It is almost impossible to win the Stanley Cup without an all-star goaltender, especially in today's NHL. Regardless of how many chances you create or goals you score, it is all for naught if you can't keep the puck out of your net. Goaltenders are the last line of defense. They can keep you in games, steal an important series, or even lead you all the way to the promised land of winning a Stanley Cup. The best NHL goalies of all-time have accomplished all three of those feats and they did it without breaking a sweat.
The man credited with revolutionizing the position, Jacques Plante is most famous for being the first goaltender to ever wear a mask. However, he was so much more than that. Aside from having the most common sense in league history, he is also one of the first goalies to come out and play the puck, both behind the net to defensemen and between the circles to sweep it away from oncoming forwards.
A six-time Vezina Trophy winner, with five in a row between 1955-1959, his dominance between the pipers cannot be stated enough. Plante remains one of the only goalies to win the Hart Trophy for league MVP in the history of the NHL.
Okay, so maybe he was on some of the best NHL teams to ever win the Stanley Cup, I'll GRANT you that (Get it?). But make no mistake, Grant Fuhr was one of best NHL goalies ever. No matter how good a team is, even if it has names like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, poor goaltending can sink everything.
Fuhr gave the Edmonton Oilers stellar play from the net and was a key piece for their 80s dynasty. The five-time Stanley Cup winner backstopped the run and gun, defensively deficient Oilers and kept their success rolling. His 400+ career wins, Vezina trophy, and playoffs success earned him the honor of being the first black player to be inducted into the NHL hall of fame.
Patrick Roy is one of the most famous and controversial players in NHL history. He's most well-known for his successful, and at times inflammatory, moments with the Montreal Canadiens but later helped the Colorado Avalanche become a powerhouse. As the only player to win three Conn Smythe trophies, Roy has the clutch factor in his DNA. When he retired, he was the all-time wins leader in NHL history, though his mark was broken by another Canadian goalie who may or may not be featured below.
How can you not feel bad for Henrik Lundqvist? This guy has been giving the New York Rangers Vezina-level goaltending for over a decade and they have done not nearly enough to build around him. They did make it to the Stanley Cup finals in 2014 but that was due in large part to their Swedish netminder. Against the Los Angeles Kings, the Rangers were exposed and even Lundqvist couldn't bail them out, as they lost the series in five games.
With over 400 career wins, 11 30-win seasons, and 63 career shutouts, Lundqvist has the resume to be considered one of the greatest ever. If he had a team around him even half as good as he was, his trophy case would be full of Stanley Cups and Conn Smythe trophies. One of the best NHL goalies ever will likely finish his career with no championships, and all hockey fans can agree, that's a real shame.
Even though he only played eight seasons, Ken Dryden is still considered one of the best NHL goalies ever, and for good reason. The Montreal Canadiens goaltender won six Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe, five Vezinas, and the Calder trophy. To accomplish that level of dominance in such a short period of time only speaks to Dryden's greatness. His first prolonged exposure to NHL action came in the 1971 playoffs, where he and the Canadiens upset the vaunted Boston Bruins in the first round. Whenever you can best a team led by Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr, you qualify for the discussion of greatest to ever play.
The three-time Vezina winner won over 400 career games and was part of one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. The skilled goalie and legendary forward Ted Lindsay were dealt from the Detroit Red Wings to the Chicago Blackhawks. He won the Stanley Cup in Chicago in the 1960-61 season and went on to become a beloved and legendary figure in hockey history.
Dominik Hasek was not out-dueled often his career, but Ed Belfour can claim supremacy over the legendary goaltender. Well, at least for one playoff series. The 1999 Stanley Cup finals pitted the Hasek-led Buffalo Sabres against the Belfour-led Dallas Stars. The Stars would win the series and Belfour's 1.26 goals against average edged out Hasek's 1.67. Throw in his 484 wins (third all-time), 76 career shutouts (tied for ninth all-time), and you have a hall of fame career that is one of the best the NHL has ever seen.
Terry Sawchuk's famous advice to young goaltenders, "Play center or left wing, don't play goalie," was funny but has some truth to it from a fan's perspective. I mean, who would voluntarily play goalie and have a small rubber disc fired at them thousands of times at incredibly high speeds? Well, Sawchuk would, and he went on to become one of the best NHL goalies to ever do it.
With four Stanley Cups, four Vezinas, and Calder to his name, Sawchuk was one of the best goalies in the league for almost two decades. His career saw him play for the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings, and New York Rangers. It's always impressive when you're good enough to play for more than half of the original six.
As the only goalie in NHL goalie in history to win the MVP award twice, Dominik Hasek was incredible. Using his own unique style of goaltending, the Czech-born goalie led the league in save percentage six times and goals against average twice en route to winning six Vezinas. It's hard to believe "The Dominator" was even thought of anything but an elite goaltender, but that's what happened. Hasek remains one of the best NHL draft steals to this day.
How can you mention the best NHL goalies of all time and wait till the end for Martin Brodeur? Well, I've saved the best for last. There aren't many goalie records that do not belong to the New Jersey Devils legend. He's number one in career wins (691), shutouts (125), playoff shutouts (24), and is the only goalie with eight 40-win seasons.
Brodeur receives a lot of the same flak that Fuhr gets, with many claiming he was only good because of the teams he was on and the style the Devils played with. Even though he had some of the best NHL defensemen of all time in front him, anyone who saw him plays knows his revolutionary style of play (the hybrid style) and his skills are undeniable. You don't win four Vezinas, four Williams Jennings trophies, and three Stanley Cups without being one of the best.