Perhaps no other position in hockey offers itself to meteoric rises from obscurity and remarkably rapid flame-outs as much as does that of the goaltender. Time and time again we’ve seen a backup come in during the playoffs, a rookie have an amazing debut season, or even a veteran journeyman pop out of obscurity and dominate the league for a few years. Perhaps it’s a matter of confidence; a confident goalie can, seemingly, stop just about anything. And his confidence propels him to more and more success, and at the same time, getting in the heads of opposition shooters and lowering their confidence. But on the other side of that coin, when a goalie loses his confidence, his form can fall off a cliff.
Or maybe it’s more just a factor of there only being one goalie who can play at a time. Goaltender is clearly a special position, which means they get more focus. And if you’re not as good as another goalie on your team, you don’t play a lot. When going from starter to backup, a goalie goes from having the spotlight directly on him, to going to the wings of the stage, barely visible in our periphery. Perhaps that’s why the annals of hockey history are littered with goalies who were, at one time, the focus of the entire hockey world, but are now largely forgotten. Take a trip down memory lane and read about 15 forgotten goalies and what they’re up to now.
15. Jose Theodore
When you talk about stars burning bright, few stars shone brighter than Jose Theodore’s in the early 2000s. Theodore wasn’t just one of the best goalies in the league. He wasn’t just a Vezina Trophy winner. He was a Hart Trophy winner. A goalie winning the Hart Trophy, an accolade so rare that only six others can claim it. After his award winning 2001-02 season, Theodore’s form regressed, but only slightly. It was after the lockout, however, that Theodore’s form plummeted.
Adding to his problems, Theodore failed a random drug test in early 2006. He tested positive for finasteride, the active ingredient of the male hair-loss prevention drug, Propecia. While not a performance enhancing drug (PED) itself, finasteride can mask PEDs. Theodore was banned from international play for two years but received no NHL punishment. Shortly thereafter, he was traded to Colorado. He bounced around the league for several years, playing for several teams, but unlike many on this list, he managed to keep his place in the league. He retired in 2013. For anglophones, he seems to have faded into obscurity, but Quebecois fans will know that he is working as a hockey analyst for TV channel TVA.
14. Cristobal Huet
The goalie who displaced Jose Theodore in Montreal was Cristobal Huet. The first French-born starting goalie in NHL history seemed a natural fit in the “bleu, blanc, et rouge,” but his success there was hampered by injury. Huet represented the Eastern Conference in the 2007 All Star Game, but shortly thereafter he suffered a hamstring injury. In 2008, he was traded to Washington to clear the way for Carey Price. Huet helped the Caps to the playoffs and signed with Chicago in the offseason.
He shared goalie responsibilities with Nikolai Khabibulin before becoming the undisputed started for the 2009-10 season. Unfortunately, he would lose that job to Antti Niemi, but on the plus side, he became the first Frenchman to lift the Stanley Cup. In the summer of 2010, Huet returned to Europe to play in Switzerland, where he still plays now at 42 years old, currently suiting up for Lausanne HC.
13. Ray Emery
Few goalies in recent times had as much personality, or received as much scrutiny for their off-ice behavior, as Ray Emery. The Hamiltonian native dazzled the hockey world in his sophomore season when he backstopped the Ottawa Senators to the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals. Unfortunately, Emery’s career peaked early and he would never again reach such heights. After a problematic 2007-08 season, Emery spent a season in the nascent KHL. He returned to North America to play for the Flyers, Ducks, and Blackhawks, and even overcame avascular necrosis. He won the Cup with Chicago in 2013 (as their backup). After very short stints in the AHL and in Germany, Emery retired in 2016.
However, Emery is still best remembered for his problems and antics. While in Ottawa, Emery was repeatedly late for practice, got into a fight in practice, missed team flights, was involved in a road rage incident, was charged after a vehicular crash, and was also charged with stunt driving. Retirement hasn’t been much better. Canadian singer Keshia Chanté called off her engagement to Emery this past summer and on September 18, Emery was arrested for assaulting her with a weapon and threatening her. Not a good dude, it would seem.
12. Martin Gerber
Martin Gerber competed with Emery for the starter’s position in Ottawa. Apart from his all black helmet –which earned him the epithet “Darth Gerber”– he didn’t stand out nearly as much as Emery. His play was stellar at times, but largely inconsistent, which has been true for much of Gerber’s career. After being drafted by Anaheim, Gerber rose to prominence in 2005-06 as his solid play led Carolina to a division championship. He also shutout the heavily favored but ultimately doomed Team Canada in a 49-save win for Switzerland at the Turin Olympics. However, Gerber struggled in the playoffs and was replaced with Cam Ward, who led the ‘Canes to the Cup. Afterward, Gerber joined Ottawa.
The Senators waived Gerber in 2009, and he played for half a season for Toronto. Since then he’s played in the KHL, in the AHL, three games for the Edmonton Oilers, in Sweden, and now plays for the Kloten Flyers in Switzerland.
11. Olaf Kölzig
Olaf Kölzig, aka Olie the Goalie, aka Godzilla, was the first ever African-born NHLer and the first German starting goalie in the NHL, which seems like it would be impossible. He was born in South Africa to German parents but largely grew up in Canada. He represented Germany at two Olympic games and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. Save for eight games for Tampa Bay in 2008-09, Kölzig played his entire NHL career for Washington. Kölzig quietly had an amazing career. He ranks 15th all time in saves, 23rd in games, and 28th in wins, and he also won the Vezina Trophy in 2000 as well as the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2006.
10. Michael Leighton
You may have recently seen Michael Leighton’s name on a sports ticker and thought, “Hmm, I know that name…”, and yeah, you probably do. On November 14, the Tampa Bay Lightning traded Leighton along with Tye McGinn to Arizona for Louis Domingue. He was then loaned by Arizona’s AHL affiliate, Tuscon, to the Chicago Wolves. Not very impressive, right? Well, Leighton actually co-holds the NHL record for most shutouts in a playoff series with 3. He set that mark in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals as he backstopped the Philadelphia Flyers to the Finals.
9. Ben Scrivens
Scrivens is another goalie to shine bright, set an NHL record, and then fade away. On January 29, 2014, Scrivens set an NHL record for most saves in a regular season shutout, when he stopped 59 shots to lead the Edmonton Oilers past the San Jose Sharks, 3-0. Edmonton had recently acquired Scrivens from L.A., where he had been supplanted as the backup to Jonathan Quick by Martin Jones. L.A. had only acquired him that summer from Toronto, which saw Scrivens, one of many goalies during this time to fail to succeed in Toronto, traded for yet another goalie to fail in Toronto, Jonathan Bernier.
But after his stellar play for the Oilers and the goalie-killing city of Toronto far behind him, Edmonton signed Scrivens to a two-year, $2.3 million contract on March 3, 2014. Oops. Scrivens was Edmonton’s starter for 2014-15, but did not play particularly well. Edmonton did manage to get Zack Kassian for him, though, when they traded him to Montreal in December 2015. Scrivens didn’t play much in Montreal, however, and since 2016 he’s been playing in the KHL, first for Dynamo Minsk and now for Ufa Salavat Yulayev.
8. John Vanbiesbrouck
Depending upon your age, John Vanbiesbrouck’s single greatest achievement is either winning the Vezina Trophy with the New York Rangers in 1986 or appearing on the cover of EA Sports’ NHL ‘97. Vanbiesbrouck was awarded that immense honor by virtue of backstopping the sophomore Florida Panthers to the ‘96 Finals. Unfortunately for Vanbiesbrouck, his 10+ years with Rangers ended the season before they won the Cup, when he was ultimately taken by the Panthers in the expansion draft. Despite never hoisting “Lord Stanley’s Mug,” Vanbiesbrouck remains the winningest American goalie in NHL history, and represented the U.S. in two Canada Cups and served as the backup at the Nagano Olympics.
However, it’s not always been good for Vanbiesbrouck. His brother Frank suffered from depression and took his own life in 1993. In Vanbiesbrouck’s post-playing career, he suffered a pain that was all his own doing. He resigned as coach of the OHL Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 2003 after he used the “N-word” to refer to his captain, Trevor Daley. He publicly apologized and since then he’s worked as an analyst for Versus TV and HDnet. Currently, he’s the GM of the USHL Muskegon Lumberjacks.
7. Niklas Bäckström
Not to be confused with Washington’s top center, Nicklas Bäckström, Niklas Bäckström is the Finnish goalie of Swedish ancestry who as recently as 2007 won the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award (best save percentage) and William M. Jennings Trophy (best goals against average – with Manny Fernandez) and was a finalist for Vezina Trophy in 2009. Bäckström played his entire NHL career with the Minnesota Wild, save for four games at the end with Calgary. From 2006-2013, Bäckström was Minnesota’s starting goalie and franchise player. After 2013, however, his form started to dip and he was eventually replaced by Darcy Kuemper and Devan Dubnyk.
Rather than scratch and claw for a backup spot to prove himself once again in the NHL, Bäckström instead opted to return to his native Finland in 2016 and joined HIFK Helsinki where he remains today. Bäckström’s career is an interesting one. He was undrafted and after winning back-to-back Finnish titles, was signed by the Wild as 28-year-old. Ten years later, his largely successful NHL career was done. He also won a silver medal at the 2006 Olympics.
6. Andrew Hammond
Andrew Hammond was also recently traded. He was among the roughly 47 players (slight exaggeration) that Colorado got in the Matt Duchene deal. Hammond still plays for Ottawa’s AHL affiliate, the Bellville Senators, though, as Colorado has a surplus of goalies in their system. Hammond being thrown into a deal as one player of many would have been unthinkable in the spring of 2015.
Hammond was undrafted and the Sens signed him as a free agent out of the collegiate system in 2013. He spent the next two years in the AHL, playing only 35 NHL minutes in that time. On February 18, 2015, Hammond was called up to the Sens due to injuries. He won his first four games and recorded two shutouts. During his first 12 games, he never conceded more than two goals in a game. “The Hamburglar” finished the season with an astonishing 20-1-2 record. Despite a disappointing playoffs, Hammond was re-signed to a three-year, $4.05 million contract extension. Which was a bad move, because Hammond has never come close to re-discovering that 2015 form. He’s 29 now, so there’s still time … but I wouldn’t bet on it.
5. Tom Barrasso
In contrast to the Michael Leightons and Andrew Hammonds of history, we have Tom Barrasso, who had a long and stable career of success. Which is odd because, looking at the start of his career, he seemed to have all the hallmarks of a flash in the pan. Barrasso took the unusual route of going to the NHL directly from high school. His debut season was 1983-84, he played for Buffalo, and he was incredible. At 18, he became the youngest ever Vezina Trophy Winner and youngest goalie to ever win the Calder Trophy. He was traded to Pittsburgh in 1988 and won two Cups with Pittsburgh (1991 and 1992). He also won silver as the backup for Team USA at the 2002 Olympics. Behind Vanbiesbrouck, Barrasso is the winningest American goaltender of all time, and he holds the record of most consecutive playoff wins (14) and the record for most assists and points ever by a goalie (48).
In retirement, Barrasso continues to buck the trend, being one of relatively few goalies to become a head coach. He’s coached in the KHL and now coaches HC Asiago in the Alps Hockey League (an amalgamation of Italian, Slovenian, and Austrian leagues).
4. Justin Pogge
Justin Pogge is one of the biggest names to never make it. Pogge dazzled during the 2006 World Juniors, leading Canada to gold. But he only ever played in 7 NHL games, all for the Maple Leafs during the 2007-08 season. He never progressed past the AHL level in North America. In 2013, Pogge went to play in Italy. He followed that up by going to the second tier of Swedish hockey, then up to the first tier, then playing for HC Slovan Bratislava of the KHL, before returning to Sweden to play with Rogle BK in 2017.
If Pogge is brought up at all nowadays in North America, it’s usually as part of the string of names of goalies who failed to succeed for Toronto from 2005-2016. In fact, as a junior, the Leafs thought they had a sure thing in Pogge. That’s why they felt so comfortable trading away Tuukka Rask to Boston for Andrew Raycroft in one of the worst trades of all time.
3. Jonas Hiller
Jonas Hiller finished the 2014-15 season with the Calgary Flames with a 2.36 GAA and .918 save percentage; in other words, solid numbers. Yet a year later, Hiller was out of the league. Goalies are clearly tricky in this respect. They can get white-hot out of nowhere and they can fall apart just as quickly.
Hiller was undrafted but Anaheim signed him after several seasons of success in his native Switzerland in 2007. From 2008-2014, he was the Ducks’ starting netminder. After problems with vertigo and a slight dip in form, he signed with Calgary in 2014 and had a good first season. But he played poorly in the playoffs and his confidence suffered, resulting in some pretty bad play throughout the 2014-16 season. After his contract expired, he returned to Switzerland where currently plays for Biel HC.
2. Jim Carey
No, not that Jim Carrey – we’re talking about the hockey Jim Carey, with one “r.” Perhaps the greatest one-hit wonder in NHL history. Carey played 28 games in the 1994-95 season, just enough to register as his first full season and was named to the all rookie team. The Caps decided to roll with Carey and gave him the starter’s job for 1995-96 season. It was a good decision. Carey shocked the hockey world with his Vezina winning season of 35 wins, 2.26 GAA, .906 save percentage, and nine shutouts. “The Mask,” as he was so cleverly dubbed, also served as backup for Team USA’s 1996 World Cup win. However, his form dipped slightly in 1996-97 and the Caps shrewdly dealt him to Boston. Washington was confident in the aforementioned Olaf Kölzig.
Despite going to his native Massachusetts, however, the trade seemed to kill Carey’s mojo. He only ever played 29 games for the Bruins and then four for St. Louis in 1998-99. Rather than bum around the AHL/ECHL/Europe, Carey decided to just quit hockey. He got a business degree and is now President and CEO of OptiMed Billing Solutions, a company that provides streamlines billing services and systems to companies in the medical field. Jim Carey went from the greatest goalie in the world to not even NHL-caliber in about 18 months.
1. Ilya Bryzgalov
“It’s only game, why you heff to be mad?” “My husky, basically, she’s a hot girl, man.” “Solar system is so humongous beeg”. These are just a few of the most well remembered dictums from perhaps the NHL’s most quotable goalie ever, Ilya Bryzgalov. The enigmatic Russian established himself with the Ducks in the 2005-06 season, and the next year he won the Cup with them as backup to Jean-Sébastien Giguère. With Jonas Hiller coming up, the Ducks waived Bryzgalov and he was picked up by Phoenix where he played well for four seasons. After that he signed with Philadelphia, where he had some ups and downs. His time with the Flyers is probably best remembered for his role in HBO’s 24/7 Flyers/Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic series.
After his time in Philly, Bryz played briefly for Edmonton and Minnesota as well as in the AHL. He retired in 2015 and now lives in New Jersey. He has done some analysis and reporting for Sportsnet and the Player’s Tribune, respectively. He recently popped back into popular culture when he was quoted in the popular computer game Overwatch. One or more of the game’s developers are Ducks fans and included his “Why you heff to be mad” line in the dialogue of a Russian character.
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