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Brodeur Breaks The Wins Record: A Retrospective

In honor of Martin Brodeur breaking the NHL goaltender wins record by posting his 552nd career regular season win over Chicago 3-2, I thought I would take this time to try to put his career into perspective a bit. 

I have written some posts in the past that have attempted to do this, so a link to a couple of the highlights follows and then my own attempt to rank the top ten goaltenders of all time.

Here are the top 10 goalies of all time according to a Hall of Fame Monitor formula created by Roman Nepomnyaschev (known online as Pnep).  It attempts to pick the best goalies based upon their career achievements.  It picks players who have won many awards in their career (as opposed to picking the player who should have won the award when there is a discrepancy).  In 2006, this system picked Patrick Roy as the best goalie in history with Martin Brodeur sixth.  Brodeur has clearly moved up the list since then, but he is not a candidate for number one yet.

Here is the goals saved method, a sabermetric attempt to rank the best goalie by season (as far back as stats exist to do so 1951/52).  Essentially it attempts to calculate the number of goals a goaltender prevents versus the “average” goalie in the league each season.  Martin Brodeur has only led the league in goals saved twice in his career (2006/07 and 2007/08 - the second year is after the piece is written).  It is Dominik Hasek who has led the league the most individual seasons.  He led six years in a row from 1993/94 through 1998/99.

With those two pieces (and my personal bias) here are my picks as the top ten goaltenders of all time.

1. Dominik Hasek  He is the most dominant goaltender in NHL history.  Six straight years leading in goals saved and two straight Hart Trophies is strong evidence of that.  He has very good career numbers but never challenged for the lead in wins or shutouts (for what that is worth) because he was in his mid-twenties before he got out of Czechoslovakia.

2. Patrick Roy  Roy is the career wins leader until Brodeur came along.  His season by season numbers were more dominant than anyone until Hasek came to the NHL and they had historically coinciding prime years of their careers (a battle Hasek won).  His three Conn Smythe Trophies give him a level of playoff success that is untouched by any other goalie.

3. Jacques Plante  Plante also led the league in goals saved seven times (to lead Hasek).  He did so over a period of sixteen years and did not do it by as dominant an amount as Hasek did.  He was the best goalie in the league until the modern group of goalies who have dominated the 1990’s and beyond entered the league.

4. Glenn Hall  Hall was very good for the end of the fifties and first half of the sixties.  He was the goals saved leader in the NHL five times.  He was a seven time First All Star in goal (which is a better measure of top goalie than the Vezina Trophy which at that time went to the goalie with the top GAA).  He did not remain a top level goalie as long as Plante (though he has a long career as well). 

5. Martin Brodeur  Brodeur may be the man of the hour with his career wins lead.  Wins by a goaltender is not a particularly good statistic.  It is highly team dependant.  It is not surprising that the all time winner is a modern day player.  Wins are more plentiful today than they were in the past due to the fact no more games are tied (they go to overtime and shootouts so every game has a win) and due to the increasing length of seasons historically.  A goaltender must play on a good team to win and Brodeur certainly has done this in New Jersey.  That said, he is clearly a very good goalie and if he can keep having Vezina Trophy calibre seasons may move up another point or two on this list.

6. Terry Sawchuk  Sawchuk was the wins leader before Roy (and now Brodeur) came along.  Sawchuk still leads in career shutouts (though Brodeur will take that soon).  Sawchuk did this with a very long career.  He was a top level goalie from the start of the 1950’s and lasted through to the early 70’s before his untimely death.  He never was able to be the best goalie in any given season according to goals saved after Plante and Hall got going in their careers, though he was two times before them (and his first big season pre-dates the recording of enough statistics to calculate this statistic).

7. Bill Durnan  Durnan played a short career of only seven years, but he was the first team all star in six of them.  His career falls before enough statistics are recorded to calculate goals saved.  He was still in his prime when he retired, but cited the physical and emotional toll of playing so many minutes as a reason for it.  We will never know what he might have done with a longer career - which would likely have happened if he played today - since there is far more money to be made playing in the NHL.

8. Frank Brimsek  Eight times in a ten year career Frank Brimsek made the NHL first or second team all star.  He was Patrick Roy of his day to Bill Durnan (who was Hasek of his day).  Brimsek had the longer career (for the time), but was eclipsed for awards when a suddenly better goalie entered the league and shared the same prime seasons.  Brimsek also lost two seasons in his prime years to serving in the armed forces during World War II.  The loss of two seasons limited his effectiveness, yet despite that only Glenn Hall has more post-season all star selections in his career.

9. Johnny Bower  Bower had a stellar AHL career before he finally made the NHL as a clear number one goalie at age 34.  For the most part, this isn’t Bower’s fault, as there were only six NHL goalie jobs and he played behind Gump Worsley, who was a Hall of Famer himself.  Bower consistently put up seasons that would have got him into the NHL All Star Game today, but were unable to get him an NHL job.  He established himself as a top level goalie before he could crack an NHL roster.  When Bower finally got his chance in Toronto, he had a Hall of Fame career at the age where he was likely in decline.  He only once led the NHL in goals saved, due to his direct competition with Hall, Plante and Sawchuk.  I have no doubt that if he had be given his NHL job years earlier (say the NHL expanded in the 50’s) he would be among the all time leaders in wins and shutouts.

10. Ken Dryden  Dryden was a top goaltender for a relatively short career.  He was a five time goals saved leader with the Montreal Canadiens - although this was a team with such a good defence (and thus allowing such low shot quality - which is not taken into account by this method) that Denis Herron and Richard Sevigny could lead the league in goals saved after Dryden left.  The controversey with Dryden, much like Brodeur, is that he played on a top team.  How good would he have been on a weaker team?  Dryden’s Habs were far more dominant than the Devils under Brodeur and due to his short career; he has less top level years than Brodeur.

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.

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Email: y2kfhl@hotmail.com