On every Stanley Cup championship team, there’s a prevailing storyline that takes hold throughout the season, into the playoffs and right on through to the victory parade. An inspirational comeback, a rookie sensation or just a purely offensive powerhouse that forges a path to the title with raw numbers and world-class talent. Whatever it may be, you can always point to the one or two top influences that factored heavily into their success.
Well, those are all well and good, but why not have a little fun and call out the lesser talked-about aspects that the team found success in spite of? Specifically, goaltenders.
We’re always quick to sing their praises when they’re back there standing on their heads, winning games they shouldn’t or keeping an otherwise anemic team in contention when it doesn’t deserve to be. But no one ever admonishes a subpar performance when the scoreboard comes up roses and you’re sipping Molson from a bowl atop Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The leech-like backstops on this particular list are ones who were nothing more than hangers-on who rode the pine all the way to a title or made just enough saves for their offense to bail them out with an extra goal when they needed it most.
These 15 goalies might be sporting shiny championship rings, but they definitely don’t deserve them.
15 Andre Racicot (1993)
For a guy who earned the infamous nickname “Red Light” and somehow still won a Stanley Cup, it only makes sense that he draws the unenviable privilege of appearing first on this list. That’s right, Andre Racicot, the career backup goaltender to Patrick Roy who only lasted four seasons and finished with a career .880 save percentage and 3.50 GAA, rode the Montreal Canadiens’ coattails to a title in 1993 when they stormed through the playoffs with a dominating 16-4 record.
His only playoff appearance that year was a brief, 18-minute relief stint in Game 5 of the first round when Roy came out for the second period with a minor injury. He allowed two goals on nine shots and was promptly yanked for the third frame. He rode the bench the rest of the playoffs but hoisted the cup in June when Montreal topped the Kings in five games.
14 Mike Richter (1994)
Don’t get me wrong, Mike Richter’s 1994 playoffs, when his New York Rangers took the Vancouver Canucks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals before finally finishing them off to win their first title in 54 years back in 1994, were pretty darn good. But I submit to you that his adversary, the Canucks’ backstop, Kirk McLean, deserved it more.
McLean played in 24 games in those playoffs to Richter’s 23. He faced and saved 200 more shots than Richter did, and his .928 playoff save percentage led all goalies who played in at least 10 games. He guided a seventh-seeded team to within one goal of claiming the Cup, while Richter merely rode his team’s playoff-high 81 goals and 3.52 goals-for per game to the championship.
13 Jonathan Quick (2014)
As good as Jonathan Quick was in the 2012 playoffs, going 16-4 with an unheard-of .946 save percentage, he was equally as bad in 2014 but somehow stumbled his way into a Cup-winning 16-10-2 record.
Take, for example Quick’s save percentage of that season’s Western Conference Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks. It was an abysmal .899. He allowed far too many soft goals, made boneheaded mistakes and frankly gave the L.A. coaching staff more reasons for heartache than celebration. His only saving grace was the fact that Chicago’s Corey Crawford just happened to be worse.
Quick finished the playoffs with just the 15th best save percentage (.911) and the 12th best GAA (2.58), but he was bailed out by the Kings’ Conference-best 2.85 goals-for per game and the fact that the saves he actually did make were the right ones at the right time.
12 Bill Ranford (1988)
Bill Ranford was still a young, 21-year-old pup when his Edmonton Oilers won their second consecutive Stanley Cup and fourth in five years in 1988. He was traded there from the Bruins late in the year and made six appearances in March and April to finish off the season after the Oilers’ playoff status was firmly in hand.
He won three of those games, tied two and lost one. Not bad for a third-year pro in that high-scoring era.
Once the playoffs began, all he did was ride the pine while watching Gretzky, Kurri, Fuhr and co. make very quick work of the Jets, Flames, Red Wings and Bruins to capture the Cup. He didn’t see any playoff time and was only on the team for two months before he got his ring, so it’s not like he really earned it.
11 Cam Ward (2006)
Cam Ward’s .920 save percentage and 2.14 GAA were some of the better goaltender stats for the 2006 playoffs, but those are pretty pedestrian numbers, especially for the guy whose team ended up taking home the title.
I’ll save you the long version about how the lockout the year prior and the subsequent rules changes all came into play on this and simply say, that just because ALL goalies struggled in 2005-06, it doesn’t mean that Ward was deserving of his win just because he was one of the best of the bad.
If you understood that, you’re probably a competent, rational person. If you need further interpretation, think of it this way: you’re still getting paid even though you’re reading this article at work, right? There ya go.
10 Marc-Andre Fleury (2016)
Though he had a pretty good second half of the regular season last year, the beginning of the end of Marc-Andre Fleury’s career with the Pittsburgh Penguins began near the end of the regular season, when he went down with a concussion.
The team turned to young up-and-comer Matt Murray, who more than just subbed for Fleury. He went 7-0 in games he started to end the season and then guided the Penguins to Stanley Cup championship, posting a .923 save percentage and a 2.08 GAA in 21 games.
Meanwhile, Fleury only appeared in two playoff games after being medically cleared. He played 79 minutes in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Lightning, during which he allowed four goals on 32 shots for a 0-1 record, and was promptly benched for the rest of the postseason. Clearly, he didn’t earn that ring.
9 Dominik Hasek (2008)
Dominik Hasek’s second Stanley Cup Championship in 2008 had a lot less to do with him than his first one did. After coming out of retirement in 2003, Hasek returned to the league and rejoined the Red Wings for one season, then went to the Senators and then rejoined the Red Wings for a third time in 2006.
In 2007-08, Hasek lost his starting position in favor of a rotation with Chris Osgood but was awarded the starting role for the first four games of the playoffs when the Wings faced the Predators in the first round. He won those first two contests but then struggled in the next two, allowing seven goals on 35 shots.
He was again replaced by Osgood, who went on to guide the team to a title, while Hasek finished the playoffs with a bummer of a .888 save percentage and a 2.91 GAA.
8 Mike Vernon (1989)
Everybody points to Mike Vernon’s “save that won the Cup” on a Stan Smyl breakaway in overtime of Game 7 in the Western Conference Quarterfinals when the heavily-favored and President’s Trophy-winning Flames almost tanked against the sixth-seeded Canucks as the only reason the Flames won the Cup in 1989, but if we’re being honest, it was just one of several reasons they didn’t lose. There’s a difference. They were really, really good that year, but Vernon wasn’t a big part of that – at least not during the playoffs.
You could have put a backup pee-wee goaltender between the Flames’ pipes and they still would have won. Cut out that first series, and they were unstoppable. Their rock-solid defense only allowed 25 shots per game, yet Vernon barely cracked a .900 save percentage. With a powerhouse offense that scored 82 goals in 22 games, goaltending was inconsequential.
7 David Aebischer (2001)
Once again, we note that a Patrick Roy backup goaltender is a useless and undeserving goaltender when Roy’s team wins the Cup. The latest offender, David Aebischer, won a Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001 despite a mediocre 12-7-3 rookie season and playing all of one solitary minute in the playoffs.
That was the year of one Raymond Bourque, so even Roy was a second- or third-tier story. Aebischer had been a sixth-round pick of Colorado’s in 1997, and he toiled for three seasons in the minors before joining the Avs as a backup for the 2000-01 season, so considering his lack of notable history and basically zero contributions in the playoffs, Aebischer was anything but deserving of his one and only NHL title.
6 J. S. Giguere (2007)
For largely unexplained reasons, Jean-Sebastian Giguere oftentimes gets praise for being an elite, Stanley Cup-winning goaltender. Well, Cup-winner he is, but elite he was not.
He had three good seasons – 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08 – in parts of 16 in the league and just happened to win the Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, when they won the Pacific Division crown.
In those 2007 playoffs, he was good, not great. He won 13 of his 17 starts but missed several games in the first round due to personal reasons and relied on his backup, Ilya Bryzgalov, to cover for him while he was gone. That made his title-winning effort seem incomplete, and considering the average playoff numbers of a .922 save percentage and the fact that two other Western Conference teams had better goals-against per game numbers, Giguere didn’t deserve his Cup.
5 Tim Thomas (2011)
In case the Giguere entry wasn’t enough to incite controversy, I’m putting Tim Thomas inside this list’s top-5, so feel free to protest in the comments. But first, allow me to defend my position by asking you if you actually watched these playoffs. Yes? Great, then you know just how unnecessary his floundering antics were and the number of times he made things much harder on himself than he needed to.
If you’re like me, you held your breath when there was a dump-in on goal, or when he left the crease to chase down a loose puck, or when there was a frantic scrum in front of the cage. He tended goal like a one of those wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube men. He expended way too much energy.
Yes, he put up absurdly good stats in the playoffs, but was it worth the perpetual heart attack?
4 Chris Osgood (1998)
With three Stanley Cup rings on his fingers, you can’t necessarily say Osgood was a bad goaltender; the bling doesn’t lie. But it is certainly up for debate on whether he actually deserved to win all three of those Cups.
He was so up-and-down – especially in the playoffs – and so inconsistent that you never knew going into a game whether he’d stand on his head or have a meltdown in the first period. Both were equally possible. Both happened.
Osgood had a habit of making the most routine saves look impossible and then turning around on the next shot and snatching a puck out of the air he had no business stopping. In the 1998 playoffs, he had two shutouts in 22 games but also allowed four goals twice and had one seven-goal meltdown. The Wings won that year on the backs of Yzerman, Fedorov and Holmstrom, not Osgood.
3 Jonathan Bernier (2012)
It’s always an awkward moment when a backup goalie steps up to take the Cup and parade it around the ice, especially when he didn’t see a single minute of postseason action. Honestly, I’d be embarrassed.
In the 2012 playoffs, Jonathan Bernier was a mainstay at the end of the Los Angeles Kings’ bench. For 20 games, he served as Jonathan Quick’s backup with nary a relief appearance the entire time. That’s all well and good. I mean, backup goaltenders aren’t expected to contribute a whole lot in the postseason, but he didn’t even help get them there in the first place.
He only made 13 starts during the regular season and finished with a losing 5-6-2 record. He had nothing to do with the Kings’ title that year and doesn’t deserve to have his name inscribed on the hardware.
2 Antti Niemi (2010)
Even before the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs began, Chicago’s goaltending was considered one of their weak spots. After a 26-7-4 regular season record and a very average .912 save percentage, Antti Niemi was named the Blackhawks starting goaltender for the postseason.
Well, his save percentage worsened to .910, and his GAA was only 13th best in the playoffs. He did just enough to keep his team in games, and he relied on the offense to bail him out of more than a handful of bad starts.
Behind the dynamo Chicago offense, Niemi survived one game to the next, enough to win 16 games and secure his unexpected first championship. Since then, Niemi’s playoff performance has left even more to be desired with some very ugly postseason numbers for both the Sharks and Stars.
1 Jeff Zatkoff (2016)
Jeff who? Exactly.
When Marc-Andre Fleury went down at the end of last season, Jeff Zatkoff was tabbed as the backup goaltender to backup-turned-starter Matt Murray. And actually, Zatkoff played in more regular season games than Murray did throughout last season but was obviously lesser-known.
When the playoffs started, Zatkoff surprisingly got the nod and started Game 1 against the Rangers, making 35 saves and taking a solid 5-2 win. Three nights later, he allowed four goals on 28 shots in a losing effort and was subsequently benched for the rest of the postseason in favor of Murray.
The Pens ended up winning the Cup by beating the Sharks in six games in the Finals, and yes, Zatkoff got a ring. But did he really do anything to earn it? The correct answer is no.