Stepping between the pipes during an NHL game is not for the faint of heart. NHL goaltenders face a barrage of shots at speeds up to 100 mph while defending a 6-by-4-foot net. These daring netminders fearlessly guard their territory, stopping pucks with their massive leg pads, blockers, gloves, and mask.
They are the guardians of the net, preventing goals and often stealing wins for their teams. Here are 10 of the greatest NHL goaltenders of all time who exemplify the skills, talent, and guts required to play the position.
Rogie redefined goaltending style during his career from 1971 to 1985. Standing at only 5 feet 11 inches, Rogie used his incredible athleticism and quick reflexes to defend the net for the LA Kings and Detroit Red Wings. He led the league in save percentage twice and won 308 games despite playing on mediocre teams for much of his career.
Fleury started winning when he stepped on NHL ice as an 18-year-old rookie in 2003. He helped lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to 3 Stanley Cups in 3 years. Fleury ranks 8th in NHL history with over 450 wins and has collected numerous awards throughout his illustrious career, solidifying his place as one of the best NHL goaltenders ever.
Grant Fuhr backstopped the high-powered Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980s, helping them capture 5 Stanley Cups. A perennial all-star, Fuhr led the league in save percentage three times and won 403 games over his 15-year career. Grant was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Hockey in 2003.
The young star in the net for the Dallas Stars, Oettinger, is already establishing himself as one of the brightest goalie prospects in the league. As a rookie in 2021, he backstopped the Stars to an unlikely playoff berth and led all rookies in shutouts with 3. Oettinger has elite athleticism, fast reflexes, and the composure of a veteran at just 23 years old. He has all the makings of the best NHL Goaltenders.
Thomas redefined late-career success for NHL goalies, winning two Vezina Trophies and hoisting the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins at age 37 in 2011. Known for his aggressive style of play, Thomas would often come out of the net to cut down angles. He posted two of the best single-season save percentages of all time (.938 in 2008-09 and .922 in 2010-11), showing that age is just a number for elite NHL netminders.
The longtime Montreal Canadiens goalie boasts a resume worthy of NHL legends. Price has won the Hart and Vezina Trophies, been named to eight NHL All-Star teams, and backstopped Team Canada to Olympic gold in 2014. At his peak from 2013-2017, Price was considered the best goalie in the world, leading the league in goals-against average and save percentage twice during that span. When healthy, Price still possesses the athleticism, quickness, and poise of the best NHL Goaltenders.
"The Beezer" terrorized shooters with his acrobatic style and intense competitiveness during his stellar NHL career from 1991 to 2007. Belfour holds the record for the most wins by an American-born goaltender with 484 and won the Vezina Trophy twice as the league's top goaltender. He backstopped the Dallas Stars to their first Stanley Cup championship in 1999.
Brimsek revolutionized goaltending when he popularized the butterfly style in the 1930s and 1940s. Before Brimsek, goalies primarily dropped to their knees to make saves. Brimsek was the first to fully extend his leg pads parallel to the ice, covering much more of the net. He won two Vezinas and backstopped the Boston Bruins to two Stanley Cup titles in 1939 and 1941.
"The Chicoutimi Cucumber" pioneered NHL goaltending in the early 1900s. Vezina played a simpler stand-up style but wowed fans with his quickness, athleticism, and precise positioning. He posted five shutouts in the inaugural NHL season of 1917-18 and led the Montreal Canadiens to three Stanley Cup titles. The Vezina Cup is also named in Georges’ honor.
Smith helped define a new style of gritty, aggressive goaltending during the New York Islanders' dynasty years. Smith backstopped the Isles to four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-1983, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1983. Billy, to date, holds the plaque for most playoff shutouts, with 23 of them. That’s why Billy remains one of the Best NHL Goaltenders ever.
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A: There are several promising young goaltending prospects in the NHL today, like Igor Shesterkin, Ilya Sorokin, and Ilya Samsonov. One of these netminders could develop into the next great NHL goalie in the mold of Belfour, Oettinger, or Smith.
A: We have highlighted 10 of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history, including Rogie Vachon, Marc-Andre Fleury, Grant Fuhr, Jake Oettinger, Tim Thomas, Carey Price, Ed Belfour, Frank Brimsek, Georges Vezina, and Billy Smith.
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