In a storied franchise like the Montreal Canadiens, you’re bound to get your fair share of legendary goalies. For Montreal, who can boast over 100 years of history and 24 Stanley Cups, the list goes on and on. Goalies of different sizes, styles, and from different eras have graced this team with some amazing performances in the past century, and for that Habs fans will be forever grateful. Heck, their legacy of great goalies lives on today, as Carey Price has proven to be the best goalie in the world, and possibly the best player, when healthy.
Finding the 10 worst goalies can be a little trickier, although I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading about some of the goalies I found that couldn’t get it together for the Canadiens. And then there was also Charlie Sands, who has perhaps the most unfortunate story of all. Here we list the ten best and ten worst players to have ever played in nets for the Montreal Canadiens. Since 1993, the Habs had a little more trouble finding consistency in nets, but that situation appears to have stabilized with Price in his prime. But now, it's time to look at the good and bad. Here it goes!
20 Best - Jose Theodore
Jose Theodore was by no means a great NHL goalie, but his best times were with the Montreal Canadiens. He was drafted originally by the Habs, 44th overall in the 1994 NHL draft and spent his first few years between the Canadiens and their junior affiliate. It was in 1999 that Theodore became the team’s official goalie, and it was in the 2001-02 season when he truly emerged as a world class goalie.
That year Theodore would go 30-24-10, with a .931 save percentage and a 2.11 GAA. Pretty good numbers, good enough to earn Theodore the Vezina and the Hart trophies that year. They would go on to upset the mighty, top-seeded Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, but would not be good enough to get past the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round, who would go on to the Stanley Cup Final that year.
19 Worst - Doug Soetaert
Let's start with my main man Doug Soetaert, who was drafted 30th overall in the 2nd round by the New York Rangers in 1975. Shifting between the minors and the NHL, it wasn’t until 1980-81 that Soetaert would become a regular goalie in the NHL, mostly as a back up. His time in Montreal lasted two seasons between 1986 and 1988. The goalie backed up Patrick Roy for two years, somewhat getting the job done with 25 wins in two seasons, but posting a 3.13 GAA and .873 save percentage. He had 15 losses and 6 ties in that time as well. Definitely not all bad from Soetaert, who even became a Stanley Cup champion with the team in 1986 (although mostly on the back of Roy).
18 Best - Michel Larocque
You’d probably be surprised to hear that Michel Larocque was mostly a back-up goalie for the bulk of his career, to one of the best goalies to have ever played the game, Ken Dryden. He was with the Canadiens between 1974 and 1981, before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. With the Canadiens, Dryden and Larocque were co-winners of four Vezina trophies, Larocque even leading the team with a 2.09 GAA in 1977.
Larocque was good enough to be a starter in any other NHL team, but he opted to stay with the Canadiens for the bulk of his career after they selected him 6th overall in the 1972 draft. He would go on to win four Stanley Cups with the Habs. Hey, it's not the worst job in the world to sit on the bench and collect cups.
17 Worst - Wilf Cude
Wilf Cude was the main goalie wearing the bleu-blanc-rouge from 1934-1940, playing a whooping 220 games in the process. Unfortunately, he lost 100 of those on the dot, winning 82 in the meantime. His record in the playoffs was mediocre as well despite playing only nine games, winning only three. Cude had a reputation in the NHL of being the best spare goaltender, always being there for whatever team would need him.
Although he didn’t do to badly in the Habs uniform considering the team in front of him, his numbers do earn him a spot on my list. The late 30s were a bit of a dry period for the Habs, who went 13 years without a championship, which was a lot in those days.
16 Best: Lorne Worsley
Commonly known as Gump Worsley because his teammates thought he looked a lot like comic-strip character Andy Gump, Lorne Worsley had his best years with the Montreal Canadiens between 1965 and 1969, where he would win four Cups in five years. His best season was in 1967-68, where he followed up winning the Vezina with a league best 1.98 GAA, before going unbeaten in the playoffs straight to the Stanley Cup.
It was Worsley’s character and eccentricities that made him particularly special. He played with the Rangers before the Canadiens, and was used to facing 40-50 shots a game on a very regular basis. When asked which NHL team gave him the most trouble, he wittily replied “the New York Rangers.”
15 Worst: Andre Racicot
Racicot is another goalie from the Patrick Roy era in Montreal, selected 83rd overall in the 1989 draft. He played his only NHL Hockey with the Montreal Canadiens, spending the rest of his career playing for different teams in the minors, and a season in Russia as well. Racicot had a losing record with the Canadiens with horrible numbers. His best season came as a backup in the 1992-93 season, posting a 17-5-1 record, but while allowing an average of 3.39 goals a game, which goes to show the skill of the Stanley Cup winning team in front of him. He was probably best known for his nickname “Red Light,” earned when he allowed three goals on six shots in 1992 against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden.
14 Best: Bill Durnan
Bill Durnan is often referred to as one of the best NHL players to be forgotten. He only played seven seasons in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens, but what he achieved in seven years is absolutely ridiculous. In his first four seasons, he would win four straight Vezina trophies, the first goalie to have ever achieved that feat. He would win the Stanley twice with the Canadiens, and would even be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1964.
During the 1947-48 season, Durnan would serve as captain to the team, but because he left the crease so often to speak to the referee, other teams started complaining that the Canadiens were getting unscheduled timeouts everytime he left the net. For that, “the Durnan rule” was introduced in the NHL, barring NHL golatenders from performing the duties of a captain.
13 Worst: Steve Penney
Steve Penney spent three seasons with the Canadiens, never being overly impressive in that stretch. He did technically win the cup in 1986 with the Canadiens, although his name was left off the Cup because he was out injured most of the season. In the 18 games he did play, he allowed 72 goals, averaging out to a less than stellar 4.36 goals per game. It was perhaps meant to be that his name did not end up being included on the Stanley Cup, although Penney did receive a ring and was included in the team picture.
His best season was perhaps in 1984-85, where he won 26 games out of the 54 he played, still posting a horrid 3.08 GAA in the meantime. He was traded to the Jets after the Canadiens won the cup in 1986, where he would finish his career.
12 Best: George Hainsworth
In 1926, there was a serious need for a top goaltender in Montreal. George Vezina, who had started every single game between the team’s inauguration in 1909 and the opening game of the 1925 season, was suffering of tuberculosis and the illness proved to be too much for him. In his memory of course, the league decided to create the Vezina Trophy, offered to the league’s best goalie year after year.
Hainsworth on the other hand fit in quite nicely with the Canadiens, winning three straight Vezinas after his first season with the team. In 1928-29, he set an all-time record fot the time by finishing the season with an incredible 0.92 GAA. He still has an NHL record that has not been broken to this day, going 270 minutes and eight seconds without allowing a goal in the playoffs for the Canadiens. He also became the second of just eight goalies to ever serve as team captain.
11 Worst: Pat Jablonski
American Pat Jablonski had a stint with the Montreal Canadiens in his nine years in the NHL. He was drafted 139th overall by the St. Louis Blues in 1985 and played in the NHL between 1989 and 1998. One of the five teams he played with was the Montreal Canadiens, and they were not his most glorious years. He came to Montreal in November 1995, a month before franchise goalie Patrick Roy was traded to the Colorado Avalanche. Needless to say a tumultuous time in the city.
He shared the net with Roy's eventual replacement, Jocelyn Thibault, which probably gives you an idea on how bad the goalie situation was in Montreal after Roy’s departure. Jablonski posted a 9-15-8 record with a 3.33 GAA over two seasons before being traded to the Phoenix Coyotes.
10 Best: Carey Price
We finally get to Carey Price, the current goalie for the Montreal Canadiens who is tearing up the NHL. Price was drafted fifth overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2005, and now 11 years later, he’s become everything the Montreal Canadiens want him to be and more. The only thing missing for Carey Price to be at the very top of this list is one Stanley Cup. Not two of three or four, just one Stanley Cup. He’s won gold at the Olympics while posting ridiculous numbers, he dominated the NHL two years ago, winning the Vezina and the Hart in the same year, and was unfortunately injured during the Eastern Confence Final, and the Canadiens were eliminated consequently.
In terms of his skill, Price is unmatched. There may have never been a calmer, more poised goalie in the history of the league. Nothing phases the B.C. native, and if his performance continues in the next coming years, there’s no reason why Price won’t lift the Cup in the next few years. Whoever things Price is too high on this list, well, it ain’t your list is it?
9 Ron Tugnutt
Ron Tugnutt made a career in the NHL bouncing around several teams between 1987 and 2004. His stint with the Canadiens didn’t consist of much, playing a total of 15 games with the team over two seasons, earning himself just three meagre wins in the process and a whopping 42 goals against. He was acquired by the Canadiens in order to serve as Patrick Roy’s backup, but his performance suffered during his time with the Canadiens.
He would be replaced the next season and actually considered retiring, opting however for a one-year contract with the Washington Capitals. It didn't go well for him, as he spent the season in the minors, but he eventually found himself a steady job with the Ottawa Senators, even becoming their starter at some point.
8 Best: George Vezina
Perhaps the last name looks familiar, as in the Vezina Trophy, the trophy given every year to the best goalie in the NHL. Vezina was the first goalie in Montreal Canadiens history and played every single game until the beginning of the 1925 season, when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and later died in 1926. Vezina helped the team reach three Stanley Cup Finals, winning two of them in 1916 and 1924.
Vezina was truly one of the first players to be one of the great goalies in the NHL, allowing the fewest goals among goalies an incredible seven times, and was the first goalie to ever get an assist while posting a shutout. Needless to say, George Vezina’s name is all over the NHL history books.
7 Worst: Jean-Claude Bergeron
Jean-Claude Bergeron was drafted 104thoverall in the 5th round by the Montreal Canadiens in 1988 and played just 18 games with the team. I’m thinking he was limited to 18 games because of his .862 save percentage and 3.76 GAA, numbers that will get you nowhere fast in the NHL. His first games with the Canadiens were so bad that he spent the next four years in the minors between the AHL and IHL, before getting a few games in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning over two seasons, and playing just one game for the Los Angeles Kings later on in his career. The 47-year old from Hauterive, Quebec, played his last hockey in the QSPHL before hanging up his skates for good in 2000.
6 Best: Patrick Roy
There’s no telling what the Canadiens could have achieved if they never traded Patrick Roy. He had already won two Stanley Cups before leaving the Canadiens, once as a rookie in 1986 and again in 1993. In the beginning of the 1995-96 season, Mario Tremblay was hired as the coach of the Montreal Canadiens, and it was truly all downhill from there. Roy and Tremblay already had a strained relationship from having roomed together, and things didn’t get better when Tremblay was coach. The result was horrifying.
In a game against the Red Wings in which the Canadiens lost 11-1, Roy allowed nine goals on 26 shots, receiving mock applause from the crowd every time he would make an easy save. When he was finally pulled, he went straight past Tremblay to the Canadiens President Ronald Corey, and told him” it’s my last game in Montreal.” True to his word, he would end up in Colorado in a blockbuster trade, where he would win another two Cups. Your loss, Montreal. I know the pain is still real.
5 Worst: Claude Bourque
The Montreal Canadiens are an old team, therefore we travel almost 80 years into the past to the late 1930s and visit Claude Bourque, a goalie that played 61 of his 62 NHL games in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens, posting a less than mediocre 16-37-8 record with a 3.01 GAA. He did however get to play two seasons along Hall of Famer Toe Blake. Bourque shared most of his time in nets for the first season, but he played 36 games of his 61 games in his second season, posting a worse record than his first season with only nine wins and 24 losses.
There have been a lot of Bourque's in the NHL, some legendary ones and some not so much. Claude was unfortunately the latter.
4 Best: Ken Dryden
We finally get to the ultimate goalie in Montreal history, Ken Dryden. Since retiring, Dryden has moved on to bigger and better things, becoming a lawyer, author, and even holding a seat in Canada’s Parliament at one point. The Hall of Famer certainly didn’t want his legacy to be all about hockey, although what he did with the Canadiens can certainly be considered enough for a legacy.
Dryden’s playing career was quite short compared to most players, just over seven full seasons, but what he accomplished in that short time frame was nothing short of incredible. He was the goalie for five Stanley Cups in 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1979. In his career, he had a .790 winning percentage, an incredible stat. It basically meant you had at least an 80 per cent chance of winning a game if Dryden was your goalie.
3 Worst: Bert Gardiner
Gardiner played 144 games in NHL split between four of the original six teams, one of those being the Montreal Canadiens. Bert played 52 games with the Montreal Canadiens after being acquired from the New York Rangers for Claude Bourque and cold, hard cash. In 52 games, 14 wins and 31 losses isn’t really much to be proud of. He also played three games in the 1941 playoffs, allowing eight goals in thee games and losing two of those in the meanwhile.
It was easy to see why the Canadiens struggled through the 30s and the early 40s, as they were coming off an incredible era of Vezina and Hainsworth. Perhaps a down period was just inevitable.
The goaltender was born in 1913 in Saskatoon and passed away in 2001 at 88 years old.
2 Best: Jacques Plante
Jacques Plante had an incredible NHL career that ranged from 1947 to 1975. That's almost an eternity for an NHL goaltender. He would be part of the Habs organization from 1953 t0 1963, winning the Stanley Cup six times, including five consecutive wins. He was one of the most important goalies in Habs history, and it was his poise and skill as a goalie that helped the team win so many Cups.
But what’s especially interesting about Plante is that he’ll go down as one of the biggest innovators in the history of the game. It was November 1st, 1959, when three minutes into a game against the Rangers he got hit by a puck in the face and broke his nose. When he returned, he was wearing a home-made mask, the first example of a goalie ever wearing a mask in the NHL. He would refuse to remove the mask in later games despite Toe Blake’s anger, and even started designing other goalie masks for other NHL goaltenders.
1 Worst: Charlie Sands
You’ll probably remember me mentioning Charlie Sands in the introduction. Here’s his story. Charlie Sands played 12 seasons in the NHL between the Leafs, Bruins, Rangers and Habs, and even won a Stanley Cup with Boston in 1939. The thing is, Sands was a right winger, and he played every singe game of his career as a forward. All except one. In a time in the NHL when a player was assigned to replace an injured goalie, Sands replaced the injured Wilf Crude (also on the list) with 25 minutes left in the game, allowing five goals in a 10-1 loss, and going down in history with 12.00 GAA. Perhaps in the interest of fairness, he shouldn’t be included on this list, but that 12.00 GAA is official so I had no choice.