COLUMN: Separating Hall of Fame Goalies

Too often, we use the term “great” loosely. There is a certain class of players who deserve the term “great”. Many of those players were enshrined into their sport’s respective Hall of Fames. Something I hear often is a saying, “he was good, never great,” and I wish it was used more often.

I look at the goaltending position in hockey and how it has evolved over the years. The 35 netminders enshrined into the Hall of Fame, they are great. It will soon be 36 when Martin Brodeur is eligible to be voted in. Here is something to consider that will blow your mind but is already painfully obvious.

With the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights this season, there are 31 starting goaltenders in the NHL; some are deserving of the highest praise, and some probably don’t even deserve a starting job. Most fall somewhere in between. There are 35 goalies total in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Yet, so often, we put about 5-10 goalies into the elite category amongst current active goaltenders. Some agree that the majority of those guys are Hall of Famers. The stats would agree with that argument. But, 25 of the 50 goalies who lead in career save percentage are active goalies. Some of these names include Antti Niemi, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathan Bernier, and James Reimer. Good to above average names? Yes. Not anywhere close to Hall of Famers.

The game has been shifted into a more goalie driven league as it’s harder to score. Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, the two unquestioned best players in hockey, struggled to put up 90 points last year. McDavid got his 100th point in the last regular season game. In this era, no one will touch the stats Wayne Gretzky used to put up.

A lot of the goaltenders in this era will be judged based on the eye test more than stats due to the increase in goalie save percentages and decrease in goals against average. Below, I name six goaltenders from the current era who I believe have the best shot at being Hall of Famers at the end of their career, but there is a good chance that realistically only one or two make it as I previously mentioned how hard it is to make it in.

Tuukka Rask

The Boston Bruins low key have one of the best goalies in the NHL. With Boston’s lack of success over the past few years, it has caused Rask’s name to be taken out of the elite goalie conversation overall. Younger goalies are coming into the league and making a name for themselves and it’s forcing a former Stanley Cup champion in Rask out of the question. To be fair, Rask was actually supplanted by a rejuvenated Tim Thomas when the Bruins won the Cup in 2011. It was actually Rask’s worst NHL season. He has since taken the lead in both save percentage and goals against average among goalies all-time. While he is in a tie in both categories, Rask is still amongst the greats’ numbers. As I stated before, the change in scoring must be accounted for, nonetheless, Rask has the numbers to be in. If the Bruins are to win another Cup with Rask as the starter, he is a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

Corey Crawford

The Blackhawks are a dynasty after winning three Stanley Cups in six seasons. Crawford was the starting goalie for two of those Cups and has posted solid numbers in the process. While I believe too much emphasis is put on winning to get into the Hall of Fame, Crawford’s two Stanley Cups as a starter, and being a part of three, is hard to ignore in the long term. He always has been put behind an above average shot suppressing defense which you could argue contributed to those numbers largely. As the goalie of a team who won three Cups in six years and posting good enough career numbers to be considered be part of the winner and not despite them, you’ve got to at least think Crawford will receive votes if he doesn’t get in.

Henrik Lundqvist

“Hank” has seen his fair share of dramatics over his career that he has spent in New York with the Rangers. But the Hall of Fame doesn’t look into antics. Lundqvist has flat out carried his team at times through playoff runs. He hasn’t really ever had a team that could score at will much like the two goalies listed above have played with. As a result, he has never won a Stanley Cup. He is the perfect Dan Marino for the Hall of Fame. A guy who’s never won a Stanley Cup. He lost his only appearance that he ever made in the Finals. But he has so many individual awards, both in the NHL and in national play, that he deserves a look nonetheless.

Braden Holtby

Here is a name that largely may be criticized, but Holtby has been nothing but a rock in his short career as the Washington Capitals’ starter. He owns a .922 career save percentage with a 2.31 goals against average. He won a Vezina Trophy in 2015-16 and posted even better numbers last season falling victim to Sergei Bobrovsky. Holtby has been bounced in two consecutive seasons by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have proven to be his kryptonite over the course of his young career. Holtby is bound to win a Stanley Cup eventually, especially with Alex Ovechkin on his roster. At 28 years old, Holtby should be a lock to be a Hall of Famer with or without a Cup if he can sustain these numbers over the rest of his career.

Corey Schneider

Schneider is a great goalie and there isn’t a reason to hide it. He plays on an almost irrelevant team in New Jersey that may be back on the rise with a young infusion of talent. Poor Schneider might not have been saved by Wayne Gretzky last season posting a .908 save percentage and a 2.82 goals against average. Both were by far his career worsts. In any season that he has played at least 25 games, he has never posted a save percentage lower than .921 and a goals against average higher than 2.26 outside of last season. Schneider is 31 and in the prime of his career. He will be playing with a much improved New Jersey Devils squad. This could lead to some hardware in the near future. Keep his name in mind.

Carey Price

A lot of people see Price as the best goalie of his generation. He won a Vezina Trophy in 2014-15 and became the seventh goalie in NHL history to win the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP. He did that in the same season. His statistics say he only had a few truly elite seasons, but he was the main reason for his team’s success when he dealt with some very lackluster defense in Montreal for a few seasons. Price alone can’t carry the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup championship which is why he may never win. He backstopped the 2014 Canadian National team to a gold medal after shutting out both Sweden and the United States at the end of tournament play. That’s impressive. If he doesn’t ever win a Cup, he has enough individual awards to make it in.

There are some goalies that don’t appear in my countdown like Jonathan Quick, Roberto Luongo, and Pekka Rinne who you might ask why they aren’t in it. Again, this is a hard position to have your name etched in hockey lore. People remember you if you’re good, but it is much more special to be remembered as “Hall of Famer Patrick Roy” than just “Patrick Roy”.

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