that stood for 76 years.
43. Ron Hextall
Ron Hextall is one of the toughest overachieving goalies of all-time, and is a third generation Hextall to play in the NHL. Fiery, competitive and never afraid to get creative with his stick, Hextall backstopped the Flyers to two Stanley Cup finals and led the league in wins in 1986-87.
Always a fan “favorite” when on the road, Hextall often times crossed the line when clearing his crease. His numerous transgressions only belied his competitive nature and will to win, as the Flyers are still looking for their next “Hextall.”
He’s also one of the first goaltenders to score a goal, back when that stat wasn’t something readily recorded.
One of the best goaltenders to ever handle the puck, his ability to be the third defenseman on the ice was a huge factor for the Philadelphia Flyers.
Inside the Numbers: 1 Vezina trophy, 1 Conn Smythe trophy, 1 All-Star game.
What sets him apart: Hextall scored two goals as a netminder and one in the playoffs and, although his emotions got the better of him at times, he was a winner for Philadelphia.
42. Paddy Moran
Before Ron Hextall ever swung his goalie stick in defense of his crease, Paddy Moran cleared the ice around his net with authority. In an era that had no defined crease, Moran carved his own—sometimes into his opponents’ legs.
Playing in multiple leagues, Moran delivered back-to-back championships to Quebec, defeating the best the Maritime Professional Hockey League had to offer.
Playing for sub-par teams that could barely finish .500, Moran’s only recorded postseason successes were the two Stanley Cup victories with the Quebec Hockey Club Bulldogs.
Inside the Numbers: 2 Stanley Cups, 2 All-Star selections.
What sets him apart: One of the few players on our list to never play in the NHL, Moran was the best of his era and defined the position of goaltender
41. Chuck Rayner
For six years, Rayner roamed the nets for the New York Rangers and won the Hart Memorial trophy in 1950.
He also led his overmatched team to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, but was denied as Pete Babando delivered Detroit a championship in overtime.
Chuck Rayner was one of the best goaltenders of his era, and consistently backstopped some pretty bad teams to success.
Inside the Numbers: 1 Hart trophy, 3 All-Star games.
What sets him apart: Chuck Rayner stole Game 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings and their famed “Production Line.”
Against a superior opponent, and forced to play the entire championship round on the road because of the circus taking over Madison Square Garden, Rayner almost delivered hockey’s biggest prize.
In an age where American-born players were few and far between, Mike Karakas was the first U.S.-born goaltender to win it all.
As different as he was, Karakas also relied on his baseball roots with a quick glove hand and unorthodox style.
The Blackhawks struggled through a 14-25-9 campaign in 1937-38 and, behind his stellar goal-tending, won it all the following year. Capturing his only Stanley Cup for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1939, Karakas unfortunately toiled away his career in the minors due to salary disputes.
An unfortunate fate for a special player who carried the dreams and hopes of a bad team to the championship.
Inside the Numbers: 1 Stanley Cup, 1 Calder trophy, 1 All-Star selection.
What sets him apart: Karakas is the trailblazer in net for American-born goaltenders and, to a lesser degree, American players as a collective. He won the Stanley Cup before Frank Brimsek was even in the NHL, and paved the way for U.S. goaltenders for years to come.
39. Eddie Giacomin
Eddie Giacomin is one of the most beloved Rangers of all-time and, for the better part of a decade, backstopped the Rangers to the playoffs.
He led the league in games played and shutouts for four-straight years, from 1967 onward, and led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1971-72. With the circus forcing the Rangers to play the complete finals series on the road, Giacomin came up with one of the most brilliant goaltending performances of all-time.
Giacomin was also as tough as they came, and Giacomin showed it in a playoff game against the Chicago Blackhawks in 1971. Bobby Hull skated over Giacomin’s hand and, with a deeply lacerated stick hand, Giacomin stayed in the game and finished in courageous fashion.
Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield could not make the difference for New York as they fell in six games to the Bobby Orr-led Bruins. Orr would win his second Conn Smythe trophy, making him the first player in history to record back-to-back playoff MVPs.
Inside the Numbers: 1 Vezina trophy, 6 All-Star games.
What sets him apart: Giacomin was waived following the 1974 season, and returned to MSG as a Red Wing the following year. The fans at Madison Square Garden responded to their hero, booing their Rangers and chanting Eddie’s name.
The Red Wings won that game in fateful fashion, in no small part to Giacomin’s play in net.
38. Chris Osgood
Chris Osgood is one of the most overlooked goaltenders in NHL history, with a record of excellence that his critics consistently ignore. He was named starter for the playoffs in his rookie year, only to commit a horrible turnover that led to Detroit’s ousting against the upstart San Jose Sharks.
One Stanley Cup and a Mike Vernon Conn Smythe later, and Osgood was again the man for the Red Wings in net. After validating the move to ship Vernon to San Jose by sweeping the Washington Capitals to win back-to-back championships, Osgood was put on waivers in 2001.
After a brief stint with the Islanders and Blues, Osgood returned to Detroit and in the 2007–08 season returned to form. Osgood was instrumental in the Red Wings’ march to the Stanley Cup finals, where Osgood won his second championship.
The Red Wings fell in the Stanley Cup finals the following year, denying Osgood’s third championship—but he’s still one of the greatest winners in net of all time.
Inside the Numbers: 4 Stanley Cups, 2 William Jennings trophies, 4 All-Star games.
What sets him apart : Say what you will about Chris Osgood, but he’s always proven his doubters wrong and shown his championship mettle. His return to the Red Wings when Hasek was ahead of him could be one of the greatest goaltender stories of all-time.
37. Roger Crozier
The first Conn Smythe winner to win the trophy, despite losing in the finals, Roger Crozier epitomized heart and soul in the nets for the Red Wings early in his career.
In his first full season with Detroit, he became the only player in NHL history not named Terry Sawchuk to win a Calder as well as being voted as an All-Star.
Against the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens team in 1955-56 finals, Crozier and the Red Wings took the first two games before injury sidelined the goaltender in Game 4.
The great Maurice “Rocket” Richard once said that Crozier had the “best reflexes in all of hockey,” high praise coming from the iconic figure. For three years, he was arguably the best goaltender in the business, having won the Hap Holmes, the Calder and Conn Smythe from 1964-1966.
Health problems, and an unfair label of not being able to perform when the lights were brightest, derailed his once-promising career.
Inside the Numbers: 1 Vezina trophy, 1 Calder trophy, 1 Conn Smythe trophy, 1 All-Star game.
What sets him apart: Without his brief retirement following a string of bad games, Crozier could have been one of the greatest of all-time. Instead, his sabbatical from hockey got him an unfair label that couldn’t have been more wrongly applied.
36. Lorne Chabot
Lorne Chabot was a winner who just couldn’t get any respect in the early days of the NHL, as his career spanned six teams in 11 years. The argument can be made that he’s one of the greatest to never make the Hall of Fame.
Often forgotten, Chabot backstopped the Rangers to the finals against Montreal in the 1927-28 season, but suffered injury during the five-game series.
He was replaced by his 44-year-old coach Lester Patrick, who led the Rangers to the 2-1 overtime victory. Constantly overlooked and sometimes sensationalized for changing his name to draw more Jewish fans, Chabot was one of the most underrated goalies of all time.
Inside the Numbers: 2 Stanley Cups, 1 Vezina trophy.
What sets him apart : After taking a Nels Stewart shot to his eye in the 1927-28 championship, Chabot’s career derailed as he was traded mercilessly from team to team for the next five years.
Finishing with 201 wins, 73 shutouts and a sparkling 1.54 goals-against average, Chabot very well might be the most underrated goalie ever.
35. Ed Belfour
Ed Belfour was one of the most intense and razor-sharp focused goalies in the NHL. He went undrafted despite winning a championship at the college of North Dakota after a tremendous senior season.
He went on to be signed as a free agent by the Chicago Blackhawks. In his rookie season, he won 44 games in 74 starts and recorded four shutouts with a GAA of 2.47. He couldn’t deliver the big prize for Chicago, however, falling just short against the Pittsburgh Penguins in their first Stanley Cup.
Awarded the Calder, Vezina and Jennings trophies in that year, he was also nominated for the Hart as the MVP of the NHL.
An underrated puck-handler and intense goaltender, Belfour didn’t always get along with this teammates but knew how to win.
After a brief stint in San Jose, Belfour found his home with the Dallas Stars and won his only Stanley Cup behind the controversial Hull goal in the finals.
Inside the Numbers: 1 Stanley Cup, 2 Vezina trophy, 4 Jennings trophies 1 Calder trophy, 5 All-Star games.
34. Roy Worters
One of the smallest goaltenders to ever grace the ice in the NHL, Worters could fill the net with his 5’3″ frame and deny the sharpest of shooters.
For the Pittsburgh Pirates, Worters was voted to an unofficial NHL All-Star team selected by coaches in 1927-28. Finishing that year second to Howie Morenz for the Hart trophy, Worters was traded to the Americans the following year where he won the MVP.
Worters posted a 1.15 goals-against average for the Americans in the 1928-29 season, and 13 shutouts as he led the team to the playoffs after finishing dead last the year before.
Inside the Numbers: 1 Vezina trophy, 1 Hart trophy, 2 All-Star nominations.
What sets him apart: Worters won the Hart trophy as the first goaltender to ever do so, during an age where Howie Morenz, Ace Bailey, and Bill Cook dominated scoring.
33. Percy Lesueur
A pioneer of the game, Percy Lesueur developed the first set of gloves for goaltenders to use in the NHL.
His gauntlet-style gloves helped transform the goaltender position, eventually leading way to the equipment we see today.
Playing 11 pre-NHL seasons, Percy guided Ottawa to two Stanley Cups, in 1909 and 1911, and was traded to Toronto after Clint Benedict’s arrival.
Inside the Numbers : 3 Stanley Cups, 1 All-Star selection.
What sets him apart : Lesueur is one of the true innovators of the game, having designed the nets and gloves for use in the NHL and played in hockey’s very first All-Star game.
32. John Hutton
Before Bo Jackson put two-sport athletes on the map, John “Bouse” Hutton starred for three different sports for Ottawa.
Posting a 9-1-1 record in Stanley Cup play for the Ottawa Hockey Club, Hutton also won championships playing lacrosse for the Ottawa Capitals and the Ottawa Rough Riders.
Playing at the highest possible levels in all three sports, John Hutton was a true champion.
Inside the Numbers : 2 Stanley Cups.
What sets him apart : John Bower Hutton is the only man to win the Stanley Cup as well as the Canadian football and lacrosse championships.
You can’t evoke the name of Rogie Vachon without thinking Los Angeles Kings, where he spent the majority of his career. Any fan of non-traditional markets should be appreciative of Rogie Vachon’s career, who quietly excelled for the Los Angeles Kings.
In an era where most fans couldn’t get any news of Kings games east of the Rockies, Vachon was the L.A. Kings.
How funny then, that most people don’t even remember his three Stanley Cups with Montreal, where he posted a playoff record of 15-5 and a 1.86 goals-against average.
A true pioneer for West Coast hockey, Vachon was the centerpiece for a 1974-75 Kings team whose 105-point season stood for over a quarter of a century.
Inside the Numbers : 3 Stanley Cups, 1 Vezina trophy, 3 All-Star games.
What sets him apart : Vachon was the NHL’s best-kept secret in the 70s, dominating his position while playing outside the Eastern time zone. Before Gretzky, Vachon was the pioneer for hockey on the left coast.
30. Tom Barrasso
As an 18-year-old kid pulling on a Sabres sweater straight out of high school, no one could have imagined that Tom Barrasso would go on to enjoy a storied NHL career. Winning both Calder and Vezina trophies, Barrasso joined elite company as one of four goaltenders to ever accomplish that feat in a single season.
And for all the offensive firepower the Pittsburgh Penguins exuded, they didn’t win one until they secured the final piece of the championship puzzle in Barrasso.
Barrasso led the NHL in shutouts and goals-against average in 1984-85 and his 14 consecutive Stanley Cup playoff wins might never be toppled.
Inside the Numbers : 2 Stanley Cups, 1 Vezina trophy, 1 Calder trophy, 1 Jennings trophy, 3 All-Star nominations.
What sets him apart : The winningest U.S.-born goaltender of all time, Barrasso won two Stanley Cups but was overshadowed by some of the greatest players in the game.
29. Al Rollins
Rollins is yet another story of individual excellence, leading the league in wins and goals-against in 1950-51 for a last place team.
After six minor league steady seasons, his true mark of excellence came after being picked up by the Toronto Maple Leafs to split duties with Turk Broda.
Rollins was lights out in the finals, posting a 1.55 goals-against and going undefeated in three games. Traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, Rollins won the Hart while posting a 3.23 goals-against average for the last place Blackhawks.
Inside the Numbers : 1 Stanley Cup, 1 Vezina trophy, 1 Hart trophy, 1 All-Star nomination.
What sets him apart : Al Rollins is the only NHL player other than Tommy Anderson to win a Hart trophy for a last place club.
He would rebound and in 1993-1994 helped the Rangers end their 54-year drought as Richter reached the pinnacle of his NHL career. Coming into the playoffs, Richter and Bure had quite a few moments, but nothing quite like the penalty shot in Game 4.
Richter was an excellent goalie, who could rebound following any tough outing or bad circumstance—something not lost to USA coach Herb Brooks when looking for starters in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
His remarkable performance backing Team USA in the 1996 World Cup, and his performance in the Olympics following back-to-back knee surgeries, is a testament to Richter’s true ability.
Inside the Numbers : 1 Stanley Cup, 3 All-Star games.
What sets him apart : Mike Richter is a great story of excellence from a long struggle to the pinnacle of his career. His save against Pavel Bure on the penalty shot in Game 7 was one for the ages, and quite possibly the greatest save Richter ever made.
27. Mike Vernon
Mike Vernon is the consummate professional both on and off the ice, whose good natured personality belied his intense focus. A focus that would make itself readily available to anyone that dared to question Vernon, who was never one to mince words when pushed.
Carrying the Calgary Flames to their only Stanley Cup championship, Vernon was as “big game” as they got. Vernon thrived when the stakes were highest and didn’t have the word “quit” in his vocabulary.
Amid a season of question marks in the media, Vernon took the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe trophy a year after being swept by the New Jersey Devils.
Ending Detroit’s 42-year drought, Vernon ushered in a new era of Red Wing hockey, whose dominance arguably extends to this day.
Inside the Numbers : 2 Stanley Cups, 1 Conn Smythe trophy, 1 William Jennings trophy, 5 All-Star games.
What sets him apart : Vernon’s performance in the 1988-89 playoffs in the overtime frame of Game 7 vs. the Vancouver Canucks was one for the legends. Without his performance on three consecutive shots, the Calgary Flames would have been golfing early instead of hoisting the Stanley Cup.
He also led the Calgary Flames to the Stanley Cup over the Montreal Canadiens on Forum ice for the first time in Montreal franchise history.
26. Harry Lumley
Harry Lumley is one of the youngest and most superstitious players to ever play in the NHL, and could have been one of the greatest Red Wings of all time.
Instead, he was traded just months after winning the Stanley Cup in the 1949-50 season, and was replaced by Terry Sawchuk.
Posting 33 wins that year, Lumley put down the Rangers in a crucial Game 3 shutout that was played in Toronto due to the circus at MSG.
Inside the Numbers : 1 Stanley Cup, 1 Vezina trophies, 3 All-Star games.
What sets him apart : At 17 years and 38 days, Harry Lumley is the youngest goaltender to ever take NHL ice, and the first teenager to play in a Stanley Cup final.
25. Riley Hern
The first goaltender to win the most prized trophy in all of sports, Riley Hern played in Stanley Cup competition only after the Eastern Canada Hockey Association allowed it in 1906.
Riley won four straight Stanley Cups for the Montreal Wanderers and, although there isn’t much documentation about his career, he is widely renowed as one of hockey’s greatest.
Inside the Numbers : 4 Stanley Cups, 1 All-Star selection.
What sets him apart : Riley Hern was the first professional goalie to win the Stanley Cup.
24. Harry Holmes
Harry Holmes was a four-of-a-kind Stanley Cup champion, during an era where multiple leagues had a presence in professional hockey.
He is the first NHL Cup winner (Toronto Arenas, 1917-18) and the last Cup winner who didn’t play in the NHL (Seattle Metropolitans, 1916-17).
Playing for six total pro leagues, his career is definitely one of the most unique in professional hockey.
Inside the Numbers : 4 Stanley Cups, 8 All-Star selections.
What sets him apart : Holmes won the Stanley Cup four times, for four different teams from four different leagues.
23. Alex Connell
Alex Connell tended the net for Ottawa in the mid-20s and was the mark of excellence for many years. With a career goals-against of 1.91, Connell led the NHL in shutouts four times and won two Stanley Cups.
After being pulled during the 1932-33 season, Connell angrily left the ice and retired before being returning to the ice two years later.
Playing for Montreal Maroons, Connell shocked the hockey world by sweeping Toronto en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
Inside the Numbers : 2 Stanley Cups.
What sets him apart : Alex Connell holds or is tied in NHL history with multiple distinctions in net, including double-digit shutouts in three consecutive seasons, and the most shutouts in a season.
22. Charlie Gardiner
Charlie Gardiner embodies the spirit of goaltending with his undying dedication to the sport and his teammates. There was no greater story in the NHL in 1933-34 than Gardiner’s swan song for the Chicago Blackhawks.
After falling to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1930-31 Stanley Cup finals, Gardiner fought through a nasty tonsil infection to lead Chicago to glory in 1933-34.
Closing out the Detroit Red Wings in four games, Gardiner never revealed his ailment to his teammates and battled through pain to deliver the Stanley Cup. His passed shortly after winning it all, to the shock of his teammates and hockey fans all over the world.
Inside the Numbers : 1 Stanley Cup, 2 Vezina trophies, 1 All-Star game.
What sets him apart : Charlie Gardiner is one of hockey’s most tragic heroes, who passed just two months from winning the Stanley Cup in 1933-34 for the Chicago Blackhawks.
21. Cecil Thompson
Cecil “Tiny” Thompson truly was just 5’9″ but grew bigger than life when the games counted the most.
His 1.88 goals-against average in Stanley Cup play defines his dominance, missing just one game in 10 NHL seasons shows his toughness.
Thompson’s finest season may have been the 1929-30 season where he won 14 straight games, and posted a .875 winning percentage.
Tiny Thompson won his first five Stanley Cup games, and backstopped the Bruins to first place six times in nine years.
Inside the Numbers : 1 Stanley Cup, 4 Vezina trophies, 1 All-Star game.
What sets him apart : Tiny Thompson was one of the first goalies to use their catching glove to make the save.
20. Gerry Cheevers
Gerry Cheevers put aside individual accomplishments and kept his eyes on the true prize in professional hockey, the Stanley Cup.
After taking over the starting role in 1967 for the Boston Bruins, Cheevers made his mark in the 1970 and 1972 Stanley Cup finals, establishing his dominance by winning it all.
Following one of his greatest regular seasons in 1972, Cheevers jumped ship to the WHA and dominated for the Cleveland Crusaders before returnig to the NHL in 1976.
Dominating both leagues, Cheevers led the Bruins out of the terrible decade of the 60s and established Boston as a powerhouse during the 1970s.
Inside the Numbers : 2 Stanley Cups, 1 All-Star game.
What sets him apart : Cheevers posted a 32-game unbeaten streak in the 1971-72 season, and also has one of the most coolest goalie masks of all time.
19. Johnny Bower
Johnny Bower spent the prime of his career with the AHL Cleveland Barons, and repeatedly turned down the overtures of the New York Rangers until finally relenting in 1952.
After toiling for the struggling Rangers, Bower became disenchanted and returned to the Cleveland Barons. Bower needed convincing to return to the NHL after the Toronto Maple Leafs claimed him in the 1958 intraleague draft.
Thankfully for the city of Toronto, Bower did return and at the age of 35 enjoyed a remarkable level of success winning four Stanley Cups.
His finest season may have been 1967, where the Maple Leafs won the Cup with the oldest roster in NHL history. Combining with Terry Sawchuk, Bower posted a .951 save percentage at the age of 42 to win it all against the Montreal Canadiens in six.
Inside the Numbers : 4 Stanley Cups, 2 Vezina trophies, 4 All-Star games.
What sets him apart : Johnny Bower didn’t begin his Maple Leaf career until he was 35, and played well into his 40s setting a bar of excellence that defied his age. His Maple Leafs in 1967 rebounded from two blowout losses handed to them by the Montreal Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup.
18. Grant Fuhr
Grant Fuhr was the most difficult goaltender to grade on this slide. After all, how can you exactly quantify his goaltending prowess playing with the powerhouse Oilers in the 80s?
One of the hardest working players on the Oiler team, Fuhr labored to get out from the huge shadow cast by the many Hall of Famers in front of him.
While the Oilers freewheeled in front of him, Fuhr stymied his opponents and came up with the spirit-crushing saves on a regular basis.
His play in net gave the Oilers the very chance to set all those records and win all those Cups, and got them over the Islander hump in 1983-84. Outscoring the New York Islanders 19-6 in the series, Fuhr gave them the stops they needed to spark one of the greatest dynasties in NHL history.
Inside the Numbers : 5 Stanley Cup, 1 Vezina trophies, 1 Jennings trophy, 6 All-Star games.
What sets him apart : Grant Fuhr was the last line of defense on a team that often forgot to play it, and gave the Oilers timely goaltending that was the foundation of their dynasty.
Also a pioneer in breaking down the color barrier in hockey, Fuhr paved the way for many dynamic players we root for today. His career rivals that of any goaltender to ever strap on the gear, during an era where black players were not commonplace in the NHL.
17. Tony Esposito
The greatest goaltender in Chicago Blackhawk history, Tony Esposito holds just about every imaginable record for the franchise.
With an embarrassment of riches in net, Montreal left Esposito unprotected in 1969, and the Blackhawks claimed a cornerstone of franchise history.
Recording fifteen shutouts in his first year, Esposito fell just short in Game 7 that season, against the very same Canadiens team he left. He made it again in the 1972-73 season despite losing Bobby Hull, but fell again to the Canadiens in six.
With seven consecutive 30-win seasons, Esposito was the workhorse for the Blackhawks placing first or second in games played multiple times throughout his Chicago career.
Inside the Numbers : 1 Stanley Cup, 3 Vezina trophies, 1 Calder trophy, 6 All-Star games.
What sets him apart : Tony Esposito was the first ever goalie to beat the Soviets in the Summit Series of 1972 for Team Canada.
16. Gump Worsely
Gump Worsely spent the better part of his career backstopping the New York Rangers and won a Calder trophy in 1952. Following a contract dispute for the ever-popular number of 500 dollars however, he was returned to the WHL the following season.
Called back up in 1954, Worsley beat out Johnny Bower to take the nets once more for the struggling Rangers. Failing to advance out of the first round for the first half of his distinguished career, Worsely toiled when traded to the Montreal Canadiens in the summer of 1963.
Called one of the funniest men in hockey, Worsely hated to fly and, unlike his peers, did not wear a mask.
He flourished in Montreal and enjoyed a career year in 1968 where he posted a career-low 1.98 goals-against and won 11 straight times in the postseason. Rebounding from the loss against Terry Sawchuk and the Maple Leafs a year previous, Worsely and the Canadiens swept the Scotty Bowman-led Blues in the finals.
Inside the Numbers : 4 Stanley Cups, 2 Vezina trophies, 1 Calder trophy, 4 All-Star games.
What sets him apart : Gump Worsley won four Stanley Cups, but couldn’t get out of the first round in his first 10 years as a professional. He was also the first goaltender to win 300 and lose 300 games.
Frank Brimsek enjoyed immediate success as a rookie for the Boston Bruins, and is one of the greatest U.S.-born goaltenders of all time.
Brimsek was nicknamed “Mr. Zero” after posting a pair of three-game shutout streaks in his first month.
He had big shoes to fill as Art Ross sold Tiny Thompson to the Detroit Red Wings, but delivered in grand style as a rookie.
He won the Calder trophy, the Vezina and the Stanley Cup in his rookie year and immediately soothed over the fan outrage for Thompson’s departure.
Inside the Numbers : 2 Stanley Cups, 2 Vezina trophies, 1 Calder trophy, 6 All-Star games.
What sets him apart : Frank Brimsek is the only rookie goaltender in NHL history to win the Calder, Vezina and Stanley Cup in one year.
14. Clint Benedict
Another great pioneer in goaltending, Clint Benedict fought the rules that once penalized a goaltender for falling to the ice to block a shot.
Innovator, pioneer, or genius? Clint Benedict would feign falling to the ice at times, making it increasingly difficult for officials to differentiate and call the minor penalty.
Benedict was the first NHL goalie to record back-to-back shutouts, as well as the first to post three straight Stanley Cup shutouts.
With 15 total career playoff shutouts, Benedict won four Stanley Cups for the Ottawa Senators—the first of which came directly after the abandoned Stanley Cup finals of 1918-19.
Inside the Numbers : 4 Stanley Cups.
What sets him apart : Clint Benedict was one of the original pioneers of hockey and one of the grandfathers to the modern day goaltending we watch today.
13. Turk Broda
Maple Leafs manager Conn Smythe accidently stumbled upon our 13th greatest goaltender of all time, when he went looking for George Hainsworth’s replacement in net. Turk Broda outplayed Smythe’s original target, a fateful game for both Broda and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While weight issues dogged the Manitoba native, he was dominant when he needed to be and his five Stanley Cups prove it. If you compare his career numbers against the dominant goalie of their generation in Bill Durnan, the two are very comparable in the same time frame.
In the 1950 semifinals, Broda recorded three shutouts against the Detroit Red Wings, only to fall 1-0 in the overtime frame of Game 7.
Turk Broda is one of the greatest playoff goaltenders of all time, having played in eight Stanley Cup finals and winning five. His impact in those 101 games is undeniable, putting up a 1.98 goals-against average and recording 13 shutouts.
Inside the Numbers : 5 Stanley Cups, 2 Vezina trophies, 4 All-Star games.
What sets him apart : Turk Broda became the first goaltender in franchise history to reach 200 career victories as a member of the Maple Leafs.
12. Georges Vezina
One of the original 12 players elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Joseph-Georges Vezina played 367 consecutive games for the Canadiens and had one of hockey’s greatest trophies named after him.
His 1.97 goals-against average in 1923-24 was the first under 2.0 in league history, and in the playoff opener recorded 78 stops for the shutout victory over Ottawa.
Playing through pain and injury, Vezina is one of hockey’s most heroic icons of all time. In his last game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1925-26 season, Vezina collapsed suffering from an arterial hemorrhage but refused to leave the game.
It wasn’t until they carried him off the ice that Vezina was notified by doctors that he was dying of tuberculosis. A true warrior to the very end, he insisted that none of his teammates be notified before their game in fear that it may distract them.
He passed away quietly at the young age of 39, one of the greatest goaltenders of all time.
Inside the Numbers : 2 Stanley Cups.
What sets him apart : The Canadiens rode Vezina to back-to-back Stanley Cup finals in the 1924 and 1925 seasons, and failed to qualify for the playoffs the year after Vezina was forced to retire.
11. George Hainsworth
Opening up the top ten in our ranking, George Hainsworth is yet another Montreal Canadiens goaltender who was spectacular in the mid 1920s. On Aug 23, 1926, the Montreal Canadiens purchased Hainsworth from the Saskatoon Crescents of the WHL, adding another chapter to Canadiens lore.
During an era where statistics weren’t exactly the NHL’s strong suit, Hainsworth was as dominant as they came. He recorded 22 shutouts in just 44 regular season games, and owned a shutout sequence of over 343 minutes straight.
His 94 career shutouts puts him third in all-time NHL history. On Mar 19, 1927, the Canadiens became the first NHL team to shut out the same opponent four straight times with a 5-0 win over the Montreal Maroons.
Inside the Numbers : 2 Stanley Cups, 3 Vezina trophies,1 All-Star game.
What sets him apart : George Hainsworth recorded an incredible 22 shutouts and a 0.92 goals-against average in 1928-29 for the Montreal Canadiens.
10. Bernie Parent
Bernie Parent is the only goaltender to ever win back-to-back Conn Smythe trophies as playoff MVP, but had his promising career derailed by multiple injuries. Despite drafting Parent in the expansion draft of 1967, the Flyers moved him to Toronto only to have Doug Favell falter for Philadelphia after being handed the starting job.
Trading the popular Favell to Toronto for Bernie Parent was one of the most important decisions in Philadelphia franchise history.
Widely considered one of the best goaltenders in the mid-70s, a back injury slowed his progress in 1974. Shortly after his injury, an unfortunate incident with the stick of New York Rangers forward Don Maloney forced Parent to leave the game for good.
Clipping Parent in the right eye, this unfortunate accident derailed a once promising career with seemingly no limitations.
Always overshadowed by Bobby Clarke and the Broad Street Bullies, Parent was an unstoppable force before his early retirement.
Inside the Numbers : 2 Stanley Cups, 2 Vezina trophies, 2 Conn Smythe trophies, 5 All-Star games.
What sets him apart : Parent’s career, while short, was one of the brightest and most promising careers of all time—who knows what he could have accomplished had his career not been shortened.
9. Bill Durnan
Bill Durnan’s Hall of Fame career can be marked by many several accomplishments, but can often be drowned out in the many names in Montreal Canadiens history. Winner of six Vezina trophies, Bill Durnan’s career was relatively short at seven years—and only Jacques Plante won more Vezinas.
Durnan also set a NHL record with four consecutive shutouts in 1948-49 and backed the Canadiens to two Stanley Cups.
In 1950, Bill Durnan became the first Canadiens goaltender to record 200 victories after a 3-1 victory over the Boston Bruins.
Durnan cut his career short following the Stanley Cup semifinals against the New York Rangers where he asked Montreal coach Dick Irvin Sr. to remove him from the game. After being clipped in the head by a skate, and mounting pressure to win in the face of elimination, Durnan abruptly hung up the skates.
Inside the Numbers : 2 Stanley Cups, 6 Vezina trophies, 6 All-Star selections.
What sets him apart : Another goaltender whose Montreal career ended unceremoniously, Durnan was one of the NHL’s very best when he decided to retire.
8. Billy Smith
A cornerstone during the New York Islander dynasty, Billy Smith backstopped the Islanders to the Stanley Cup in the 1979-80 season.
One Bob Nystrom overtime slapshot kicked off a four-year run by New York before finally falling to the Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers in the 1983-84 playoffs.
During this stretch, nobody was as clutch as Billy Smith who dominated in the playoffs with his fiery nature and creative stickwork. He’s also one of the very few goalies that ever had Wayne Gretzky’s number as the Islanders dominated the young Oilers for many years.
Inside the Numbers : 4 Stanley Cups, 1 Vezina trophy, 1 Conn Smythe Trophy, 1 Jennings trophy, 1 All-Star game.
What sets him apart : Billy Smith set a NHL record by winning 19 consecutive Stanley Cup playoff series.
7. Ken Dryden
Ken Dryden checks in at No. 7 on our list of the 50 greatest goaltenders of all time, and I must admit it was difficult placing this man this low.
His Hall of Fame career is paced by a .743 winning percentage, he won the Conn Smythe trophy before winning the Calder, and won six Stanley Cups in just seven full seasons. Many may argue his shortened career made it difficult to warrant ranking above Hall and Hasek, despite Dryden’s excellence.
His legendary stance in net and huge frame were hallmarks of his storied career, and he dominated in the playoffs. He dismantled the juggernaut Bruins in the first round led by Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr, just one year after they won it all.
In perhaps one of his greatest performances, Dryden shut down a NHL record-breaking Bruins squad that boasted the NHL’s top four leading scorers in Esposito, Orr, Bucyk and Ken Hodge.
All this while having only logged six games total in his rookie season, Dryden is one of hockey’s immortal goaltenders.
Inside the Numbers : 6 Stanley Cups, 5 Vezina trophies, 1 Conn Smythe trophy, 1 Calder trophy, 5 All-Star games.
What sets him apart : One of the most intelligent players to take the pipes, Dryden was as excellent as he was unconventional. His knowledge of the game allowed him to be mentally prepared and ready for any circumstance. Had he played longer, he could be the best goalie of all time.
6. Glenn Hall
Often referred to as “Mr Goalie,” Glenn Hall is one of hockey’s greatest goaltenders and holds a dominant iron-man streak that rivals any sport at 501 consecutive games. One of the true NHL untouchable records, Hall’s streak is undoubtedly one of his most impressive achievements.
When you account for his playoff games, the number swells to 552, which is pretty impressive. But when you consider the fact that 16 of his 18 NHL seasons were spent without wearing a goalie mask, the record becomes extraordinary.
The pioneer of the butterfly style that we see today, Glenn Hall truly is “Mr. Goalie.”
Inside the Numbers : 2 Stanley Cups, 3 Vezina trophies, 1 Conn Smythe trophy, 1 Calder trophy, 13 All-Star games.
What sets him apart : Hall was a trailblazer for modern day goaltending, developing the butterfly style and dominated for years doing it. He never once recorded a goals-against average below 2.97, and during seven years of play led the league five times in shutouts, for a grand total of 45.
5. Dominik Hasek
The Dominator is one of the greatest and most unorthodox goaltenders we’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, and his nickname couldn’t describe the man any better.
Hasek is one of only three players in NHL history to win both the Vezina and Hart trophies, and in 1998 became the first goaltender to win consecutive Hart trophies.
Hasek may have been the league’s biggest kept secret in the early 90s, and was a relative unknown when he was inserted in relief of Ed Belfour in Game 4 of the 1992 Stanley Cup finals.
While his career spanned several teams, he became the first European goaltender to win a Stanley Cup while backing the Detroit Red Wings.
His most remarkable feat may be the 1998 Nagano Olympics as he led his Czech team to the Gold medal, prompting Wayne Gretzky to label him the “the best player in the game.” Posting a 0.97 goals-against-average and a .961 save percentage against some of the best players the world had to offer, could very well rank as his greatest accomplishment
His famous “Hasek-flops” and desperation saves highlight a style all his own, ranking Hasek among the greatest goaltenders of all time.
Inside the Numbers : 2 Stanley Cups, 6 Vezina trophies, 2 Hart trophies, 3 Jennings trophies.
What sets him apart : Hasek was one of the greatest goalies of all time. In a April 27, 1994 quadruple-overtime game against the Devils, he recorded 70 saves for the win.
A record that still stands today and a mere glimmer of true greatness that was Hasek’s career. Hasek was also robbed of a third Stanley Cup following the controversial Brett Hull goal allowed in the third overtime frame.
4. Jacques Plante
Plante is one of the foremost pioneers of goaltending in the NHL, and his career numbers and accomplishments speak for themselves.
Apart from his terrific play, he popularized the use of the hockey mask after taking an Andy Bathgate slapshot to the face and breaking his nose on November 1, 1959.
Plante was also one of the first goaltenders to play the puck outside the crease in support of his defensemen, stop the puck behind the play, and raise his arm to inform his teammates of the icing call.
His play revolutionized the position, effectively adding another defenseman to aid in clearing the zone and transitioning the play the other way.
Aside from his remarkable run in 1955-1960, in which he led the Montreal Canadiens to five consecutive Stanley Cups, Plante also won a staggering seven Vezina trophies.
Yet another goaltender who followed the beat of a different drum, Plante was not without his odd quirks which ultimately led to his exit out of Montreal.
After a long series of run-ins with his coaches and members of the Canadiens, Plante was traded to the New York Rangers on June 4, 1963.
Inside the Numbers : 6 Stanley Cups, 7 Vezina trophies, 1 Hart trophy.
What sets him apart : Plante is a true innovator of goaltending in the NHL and one of the very best to ever inbetween the pipes. He was the first to introduce many facets of play we now take for granted from goaltenders in the modern NHL.
3. Martin Brodeur
There isn’t much left for Martin Brodeur to accomplish professionally, as he’s climbed every mountain and overcome every valley imaginable for a NHL goalie.
Currently the NHL leader in all-time wins, playoff shutouts, most minutes played, regular season shutouts and games played, Brodeur is also the only goalie in NHL history with eight 40-win seasons. It would take up half this page to list all of his individual accomplishments, his career has been that great.
With trends in the NHL pointing towards younger, cheaper options, goaltenders like Brodeur may be a dying breed in the nets.
After growing up around the Montreal Canadiens because of his father Denis Brodeur, Martin fittingly idolized Patrick Roy growing up. He’s gone on to tie or beat many of Roy’s records, and isn’t done as he prepares for his 21st year in the NHL.
Neutral zone trap or no, Martin Brodeur is the hallmark for excellence when it comes to goaltending in the NHL.
His skills may not be what they once were, but Brodeur may have pushed the bar of goaltending excellence beyond anyone’s reach in the forseeable future.
Inside the Numbers : 3 Stanley Cups, 4 Vezina trophies, 1 Calder trophy, 5 Jennings trophy winner.
What sets him apart : Brodeur is one of the best puckhandling goalkeepers of his era, if not the best ever, and forced the NHL to adapt their rules to limit his impact with the puck.
2. Terry Sawchuk
Somber, solemn and silent, Terry Sawchuk is one of hockey’s most memorable figures in net. Nicknamed “Yukey” from his Ukrainian heritage, he led Detroit to three Stanley Cup titles in just five years and is one of the greatest ever.
During the 1951-52 playoffs, Sawchuck’s performance was one for the ages as he allowed just five goals over a eight game span. Recording four shutouts during that playoff run, Sawchuk was the force behind the Red Wings sweeping both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens en route to the Stanley Cup.
As tremendous as his career and play was, his story is one of tragedy and ultimate sacrifice in the name of team success. Numerous injuries took their toll, slowly robbing Sawchuk of his health and way of living but never stopping him from playing for his team.
After Detroit general manager Jack Adams ordered Sawchuck to lose weight before the 1951-52 season, the goaltender struggled with his weight and illness. Traded to the Boston Bruins in the summer of 1955, Sawchuk contracted mononucleosis late in 1956 and retired from hockey after a long struggle with his health.
Sawchuk returned after being acquired by the Red Wings in 1957, wearing the winged wheel for seven more seasons before being claimed by Toronto in the intraleague draft.
At the ripe age of 37, Sawchuk teamed with Johnny Bower to deliver a Stanley Cup championship to the heavy underdog, the Maple Leafs.
One of the greatest goaltenders of all time, Sawchuk could stop everything but was haunted by his own personal struggles and serious health conditions.
Inside the Numbers : 4 Stanley Cups, 4 Vezina trophies, 1 Calder trophy, 1 Lester Patrick trophy.
What sets him apart : Sawchuk is the toughest goaltender to ever strap on the pads. During an age where playing goaltender could break a man’s spirit, he dominated when the stakes were highest.
In an age where goaltender equipment was barely functional and you had no backup to relieve you, Sawchuk was dominant.
1. Patrick Roy
You’ll get a lot of responses from experts and fans alike regarding Patrick Roy, good or bad. As great as he was, he committed his share of mistakes both on and off the ice. But his will to win is one thing that you cannot deny, one trait even his most ardent detractors cannot refuse.
St. Patrick may not be the perfect goaltender, but when it came to winning in the NHL he’s the greatest of all time.
His confidence and poise in the face of adversity was tremendous, and his ability to win was unparalleled. His on-ice swagger was every bit the weapon that his blocker or glove was, and nobody was tougher mentally.
Patrick Roy simply imposed his will to win regardless of situation or odds, and thrived when directly challenged.
Holding a 2-0 series lead in the 1993 playoffs, Quebec Nordiques goaltender coach Daniel Bouchard foolishly claimed that they had found Roy’s weakness. And Quebec found out the hard way that Patrick Roy didn’t just want to prove you wrong, he wanted to embarrass you while doing it.
The Montreal Canadiens eliminated the Nordiques by winning the next four games, and went on to beat the Kings for the Stanley Cup. Roy was incredible, winning 10 straight overtime contests, three against the Gretzky-led Kings in the Stanley Cup finals for his first Conn Smythe trophy and Stanley Cup.
With an indomitable competitive spirit and an unquenchable thirst for victory, Roy was his best when stakes and pressure was greatest.
Inside the Numbers : 4 Stanley Cups, 3 Vezina trophies, 3 Conn Smythe trophies, 5 Jennings trophies.
What sets him apart : Patrick Roy is the only player in NHL history to win three Conn Smythe trophies. He’s also one of only three goalies with 900 games, and also holds the NHL record with 12 30-win seasons.