Terry Sawchuk was a hard man to understand off the ice throughout his life, which unfortunately, ended too soon. On the ice, he was one of the best players the NHL has ever seen. At the age of 12, Sawchuk injured his arm badly to the point that it had a serious break in it, but he never told anyone. As a result, Sawchuk had one arm that was two inches longer than the other. While it may have impacted the clothing he bought or wore, it certainly did not impact his level of play on the ice.
Sawchuk coming up with the team for a cup of coffee (7 games) in 1949-50, eventually left Detroit Red Wings GM Jack Adams with a gutsy decision to make, when he chose to trade Harry Lumsley, who was coming off a Stanley Cup Championship, to open the starting goaltender spot for Sawchuk before the 1950-51 season. Sawchuk would go on to make Adams look good, by winning the Calder Trophy that season, after leading the league in games, wins and shutouts. His 1.99 GAA was only good enough for second in the league.
The next four years, Sawchuk would do even better, as he posted a sub-2 GAA in each year, while also adding 45 shutouts, 151 wins, and more importantly, three Stanley Cup championships. Despite the success Sawchuk was having on the ice, injuries and a mental strain were taking their toll on him off the ice. As a result, he was constantly fighting injuries of all kinds, including a back injury, worries about his mental health, and a chest injury from a car accident, all impacted Sawchuk at different points in his career.
After his third Stanley Cup title in 1955, Sawchuk was traded to the Boston Bruins, in a 9-player deal. His time in Boston was cut short, as Sawchuk would "retire" from the Bruins in January 1957, from "nervous exhaustion." That summer, he would be dealt back to Detroit, where he seemed to feel more comfortable. However, the same level of success was not there for Sawchuk, mainly because of injuries, one after taking a Bobby Hull slap shot to the face, and also to his hand after having it skated over by Bob Pulford of Toronto.
That's not to say Sawchuk was bad or anything close to it, but he never did approach the sub-2 GAA he had in his first five seasons. Injuries were a primary culprit, as Sawchuk only played above 60 games in two of the seven years in his second stint with the Red Wings. This was after playing in at least 63 games each of his first full six years in the league (the seventh was when he "retired" and only played in 38).
He also never topped five shutouts in a year either, after having posted 66 in his first six-plus seasons. In 1964, he was left exposed in the Intra-League draft, and was taken by the Toronto Maple Leafs, where Sawchuk teamed up with Johnny Bower to form a very successful yet aging duo, capped by a Stanley Cup title in 1967, to this day, the last time Toronto captured the Stanley Cup.
After that Cup, his career took a downturn of sorts, being taken by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1967 Expansion Draft, where he played in just 36 games in the 1967-68 season before being dealt back to the Detroit Red Wings for a third stint. He played in one more season for the Red Wings, suiting up for just 13 games and was dealt that off-season to the New York Rangers, where he would play the final eight games of his career.
Tragedy found Sawchuk on the night of April 29, 1970, when he was allegedly wrestling and/or horsing around with teammate and close friend Ron Stewart, when Sawchuk fell awkwardly and needed to be rushed to a hospital. It led to the removal of Sawchuk's gall bladder, and about a month later, Sawchuk died from internal injuries brought on likely different events and injuries throughout his career.
His career numbers were about as good as anyone could ever hope for, as he was the first goalie to net 100 shutouts. In 971 career games, he had a record of 447-330-172, a GAA of 2.51 and 103 shutouts. Those numbers left Sawchuk as the game's all-time leader in wins and shutouts at the time his career ended. Due to the tragic nature of his untimely death, the normal five-year waiting period for election to the Hockey Hall of Fame was waived, and Sawchuk was inducted in 1971. He is in the top five of all-time goalies, and a case could easily be made for him to hold the top spot. Surprisingly, he is only No.2 on this list however.