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Chicago Blackhawks: 12 Best Goalies in Franchise History

Dan RobaczewskiContributor IIIJanuary 14, 2017

Chicago Blackhawks: 12 Best Goalies in Franchise History

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    Goaltending has always been an anomaly for the Chicago Blackhawks.

    The organization frequently goes through spells of mediocre to poor netminding, and often has difficulty finding consistency in the position. It contributed heavily to the team's poor runs endured in the late 1990s/early 2000s, and is largely a contributing factor when the team finds itself out of contention time and time again.

    However, given their long and storied history, the Hawks have come across some elite talent—once-in-a-lifetime netminding gems who have rebuilt the franchise and even helped to evolve and transform the goaltending position.

    Given the current freeze frame on the hockey world, let's take a trip through history and rank the top 12 goaltenders to have adorned the Indian head sweater.

12. Nikolai Khabibulin

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    Nikolai Khabibulin came to Chicago with the expectation that he would solidify that enigmatic number one goalie issue that plagued the Blackhawks at the beginning of the new millennium.

    He did not.

    He joined a team littered with mainly depth players and burgeoning young talent that had not yet reached its potential. The Hawks’ leading scorers then were Mark Bell and Kyle Calder. They had no star power to speak of.

    Khabibulin was tossed in with the mediocrity of the mid-2000s. Oft-injured and inconsistent, his first season saw his goals-against average inflate to 3.35 and his save percentage dip far below the .900 percent mark.

    However, as the team got better, so did he, and Khabibulin ended up finishing his stint with the Hawks with a winning record, largely due to his final season, where he went 25-8-7. He took the Hawks to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in over a decade, but succumbed to injury yet again, and the Hawks ended up losing to the Detroit Red Wings in five games.

11. Dominik Hasek

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    Had this list featured any other team that Dominik Hasek played for in the NHL, the Dominator would no doubt find himself much higher on it.

    Hasek only played 25 regular season games in a Blackhawks sweater, but he went 13-4-2 with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage—not bad numbers at all for the era in which he was playing.

    He also showed his tenacity in the playoffs, most notably in game four of the 1992 Stanley Cup finals, when he played in relief of Ed Belfour, and made a series of flamboyant and creative saves against Mario Lemieux and the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Hasek was eventually traded out of Chicago to the Buffalo Sabres, where he would begin to cement his legacy.

10. Al Rollins

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    Al Rollins has the unpleasant distinction of holding the record for most losses in a single season for a Blackhawks netminder.

    He was the team's starting goaltender from 1952 until 1957 and played 308 games for the organization. His record was 81-171-56—by far the worst of any player on this list.

    However, he is also the only player on this list to have won the Hart Memorial Trophy—awarded to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team.

    Rollins won the award in 1953-54, where the team went 12-51-7. Despite the Hawks horrendous showing, Rollins won all 12 games, recorded a 3.23 goals-against average with 5 shutouts.

    He played for a dismal Hawks team, but Rollins was still valued as one of the better goaltenders in the league during the late 1950s, and his Hart Trophy is a testament to that.

9. Denis DeJordy

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    Denis DeJordy was the netminder sandwiched between the runs of Hall-of-Famers Glenn Hall and Tony Esposito, and he had several productive seasons with the Blackhawks.

    DeJordy was paired with Hall in the 1966-67 season and the two shared the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltending duo in the league. He would be the Hawks starting netminder the following two seasons, in the end, sporting a winning-record of 90-69-32.

8. Lorne Chabot

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    Lorne Chabot was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in a multi-player deal and only played one year in Chicago before the Hawks sold his contract to the Montreal Maroons.

    In his only full season with the Hawks, Chabot would play in 48 games, going 26-17-5 with a 1.80 goals-against average and 8 shutouts.

    Chabot's play for the Hawks earned him the only Vezina Trophy of his career and the distinction of being the first hockey player to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine.

7. Antti Niemi

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    Antti Niemi had a comparable run in Chicago to Chabot.

    Niemi only played one full season for the Blackhawks, going 26-7-4 with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.

    Both goaltenders had very solid campaigns for the Hawks, and both ended up undeservedly ousted from their starting roles shortly after cementing them.

    The biggest difference between the two is the hardware involved. Chabot earned himself a very well-deserved individual accolade in the Vezina Trophy; Niemi won a Stanley Cup.

6. Mike Karakas

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    Mike Karakas built quite a legacy during the early days of the NHL. He was the first American born and trained hockey goaltender; he won the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year in 1936; and he introduced the trapper-style glove to the NHL. But Karakas is undoubtedly most well-known for bringing the Blackhawks their second Stanley Cup in franchise history.

    The Blackhawks had a sub-.500 record during the 1937-38 regular season. Blackhawks owner, Frederic McLaughlin, demanded that his team consist of only American-born players. The team ended up going 14-25-9, but finished two points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings to clinch a playoff spot in the league’s American Division.

    Karakas miraculously led his team to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but suffered a broken toe prior to Game 1. He would sit out the first two games before coming back with a steel-toed skate and winning both games he played in the Finals that year to give the Hawks their second Cup.

5. Jeff Hackett

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    Jeff Hackett arrived in Chicago from San Jose during the 1993 offseason.

    He would split time with Ed Belfour for several seasons, serving primarily as his back-up. However, he still saw substantial time, and by the 1995-96 season saw himself playing in 30+ games.

    Hackett played so well during the 1996-97 season, the Hawks felt comfortable dealing star netminder and fan-favorite, Ed Belfour, to the San Jose Sharks midway through the season. Hackett posted a .927 save percentage in 41 games—the highest single-season save percentage of any Hawks’ netminder.

    At the end of his tenure in Chicago, Hackett would collect 63 wins, 75 losses and 25 ties with a 2.45 goals-against average. His .913 save percentage is the highest of any former Blackhawks goaltender.

4. Chuck Gardiner

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    Chuck Gardiner was a fantastic talent and tough competitor. His legacy in Chicago is as renowned as it is infamous.

    Professionally, he would only ever play for the Blackhawks, winning the Vezina Trophy twice, being named to the NHL First All-Star Team three times and leading the NHL in games-played every season he performed.

    In 1933-34 (his final season), Gardiner was elected captain of the Hawks and posted a 20-17-11 record and a 1.63 goals-against average—currently the record for lowest single-season goals-against average for the franchise.

    In the playoffs, he would go 6-1-1 with a 1.33 goals-against average—also a franchise record. His performance helped the Blackhawks win their first ever Stanley Cup, and Gardiner is the only goaltender to have captained his team to a Stanley Cup victory.

    During his last several seasons, Gardiner was known to be suffering from a tonsil infection and would often deceive his teammates and his coaching staff to play through it. There were times he would perform feverish and in pain—seeking attention between intermissions or after the game.

    A couple months after the Hawks’ first ever Stanley Cup win, Gardiner suffered a brain hemorrhage and slipped into a coma. He never awoke.

    Gardiner was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame posthumously in 1945.

3. Ed Belfour

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    Ed Belfour went undrafted and signed to the Blackhawks as a free-agent on September 25, 1987.

    Belfour’s first full season with the Hawks was in 1990-91, and it is considered by many to be one of the greatest single-season efforts by any performer in league history.

    That year, he went 41-19-7 with a 2.47 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. He was awarded the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, the Vezina Trophy as best goaltender and the William Jennings Memorial Trophy for least amount of goals-allowed. He was also nominated for the Hart Trophy as most valuable player to his team—a rare accomplishment for a netminder, never mind one who was only in his first season of play.

    Belfour ended his career as a Blackhawk going 201-138-56. His 240 penalty minutes are by the far the most of any former Hawks netminder. He also faced 10,810 shots in a Blackhawks sweater—still a franchise record.

    He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011—his first year of eligibility.

2. Glenn Hall

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    Glenn Hall was traded from the Detroit Red Wings to Chicago in the notorious Ted Lindsay trade in 1957.

    Despite early struggles, Hall excelled with the Hawks, and—with the emergence of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita—they gradually became one of the league’s better teams.

    During the 1960-61 season, Hall led the entire league in games-played and shutouts. That year, he helped lead the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup since 1938.

    Hall also has the distinction of playing more consecutive games than any goaltender in league history. He played in 552 consecutive games—a record largely seen as unbreakable.

1. Tony Esposito

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    Tony Esposito started his career with the Montreal Canadiens, but was claimed by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1969 in what was then known as the “inter-league draft”—a system in place that allowed lower-tier teams to select unprotected players from teams in contention in an attempt to level the playing field.

    In his first full season as a starter, Esposito won 38 games and collected 15 shutouts—an NHL record that still stands. He would win the Calder and Vezina Trophies and was named to the NHL First All-Star Team.

    More than anyone, Esposito revolutionized the goaltending position, pioneering the butterfly-style that is now the preferred goaltending technique among NHL players. He had great mobility and a quick glove hand, and his unorthodox style befuddled opposing players and became extremely effective.

    Esposito holds Blackhawks records for most games played (873), most wins (418), most shutouts (74), most playoff games played (99), most playoff wins (45) and most playoff shutouts (6).

    He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988. His legacy popularized the number 35 among goaltenders, and the number was retired by the Blackhawks in November 1988.

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