One of the greatest, most polarizing NHL goaltenders to ever strap on the pads, Patrick Roy had the luxury of playing on a lot of very good teams. In fact, over the course of his 18-year career in which he won four Stanley Cup championships and played his way into 11 All-Star Games, only once did his team not make the playoffs.
Now, while Roy himself is mostly responsible for his illustrious, award-winning career between the pipes, it can still be said that goaltenders live and die by the support of the team playing in front of them, especially the defensemen. Roy is no different.
In spite of his otherworldly abilities to defend the crease and stop opposing shots from crossing the goal line, Roy depended on each defensive pairing to prevent the shots from getting through, to clear the defensive zone and even contribute to on offense. In his nearly two-decade career at hockey’s highest level, dozens of blueliners took on that role.
Most of those D-men did the job well enough to fall somewhere between mediocre and good, but there were a handful on either side of the coin who either discharged the duties of Roy’s defenseman at an exceptionally high level or failed miserably to live up to the challenge.
While Roy probably made each and every one of the players on this list look better on paper than they actually were, here are eight of the best and seven of the worst defensemen Patrick Roy had to play behind.
15. Best: Eric Desjardins
Three-time All-Star, Eric Desjardins is perhaps most remembered for not being remembered. I know that probably makes your brain hurt, so let me explain. Desjardins was one of the most steady, solid defenseman to play in front of Patrick Roy during his seven years with the Habs from 1988 to 1995.
Desjardins always made the right play, made very few mistakes and was a calm, consistent presence on the blue line. He never did anything too crazy, and that’s what made him elite yet unremarkable.
While playing with Roy on the Canadiens, Desjardins put up solid 43-136-179 point totals in 405 total games, including one of his best seasons in 1992-93, when he led all Montreal defenseman with 45 points en route to the team’s record 24th Stanley Cup title. But while he may not have put up astronomical offensive numbers for a rearguard, he was solid in all three zones, and teams rarely scored when he was on the ice.
14. Worst: Pascal Trepanier
Pascal Trepanier’s success in the minor leagues never did transfer over to the NHL. He played with Roy in Colorado on two separate occasions, once for 15 games in the 1997-98 season and second stint with the team for the 2001-02 season.
He was a hard-nosed D-man who showed flashes of brilliance protecting his own zone on occasion, but he was never better than his third- or fourth-pairing slot and averaged about 13.5 minutes while with the Avalanche.
His career -8 plus/minus rating over parts of six seasons is all you really need to know, although he did have his best season offensively when he had four goals and 9 assists to go along with his +4 rating in 2001-02. Other than that, Trepanier didn’t do much for Roy’s legacy.
13. Best: Adam Foote
Tough, dedicated and fiercely loyal, Adam Foote was more than just a good defender; he was key to the heart and soul of the Colorado Avalanche during the second half of Patrick Roy’s career in Denver.
Though some might describe him as a pest, it was probably because Foote gave little ground to opposing forwards in his defensive zone. He was the picture of a stay-at-home defenseman and earned his keep throwing around his 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame with a brute physicality that freed up a lot of pucks, which he was able to move ahead to his goal-scoring teammates in transition.
Foote never backed down from a fight, and he was usually good for 20 or 25 points each season, but his +108 rating during his time playing with Roy was a big factor in helping the Avs win two Cups in five years.
12. Worst: Peter Popovic
Giant-sized Peter Popovic really wasn’t THAT bad of a hockey player. His main issue was severe inconsistency. Take for example his first two seasons in the NHL. In 1993-94, during his NHL debut with the Montreal Canadiens, Popovic notched an acceptable 14 points and finished +10 in 47 games.
The following year, in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, Roy’s last full season with the Habs, Popovic played in 33 games after returning from killing time in the Swedish Elite League and only offered five assists with a side helping of a -10 rating.
He would continue his rollercoaster-like career for 11 more seasons , finishing as high as a +21 and as low as a -12, though he never broke his career-high of 14 points. He was sometimes useful for using his size to move opposing scorers from the crease, all-in-all, but that’s about it.
11. Best: Petr Svoboda
Petr Svoboda became the NHL’s first Czech player to reach 1,000 games in the league. And while that doesn’t give you an exact reason why he was one of the best defensemen to play in front of Patrick Roy, it does tell you that he was good enough to play 17 seasons as a blueliner during one of the league’s highest-scoring eras in its history.
Svoboda and Roy played on a team together in Montreal from 1985 until 1992, and during that time, Svoboda helped the Canadiens win the Cup in 1986. He was phenomenal in his own zone with impeccable positioning and a long reach that got opposing skaters off rhythm.
He also chipped in on offense with crisp passing and good vision for the game. He was consistently among the top two or three in scoring among defenseman and never finished with a minus rating as a Canadien. During the 1987-88 season, he had a +46 plus/minus rating, finishing +20 better than anybody else on the team.
10. Worst: Bryan Fogarty
For as good as Bryan Fogarty was in the junior ranks, he was equally terrible in the NHL. His sensational junior career led to his ninth overall selection by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1987 draft, after which he continued to tear up the OHL. But when he made his NHL debut in 1989, it was all downhill from there, thanks in large part to his persistent drug and alcohol use.
After parts of four seasons bouncing around from league to league without landing a permanent role, the Canadiens took a chance on him in 1993. Over two seasons, Fogarty appeared in 34 games in a Habs sweater, registering just 10 points and a -7 plus/minus rating.
9. Best: Sandis Ozolinsh
Latvian-born Sandis Ozolinsh was the prototype offensive defenseman. In five years playing in front of Roy from 1995 to 2000 in Colorado, Ozolinsh was the highest-scoring defenseman on the team every single year.
He was a fine rearguard in the defensive and neutral zones, but Ozilinsh’s biggest strength was making plays and helping his team win games by contributing on the attacking end. During his time as a member of the Avalanche, the big D-man had 72 goals and 181 assists while averaging well over 22 minutes on the ice per game.
Ozolinsh was a seven-time All-Star and helped the Avs win their first Stanley Cup in 1996. To this day, he owns eight individual Colorado franchise records, including the most all-time regular season goals by a defenseman. He also finished third in voting for the 1997 Norris Trophy.
8. Worst: Sean Hill
Sean Hill rode the Canadiens’ wave of success in 1993 to get his name etched into Lord Stanley’s Cup, but he didn’t really deserve to be there. He was a third-year pro and split sporadic time between the AHL and the NHL but happened to get called up to the big club at just the right time.
He appeared in 31 games that season, serving mostly on a third- or fourth-line pairing and managed eight points and a -5 rating. His three playoff appearances also rendered a whole lot of nothing.
After that languid final year in the Montreal organization, the eighth-round pick in the 1988 draft was off to Ottawa and then five other teams in exactly the career that you’d expect from an eighth-rounder.
7. Best: Rob Blake
Rob Blake was one of the largest obstacles standing between Patrick Roy’s Montreal Canadiens and the 1993 Stanley Cup championship when they faced the Los Angeles Kings in the finals, so it’s fitting that their worlds would collide eight years later when they won a Stanley Cup together with the Colorado Avalanche.
Before arriving in Colorado late in the 2000-01 season, Blake had been a three-time All-Star and was one of the core players on the Kings since his debut in 1990. He won the Norris Trophy in 1998 and served as team captain for five seasons.
In Colorado, Blake’s imposing size, punishing hits and cannon of a slap shot molded perfectly into the Avalanche’s system, and he helped lead the team to their second title in five years. During his three years playing in front of Roy, Blake added three more All-Star Game appearances and finished second in team scoring in 2001-02. He would eventually be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.
6. Worst: Rob Ramage
Highly touted as a first-overall pick by the Colorado Rockies in 1979, Rob Ramage had his ups and downs, but most of them were downs. Early in his career, Ramage developed some bad playing habits, and his performance suffered for it.
His game improved when he was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the landmark Brett Hull deal in 1988, and he was prominent in all facets of the game there. But as his career wore on and he ended up in city after city as part of trades or expansion drafts, Ramage began to show his age.
When he landed in Montreal in 1989, his career was in its dying days. He arrived in time to post one assist and a -3 plus/minus rating in eight regular season games at the end of the 1992-93 season and then match his -3 rating while scoring zero points in seven playoff games as the Habs won that year’s Stanley Cup.
5. Best: Chris Chelios
One of the best NHL defenseman and longest-tenured player ever to play the game, Chelios was the ultimate fire-breather. He got his start in the league playing in front of Patrick Roy with the Montreal Canadiens in 1984, and that’s where he developed his knack for being the ultimate athlete, teammate and leader inside the locker room.
Known for his offensive abilities, he was good enough to earn the nickname “Soft hands Chelios” early in his career. He was a perennial mainstay near the top of the scoring charts for both the Canadiens and among the league’s defenseman and landed his first Norris Trophy in 1988-89, when he finished fourth among all D-men with 73 points.
4. Worst: Wade Belak
In 109 games as Patrick Roy’s teammate, Wade Belak averaged about seven minutes of ice time per game and registered all of two points – one goal and one assist. He was also a collective -6 in the plus/minus department and mostly served the purpose of fourth-pairing bruiser and professional penalty-taker.
Over the course of his 14-season career, Belak only twice finished with a positive plus/minus rating and never once came close to playing a full 82-game season. He battled multiple injuries throughout his career and never seemed to be able to get on rhythm with the game. Basically, Belak never played all that much, but the likelihood of opposing teams scoring a goal went up dramatically any time he finally did step foot on the ice.
3. Best: Larry Robinson
You can’t talk about the Canadiens’ dynasty of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s without mentioning the great Larry Robinson. He played a leading role on the Montreal blue line for their five championships in the ‘70s, as well as their ’86 title, and he will always go down as one of the greatest rearguards to play the game.
At 6-foot-4 and nearly 230 pounds, Robinson was a force to be reckoned with. His bone-crunching hits intimidated players across the league, and combined with his high hockey I.Q. and relentless stonewalling of opposing skaters in his own zone, he made life a lot easier for Roy, with whom he played for four years from 1985 to 1989.
Robinson was a 10-time All-Star, a two-time Norris Trophy winner and also won the 1978 Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP along with his fourth Stanley Cup. He finished a whopping +730 for his career over 1,384 regular-season games and is the current all-time NHL leader by +133 over second-place Bobby Orr.
2. Worst: Rory Fitzpatrick
Let this simmer for a second: New York native Rory Fitzpatrick played parts of 10 seasons in the NHL and never once finished with a positive plus/minus rating. The dude was a harbinger for chaos. That, or he just wasn’t very good. Your call.
Either way, Fitzpatrick was AHL-level talent masquerading in the world’s best hockey league with a pretty terrible disguise. He eventually got more consistent NHL minutes later in his playing career, but in the 48 games he played for the Canadiens in the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons, Fitzpatrick managed all of three assists and a -9 plus/minus mark and recorded less than a shot on goal per game.
1. Best: Ray Bourque
It was only for one season and some change, but the short time that Ray Bourque played in front of Patrick Roy with the Colorado Avalanche in 2000 and 2001 was all it took for him to become the best blueliner out of them all.
Bourque was, is and probably always will be the gold-standard for NHL defensemen. He was a lifetime Boston Bruin until they graciously dealt him to the Cup-contending Avalanche in 2000 for one last shot at a title.
In his final year, Bourque was named alternate captain of the Avs and led all Colorado defenseman in scoring with 52 assists and 59 points and in plus/minus with a +25 rating. He added 10 points in the playoffs and became the longest-tenured player to win his first Stanley Cup in 2001 after 1,612 career regular-season games.
Overall, Bourque was a 19-time All-star, a five-time Norris Trophy winner and was the 1980 NHL Rookie of the Year. He currently holds the record for most goals (410), assists (1,169) and points (1,579) by an NHL defensemen and was inducted in to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004, his first season of eligibility.
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