The goaltending position in hockey is one of the hardest positions to play in sports. Fully grown men fire vulcanized rubber at you as hard as they can, and your objective, as a goaltender, is to make sure that this disc hits you. When it’s put that way, it really seems like a terrible job.
The National Hockey League has welcomed its fair share of phenomenal goalies in the past, but I think it’s equally important to pay homage to the terrible goalies in league history. You know the ones—your favorite team has had at least one before. That one goalie that not only plays with zero confidence in himself, but manages to drain the confidence out of the entire team because they know that they’re just one shot from center ice away from losing their lead, or giving up the game’s first goal.
Today’s list offers a tip of the hat to 15 of the worst goalies the league has ever seen. Now, there are probably worse goalies than these 15 who have played in the NHL before, but for a ‘tender to qualify for this list he had to have played in at least 50 games at the NHL level.
You’ll find goalies from all eras on this list, because colossal sucking knows no boundaries and it transcends time. It should be noted that all of the men who appear on this list are still quality athletes, but they had no business playing in the best league in the world.
15 Tim Cheveldae
Before the Detroit Red Wings became a powerhouse in the mid-1990s, goaltending was primarily what was holding them back. More specifically, it was the goaltending of Tim Cheveldae. A team stacked with Steve Yzerman, Dino Ciccarelli and Sergei Fedorov, just to name a few, just couldn’t get over the hump with Cheveldae between the pipes.
His career record isn’t awful by eye (149-136-37), but that’s largely due to the strong support staff he had in from of him for most of his career. He was dealt to Winnipeg amid the 1993-94 season, where his career fizzled out in a major way. In 74 games played for the Jets, Cheveldae managed just 21 wins. He never once recorded a season with a save percentage greater than .900.
14 Damian Rhodes
Damian Rhodes was a backup goaltender for the bulk of his career, playing for the Maple Leafs, Senators, and Thrashers. All of these stops had one thing in common for Rhodes: lackluster play and consistent losses.
You have to understand that much of Rhodes’ career was spent in a time when NHL scoring was at an all-time low. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it wasn’t uncommon to see a few 1-0 games every night. When Rhodes played for the Thrashers from 1999 to 2002, he won 14 games (out of 81), and posted save percentages of .874, .897, and .893, with a GAA in the high 3s each season.
13 Rick DiPietro
Admittedly, Rick DiPietro probably doesn’t make this list if expectations for him weren’t so high, but they were so here we are. DiPietro was selected first overall by the New York Islanders in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Starting his career in an era when scoring in the NHL was at an all-time low, Dipietro had a good opportunity to shut the door right out of the gate.
That’s not what happened at all. In 2000-01, DiPietro played in 20 games, recording an embarrassing 3-15-1 record and an astonishingly low .878 save percentage. The DiPietro experiment lasted way too long on Long Island, as he ended up playing 318 games for the franchise from 2000 to 2013, winning just 130 of them and earning over $50 million dollars in the process (factoring in the compliance buyout).
12 Craig Billington
Craig Billington was a career backup, but he was pretty underwhelming in that role almost everywhere he went, which earns him a spot on this list. In 332 games, he recorded a 110-149-31 record, and a cumulative GAA of 3.63.
Billington’s career included stops in New Jersey, Ottawa, Boston, Colorado and Washington. The most games he played in a single season were the 27 with the Bruins in 1995-96. He won just 10 of those games, and his save percentage—in an era when the league average was well above .900—was .867 that season. Brutal.
11 Dan Cloutier
Readers from Vancouver will be cursing my name for Dan Cloutier not being number one on this list, but those folks should calm down. He was pretty bad, but not the worst EVER. Just the 12th-worst ever.
Cloutier’s career record wasn’t abysmal by any stretch—139-142-33—but he played most of his career with a very solid Vancouver Canucks team. He truly earns a spot on this list because of his epic collapses in times of need. Look no further than the second round of the 2003 playoffs, when Cloutier gave up nine goals in the final two games of the series against the Wild, squandering a 3-1 series lead and losing in seven games.
10 Gilles Meloche
I’ve always wondered how Gilles Meloche was able to play 788 NHL games with the track record he carried with him. After a brief stint with the Blackhawks, Meloche’s career got underway with the California Golden Seals. In 250 games with the Seals, Meloche managed just 58 wins.
He later played for the North Stars, which is the one place he managed to put up a few winning seasons, but he ended his career with the Penguins and couldn’t even put together a winning season with Mario Lemieux on his team lighting up the league. His career ended with a lowly record of 270-351-131.
9 Ron Low
The mid-1970s Washington Capitals and the 1980s New Jersey Devils are two of the worst teams in NHL history, and Ron Low spent time on both squads. Of his 145 games in the nation’s capital, Low won only 30 of them. He played 81 for the Devils from 1982 to 1985, winning just 16 of those contests.
When it was all said and done, Low’s record was 102-203-38 and his career GAA was a laughable 4.28, which is bad even for that era. Low did play backup for the Oilers for a few seasons in the early ‘80s, which is the only reason his record isn’t substantially worse.
8 Norm Maracle
In its infancy, the Atlanta Thrashers franchise employed some of the worst goaltenders in the history of the game. Norm Maracle, who played in Atlanta from 1999-2002, just might have been the worst of the bunch.
Maracle served largely as a backup during his stay in Atlanta, playing in 46 games over three seasons. He came away with a grand total of six wins for the young franchise, and his save percentage was comfortably below .900 for all three seasons. Maracle called it an NHL career having played just 66 games, registering a 14-33-8 record.
7 Darren Pang
Today’s generation of hockey fans will recognize Darren Pang from his frequent appearances on the TSN panel, but fans in the 1980s knew Panger as the Chicago Blackhawks goalie who struggled to stop a beach ball.
Pang played two seasons with the ‘Hawks (not including the single game he played in 1984-85), and he managed to win just 27 of his 80 starts over the two years. In his final season with Chicago, Pang held an atrocious .869 save percentage and an astronomical 4.38 GAA.
6 Andre Racicot
They don’t call him “Red Light Racicot” for nothing; the embattled Montreal Canadiens sieve comes in at number six on our list. Racicot served as Patrick Roy’s backup in the early 1990s, and he even has his name etched on Lord Stanley’s Cup as a member of the 1993 championship team.
None of that hides the fact that Racicot struggled to keep the puck out of the net on a regular basis, even with a strong Montreal Canadiens team in front of him. Racicot only won 26 of his 68 career games, posting a cumulative save percentage of .880 and a career GAA of 3.50.
5 Steve Passmore
Steve Passmore played all 93 of his NHL games in an era when scoring in the NHL was at an all-time low. His career as a backup in the NHL spanned from 1998 to 2004, and his record was 23-44-12. He spent time with the Blackhawks, Kings, and Oilers, not once recording a winning season.
In the early 2000s, if you were a goalie with anything less than a .910 save percentage, you were a liability. Passmore never reached the .910 milestone once in his career, and registered seasons of .866 and .881 instead.
4 Michel Belhumeur
Every time I assemble a list of the worst anything in the NHL all-time, I always discover a new level of ineptitude with the 1974-75 Washington Capitals. Goalie Michel Belhumeur played 35 games for the Caps that year, after starting out his career in Philadelphia for the Flyers.
Belhumeur went 9-7-3 for the Flyers in 1972-73, but that was with a very solid Flyers team in front of him. When he went to the expansion-Capitals, he was exposed in a big way—the numbers are almost hard to believe. Over two seasons with the Caps, Belhumeur played 42 games and won zero of them, posting a GAA of 4.61. Astonishing.
3 Gary Laskoski
Gary Laskoski didn’t have much of an NHL career, seeing action in just 59 games for the L.A. Kings from 1982 to 1984. What we saw in the small sample size offered up by Laskoski was a nearly unprecedented level of suck.
He somehow managed to win 19 of his 59 games, which is actually quite a few when you consider his other stats. In 1982-83, Laskoski turned in a .857 save percentage and a 4.56 GAA. The following season—which would be his last, for obvious reasons—he turned in a .829 save percentage and a 4.96 GAA.
2 Hardy Astrom
If you ask Don Cherry who he thinks the worst NHL goalie of all time is, he’ll almost certainly say Hardy Astrom—and he wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Astrom played 79 of his 83 NHL games for the Colorado Rockies, and Cherry had the pleasure to coach him for 45 of those games. Here are a few choice excerpts:
“Astrom was killing us. Astrom was driving the guys nuts. Players would come up to me, almost in tears, saying that in all the years they played hockey, they had never played on a team with a goalie like him.”
"Instead of improving, (Astrom) was getting worse. By now the opposition was scoring on shots from center ice. I couldn't take it anymore. One night, between periods of another Hardy Horror Show, I walked into (GM Ray) Miron's office and got down on my knees begging him to make a trade for a goalie. I felt sorry for the players because they were working their asses off. They'd come up with a goal and then, bing, bing, Hardy would let two easy ones go by and we would be finished.”
It’s possible Cherry’s trying to pin the Rockies’ poor performance that season all on poor Astrom, but his numbers back-up Cherry’s claims. Astrom retired from the NHL with a record of 17-44-12, and a GAA of 3.74.
1 Ken McAuley
In the 1940s, many NHL teams’ rosters were decimated as players went to fight in the war, and the New York Rangers were hit the hardest by this. The Rangers’ crease, in particular, felt the effects of this to the point of them choosing to employ a man named Ken McAuley as their starter for two seasons, 1943-44 and 1944-45.
McAuley, a war veteran himself, played all 50 games for the Rangers in his first season with the club, and all but four in his second season. In 1943-44, McAuley set an NHL record that still stands when he posted a GAA of 6.24. This is over an entire season of work, people, so you can’t blame it on small sample size. This season included a 15-0 drubbing at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.
He improved the next season, albeit slightly, but his career numbers are staggering: 17-64-15 and a 5.61 GAA. This was enough to earn him top spot on our list of the worst NHL goalies of all time.