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PHN Debate

Debate: Who is the Best NHL Goalie Ever, Hasek or Roy? It’s Pretty Easy…



NHL debate, best goalie ever, Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche, Dominik Hasek, Detroit Red Wings

In the dog days of August, before captain’s practices begin, but after the GMs have cooled the NHL trade market, we have a chance to look at the more interesting debates. The NHL Network unwittingly dropped a little debate bomb on social media this week when they asked a simple question. Who is the best goalie ever?

Their three choices were Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur, and Patrick Roy.

The multiple choices seemed to upset some purists and older fans who wanted Terry Sawchuk and others included in the debate. Given the extreme evolution of the position, comparing previous-era goalies to those of the last 40 years would be like comparing baseball players of the 1800s to the juiced era of the 1990s.

There is one small regret in my debate. What if Vladislav Tretiak, the godfather of Russian goalies, had been able to play in the NHL? Oh what could have been.

Some X, formerly Twitter, respondents to PHN inserted Carey Price in the debate. But Price nor his contemporary Henrik Lundqvist were able to hoist Stanley Cups or climb to the top of the all-time wins category.

With respect to Brodeur, whose 691 wins are 140 more than second-place Patrick Roy, his candidacy as the best of all time is significantly hindered by the team he played behind. The grinding, trapping, clutch-and-grab New Jersey Devils limited offensive opportunities by any means necessary. Brodeur, too often, only faced about 20 shots per game.

For example, in 1996-97, Brodeur finished sixth with 1781 saves, but those were made in 77 appearances, meaning he averaged only 23 saves per appearance. Brodeur finished fifth in goals-against-average and seventh in save percentage.

Those are stellar numbers in such a high volume of games. And Brodeur was great. But he didn’t have to scramble for his life on a nightly basis behind a mediocre or worse team until much later in his career.

Goalies who only need to make one save are usually better than those whose teams don’t clean up the zone in front of them.

The debate here comes down to Patrick Roy vs Dominik Hasek.

Roy was a brick wall in so many playoff runs. He was clutch, money, bank — choose your expression– in the NHL playoffs. He won Stanley Cups in 1986 as a rookie behind a defensive team with a few Hall of Famers in front but not great talent. He also won the Stanley Cup in 1993 with a very good but not great team in 1993 (when the dynastic Pittsburgh Penguins were bounced in Round Two).

In fact, 1993 might be the best example of the microcosm of Roy’s career. He had an .894 save percentage in 62 regular season games but a .929 save percentage in 20 playoff games.

That was Patrick Roy. His .910 career save percentage is OK but is dwarfed by 11 All-Star Games, three Conn Smythe Trophies, three Vezina Trophies, and five times he shared the William Jennings Trophy and hoisted four Stanley Cups.

And just for good measure, four times in five seasons beginning with 1987-88, he led the league in save percentage.

Roy is the near-perfect choice if you’re choosing based on a resume.

The problem with that argument is Dominik Hasek was … something else.

No one has ever been able to stop pucks with the ferocity and acrobatic consistency as Hasek. He was “The Dominator,” and that name rang true. Behind some average (and that’s being kind) Buffalo Sabres teams, Hasek willed them to the playoffs and a few times deep into the playoffs. Hasek carried the Sabres a Brett Hull toe away from Game 7 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final.

Hasek even endured coach Mike Keenan, notoriously hard on goalies to the point of disrespect, for the first few years of his career in Chicago. Penguins fans may remember Hasek in relief of Eddie Belfour in Game 4 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Final. As Chicago tried to get back in the game, Hasek stared down breakaways by Mario Lemieux and the other Penguins stars.

The unknown Hasek was brilliant.

Penguins fans celebrated the 1992 sweep but also asked, “Who was that guy?!”

Hasek has six Vezina Trophies to Roy’s three and earned three things Roy did not: two Hart Trophies and a Ted Lindsay Award. The Czech goalie also won a pair of Stanley Cups, one as the starter for the 2002 Detroit Red Wings and one as a backup for the 2008 Red Wings in his final season.

Hasek led the NHL in save percentage seven times. But those are resume points and statistics. What truly separated Hasek was the nightly goaltending display behind teams that were rarely classified as “very good.”

Hasek wasn’t a fundamentally great goalie, nor did he play for great teams until Detroit in the final six years of his 16-year career, but there wasn’t a more dominant goalie, at least in the 21-team (and more) era. If his added resume features didn’t win the argument, the eye test must suffice.

Oh, and Hasek’s career playoff save percentage is .925, significantly higher than Roy’s .912.

The best goalie ever? It’s Dominik Hasek, and it’s a pretty easy call from here.