Best NHL Starting Goalies of All Time
We can't tell you exactly what it takes to become a great goaltender in the National Hockey League's (NHL) history. That mix of talent and toughness is sort of undefinable.
But we can create a formula to rank the NHL's greatest goalies in a somewhat objective way. Taking into account five key career accomplishments for an NHL goaltender, we've assigned points for our rankings:
- Hart Trophy (NHL Most Valuable Player): 5 points each
- Vezina Trophy (Top NHL Goaltender): 4 points each
- Conn Smythe Trophy (Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP): 3 points each
- Calder Trophy (NHL Rookie of the Year): 2 points
- Stanley Cup champion: 2 points each if starter, 1 point each if backup
Using this formula, these are the greatest NHL starting goalies of all time.
27. Jose Theodore — 9 Points
Jose Theodore had his best seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, where he played the first eight seasons of his career.
Theodore had his career year and became an NHL star in the 2001-02 season, when he went 30-24-10 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .931 save percentage on the way to sweeping both the Vezina and Hart trophies.
Incredibly, he finished in a tie for first place for both trophies, beating out Jarome Iginla (Hart) and Patrick Roy (Vezina) by having more first-place votes.
26. Tim Thomas — 9 Points
Tim Thomas led the Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011 and became the first NHL goaltender to win the Stanley Cup, Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy in the same year since Bernie Parent in 1974-75.
Thomas, a four-time NHL All-Star, also won the Vezina in 2009. The amazing thing about Thomas is he didn't make his NHL debut until he was 28 years old and was the oldest winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy at 37 years old.
25. Carey Price — 9 Points
Carey Price might seem out of place on this list, but he's not the only one on here who is going to surprise you.
Price was the No. 5 overall pick by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2005 NHL draft, and 17 years later, he's still the goalie for the franchise. In 2021, he led the Habs to their first Stanley Cup Final in 28 years.
In 2015, Price swept the Vezina and Hart trophies and won the Lindsay (regular season outstanding player) and Jennings (fewest goals scored) trophies. He was the first player in NHL history to win all four awards in a single season.
24. Roy Worters — 9 Points
It's been almost 90 years since Roy Worters played his last NHL game in 1937, and we still are in awe of what he accomplished on the ice. Worters is still in the top 15 goaltenders in NHL history with 67 career shutouts — one ahead of Patrick Roy — and remains the shortest player in NHL history at just 5-foot-3.
Worters, who was nicknamed "Shrimp," refused to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates before the 1927-28 season, was briefly suspended, then traded to the New York Americans, where he became the first goaltender in NHL history to win the Hart Trophy with a ridiculous 1.15 GAA.
23. Tom Barrasso — 10 Points
Tom Barrasso was with the Buffalo Sabres when he won the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year in 1984 — the same year he won his only Vezina Trophy.
Barrasso spent the first six years of his career in Buffalo before landing with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he put his name among the best goaltenders in NHL history.
Barrasso, alongside Mario Lemieux, led the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992.
22. Al Rollins — 10 Points
Plenty of old-school NHL fans probably think of Al Rollins as the goaltender that wasn't good enough to unseat Turk Broda for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the early 1950s. The general thinking is Rollins was brought in to motivate Broda to lose weight.
Broda responded by leading the Maple Leafs to the 1951 Stanley Cup championship, and Rollins was eventually traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, where he was a great goaltender on some truly awful teams.
How good was Rollins in Chicago? In the 1953-54 season, he won the Hart Trophy despite going 12-47 as a starter. He's one of just three players who have won the Hart Trophy but aren't in the Hall of Fame.
21. Charlie Gardiner — 10 Points
Charlie Gardiner remains one of the more tragic stories in NHL history.
Gardiner was the first NHL goaltender to win the Vezina Trophy catching with his right hand and was a star for the Chicago Black Hawks in the early 1930s. He was also violently ill with a tonsil infection over his final few seasons — including when he became the first and only goaltender to captain a team to the Stanley Cup championship in 1934.
Gardiner went into a coma on June 10, 1934, as a result of his tonsil infection and died three days later. He was only 30 years old.
20. Andrei Vasilevskiy — 11 Points
If we had to build a perfect goaltender from scratch, we might point to Andrei Vasilevskiy as the template. The Russian-born star is an intimidating force in goal at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds with talent to spare.
Vasilevskiy has turned himself into one of the NHL's premiere goaltenders over the last few seasons, winning the Vezina Trophy in 2019 before leading the Tampa Bay Lightning to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2020 and 2021.
Vasilesvskiy, only 27 years old, is also getting paid like few goalies in NHL history ever have. He signed an eight-year, $76 million extension with the Lightning before the 2019-20 season. It's no surprise that he's one of the best choices for fantasy hockey right now.
19. Ed Belfour — 12 Points
All genius formulas to rank goaltenders aside, the thing to remember about Ed Belfour is that he's a winner of the highest order. Belfour is one of just two hockey players, alongside Miracle on Ice star Neal Broten, to win an NCAA championship, Olympic gold medal and Stanley Cup.
Belfour, who won his lone Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999, has seen his career somewhat overshadowed by his life away from the game, including several disturbing, alcohol-fueled arrests.
18. Frank Brimsek — 13 Points
Minnesota native Frank Brimsek was the first great American goaltender to play in the NHL and the first American goaltender inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Brimsek developed a reputation for toughness in the goal and was lethal in taking out the skates of players who crowded him. He won the Calder Trophy, the Vezina Trophy twice and a pair of Stanley Cup championships playing for the Boston Bruins.
His records for the most career wins and shutouts for an American goalie stood for 54 and 61 years.
17. Grant Fuhr — 13 Points
Grant Fuhr was the star goaltender during one of the greatest NHL dynasties of all time with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s — a period in which Fuhr won five Stanley Cup championships playing alongside Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.
Fuhr also is a trailblazer in NHL history as the first Black player to win the Stanley Cup and the first inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
But he probably still doesn't get the credit he deserves because of a one-year suspension for cocaine use in the 1990-91 season.
16. Billy Smith — 15 Points
Billy Smith was the NHL All-Star Game Most Valuable Player in 1978 while still splitting time with Chico Resch on the New York Islanders.
When the franchise finally turned to Smith as the full-time goalie, he helped lead them to four consecutive Stanley Cup championships and five consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup Final from 1980 to 1984.
Smith — nicknamed "Hatchet Man" — was also the first goaltender in NHL history to score a goal. He spent 11 years as a goaltender coach for the Islanders and the Florida Panthers following the end of his playing career in 1989.
15. Tony Esposito — 15 Points
One of just a handful of left-handed goalies to win the Vezina Trophy, Tony Esposito won his only Stanley Cup championship as a backup for the Montreal Canadiens in 1969 but became a star for the Chicago Black Hawks throughout the 1970s.
Esposito won the Vezina Trophy three times in his career and was a six-time NHL All-Star. He also found his way into pop culture after actor Dana Carvey's character, Garth Algar, wore his jersey in two "Wayne's World" films that grossed over $250 million at the box office.
14. George Hainsworth — 16 Points
NHL budgets must not have been too great in the 1920s. Most of the pictures we found of famed goaltender George Hainsworth show him wearing what appears to be a handmade Montreal Canadiens jersey.
Hainsworth didn't need a big budget to ball out. He won the first three Vezina Trophy awards handed out in NHL history from 1926 to 1928 and also won a pair of Stanley Cup championships in 1930 and 1931.
13. Johnny Bower — 16 Points
Johnny Bower has one of the more interesting backstories of any professional athlete we've ever come across. He taught himself how to play hockey in rural Saskatchewan using large branches for hockey sticks and crafting homemade goalie pads out of discarded mattresses.
In 1940, at 15 years old, Bower lied about his age and enlisted in the Canadian Army to fight in World War II, where he spent four years as a gunner in England with the 2nd Canadian Division.
Bower returned home after the war and played goaltender in the minor leagues before he finally made his NHL debut at 29 years old. He played 15 seasons, won two Vezina Trophies and four Stanley Cup championships with the Toronto Maple Leafs, retiring just months before his 45th birthday in 1970.
12. Gump Worsley — 17 Points
Lorne "Gump" Worsley was given his nickname because of his striking similarity to the comic-strip character Andy Gump. Worsley was also just 5-foot-7, making him one of the shorter players in the NHL.
Worsley won the Calder Trophy in 1953 despite playing for the last-place New York Rangers and asked for a $500 raise, which promptly got him sent back to the minor leagues. Worsley went on to win four Stanley Cup championships and two Vezina Trohpies.
Some parts of Worsley's career seem almost pulled from fiction. He was also a professional soccer player and suffered two of the more bizarre concussions in NHL history. Playing without a helmet, he was once knocked unconscious by a Bobby Hull slapshot to the forehead and once was knocked out when a fan threw a hard-boiled egg that hit him in the head.
11. Tiny Thompson — 18 Points
Cecil "Tiny" Thompson wasn't small. He actually got his nickname because he was so tall as a youth and was forced to play goaltender in order to get into local pickup games.
Thompson helped lead the Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship as a rookie in 1929, then went on to win the Vezina Trophy four times in his career.
10. Bernie Parent — 18 Points
If you want to see what perfection in the net looks like, many NHL experts believe you need look no further than Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Bernie Parent's play from 1973 to 1975. In those two seasons, Parent won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships and consecutive Vezina and Conn Smyth trophies each year.
During that dominating run, Parent had 30 shutouts in the regular season and posteason. Few athletes in Philadelphia history are as beloved as Parent.
Which is saying something.
9. Turk Broda — 18 Points
Turk Broda was the first goaltender in NHL history to win 300 games despite taking a four-year break in the prime of his career to fight in World War II from 1943 to 1946.
Broda played his entire NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he won five Stanley Cup championships and two Vezina Trophies. Broda's most epic battles may have been reserved for Toronto general manager Conn Smythe.
Standing just 5-foot-9, Broda constantly battled weight issues throughout his career, with Smythe as the constant agitator for him to lose weight. The press labeled the dispute the "Battle of the Bulge."
8. Glenn Hall — 19 Points
One of the most beloved players in Chicago Black Hawks history, Glenn Hall was a 13-time All-Star and Vezina Trophy winner three times in his career — all in the 1960s.
Hall's crowning achievement came when he led the Black Hawks to the 1961 Stanley Cup championship — the franchise's first Stanley Cup win since 1938.
Hall also won the Vezina Trophy three times and won the Stanley Cup again as the goaltenders coach for the Calgary Flames.
7. Martin Brodeur — 24 Points
We'll leave it to more expert hockey minds than ours, but on the surface, it appears Martin Brodeur's NHL record of 691 career wins may never be broken.
Brodeur, the son of Olympic hockey player and famed hockey photographer Denis Brodeur, grew up attending Montreal Canadiens practices with his father and idolized another all-time great goalie, Patrick Roy.
Brodeur played all but one of his 22 seasons with the New Jersey Devils, where he won four Vezina Trophies, two Stanley Cup championships and is the only goaltender in NHL history with eight 40-win seasons.
6. Terry Sawchuk — 26 Points
Terry Sawchuk was playing in the NHL by the time he was 19 years old. And if we're doing a list based on feelings instead of numbers, he's probably got the No. 1 spot.
One of the most beloved NHL players of all time, Sawchuk played 21 seasons in the NHL and was spotted by a Detroit Red Wings scout when he was just 14 years old. In his career, Sawchuk won four Stanley Cup championships and four Vezina Trophies while playing for five different franchises.
Sawchuk died in 1970 at just 40 years old after he sustained injuries in a fight with New York Rangers teammate Ron Stewart, although Stewart was never charged for anything related to Sawchuk's death.
5. Bill Durnan — 28 Points
Bill Durnan managed to win the Vezina Trophy six times and two Stanley Cup championships while playing with a crippling nervous disorder that made him fearful of being in big crowds. Not ideal for someone in his position.
Durnan's triumph over his own anxiety wasn't celebrated during his time, but it's something we should look back on now and commend him for.
Durnan died in 1972, at just 56 years old, after years of failing health due to diabetes.
4. Patrick Roy — 29 Points
Patrick Roy was at his best when the stakes were the highest. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the NHL playoffs a record three times, and also won the Vezina Trophy three times in his career.
Two of Roy's many NHL career records underline his postseason success — most career playoff games for a goaltender (247) and most career playoff wins (151).
Like many of the great goaltenders on this list, Roy was an innovator, and his "butterfly" style of goaltending is now the predominant style used by NHL goaltenders.
3. Ken Dryden — 37 Points
Ken Dryden was the only Hall of Famer taken in the 1964 NHL draft, when the Montreal Canadiens selected him in the third round.
Dryden won the Stanley Cup championship six times, won the Vezina Trophy five times and was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1971 — incredibly coming before he won the Calder Trophy in 1972.
Dryden's 1983 book "The Game" about the Canadiens' 1979 season is perhaps the greatest nonfiction book about sports of all time.
2. Dominik Hasek — 37 Points
Dominik Hasek's professional hockey career began just shy of his 16th birthday, when he took the ice for HC Pardubice in his native Czechoslovokia in 1980. It would continue for over 30 years until he played his final games for HC Spartak Moscow in 2011.
In between, Hasek sandwiched in 16 NHL seasons, crafting one of the finest careers by an NHL goaltender we've ever seen. Hasek was at his dominant best with the Buffalo Sabres, where he won back-to-back Hart Trophies as the NHL's Most Valuable Player in 1997 and 1998.
Hasek also won six Vezina Trophies in his career.
1. Jacques Plante — 45 Points
According to our formula, the top spot among all-time NHL goaltenders belongs to Jacques Plante, who won six Stanley Cup championships with the Montreal Canadiens, including five in a row from 1956 to 1960.
Plante, who also won the Vezina Trophy a staggering seven times, was one of the greatest innovators in hockey history. Along with being the first goaltender to use a facemask on a regular basis, he also changed how his position was played by coming out of the crease to play the puck and help defensemen, along with instructing the players in front of him on where to be.
Plante died of stomach cancer in 1986, at just 57 years old.