March 13, 2009

Brodeur vs. Roy vs. Hasek
Who Is The Greatest Goalie Of All Time?

Martin Brodeur hopes to catch up to Patrick Roy on the all time win column Saturday night as New Jersey travels to, of all places, Montreal. Brodeur is looking to match Roy's NHL record 551 career wins.

Health permitting, Brodeur probably has another 3 really good years in him, meaning he will greatly elevate the bar as the NHL's winningest goalie in NHL history. He should get close to 650 wins. Could he even challenge for 700 wins? Those are amazing numbers, even more impressive when you remember NHL-NHLPA labour disputes cost him possible 126 games, or probably another 60 wins.

More over, it's only a matter of time before Martin Brodeur overtakes Terry Sawchuk's title of shutout king, as he sits only 3 behind the once-untouchable record. Could he could push that total to 120 shutouts?

The Greatest Goalie?

Debate is sure to rage from now until someone challenges Brodeur's lofty totals, which means a really, really long time, as to whether or not Martin Brodeur is the greatest goalie of all time.

On one hand it is hard to argue with Brodeur's resume. On top of all of his dominating numbers he has 3 Stanley Cups, 1 Olympic gold medal, 1 World Cup, 4 Vezina trophies and 7 after-season All Star nods.

Critics will suggest he is the product of New Jersey's stringent defensive system. The fact that New Jersey rolled along nicely with a career minor league goalie, Scott Clemmensen, during Brodeur's 50 game absence due to injury this season only exacerbates that argument.

So who is the greatest goalie of all time?

Firstly, let's remove the pre-1967 goaltending greats from the equation. I intend no disrespect to Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Johnny Bower, Glenn Hall and company. Comparing players from different era's is always difficult, but we need not go back that far to determine that Brodeur may in fact not be the greatest goalie of all time.

To be the greatest goalie of all time, it stands to reason that one must be the best goalie of his own generation. There is a good argument that Brodeur was only the third best, with contemporaries Roy and Dominik Hasek besting him.

Let's compare their stats. I have chosen the time frame of the 1993-94 season through the 2001-02 season. This matches the time frame that all three went head to head, with Brodeur and Hasek arriving in the NHL as starting goalies. I picked 2002 as the end point as that was when Hasek initially ended his NHL career.

Those numbers are pretty amazing. Hasek clearly dominated the era, with all the Vezina and All Star honors, plus 2 Hart trophies as the NHL's MVP to boot. He has by far the best save percentage and the best GAA, despite playing with arguably the weakest team.

Look at that save percentage number - 0.926, the number that many agree is the one goalie stat that is not team dependent. Hasek's percentage is significantly better than Roy's or Brodeur's.

And he had to take a lot more shots to post that sparkling number. Despite playing in 60 fewer games, Hasek faced 925 more shots than Brodeur. Yet he allowed 135 fewer goals.

Despite Hasek's dominance, the generally accepted thought in NHL hockey is that Patrick Roy is the greatest goalie of all time. A case could be made that young Brodeur bested Roy in our comparison here, but Roy remains king largely due to his reputation in the playoffs.

So, let's take a look at the threesome's career playoff stats:

Emphasis on playoff success certainly is an important consideration, though Canadian media tend to over use it too liberally to discredit the foreigner Hasek. Make no mistake, such politics does unfairly these greatest ever debates. Why else is Hasek not usually mentioned, at least on this side of the Atlantic.

Roy certainly does impress in the playoffs, with NHL records for games and wins, as well as three Conn Smythe trophies as playoff MVP. When it counted most, Roy got the job done. Roy's GAA is noticeably higher, although he did begin his career earlier and in the latter half of the higher scoring 1980s.

So if we concede Hasek was the best of the three in the regular season, and the Roy the best of the playoffs, Brodeur ends up third fiddle in a comparison of his peers.

Keep in mind Brodeur was just 21 years old at the beginning of this comparison. Roy was 28, having already been in the league since 1986. Hasek was 29, as he was not free to play in the NHL until later in his career thanks to communist politics in his Czech homeland. Brodeur was just a youngster going head to head against two guys in their prime.

Brodeur will go on to play several seasons after Hasek and especially Roy retired, easily trumping them and everyone else in career numbers. In the time after Roy retired and Hasek initially retired, Brodeur has been the best goalie over the course of that time:

Just for fun, here's a comparative of Brodeur and Hasek upon Hasek's return to the NHL after retiring in 2002:

Brodeur played a lot more, which would get him the nod in award voting. The 40 year old Hasek simply could not play as many games any longer, but his save percentage and especially his GAA remain impressive.

Still, Brodeur will always be compared to Roy and Hasek. Here's a look at the career totals:

And we have not even talked about international play, where both Hasek and Brodeur have starred time and time again, including as Olympic gold medalists. Roy either shunned or was not asked to participate in international tourneys.

I think of Martin Brodeur as the goaltending equivalent of Gordie Howe. Brodeur has been remarkably consistent throughout his long career and will post amazing totals because of that, not unlike Howe.

Howe was very good, for a very long time, yet ther players had higher peak performances like Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux.

A very similar case could be built for Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek and even older stars like Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuk.

Here's some more interesting reads on Brodeur:

More About Marty - Eric Duhatschek
Bower Had 639 Pro Wins - Chris Mizzoni
A Unique Roy-Brodeur Comparison - Eyes On The Prize


Anonymous said...

Great take on the matter, Hasek always has and still does get my vote!

jamestobrien said...

Wow, Joe, I was thinking of running with a similar idea but you beat me to it. Nice work, sir.

Anonymous said...

Good defenses prevent poorly developed scoring opportunities. If Brodeur and Roy had weak defenses in front of them I believe their save % would be higher as they would have more stops on garbage opportunities. What we need is a save percentage stat that shows actual talent like, save % on 2 on 1 breakaways.

vdkhanna said...

This is truly a fascinating topic of discussion, one which has been debated thoroughly in forums such as HFBoard's "History of Hockey."

As you know, I am an unapologetic Devils fan and Brodeur proponent. But bias aside, I think one has to be careful not to slip into a purely statistical comparison between the three men. There are simply too many qualitative factors which are behind the numbers, and which need to be somehow factored into the equation.

For example, Roy's string of overtime performances in 1993 is a strong argument in his favor; however, such composure under pressure is not easily quantifiable, and indeed becomes lost in the raw aggregate numbers. Similarly, should Brodeur win the Cup this year, how can we describe using statistics that his missing 50 games (and, in so doing, taking a hit in his personal regular season greatness) actually paid dividends in the postseason?

In the final analysis, this million-dollar question is a subjective one. There are simply too many variables to tease apart.

Joe Pelletier said...

Thanks for your great note, Vikash.

I have never been a big proponent of stats in such arguments, either. I used stats this time because that's what most people seem to want - a quantifiable debate.

When discussing the greatest players of all time, I far prefer to compare legacies, as subjective as that is. In many parts of Europe, Hasek would rank as the best. In North America, we have all but anointed Roy, largely because of 3 Conn Smythe trophies and because he led Montreal to 2 Stanley Cups. He also became the face of a very proud people, French Canadians, had a huge following of Quebec born goalies idolize him and become NHL stars themselves, and he more or less is responsible for the way most goalies play the game nowadays.

That's a pretty impressive legacy. Brodeur quietly followed in the shadows, in both terms of hockey and Quebec.

It is perhaps too premature to determine Brodeur's legacy. If he can up his numbers to 700 wins and 125 shutouts, that would be amazing. He could win another Stanley Cup, with 2009 looking very promising.

But I think the thing that could lift Brodeur's legacy over Roy's would be another Olympic gold medal victory, this one on Canadian ice in 2010.

That could trump Roy in the eyes of Canadians.

Anonymous said...

Hockey is limited neither to the NHL nor to the 90s and the 00s. These three guys may be the best in their era, but there were other goalies who have to be included in any "of all time" competition. Dzurilla and Tretjak to name a few. I haven't followed NHL before 90s, but I'm sure there were great players in the NHL too who would be more appropriate choice than any of the masters trio of Roy, Brodeur and Hasek was around. If I'm not mistaken, the last two were actually coached by Tretjak.

Aleks said...

Absolutely fascinating and insightful. You really did your homework for this one.

Thank you so much for this article, I really enjoyed it.

And for the record, Dominik Hasek has my vote as the Greatest Goalie of All Time.

allan said...

this is a great article and answered a question ive been asking myself for a long time. thaks for posting it.

Anonymous said...

Dominik Hasek is the greatest of all time. He didn't play with great teams until his Detroit days but he was a beast in the late 90's.

Unknown said...

Great article on a subject that has been debated by me and others year after year. Each goalie had their own strengths that made them the better goalie in different situations. Hasek could recover the best when out of position with flop, Roy stay at home approach daring you to beat him, and Broduer aggressive stick handling adding to offensive attack. If i were to chose one on my team, Brodeur makes your team better.

S├ębastian Hell said...

Let's not forget the one time Roy and Brodeur faced off in the Stanley Cup Finals...

It went to 7 games.

Roy won the game, the Cup, and the Conn Smythe.

Also, Roy's Canadiens teams were less good than Hasek's Sabres or Brodeur's Devils; case in point: two years after the 92-93 Cup/Conn Smythe conquest, the Habs failed to even make the playoffs.

Mark said...

Dominik The Dominator Hasek always gers my vote for the best goaltender ever. You can't overlook his International play -- until he was finally able to emigrate to the U.S.at age 26 -- while Brodeur and Roy were able to play in the NHL at ages 19.

Hasek was robbed time away from the NHL via the Iron Curtain, but still dominated the Olympics and International scene. And when he finally landed that No. 1 role in Buffalo...there's no other player in the history of the League that I'd want to build my team around first.

Anonymous said...

Always has been, always will be StPatrick Roy. Greatest goalie of all time, 4 Stanley Cups, 3 Conn Smythe, 151 playoff wins, 9 overtime wins, larceny as a rookie, etc.
Ask the Montreal Canadiens what he can do in the playoffs.

Hasek was pretty good as well.



Hall Of Famer said...

Many people probably won't agree with me here but I don't think the greatest goalie of all time is Roy, Hasek, Luongo, Turco or Brodeur although they aren't far off.
Ken dryden, Johnny Bower, Turk Broda, Gump Worsley and 2 recently succssful goalies. Michael Legihton of the flyers and Antti Niemi of the Blackhawks.
Both Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton were impresive in the 2010Stanley Cup playoffs, Antti Niemi ending up the happier of the 2 for obvious reasons.
I cannot decide and we might never know.

Anonymous said...

Fun article, but Bernie Parent of the Philadelphia Flyers was truly the "best of the best."

bill14224 said...

Kudos for the good article. Stats can be misleading so they have to be taken into proper context. Only Hasek, Sawchuck, and Hainsworth won 3 Vezinas with a GAA below 2. All the goalies we're comparing here played for good or great teams, except Hasek. To me that means a goalie like Hasek comes along every 30-40 years. That's why I think he's the best of the modern era. I also think it's very fair to say that during the years Hasek earned his nickname "The Dominator" he was the best in the business, even though he had a very unorthodox style that scared the hell out of me for a couple years until I got used to it! I also believe his unorthodox style was a factor as to why it took him so long to become an NHL starter.

bill14224 said...

Geez, how can "Hall of Famer" think Gump Worsley is one of the greatest ever? If you look at his career stats they are very average. In fact he lost more games than he won. Many goalies were as good or better for more seasons than "The Gumper".

Anonymous said...

Lets be clear about this - Roy have got 4 Stanley cups and 3 Conn Smythe trophies (what is a NHL record), Brodeur have 3 Stanley cups and 0 Conn Smythe trophies, and Hasek have 1 Stanley cup and 0 Conn Smythe trophies. So the best is Patrick Roy ;)

Joe Pelletier said...

If you include Olympic gold medals as equal to Stanley Cups, Hasek (1) and Brodeur (2 - one as a backup) quickly catch up to Roy. And Hasek was Olympic MVP in 1998.

Anonymous said...

As a Red Wings fan, there's only one goalie who could possibly be the best of all time: Patrick Roy. Never was a player more fun to hate.

Anonymous said...

Grant Fuhr.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, the best goalie...
Most all-time wins? Brodeur. Most regular season shutouts? Brodeur. Most post-season shutouts? Brodeur. Most 30-win seasons? Brodeur. Most 35-win seasons? Brodeur. Most 40-win seasons? Brodeur. Only NHL goaltender to score a game-winning goal? Brodeur. Most overtime wins? Brodeur. Most shootout wins? Brodeur. Most wins in a single season? Brodeur. Three Stanley Cups, four Vezinas, five William M. Jennings Trophies, Calder Trophy winner, ten-time NHL All Star, two Olympic gold medals, one gold and one silver World Cup medal, and two silver World Championship medals? Brodeur.
Roy and Hasek were great, but not the greatest.

Anonymous said...

These are valid points, but to me it's not fair comparision. If Hasek had the same chance to start as young to play in the NHL (remember, he got the chance to start to start in NHL not later than already 27-28 years old already).

Give Hasek the chance to play for the Devils behind that stacked device in his prime and I am pretty sure they would have doubled their number of cups. He was that good.

It's no coincidence, that while Roy and Hasek (well mostly just Hasek) played in their primes, Brodeur won exactly 0 vezinas in those times. He simply was not as good as Roy or Hasek. Only after past their primes Brodeur started to win those Vezinas. In my opinion for all time great goaltenders, Marty has solid place somewhere 5th or 6th all time. And all the evidence support this (check Hfboards for greatest goaltender votes for some hard facts).

"Anonymous said...

Hmm, the best goalie...
Most all-time wins? Brodeur. Most regular season shutouts? Brodeur. Most post-season shutouts? Brodeur. Most 30-win seasons? Brodeur. Most 35-win seasons? Brodeur. Most 40-win seasons? Brodeur. Only NHL goaltender to score a game-winning goal? Brodeur. Most overtime wins? Brodeur. Most shootout wins? Brodeur. Most wins in a single season? Brodeur. Three Stanley Cups, four Vezinas, five William M. Jennings Trophies, Calder Trophy winner, ten-time NHL All Star, two Olympic gold medals, one gold and one silver World Cup medal, and two silver World Championship medals? Brodeur.
Roy and Hasek were great, but not the greatest."

Anonymous said...

Dont matter your personal view. All the above are and were amazing goaltenders and will not to forgotten for there performences. They will ever be some of the best goal keepers that I have ever had the privilage to watch...... Ethched in the Stanley Cup

Anonymous said...

Oh cmon those 3 are the best goalies u cant say who is better. But Tretyak is A best LOL. Nowadays Lundqvist is like a breakwall, and young dude Quick showing some crazy reactions. Anyway it's a teamgame , I just LOVE the game

Anonymous said...

All 3 were great but...... BRODEUR!!!

Anonymous said...

No, let's really be clear. Your judging based solely on Stanley Cups and Conn Smythes is NOT an objective standard. Hasek played for a team that missed the playoffs the very first year they played without him after he went to the Red Wings. He elevated a sub-standard team into a playoff contender. Whereas Roy had a significantly better team in front of him. When it's a *team* sport, you cannot use the championships of the *team* to "prove" the superiority of a single player.

Hasek's performance against Brodeur when he made 70 saves in a 4 OT game against New Jersey is the most impressive performance of any goalie EVER. Not far behind is his shutting out Russian for the gold medal and in the semi-finals against Canada, he stopped all 5 of their shootout shooters. When you compare individual stats, in his prime, Hasek was the best. As others have pointed out, he had a later start.