by PuckStopsHere on 01/28/09 at 04:13 AM ET
I like to write final career perspectives for the players I believe are going to the Hockey Hall of Fame when they retire. The problem is sometimes they don’t clearly announce retirement. I have not seen any clear announcement of Ed Belfour’s retirement, but I think it is clear that his NHL hockey career is over.
Ed Belfour was born in Carmen, Manitoba on April 21st, 1965. He grew up playing in the Manitoba junior hockey system. He first reached some level of prominence in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League while playing for the local Winkler Flyers in 1983/84. This is a high scoring league and Belfour who had a GAA above four in his first two years (he had a 3.83 GAA in his third year in 85/86). These numbers did not gather much interest from NHL scouts and he went undrafted. It was, however, good enough to get a shot playing for the University of North Dakota in the NCAA.
Belfour was a star in his first season in college. He was named to the WCHA First All Star Team and was named to the NCAA Championship All Tournament Team as his North Dakota team won the NCAA title. This gathered NHL attention and he was signed as a free agent by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Belfour left college and joined the IHL affiliate of the Blackhawks, the Saginaw Hawks. He led the IHL in playing time for a goaltender and made the IHL First All Star Team. He shared the IHL Rookie of the Year Award (the Garry F Longman Memorial Trophy) with John Cullen. That allowed him to split time between the NHL and IHL the next season. Belfour played 23 NHL games on the Blackhawk team. He recorded only 4 NHL wins and was buried back into the minors. Chicago had several minor league goaltenders and was struggling to find playing time for them all. They got Belfour a shot with the Canadian National Team program. Belfour played 33 games for Team Canada before re-joining the Blackhawks in the playoffs. He took over as starting goalie when Greg Millen and Jacques Cloutier stumbled. He helped to take the Hawks to the semi-finals. Belfour, still officially a rookie (he had less than 25 regular season games played) was the clear number one goalie for the Blackhawks. In 1990/91, he led the NHL in games played by a goalie, minutes, wins and goals against average. He won a series of awards. He was named to the All Rookie Team and the First All Star Team- He won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, the Vezina Trophy as the top goaltender, the William Jennings Trophy for the goaltender from the team with the best goals against and the Trico Goaltender Award (in the final of the three years it existed) for the goaltender with the best GAA. Belfour was selected to Team Canada in the Canada Cup, but did not play. The next season, he appeared in his first of five NHL All Star Games and led the league in shutouts. He helped to take his Chicago team to the Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to Pittsburgh. Belfour has the best goals against average in the 1992 playoffs.
In 1992/93, Belfour again led the NHL in goaltender games played, minutes played and shutouts. He again appeared in the All Star Game, made First All Star Team, won the Vezina and William Jennings Trophies. 1993/94, saw Belfour lead the NHL in shutouts for a third consecutive year, but he ceded the Vezina Trophy to Dominik Hasek. The lockout shortened 1994/95 season saw Belfour again lead the NHL in shutouts (for a fourth year in a row), win the William Jennings Trophy and make the NHL Second Team All Star. Belfour was clearly established as a star netminder. He continued on with the Hawks, leading the NHL in GAA in the 1996 playoffs. He was scheduled to become a free agent in 1997 and the Hawks chose to trade him to San Jose for Chris Terreri, Ulf Dahlen and Michael Sykora instead of let him walk away.
Belfour’s time in San Jose did not go well. He won only three games of the 13 he appeared in. When free agency came, he jumped to the Dallas Stars.
In Dallas, Belfour returned to stardom. He led the NHL in GAA in both the regular season and playoffs in his first season there and returned to the All Star Game in 1997/98. In 1999, he led the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup. In the playoffs, he led NHL goaltenders in games played, wins, minutes played, shutouts and goals against average. He won the William Jennings Trophy again, although this time it was shared with teammate Roman Turek, who played enough games to qualify. 1999/2000 saw Belfour and the Dallas Stars return to the Stanley Cup finals, but lose to New Jersey. Belfour led the NHL in playoff games played and shutouts. He was the inaugural winner of the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award for the top saves percentage in the NHL. He remained a star in Dallas and was chosen to the 2002 Canadian Olympic team. He was an extra goalie and did not play on the gold medal winning team. That summer, Belfour again became a free agent and jumped to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In Toronto he was their immediate number one goalie and was chosen as an extra goalie in the 2004 World Cup. However, back problems were starting to slow him down. He was unable to play 60-70 games a season anymore. Toronto decided they would rather let Belfour go and try a younger goaltender. Belfour left to Florida on a one year contract.
Belfour was expected to be a backup goaltender in Florida, but he soon won the number one job. However, that wasn’t good enough to maintain an NHL job. In many ways, he was a victim of the salary cap. The NHL teams had already invested their money in other younger goalies and although Belfour was good enough that he could play a role in most teams in the league, they did not want to pay his salary and were happier to have a cheap backup goaltender. They didn’t want the potential “goaltender controversy” if Belfour played well enough to be their number one goalie and they didn’t want his ego on the bench if he wasn’t. Belfour, clearly still NHL capable was left without an NHL team. It was late in the summer and many European leagues had already begun for the season. He found a job playing with Leksands IF in Sweden’s second division.
He hoped that a good year in Sweden would get him back into the NHL. Belfour had a good year. He played on the best team in the league and put up very good stats. He was clearly among the best two goalies in the league. The problem was Eddie Lack, the other Leksands goalie put up slightly better numbers than Belfour and that made Belfour the backup. The season did not get Ed Belfour any closer to an NHL return and he seems to have retired from professional hockey.
Ed Belfour retires with 484 wins in the NHL. This is third all time. His 76 career shutouts tie him for ninth all time. Belfour goes down as one of the great goaltenders in the “dead puck” era.
This leaves me with a list of fifteen currently active hockey players I believe should make the Hockey Hall of Fame regardless of what happens in their futures. Here is the list:
As the season progresses, I may decide to add to this list. Likely, it will have some retirements at the end of the season to shorten it again.
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