With Martin Brodeur finally retiring from NHL action for good and taking a front office job with the St. Louis Blues, now’s a good time to take a look back at some of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history. Of course, everybody does have and should have an opinion on who they feel have been the best ever between the pipes. Some fans make their choices based on longevity or Stanley Cup triumphs while others may prefer to go by the number of wins or perhaps a goaltender’s save percentage and/or goals-against average.
But to truly be a great NHL goalie the netminder must have better-than-average numbers in all of these categories. This list is created by using NHL statistics only. Therefore if a goalie played in another pro league, such as the World Hockey Association (WHA) those numbers aren’t included here. Since it’s hard to compare different eras of the NHL we’ve concentrated mainly on the hard numbers, such as games played, wins, goals-against average, and save percentage in both the regular season and the playoffs. Unfortunately though, save percentage statistics weren’t recorded in the league’s earlier days. In addition, while most of these goaltenders have earned personal accolades such as trophies and all-star nominations, the only silverware that really matters here is the Stanley Cup.
Also, trophies and all-star votes are often seen as popularity contests and the criteria for some trophies has changed over the years. For example, the Vezina Trophy was formerly be shared between a team’s goaltenders as it used to be awarded to the club with the best goals-against average, rather than an individual goalie. The Vezina is now awarded to the netminder who’s judged to be the best at the position.
With all that said, the thing that matters most is victories. Ultimately, these goalies will go down in history as 10 of the best ever. It's no coincidence that you'll see these goalies on many greatest goalie lists, because their numbers are the best where it matters most; W's.
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10 Chris Osgood, 401 Wins, 3 Stanley Cups
If the song, "All I Do is Win" was written for anybody, it's probably for Chris Osgood. Osgood never made the flashy saves or put up the jaw dropping numbers most goalies on this list did, but he got the job done. Another plus was his low price tag. The fact that he didn't command that high of a salary allowed the Red Wings to build a powerhouse team around him.
Osgood recorded 401 regular season victories and added another 74 in the playoffs. He had a tough act to follow after Mike Vernon's Stanley Cup win with Detroit in 1997, but Osgood got them back to the Cup in 1998 and again in 2008 when many were pining for Hasek to lead the Wings rather than Osgood.
9 Grant Fuhr, 403 Wins, 5 Stanley Cups
Grant Fuhr spent most of his career with the run-and-gun Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s and wasn’t really concerned about his career 3.38 GAA. Fuhr concentrated on wins and an 8-7 shootout was just as good as a 1-0 shutout to him. After he left the Oilers he had stints with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and Calgary Flames. In total, he appeared in 868 regular-season games to rank ninth with the ninth-most wins at 403 to go along with 295 losses and 25 shutouts. He was also handy with his stick as he earned 46 assists.
Fuhr won five Stanley Cups during his career and played 150 postseason games to rank fourth in that department. His 92 wins are third best and his GAA shrank in the postseason to 2.92. He added six shutouts and his 14 playoff assists are an NHL record. Fuhr also played in an era far more wide open in offense, but he always made the big save when he had to.
8 Glenn Hall, 407 wins, 1 Stanley Cup
Glenn Hall could probably make this list because of his durability alone. He played in every single game for seven straight seasons at one point when he started 502 in a row. Hall held the fort for the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues, appearing in 906 regular season games to rank sixth all time. His win/loss record was 407-326 and he owned a 2.49 GAA with 84 shutouts thrown in for good measure. He won a Stanley cup with Chicago in 1961 and appeared in the 12th-most playoff games at 115 with a 2.78 GAA and six shutouts. He even led the expansion Blues to the Stanley Cup Final int their first three years in the NHL. While Hall may not have been the most spectacular goalie out there, he was consistent and dependable and his iron-man record will never be broken.
7 Tony Esposito, 423 Wins
Tony Esposito's eyesight may have failed him towards the end of his career, but before that he could basically stop anything he could see. He's seventh on the all-time games played list at 886 withe the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks with 423 wins and 306 losses. His GAA may not have been the best at 2.92, but that's mainly due to the inflated numbers during the last five years of his 15-year career. Esposito also recorded 76 shutouts to tie for seventh all-time and added 25 assists. He won 45 out of 99 playoff games with six shutouts and was a member of a Stanley Cup-winning team with the Canadiens as a rookie. However, Esposito may best be remembered for revolutionizing the game by introducing the butterfly style of goaltending along with his Chicago teammate Glenn Hall.
6 Jacques Plante, 437 Wins, 6 Stanley Cups
Jacques Plante is probably best known as the man who more or less invented the goalie mask all those years ago. However, he enjoyed an excellent career with the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Boston Bruins. He also played with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1974/75 season in the old WHA. Sadly, he died at the age of 57 in 1986. Plante played in 837 regular season games for 12th on the list, with a sixth-best 437 wins and just 246 defeats. His 2.38 GAA is 23rd best and his 82 shutouts rank fifth. Plante went 71-36 in the playoffs with 14 shutouts with the 20th-best GAA at 2.14. Perhaps one of his best achievements though was to hoist the Stanley Cup around the rink a half dozen times during his distinguished career.
5 Terry Sawchuk, 447 Wins, 4 Stanley Cups
Terry Sawchuk enjoyed a spectacular career between the posts with the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers. He appeared in 971 regular-season contests with those clubs, which rank him third all-time in games played. Sawchuk won 447 games and lost 330, but incredibly almost one out of every four wins came via shutout. He retired with 103 shutouts to his name, which led the league for decades until Brodeur finally eclipsed the mark. The closest current NHL goalie to him in shutouts is Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers with 68. Sawchuk’s career regular-season GAA was 2.51 and it rose slightly to 2.54 in the playoffs. He added 12 shutouts in 54 postseason victories and won a total of four Stanley Cups.
4 Curtis Joseph, 454 Wins
He's one of the few on this list to never capture the ultimate prize, but Cujo won a lot of games in the NHL. His 454 wins are spread across St. Louis, Edmonton, Toronto, Phoenix, Calgary and Detroit.
Joseph started out great in St. Louis, enjoying a season as a Vezina finalist in 1992-93. He was traded to Edmonton in 1995. Oilers fans will forever remember him backstopping the Oilers to first-round upsets over the Stars in 1997 and the Avalanche in 1998. The Oilers let Joseph slip away to Toronto via free agency.
Curtis Joseph gave the Maple Leafs their best goaltending in decades, leading them to the conference finals in 1999 and 2002.
His later years dropped his averges down to a losing record in the playoffs, 63-66 but his total body of work can't be ignored.
3 Ed Belfour, 484 Wins, 1 Stanley Cup
Eddie the Eagle was always a joy to watch. Fans of his teams must've enjoyed his 484 wins the most, to go with his 88 playoff victories and Stanley Cup championship with the Dallas Stars in 1999. He enjoyed his longest tenure with Chicago from 1989 to 1997. The Blackhawks enoyed some of the finest years of their 49-year Stanley Cup drought, making it to the 1992 Stanley Cup final, where they fell short to Pittsburgh.
The Blackhawks eventually traded the impending UFA Belfour to San Jose in 1997. After a disappointing run with the Sharks, he signed with Dallas in the summer of '97 and added the missing piece for a Stanley Cup team. He led the Stars to the President's Trophy in his first season, then added a Stanley Cup in 1999 and another finals appearance in 2000. Marty Turco eventually wrestled the starting job from Belfour in 2002, so the Eagle signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Belfour gave the Leafs a couple of solid seasons of goaltending before the 2004 lockout. Following the lockout, he was never the same and was released following a disappointing 2005-06 season in Toronto, the beginning of the Leafs' playoff drought. After a year in Florida, Belfour played out the final days of his hockey career in Sweden.
2 Patrick Roy, 551 Wins, 4 Stanley Cups
Patrick Roy played the second-most games in the NHL at 1,029, which were split between the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche. His 551 wins are also second best in history while his .910 SV % is good enough for 36th on the all-time list. Roy’s GAA stood at 2.54, which ranks him as 47th and his 66 career shutouts place him 15th in the rankings.
Roy typically saved his best work for the playoffs and managed to lead his teammates to the Stanley Cup on four occasions. He recorded 45 assists during his regular-season career and was a fiery type who also served 262 minutes in penalties. Roy’s winning percentage is admirable since he won 551 contests and lost just 315. He holds the record for playoff wins at 151 and his 23 postseason shutouts are just one behind Brodeur, the record holder.
1 Martin Brodeur, 690 wins, 3 Stanley Cups
The numbers don’t lie and that’s why we’re going with Martin Brodeur as the NHL’s best-ever goalie. He played the most games in league history at 1,266 and managed to win 691 of them. His SV% was .912 and he also has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup three times as a member of the New Jersey Devils. He added a league-record 125 shutouts and just ended his career as the all-time leader in games played, shutouts, and wins. His 397 regular-season losses are also the most by an NHL goalie, but that can be expected due to the number of games he played.
His 24 playoff shutouts are also a record. Brodeur’s GAA was 2.24 which currently ranks him tied for 10th with Ken Dryden. Let’s not forget he also scored a pair of goals and added 45 assists during his career. If there’s is a knock against Brodeur it could be that he hung on a bit too long and should have packed it in instead of suiting up for the Blues a few times this season.
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