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Martin Brodeur's Retirement Starts the Never-Ending Debate on NHL Great's Legacy

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterJanuary 27, 2015

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 13: The New Jersey Devils team tap their sticks to honor goalie Martin Brodeur #30 as Brodeur (R) salutes the fans after the Devils defeated the Boston Bruins in the final game of the 2013-2014 NHL season at the Prudential Center on April 13, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Bruins 3-2. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Andy Marlin/Getty Images

It's a debate that will rage (or at least, exist) as long as a lot of us live.

Who is the best goaltender in the history of the NHL—Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek?

With Brodeur set to announce his retirement from the St. Louis Blues (still weird to type) on Thursday, we can finally look at the careers of all three goaltenders and see how each measures against the others.

I'm at an age where I can say I got to watch the careers of all three pretty closely, although not entirely professionally. I was six when Roy was a rookie, 12 when Hasek was a rookie and 15 when Brodeur got his start in the NHL. The only one I covered professionally was Brodeur, so it's not as though I have this perfect, analytical perspective on who truly was the best goaltender of the bunch.

While there is plenty of overlap between their careers, Roy broke into a much different league than Brodeur, so there's a fair bit of apples and oranges in this popular topic.

Here's a look at the pertinent career numbers for all three goaltenders.

Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy career numbers
PlayerGamesWinsPlayoff WinsStanley CupsVezinasSave %GAA
Brodeur1,26668811334.9122.24
Roy1,02955115143.9102.54
Hasek7353896526.9222.20
Hockey-Reference
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Some notes about those statistics to put them in a better context, but certainly not a perfect one.

• Brodeur lost 148 games to lockouts while Hasek lost 106, although Roy was only shorted the 34 games missed in 1994-95. Roy retired after the 2002-03 season, so the season-long lockout of 2004-05 did not have any bearing on his overall numbers. This is also something to keep in mind if you hear an argument that Brodeur's win totals are inflated because of shootout wins; he probably makes up that amount (26) if not for labor stoppages Roy didn't have to endure.

• Hasek's didn't become a full-time starter until he was 29 while Brodeur and Roy got their first NHL tastes at 19. That's why Hasek's numbers are more concentrated greatness while Brodeur and Roy benefited from longevity.

• Hasek is the only one of the three to win the Hart Trophy; Brodeur finished third in voting twice while Roy had one third-place finish in 2002.

It feels weird to say about three guys who spent more than a decade playing at the same time, but it's extremely difficult to compare their careers and come to a definitive, majority opinion on who was best.

Maybe looking at their numbers compared to their contemporaries will help. How did they fare compared to everyone else during the meat of their careers?

From 1985-2003, Roy had a .910 save percentage; the league average over that time was .894.

From 1993-2008, Hasek had a .924 save percentage; the league average over that time was .905.

From 1993-2014, Brodeur had a .917 save percentage; the league average over that time was .907.

PAUL SANCYA/Associated Press

Hasek is correctly lauded for having perhaps the most dominant stretches of these three goaltenders, winning five Vezinas in six seasons, but Roy was far better than his contemporaries while spending part of his career trying to stop pucks in a more wide-open NHL. Brodeur, meanwhile, was far better than his competition and his career numbers are hurt by his final three seasons in the NHL, but he wasn't on the same level as Roy or Hasek in this regard.

The area where Brodeur far exceeds Roy and Hasek is puck-handling. Only the most special players in NHL history can force the league to change a rule just for them, which is what happened when a trapezoid was installed behind the net, limiting the area in which Brodeur...I mean, all goalies...could play the puck. Teams had to spend time strategizing about dump-ins, as Brodeur would quickly turn poor ones into breakout passes the other way.

Some people like to compare these goalies in head-to-head matchups, but those minuscule sample sizes don't matter. If you think Roy is a better all-time goaltender because he beat Brodeur in a Stanley Cup Final Game 7, do you think Brodeur is better than Hasek because the latter beat the former in Game 7 of a first-round matchup in 1994?

Of course not. We're talking about one game out of thousands.

So let's tackle the two age-old questions about these three guys.

Who would you choose to win one playoff game, a Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final?

And, of course, who is the best of the three? Whose career do you think was the best?

For me, perhaps strangely, I answer each question differently.

In a one-game, winner-take-all, I take Hasek. Maybe that's crazy to say about someone who lacks the playoff pedigree of the other two guys, but he was the one goaltender who would terrify me because he has the greatest chance of stealing that one game. See: Olympics, Canada, shootout.

For a career? Who would I want in my net for 15-20 years?

I'll go with Brodeur over Roy by the slimmest of margins. 

The argument about Brodeur's greatness usually boils down to two things: He played behind a slew of great defensemen, and he played in a trapping system. Both things are true, no question, but it's not as though Roy was lugging around garbage teams in Montreal and Colorado. There were quite a few Hall of Famers on those teams, same as the Devils.

While Brodeur didn't have to play in the late 1980s like Roy did, he did have to play in the post-2005 NHL that featured a slew of rule changes to increase scoring and without the likes of Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko. All Brodeur did was go Vezina runner-up-Vezina-Vezina in the first three seasons out of the lockout at ages 33, 34 and 35 before finishing third in 2010 at the age of 37.

That also happens to be age when Roy retired. He was still close to the top of his game when he retired, but he played the final years of his career in the dead-puck era while Brodeur was still quite formidable at the same age in a far more difficult league for goaltenders.

There you have it. Hasek for one game, Brodeur for all of them.

And Roy can be the backup on those teams any time he wants.

All statistics via NHL.com and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

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