Ranking the 10 Best NHL Goalies of the 1990s

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2013

Ranking the 10 Best NHL Goalies of the 1990s

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    The 1990s was a memorable decade in the NHL.

    Wayne Gretzky was still flying high, even if it was in the uniform of the Los Angeles Kings instead of the Edmonton Oilers. Mario Lemieux was putting his signature on the game and leading the Penguins to two Stanley Cup Championships. The Detroit Red Wings were beginning their two decades of dominance as the NHL's best all-around team.

    The 1990s saw some brilliant goaltending performances. The numbers don't compare with the miniscule goals-against numbers that many of today's goaltenders put up, but the game was more wide open and the equipment was smaller.

    Here's our look at the 10 best goalies of the 1990s. 

    (Thanks to QuanthHockey.com for providing stats from that decade. Team affiliations listed in the following pages are for the 1990s only.)

10. Felix Potvin; Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders

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    1990s stats: 436 games; 2.88 goals against average; .907 save percentage; 13 shutouts

    Major accomplishment: Two-time All-Star (1993-94, 1995-96)

    Overall impression: Felix Potvin played goal for the Toronto Maple Leaf from 1991 until late in the 1998-99 season. 

    Potvin used his quickness and acrobatic style to lead the Maple Leafs to the Western Conference Finals in the 1993 playoffs. The Maple Leafs held a 3-2 lead in the series, but they could not subdue Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings and dropped a pair of 5-4 decisions in the last two games of the series.

    Potvin had a 2.50 GAA and a .910 save percentage and two shutouts in 1992-93, his best season in the decade.

9. Kirk McLean; Vancouver Canucks, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers

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    1990s stats: 437 games; 3.17 goals against average; .890 save percentage; 17 shutouts

    Major accomplishment: Two-time All-Star (1989-90, 1991-92)

    Overall impression: The numbers in the 1990s are a couple of notches below what they have been for the last 10 years, but that does not mean McLean was not one of the better goalies of the decade. 

    McLean was at his best in the 1993-94 season, when he backstopped the Canucks to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Canucks extended the New York Rangers to seven games in that series and his performances in that playoff year against the Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs was the main reason the Canucks got as far as they did.

    McLean was very quick and athletic in the goal and he had the ability to slide post-to-post in order to make the difficult save. He struggled after the 1996-97 season, but he was one of the top goalies in the league prior to that.

8. Mike Vernon; Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks

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    1990s stats: 484 games; 2.81 goals against average; .894 save percentage; 20 shutouts

    Major accomplishments: Won 1990 Stanley Cup with Red Wings; Three-time All-Star (1989-90, 1990-91, 1992-93)

    Overall impression: Vernon was a top goalie in the 1980s and backstopped the Calgary Flames to their Stanley Cup in 1989. When the Flames started to rebuild and the improving Red Wings found themselves in need of a goaltender, he was traded to Detroit.

    He had several excellent years with the Red Wings, and he was in goal when they reached the 1995 Stanley Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils. While the Red Wings were swept in that series, Vernon played very well (2.31 GAA) throughout the playoffs.

    He eventually gave way to Chris Osgood in goal, but head coach Scotty Bowman inserted Vernon back into the lineup as the 1997 playoffs got underway. He led the Red Wings to 16 victories and the second Stanley Cup of his career.

7. Curtis Joseph; St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    1990s stats: 572 games; 2.87 goals against average; .912 save percentage; 36 shutouts

    Major accomplishments: One-time All-Star (1993-94)

    Overall impression: Curtis Joseph became one of the top workhorse goalies in the NHL in the early 1990s. Beginning with the 1991-92 season, Joseph played 60, 68 and 71 games in consecutive seasons.

    Joseph was known for his aggressiveness in the net, and he was at his best in the 1992-93 season when he faced an onslaught of shots from the Toronto Maple Leafs in their playoff series. Joseph stopped 119 of 122 shots in the first two games of the series—both double overtime games—but the Blues were eventually eliminated in seven games.

    Joseph also helped the Oilers and Maple Leafs make the playoffs in the '90s, and he continued to play at or near the top of his game well into the next decade.

6. John Vanbiesbrouck; New York Rangers, Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers

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    1990s stats: 513 games; 2.64 goals against average; .908 save percentage; 31 shutouts

    Major accomplishments: Three-time All-Star (1993-94, 1995-96, 1996-97)

    Overall impression: Vanbiesbrouck quickly established himself in the New York Rangers' net in 1981-82 and he remained the team's top goaltender through the 1992-93 season. The following year, he was the top goalie for the expansion Florida Panthers.

    Vanbiesbrouck's play gave the expansion team instant credibility. He took the Panthers on a shocking run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1995-96 as he posted a 12-10 record with a 2.25 GAA and .932 save percentage.

    While the Panthers were eventually swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final, Vanbiesbrouck demonstrated once again how a sensational goaltending performance could help a less talented team survive and advance in the postseason.

5. Ed Belfour; Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars

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    1990s stats: 589 games; 2.42 goals against average; .908 save percentage; 49 shutouts

    Major accomplishments: One Stanley Cup Championship (1998-99); Two-time Vezina Trophy winner (1990-91, 1992-93); Five-time All-Star (1991-92, 1992-93, 1995-96, 1997-98, 1998-99).

    Overall impression: Ed Belfour helped make the Chicago Blackhawks a respectable franchise in the early 1990s when he used his quick reflexes, athleticism and quick glove hand to keep them in many games that they would not have been able to win without him.

    Belfour was a workhorse throughout his career, but never moreso than during his early years with the Blackhawks when he played 70 or more games in three of four years, starting with the 1990-91 season.

    Belfour helped the Dallas Stars earn their only Stanley Cup Championship in 1998-99, when he backstopped a playoff run that culminated with a six-game triumph over Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres. Belfour had a 16-7 record with a 1.67 GAA and a .930 save percentage during that playoff season.

4. Martin Brodeur; New Jersey Devils

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    1990s stats: 447 games; 2.20 goals against average; .913 save percentage; 42 shutouts

    Major accomplishments: One Stanley Cup Championship (1994-95); Five-time All-Star (1995-96, 1996-97, 1997-98, 1997-98, 1998-99).

    Overall impression: Brodeur would go on to have an even better career in the next decade, but he was still one of the best in the 1990s.

    Brodeur took over as the New Jersey Devils' starting goalie in the 1993-94 season, and the Devils got to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers. The Devils led that series 3-2, but they were done in by Mark Messier's guarantee in Game 6 and Stefan Matteau's double-overtime goal in Game 7.

    The following season, Brodeur led the Devils to their first Stanley Cup title. Not only did he have a 16-4 record in the postseason, he had a 1.67 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

    Brodeur holds nearly every important record in the sport and a great case can be made that he is the best goaltender in NHL history.

3. Mike Richter; New York Rangers

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    1990s stats: 530 games; 2.85 goals against average; .905 save percentage; 22 shutouts

    Major accomplishments: One Stanley Cup Championship (1993-94); Two-time All-Star (1991-92, 1993-94).

    Overall impression: Mike Richter will always have a special place in the hearts of New York Rangers fans.

    He backstopped the Rangers during their magical 1993-94 season when they had the best regular-season record in the NHL and went on to win their first Stanley Cup since 1940.

    The Rangers have not won another Stanley Cup since, but Madison Square Garden shook with hysterical joy when the Rangers defeated the Vancouver Canucks in seven games in the Stanley Cup Final series. 

    Richter had a 16-7 won-lost record in that playoff run with a 2.07 GAA, a .921 save percentage and four shutouts.

2. Patrick Roy; Montreal Canadiens, Colorado Avalanche

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    1990s stats: 600 games; 2.56 goals against average; .912 save percentage; 36 shutouts

    Major accomplishments: Two Stanley Cup Championships (1992-93, 1995-96); Two-time Vezina Trophy winner (1989-90, 1991-92); Seven-time All-Star (1989-90, 1990-91, 1991-92, 1992-93, 1993-94, 1996-97, 1997-98).

    Overall impression: Roy is one of the most decorated and highly respected goaltenders in NHL history. In addition to the two Stanley Cups he won in the 1990s, he also was victorious in 1985-86 with the Canadiens and 2000-01 with the Avalanche.

    Roy was a sensational reflex goaltender who was among the quickest and most instinctive players ever to play the position. Roy had perhaps the greatest run of any goaltender in the '93 Stanley Cup run when he had a 16-4 record, a 2.13 GAA and a .929 save percentage.

    The Canadiens won 10 consecutive overtime games during that memorable playoff year, and Roy was in net for every game.

1. Dominik Hasek; Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres

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    1990s stats: 449 games; 2.26 goals against average; .926 save percentage; 45 shutouts

    Major accomplishments: Four-time Vezina Trophy winner (1994-95, 1996-97, 1997-98, 1998-99); Four-time All-Star (1995-96, 1996-97, 1997-98, 1998-99).

    Overall impression: Dominik Hasek had a brief opportunity to play with the Blackhawks, but they did not see fit to keep him. They made an ill-advised trade with the Buffalo Sabres and he became one of the decade's best players.

    Hasek specialized in making the stop when he appeared to have no chance. He combined this never-say-die attitude with perhaps the best reactions the game has ever seen.

    Hasek led the Sabres to the 1999 Stanley Cup Final, and they gave the Dallas Stars a solid battle. However, the series ended up in heartbreak for Hasek and his teammates when Brett Hull scored a controversial goal in triple overtime of the sixth game that allowed the Stars to lift the Stanley Cup.