Goaltenders are a different kind.
Let’s face it; you’ve got to be unconventional to play a unique position in sports. But as unusual or as quirky as some goalies may be, they all share the same competitive courage trait.
After all, the very concept of stopping a vulcanized rubber disc traveling at speeds exceeding 100 mph illustrates the lack of fear.
The position is also different in that it’s often the wild card to the game equation, especially in the playoffs. It can single-handedly determine the game’s outcome for better or worse, against any foe or tactics.
It is a very tough exercise to try and compare goaltenders from different eras.
Ranking them in order is an even more challenging task. That’s because trying to distinguish goalies from the 1920s to the goalies of today is almost impossible to do. After all, how can you compare goalies from various periods?
Of course, it stands to reason that many will oppose this list, given the responsibility of evaluating the position.
Whether you agree with any of the selections, we hope you still enjoy reading as much as we enjoyed working on this list.
Hugh Lehman is a phenomenal goaltender who was an innovator for professional hockey. That’s because he was the first goaltender to leave the crease and play the puck.
He innovated the dangerous element of puck-handling outside of the crease to his team.
Playing for various leagues during his career, Lehman eventually found his home with the Pacific Coast Hockey Association.
After his short stint with the New Westminster Royals, he joined Vancouver in the association’s first year of occurrence.
An excellent skater and puck-handler, Lehman also won the Stanley Cup in 1914-15 for the Vancouver Millionaires, presenting them the first PCHA team to win it all.
Before Ron Hextall ever swung his goalie stick in defense of his crease, Paddy Moran cleared the ice around his net with authority. Moran carved his own in an era that had no set crease—sometimes into his opponents’ legs.
One of the several players on our list to never play in the NHL, Moran was the best of his era and established the goaltender position.
Playing in many leagues, Moran delivered back-to-back championships to Quebec. This beats the best the Maritime Professional Hockey League had to offer.
Playing for sub-par teams that could hardly finish .500, Moran’s only registered postseason successes were the two Stanley Cup victories with the Quebec Hockey Club Bulldogs.
Say what you will about Chris Osgood, but he’s always shown his doubters wrong and also shown his championship mettle. His return to the Red Wings when Hasek led him could be one of the most outstanding goaltender stories.
Chris Osgood is one of the most missed goaltenders in NHL history, with a record of superiority that his critics consistently ignore.
He was dubbed as the starter for the playoffs in his rookie year. But he committed a terrible turnover that led to Detroit’s removal against the upstart San Jose Sharks.
One Stanley Cup and a Mike Vernon Conn Smythe later, and Osgood was repeatedly the man for the Red Wings in the net. After verifying the move to ship Vernon to San Jose by sweeping the Washington Capitals to win back-to-back championships, Osgood was put on waivers in 2001.
After a short stint with the Islanders and Blues, Osgood returned to Detroit, and in the 2007–08 season returned to form. Osgood was influential in the Red Wings’ march to the Stanley Cup finals, where Osgood won his second championship.
The Red Wings fell in the Stanley Cup finals the following year, denying Osgood’s third championship. But he’s still one of the greatest champs in the net of all time.
Lorne Chabot was a winner who couldn’t respect the early days of the NHL, as his career spanned six teams in 11 years. The argument can be made that he’s one of the greatest never to make the Hall of Fame.
Often forgotten, Chabot backstopped the Rangers to the finals against Montreal in the 1927-28 season. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury during the five-game series.
After taking a Nels Stewart shot to his eye in the 1927-28 championship, Chabot’s career derailed.
He was traded mercilessly from team to team for the next five years. Later on, his 44-year-old coach, Lester Patrick, who led the Rangers to the 2-1 overtime victory, replaced him.
Frequently overlooked and sometimes sensationalized for changing his name to draw more Jewish fans, Chabot was one of the most underrated goalies.
Finishing with 201 wins, 73 shutouts, and a sparkling 1.54 goals-against average, Chabot very well might be the most underrated goalie ever.
Ed Belfour was one of the most powerful and razor-sharp focused goalies in the NHL. He went undrafted despite winning a championship at the college of North Dakota after a tremendous senior season.
He went on to be contracted as a free agent by the Chicago Blackhawks. In his rookie season, he won 44 games in 74 and registered four shutouts with a GAA of 2.47. Although falling short against the Pittsburgh Penguins in their first Stanley Cup, he couldn’t deliver the big prize for Chicago.
Awarded the Calder, Vezina, and Jennings trophies in that year, he was also chosen for Hart as the NHL’s MVP.
An underrated puck-handler and exceptional goaltender, Belfour didn’t always get along with these teammates. Nonetheless, he knew how to win.
After a short stint in San Jose, Belfour found his home with the Dallas Stars and won his only Stanley Cup behind the finals’ questionable Hull goal.
Rollins is yet another story of individual excellence. He led the league in wins and goals-against in 1950-51 for the last-place team.
After six minor league steady seasons, his true mark of excellence came after being picked up by the Toronto Maple Leafs to split duties with Turk Broda.
Rollins was lights out in the finals, posting a 1.55 goals-against and going undefeated in three games. Traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, Rollins won the Hart while posting a 3.23 goals-against average for Blackhawks’ last-place.
It’s hard to determine where Mike Richter’s greatness truly began, in a career filled with low valleys and struggles. But to bet against the man was just foolish, as he shined on the biggest stage with the brightest of lights.
As New York’s leading man in net, the pressure was always on, but the gratitude wasn’t still there for Mike Richter. After allowing a soft goal to Ron Francis in the 1991-92 playoffs, Richter lost his starting job and was sent down for conditioning.
He would rebound and, in 1993-1994, helped the Rangers end their 54-year drought as Richter reached the pinnacle of his NHL career. Richter and Bure had quite a few moments, but nothing quite like the penalty shot in Game 4.
Richter was an excellent goalie who could rebound following any tough outing or terrible circumstances.
Mike Richter is a great story of excellence from a long struggle to the pinnacle of his career. His save against Pavel Bure on the penalty shot in Game 7 was one for the ages, and quite possibly the greatest save Richter ever made.
His remarkable performance backing Team USA in the 1996 World Cup, and his performance in the Olympics following back-to-back knee surgeries, is a testament to Richter’s real ability.
Alex Connell tended the net for Ottawa in the mid-20s and was the mark of excellence for many years. With a career goals-against of 1.91, Connell led the NHL in shutouts four times and won two Stanley Cups.
After being pulled during the 1932-33 season, Connell angrily left the ice and retired before returning to the ice two years later.
Alex Connell holds or is tied in NHL history with many distinctions in the net. This includes double-digit shutouts in three consecutive seasons and the most shutouts in a season.
Playing for Montreal Maroons, Connell shocked the hockey world by sweeping Toronto en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
Johnny Bower spent the prime of his career with the AHL Cleveland Barons. And he repeatedly turned down the overtures of the New York Rangers until finally relenting in 1952.
After toiling for the struggling Rangers, Bower became disenchanted and returned to the Cleveland Barons. Bower needed convincing to return to the NHL after the Toronto Maple Leafs claimed him in the 1958 intraleague draft.
Thankfully for the city of Toronto, Bower did return and, at the age of 35, enjoyed a remarkable level of success winning four Stanley Cups.
Johnny Bower didn’t begin his Maple Leaf career until he was 35 and played well into his 40s, setting a bar of excellence that defied his age. His Maple Leafs in 1967 rebounded from two blowout losses handed to them by the Montreal Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup.
His finest season may have been 1967, where the Maple Leafs won the Cup with the oldest roster in NHL history. Combining with Terry Sawchuk, Bower posted a .951 save percentage at the age of 42 to win it all against the Montreal Canadiens in six.
Grant Fuhr was the most challenging goaltender to grade on this slide. After all, how can you precisely quantify his goaltending prowess playing with the powerhouse Oilers in the 80s?
One of the most formidable working players on the Oiler team, Fuhr labored to get out from the considerable shadow cast by the many Hall of Famers in front of him.
While the Oilers freewheeled in front of him, Fuhr stymied his opponents and regularly saved the spirit-crushing saves.
Also, a pioneer in breaking down the color barrier in hockey, Fuhr paved the way for many dynamic players we root for today. His career rivals that of any goaltender to ever strap on the gear during an era where black players were not commonplace in the NHL.
His play in net gave the Oilers a chance to set records and win all those Cups and got them over the Islander hump in 1983-84. Outscoring the New York Islanders 19-6 in the series, Fuhr gave them the stops needed to spark one of the greatest dynasties in NHL history.
Gump Worsely spent the better part of his career backstopping the New York Rangers and won a Calder trophy in 1952. Following a contract dispute for the ever-popular number of 500 dollars. But he was returned to the WHL the following season.
Called back up in 1954, Worsley beat out Johnny Bower to take the nets once more for the struggling Rangers. Failing to advance out of the first round for the first half of his distinguished career, Worsely toiled when traded to the Montreal Canadiens in 1963.
Called one of the funniest men in hockey, Worsely hated to fly and, unlike his peers, did not wear a mask.
Gump Worsley won four Stanley Cups but couldn’t get out of the first round in his first ten years as a professional. He was also the first goaltender to win 300 and lose 300 games.
He flourished in Montreal and enjoyed a career in 1968, where he posted a career-low 1.98 goals-against and won 11 straight times in the postseason.
Rebounding from the loss against Terry Sawchuk and the Maple Leafs the year before, Worsely and the Canadiens swept the Scotty Bowman-led Blues in the finals.
Frank Brimsek enjoyed immediate success as a rookie for the Boston Bruins and is one of the greatest U.S.-born goaltenders.
Brimsek was nicknamed “Mr. Zero” after flaunting a combination of three-game shutout streaks in his first month.
He had big shoes to fill as Art Ross sold Tiny Thompson to the Detroit Red Wings, but delivered in grand style as a rookie.
Frank Brimsek is the only rookie goaltender in NHL history to win the Calder, Vezina, and Stanley Cup in one year.
He won the Calder Trophy, the Vezina, and the Stanley Cup in his rookie year and immediately soothed over the fan outrage for Thompson’s departure.
Maple Leafs manager, Conn Smythe, accidentally stumbled upon our 12th most outstanding goaltender. That was when he went looking for George Hainsworth’s replacement in the net.
Turk Broda outplayed Smythe’s original target, a fateful game for Broda and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While weight issues dogged the Manitoba native, he was dominant when he needed to be, and his five Stanley Cups prove it. Broda and Bill Durnan are very comparable if you compare his career numbers against the dominant goalie of their generation.
In the 1950 semifinals, Broda recorded three shutouts against the Detroit Red Wings, only to fall 1-0 in the overtime frame of Game 7.
Turk Broda is one of the greatest playoff goaltenders of all time, having played in eight Stanley Cup finals and winning five. His impact in those 101 games is undeniable, putting up a 1.98 goals-against average and recording 13 shutouts.
Opening up the top ten in our ranking, George Hainsworth is yet another Montreal Canadiens goaltender.
On August 23, 1926, the Montreal Canadiens purchased Hainsworth from the Saskatoon Crescents of the WHL. This adds another chapter to Canadien’s lore.
During an era where statistics weren’t precisely the NHL’s strong suit, Hainsworth was as dominant as they came. He recorded 22 shutouts in just 44 regular-season games and owned a straight shutout sequence of over 343 minutes.
His 94 career shutouts put him third in all-time NHL history. On March 19, 1927, the Canadiens became the first NHL team to shut out the same opponent four consecutive times with a 5-0 win over the Montreal Maroons.
A .743 winning percentage paces his Hall of Fame career. Dryden won the Conn Smythe trophy before winning the Calder and won six Stanley Cups in just seven full seasons.
Many may argue his shortened career made it difficult to warrant ranking above Hall and Hasek, despite Dryden’s excellence.
His legendary stance in net and massive frame were hallmarks of his storied career, and he dominated in the playoffs. He dismantled the juggernaut Bruins in the first round led by Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr, just one year after winning it all.
As one of his most incredible performances, Dryden shut down an NHL record-breaking Bruins squad. This boasted the NHL’s top four leading scorers in Esposito, Orr, Bucyk, and Ken Hodge.
One of the most intelligent players to take the pipes, Dryden, was as excellent as unconventional.
His knowledge of the game allowed him to be mentally prepared and ready for any circumstance. Had he played longer, he could be the best goalie of all time.
While having only logged six games total in his rookie season, Dryden is one of hockey’s immortal goaltenders.
Plante is one of the foremost pioneers of goaltending in the NHL, and his career numbers and accomplishments speak for themselves.
Apart from his terrific play, he popularized the hockey mask’s use after taking an Andy Bathgate slapshot to the face and breaking his nose on November 1, 1959.
Plante was also one of the first goaltenders to play the puck outside the crease to support his defensemen. He stopped the puck behind the play and raised his arm to inform his icing call teammates.
His play revolutionized the position, effectively adding another defenseman to aid in clearing the zone and transitioning the game the other way.
Aside from his remarkable run in 1955-1960, in which he led the Montreal Canadiens to five consecutive Stanley Cups, Plante also won a staggering seven Vezina trophies.
Yet another goaltender who followed the beat of a different drum, Plante, was not without his odd quirks, which ultimately led to Montreal’s exit.
Plante is a true innovator of goaltending in the NHL and one of the best ever between the pipes. He was the first to introduce many facets of play we now take for granted from goaltenders in the modern NHL.
After a long series of run-ins with his coaches and the Canadiens, Plante was traded to the New York Rangers on June 4, 1963.
Somber, solemn, and silent, Terry Sawchuk is one of hockey’s most memorable net figures. Nicknamed “Yukey” from his Ukrainian heritage, he led Detroit to three Stanley Cup titles in just five years and is one of the greatest ever.
During the 1951-52 playoffs, Sawchuck’s performance was one for the ages as he allowed just five goals over an eight-game span.
Recording four shutouts during that playoff run, Sawchuk was the force behind the Red Wings. It swept both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens en route to the Stanley Cup.
As tremendous as his career and play were, his story is one of tragedy and ultimate sacrifice in team success. Numerous injuries took their toll, slowly robbing Sawchuk of his health and way of living but never stopping him from playing for his team.
After Detroit general manager Jack Adams ordered Sawchuck to lose weight before the 1951-52 season, the goaltender struggled and got ill.
Traded to the Boston Bruins in the summer of 1955, Sawchuk contracted mononucleosis late in 1956. He retired from hockey after a long struggle with his health.
Sawchuk returned after being acquired by the Red Wings in 1957. He played for seven more seasons before being claimed by Toronto in the intraleague draft.
At the ripe age of 37, Sawchuk teamed with Johnny Bower to deliver a Stanley Cup championship to the Maple Leafs’ heavy underdog.
One of the greatest goaltenders of all time, Sawchuk, could stop everything but was haunted by his struggles and severe health conditions.
The New Jersey Devils likely made their most important draft choice when they selected Martin Brodeur 20th overall in the 1990 draft.
The Montreal, Quebec native had a brilliant career, proven by his all-time NHL leading 691 wins. To prove the point of just how incredible that is, the second-highest win total by a goalie is 551.
One forgotten part of Brodeur’s excellence was his longevity.
Along with leading the NHL all-time in wins, he also leads in both games played (1266) and losses (397). In 12 of his 21 seasons, he started 70 or more games, a testament to both his mental and physical strength.
Brodeur was known for his entire career for being a winner. He led the Devils to three Stanley Cup Championships in 1995, 2000, and 2003 and helped Team Canada capture Gold Medals at the 2002 and 2010 Olympics.
He also won many individual awards throughout his career. This includes four Vezina Trophies, five William M. Jennings Trophies, and a Calder Trophy.
While being known for many great things amongst fans and players, Brodeur is most remembered for his great puck handling abilities.
The now 48-year-old sits tied for second all-time with 47 points, but his goal is even more impressive. He scored two regular-season goals in his career, a record in its own right, and has a playoff goal under his belt.
Marty is generally regarded as being the best puck-moving goalie of all time.
By the time Brodeur’s career was all said and done, he finished with a career goal against average (GAA) of 2.24, and a save percentage (SV%) of .912. He also sits atop the all-time shutouts list with a whopping 125, with the next closest being Terry Sawchuk at 103.
At the end of his career, the one blemish he had came when he decided to sign as a free agent with the St. Louis Blues for the 2014-15 season. This is after the Devils chose to move on from their franchise icon.
Dominik Hasek, known by many as “The Dominator,” is the best goalie the NHL has ever seen.
He has the most Vezina Trophies under the current voting system for the league’s best individual goalie with six. Those six Vezina wins are even more incredible when mentioned with the fact he only played 15 NHL seasons.
His career 2.20 GAA is eighth all-time. But Roman Cechmanek is the only goalie ahead of him who was born after 1910. As a result of the other goalies ahead of Hasek playing so long ago, none of them have recorded save percentages, as that was not a stat used at the time.
One unfortunate thing for Hasek was that he did not play in as many career games as the most all-time greats. Due to injuries, as well as briefly retiring, he appeared in just 735 games.
His record in those games was outstanding, going 389-223-95. For those 735 games, he had tenures with the Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, and one season with the Ottawa Senators.
Hasek won plenty of hardware over his career. Along with his six Vezina Trophies, he has two Stanley Cup rings (2002, 2008), both of which came with the Red Wings. He also has three William M. Jennings Trophies, two Lester B. Pearson Trophies, and two Hart Trophies.
To this day, he is the only goalie to win two Hart Trophies, and he was able to do so in consecutive seasons.
You’ll get many responses from experts and fans alike regarding Patrick Roy, good or bad. As outstanding as he was, he committed his share of mistakes both on and off the ice.
But his will to win is one thing that you cannot deny, one trait even his most ardent detractors cannot refuse.
St. Patrick may not be the perfect goaltender, but he’s the greatest of all time when it came to winning in the NHL.
His confidence and poise in the face of adversity were tremendous, and his ability to win was unparalleled. His on-ice swagger was every bit the weapon that his blocker or glove was, and nobody was more challenging mentally.
Patrick Roy imposed his will to win regardless of situation or odds and thrived when directly challenged.
Holding a 2-0 series lead in the 1993 playoffs, Quebec Nordiques goaltender coach Daniel Bouchard claimed that they had found Roy’s weakness. And Quebec found out the hard way that Patrick Roy didn’t just want to prove you wrong. He wanted to embarrass you while doing it.
The Montreal Canadiens eliminated the Nordiques by winning the next four games and beating the Kings for the Stanley Cup. Roy was incredible, winning ten straight overtime contests. Three are against the Gretzky-led Kings in the Stanley Cup finals for his first Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup.
Patrick Roy is the only player in NHL history to win three Conn Smythe trophies. He’s also one of only three goalies with 900 games and holds the NHL record with 12 30-win seasons.
Roy was his best when stakes and pressure were most significant. He has a competitive spirit and thirst for victory.
No player spends more time on the ice than the man in the net, and often he can be the difference between winning and losing. With that mindset, they became the greatest goaltenders in NHL history.