Goaltenders have been a significant part of the National Hockey League for decades, as they represent the last line of defense for any team. Their task is to simply prevent the puck from crossing the goal line and into their net. Goalies would probably face an average of 20 to 30 shots on goal per game. A solid goaltender can dictate a team’s regular season success. You can look at Carey Price as a prime example, who has carried the Montreal Canadiens to the playoffs in recent years and whose knee injury last season effectively ruined the team’s year.
But inconsistent goaltending can hold back some teams. The Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues suffered that fate in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dallas used Kari Lehtonen in net for most of their second-round series against the Blues, who chased him three times and eliminated them in seven. But the goaltending woes continued for the Blues in the next round against the San Jose Sharks. Blues goalie Brian Elliott surrendered 11 goals in four starts, as they fell in six to the Sharks.
The starting goaltender job is one of the hardest to land, and being a backup goalie can be a tough role to fill. Let’s take a look at the top 10 worst and best NHL goaltenders ever.
10. Worst: Kelly Hrudey
Hrudey played his 15-year career with the New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks. The Islanders selected him during the second round of the 1980 Entry Draft. Hrudey played his 15-year career with the New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks. The Islanders selected him during the second round of the 1980 draft. Hrudey played 41 games for the Isles, earning 19 wins and two shutouts but posted a 3.62 goals-against average in 1984-85. Hrudey won 21 games for the Isles in 1986-87 and recorded a record 73 saves in a memorable Game 7 of the ’87 playoffs which led to a quadruple-overtime win for the Islanders over the Washington Capitals.
Despite that performance, Hrudey’s GAA jumped to over 3.00 in his last two seasons for the Isles, who traded him to the Los Angeles Kings on February 22, 1989. Hrudey spent eight seasons in L.A., helping the Wayne Gretzky-led Kings make the playoffs for five straight seasons and made the ’93 Stanley Cup Final, but they fell to the Montreal Canadiens in five games. Although he played a career-high 64 games in 1993-94, he struggled with a 22-31-7 record for the Kings. Hrudey retired from the NHL in July 1998.
10. Best: Ken Dryden
It may feel like Ken Dryden is low on the list, considering he won six Stanley Cups, but longevity is what moves Dryden down, as he only played in the NHL for eight seasons. In fairness, they were eight amazing seasons, as Dryden came in as a rookie during 1970-71 and stunned the mighty Boston Bruins in a seven-game series, beginning his career on a high note.
Dryden would eventually win five Vezina trophies and he would lead the NHL in wins and shutouts four times apiece. He managed to end his career with four straight Stanley Cups from 1976-1979. Obviously Dryden benefitted from being on a legendary Canadiens team who dominated the NHL in the 70s, but Dryden’s heroic performance in 1971 was what helped the team build such a dynasty.
9. Worst: Jamie McLennan
Jamie McLennan began his career in the 1993-94 season with the New York Islanders. The Edmonton native played a total 56 games on Long Island until he joined the St. Louis Blues 20 years ago as a free agent. McLennan experienced modest success for three seasons with the Blues, winning a total 38 games and earned the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy award in 1998. The Minnesota Wild claimed McLennan from the Blues through their expansion draft in 2000. He fared poorly for the expansion Wild in 2000-01, winning just five games and losing 23 in 38 games.
McLennan played the following season in the AHL until the Calgary Flames traded for him in June 2002. His tenure in Calgary was short-lived, going 14-20-7 in two seasons as a Flame. McLennan continued his career with the New York Rangers, Florida Panthers and the Flames a second time in ’06-’07. He now works as an analyst and radio host for TSN.
9. Best: Rogie Vachon
Rogie Vachon takes his place as the ninth-best NHL goaltender on this list. The native of Palmarolle, Quebec, he played 16 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings, and Boston Bruins. Vachon played the first six seasons of his career with the Habs, winning 110 games and earned a Vezina Trophy at the age of 22 with Gump Worsley. He won three Stanley Cups with the Canadiens in 1968, 1969, and ’71.
Young goaltender Ken Dryden supplanted Vachon as the number one netminder in Montreal, who traded him to the L.A. Kings in November 1971.
Vachon never looked back after the deal, setting team records for games played (389), most victories (171), the lowest GAA in a season with 2.42 and eight shutouts in 1976-77. Vachon played out his career with the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins. He earned 355 wins in 796 games played, 51 regular season shutouts, 23 playoff wins and became a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee this year.
8. Worst: Brian Boucher
The Philadelphia Flyers drafted Brian Boucher 22nd overall in the ’95 draft. He began his professional career for the Flyers in the 1999-00 season. Boucher collected 20 wins, ten losses, and three ties that season. Boucher made 18 playoff starts in the 2000 playoffs against the Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, and New Jersey Devils but Philadelphia lost in the Conference Final. Boucher struggled the next two seasons with the Flyers, going 26-28-9 in 2000-01 and 2001-02. Philadelphia traded him to the Phoenix Coyotes for goalie Robert Esche in June 2002. Boucher had a forgettable 2002-03 season, going 15-20-8 with a 3.02 GAA.
Despite a subpar 2003-04 season in Phoenix, Boucher set a league-record five straight shutouts. He continued his NHL career with five different teams, including a second stint with the Flyers from 2009-11. Boucher announced his retirement in 2014, finishing his career with a 120-139-45 record and serves as a hockey analyst for the NHL on NBC.
8. Best: Henrik Lundqvist
The New York Rangers drafted Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in the 2000 entry draft. He began his career with the Rangers in 2005-06, enjoying a breakout rookie season with a 30-12-9 record, a 2.24 GAA and .922 save percentage. Since his impressive first year, Lundqvist recorded 30-plus wins in 10 of his last 11 seasons as the Rangers’ netminder and currently has 381 victories. He won the Vezina Trophy after an outstanding 2011-12, winning 39 games and posting a career-low 1.97 GAA. Lundqvist led the Rangers to the East Finals against the New Jersey Devils that same season but the Devils’ Adam Henrique scored at 1:03 of OT to eliminate the Rangers in six games. He had another memorable playoff performance in 2014 against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Montreal which led to a Stanley Cup Final appearance vs. the Los Angeles Kings.
Lundqvist allowed the Cup-winning goal in double OT to Alec Martinez and lost the series in five. Despite having a record of 55-59 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Lundqvist is a huge reason why the Rangers get there in the first place.
7. Worst: Jon Casey
Born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Jon Casey started his journey as a goaltender for the University of North Dakota from 1980-84. Casey signed a free-agent contract with his hometown team, the Minnesota North Stars in April 1984. He spent nearly five years honing his craft in the minor leagues until playing a full season in ’88-’89. In 55 games for the North Stars, Casey went 18-17-12 that year with one shutout and a 3.06 GAA. He would play over 50 games for the next five seasons in Minnesota while leading them to the 1991 Cup Final vs. Pittsburgh. Minnesota lost the series to the Mario Lemieux-led Penguins in six games. Casey struggled from 1991-92 to 1992-93 with the North Stars, going 45-49-10. Casey continued his career with the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues, but he’s probably remembered most to Blues fans for allowing a slapshot goal in overtime to the Detroit Red Wings’ Steve Yzerman in Game 7 of the ’96 Western Semi-Finals.
7. Best: Ed Belfour
Best known as “The Eagle” to most generations of hockey fans, Ed Belfour was a late bloomer who established himself as an undrafted netminder for the Chicago Blackhawks in the early to late 1990s. He signed with Chicago in 1987, then made his NHL debut a year later. Belfour won 43 games, the Calder Trophy in his second professional season, then led the ‘Hawks to a Stanley Cup Final appearance versus the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992. Chicago ultimately lost the series in four games, but Belfour cracked the 30-win mark in back-to-back seasons following the loss in ’92. But Chicago traded him to the San Jose Sharks in January 1997. Following a 13-game stint out west, Belfour signed a free-agent deal with the Dallas Stars in July ’97 and led the Stars to their first Stanley Cup victory against former Chicago teammate Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres.
Belfour played three more years in Dallas, Toronto and a year in Florida before he finished his career with 484 wins, four William Jennings awards, and two Vezina trophies. The Hockey Hall of Fame inducted Belfour for an outstanding career in 2011.
6. Worst: Steve Shields
The Buffalo Sabres drafted Steve Shields in the 1991 player draft. He made his NHL debut in the 1995-96 season, earning a win against the Ottawa Senators on December 23rd. Shields mostly served as Dominik Hasek’s backup for three seasons in Buffalo, posting an overall record of 7-14-6 in 31 career regular season games. But Sabres fans may best remember him for getting into a fight with Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Garth Snow in the ’97 playoffs.
The Sabres traded the Toronto-born Shields to the San Jose Sharks in June 1998. Shields won 15 games for the Sharks in 1998-99. He played a career-high 67 games in 1999-00 but sported a 27-30-8 record with a 2.56 GAA. Shields lasted three seasons in the Bay Area. Shields played his last four seasons with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, and Atlanta Thrashers. He finished his career with a record of 80-104-40.
6. Best: Grant Fuhr
Grant Fuhr had a standout goaltending career in the NHL for nearly two decades, winning five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers in the 80s. The Spruce Grove, Alberta-born native joined the Oilers in 1981-82, going 28-5-14 in 48 games. In Fuhr’s third season, he won 30 games during 1983-84 and led the Oilers to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Fuhr continued his regular season success since, winning 20-plus games from 1984-85 to 1986-87 and reached the 40-win plateau in 1987-88. Edmonton claimed three Stanley Cups in ’85, ’87, and ’88, but Fuhr won his first Vezina Trophy for his outstanding play in 1987-88. Fuhr became Bill Ranford’s backup during the Oilers run to a fifth Stanley Cup in 1990.
The Oilers traded Fuhr to the Toronto Maple Leafs a year later but had two forgettable seasons there until the Leafs shipped him to the Buffalo Sabres, winning his first William Jennings Trophy with budding goalie Dominik Hasek. Fuhr reunited with former Oilers teammate Wayne Gretzky in L.A., then played four seasons for the St. Louis Blues. Fuhr retired from the NHL in September 2000 after a short stint with the Calgary Flames with 403 career wins and 25 shutouts.
5. Worst: Mike Dunham
Mike Dunham takes his spot as the fifth-worst goaltender ever. The New Jersey Devils drafted the American-born netminder in 1990. After three seasons in the AHL, he made his NHL debut for the Devils in 1996-97. Dunham played 41 career games in the Garden State, as the Devils did not protect him from the 1998 expansion draft, and the Nashville Predators claimed him.
Dunham did not fare well in his first two seasons there, going 16-23-3 with a 3.08 GAA during Nashville’s inaugural season and lost 27 games in 1999-00. Dunham bounced back with two strong seasons in between but went 2-9-2 just 15 games into 2002-03. The Predators traded him to the New York Rangers that season. Dunham played four more seasons with the Rangers, Atlanta Thrashers, and New York Islanders. He ended his career on September 10, 2007, with a lifetime record of 141-178-44 in 394 games. Dunham currently serves as the Isles’ goalie coach.
5. Best: Dominik Hasek
Dominik Hasek played 17 seasons in the league for four different teams. Best known as a late bloomer, he spent his early years as a backup to goalie Ed Belfour in Chicago until they traded him to the Buffalo Sabres in August 1992. He began his Sabres tenure as a backup to Grant Fuhr. Although he shared the William Jennings Trophy with Fuhr and won his first of his six Vezina trophies in 1993-94, he took the starting job from Fuhr during the mid-90’s, then had two of the most dominant seasons by a goalie in NHL history. Hasek used his unorthodox style of play to earn 33 wins and 13 shutouts in 72 games during 1997-98 and recorded a 1.87 GAA through 64 games in 1998-99.
He led the Czech Republic to a gold medal win in the ’98 Winter Olympics and the Sabres to a Cup Final a year later but lost in six to the Dallas Stars. Hasek would win a Stanley Cup three years later with the 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings. He left the league for good after winning another Stanley Cup with Detroit in ’08, finishing a stellar 735-game career which placed him in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
4. Worst: Craig Billington
Craig Billington began his career as a journeyman goalie with the New Jersey Devils in 1985-96. He spent part of five seasons for the Devils and split time with the AHL’s Utica Devils for three years until the Ottawa Senators traded for his services in June 1993. Billington did not fare well with the Sens in 1993-94 season, posting an 11-41-4 record with a 4.59 GAA and no shutouts in 63 games. The Senators traded him to the Boston Bruins just nine games into the 1994-95 season. The B’s wanted Billington to back up Bill Ranford, their starting goalie at the time. He went 15-14-3 in his Bruins career, then joined the Colorado Avalanche before the 1996-97 season to back up legendary goalie Patrick Roy.
Billington played his last four seasons with the Washington Capitals until his retirement in January 2003, finishing his career at 110-149-31 in 332 appearances. He now works as the Avalanche’s assistant GM.
4. Best: Terry Sawchuk
Terry Sawchuk played 21 years in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers. He established himself as a legitimate starting netminder with the Red Wings, winning 44 games along with the Calder Trophy in 1950-51. Sawchuk led Detroit to three Stanley Cups in 1951, ’52, and ’55. The Bruins traded for him before the 1955-56 season, where he struggled on and off the ice with sub-par play and mononucleosis for two years. The Bruins traded Sawchuk back to Detroit but had up and down seasons during his second Red Wings stint.
The Maple Leafs acquired him before 1964-65, winning 42 games in three seasons and helped Toronto win the Stanley Cup in 1967. He finished his NHL career in New York by the 1969-70 season, recording 447 all-time wins, a 2.51 GAA, and 103 shutouts. Sawchuk received a posthumous induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1971, a year after his sudden death in May 1970.
3. Worst: Guy Hebert
The Anaheim Mighty Ducks selected Guy Hebert as the second pick in the 1993 NHL Expansion Draft. Hebert had played 37 career games with the St. Louis Blues before the Ducks claimed him in the summer of ’93. He played 52 games for the 1993-94 Mighty Ducks and collected a record of 20-27-3 with two shutouts. The lockout-shortened 1994-95 season was not kind to Hebert, winning 12 games, losing 20, and earned four ties with a 3.13 GAA in 39 games for the Ducks. In fact, Hebert lost more than 20 games in each of his eight seasons there. He did not fare well in the 1997 and ’99 playoffs for Anaheim, posting a 4-7 record with 33 goals allowed and one shutout in 13 playoff games. Hebert played the last 13 games of his brief career with the New York Rangers in 2000-01 and left the league with an overall record of 191-222-56 in 491 games.
3. Best: Jacques Plante
Besides being the starting goaltender for perhaps the most dominant hockey team ever, the late 50s Canadiens, Jacques Plante was a pioneer for the game of hockey, becoming the first goalie to wear a mask. From 1956 to 1960, Plante was the NHL’s leader in GAA and even following his decorated Habs career, Plante found success elsewhere.
Plante joined the St. Louis Blues in the late 60s, turning in a heroic season for the Blues in 1968-89. After being out of hockey for three years, Plante recorded a 1.97 GAA. In those days, that was a microscopic number for goaltenders. He would finish out his career in Toronto in the 70s, where he continued to be an elite goalie, posting a 1.88 GAA in the 1970-71 season. Being able to be an elite goalie over the course of the 50s, 60s and 70s earns Plante a spot here.
2. Worst: Michael Leighton
Michael Leighton takes his claim as the second-worst goaltender. The Chicago Blackhawks selected the Petrolia, Ontario native in the sixth round of the ’99 entry draft, who proceeded to win 32 games for the Windsor Spitfires in his last major junior season. Leighton’s first season with Chicago saw him go 2-3-2 in his first eight games in 2002-03, then followed it up with a poor 2003-04, winning six games and losing 18 in 34 games. Leighton spent two seasons with the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals & Rochester Americans, then played five games with the Nashville Predators & Philadelphia Flyers in 2006-07, and three seasons for the Carolina Hurricanes.
He re-joined the Flyers for the 2010 playoffs, and their eventual run to the Final versus the Chicago Blackhawks but Patrick Kane scored the Cup-winning goal against Leighton in the sixth game. Leighton has played in 106 career NHL games, which might explain why he’s bounced in and out of the NHL due to surgery and the presence of superior goalies during his second tenures with the Flyers & Blackhawks.
2. Best: Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy may go down in history as one of the most competitive and goaltenders of all-time. The Montreal Canadiens drafted Roy 51st overall in 1984 and played his junior hockey with the QMJHL’s Granby Bisons. Roy played a full season in 1985-86, suiting up for 47 games. He earned 23 wins and shined for Montreal during the ’86 playoffs with 15 wins en route to winning his first Stanley Cup against the Calgary Flames and a Conn Smythe Trophy. Roy’s most dominant NHL season came with the Habs in 1988-89, compiling a record of 33-5-6 in 48 games.
He led Montreal to a pair of Cup Finals in ’89 and another in ’93, falling short in his second opportunity but prevailed in his third crack at winning it all. The Habs traded Roy to the Colorado Avalanche in late 1995, winning 162 games and capturing two more Cups with the Avs in 1996 and 2001. Roy retired in May 2003 as the winningest goaltender in league history with 551 victories, three Vezinas, four Jennings trophies, and three Conn Smythes.
1. Worst: Rick DiPietro
The New York Islanders had high hopes for Winthrop, Massachusetts native Rick DiPietro, whom they picked first overall in the 2000 entry draft. DiPietro played 20 games as a rookie in 2000-01 and sported a 3-15-1 record. He spent the 2001-02 season with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, then returned to the Isles for ten games the following season. In the 2003-04 and 2005-06 season, DiPietro experienced modest success by winning a combined 53 games for the Isles. They signed him to a 15-year contract worth $67.5 million during the 2006 offseason. Although DiPietro went 32-19-9 with nine OT losses in 2006-07, he could not live up to the contract.
He went 26-28-9 in 2007-08, then appeared in less than ten games in four of his last five seasons due to injuries. The Isles bought out the last eight years of DiPietro’s contract in 2013, which effectively ended his 318-game NHL career. Today, he hosts a weekly sports radio show for ESPN New York.
1. Best: Martin Brodeur
Marty Brodeur claims his spot as the best goaltender ever. The Montreal-born Brodeur played a majority of his NHL career for the New Jersey Devils. His durability, style of play, and ability to play the puck allowed the Devils to reach new heights in the regular season and playoffs, including three Stanley Cup victories back in 1995 against the Detroit Red Wings, 2000 versus the Dallas Stars, and another Cup over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim three years later. In March 2009, Brodeur collected his 552nd win overall vs. the Chicago Blackhawks to break Patrick Roy’s all-time regular season wins record. Brodeur wrapped up an outstanding 22-year playing career with 691 wins, four Vezina trophies, two Olympic gold medals, five William Jennings awards, and 125 shutouts. Brodeur is almost certainly a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017.
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