Ranking the Best Goalie Masks in the NHL Today

Franklin Steele@SteeleOnIceFeatured Columnist IIINovember 14, 2021

Ranking the Best Goalie Masks in the NHL Today

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    NHL players are notorious for trying to avoid the spotlight. If a reporter asks a question that is too individualistic, it's not uncommon for them to duck the inquiry or talk about teammates instead.

    The we have always been more important than the when it comes to hockey. And there are pros and cons to that.

    That lack of personality can make it hard to market superstars, especially in a landscape dominated by the storylines that emerge from the NBA, NFL and, to a lesser extent, MLB.

    Yet somehow, the sport is also home to the most unique piece of gear in all of sport: the goalie mask. On this canvas and this canvas alone, players are allowed to express themselves loud and clear without being deemed a showboat.

    While the NHL is slowly starting to embrace the impact off-ice fashion can have on popularity, the goalie mask has been a creative outlet for netminders for decades now. When you think of Curtis Joseph, do you think of his 19-year pro career or his trademark Cujo-inspired helmet?

    There's no denying that he was a stellar goalie, but a big part of his legacy is that iconic mask.

    So which netminders have the best helmets these days? We have a few favorites, but this is about as subjective as a list can get, and we'd love to hear about which masks you love and why down in the comments section.

    Also, keep in mind, we're sticking with gear from the 2021-22 season; there are a handful of goalies who have had rad helmets over the last several campaigns, but we're focusing on current netminders and their masks here.

12. Philipp Grubauer

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Seattle Kraken have one of the most standout sweaters and color combinations in the NHL. After the team announced its name and unveiled its logo this summer, it set an expansion-team merchandise sales record, according to Fanatics.

    And things haven't slowed down for the league's newest franchise, either. 

    "Sales, in fact, are the highest in league history for a newly released jersey in its first five days of availability, according to the NHL," Greg Wyshynski of ESPN reported in September.

    Goalie Philipp Grubauer had one of the best-selling sweaters after signing with the Kraken as a free agent in July. The 2020-21 Vezina Trophy finalist also has one of the coolest masks in the league, heavily featuring the Kraken's signature mix of sea-inspired blues with deep red accents.

    In particular, we're big fans of the giant anchors that adorn the bottom part of the helmet along the chin. There's also a fantastic amount of detail done by goalie mask artist extraordinaire David Gunnarsson. For an even better look at Grubauer's helmer and what makes it special, check out Gunnarsson's Instagram post.

    Also, Gunnarsson is the most prolific artist in this particular space, so he is a name that you'll see a handful of times throughout this list.

11. Mikko Koskinen

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    A lot of the masks on this list feature over-the-top graphics and an intense amount of detail. There's something to be said for simplicity, however.

    Consider the classic helmet that former netminder Jonas Hiller sported while playing for the Anaheim Ducks. Edmonton Oilers' netminder Mikko Koskinen's bucket isn't that stripped-down, but it's definitely the cleanest look we'll feature here.

    Maybe it's just because we're big fans of orange, but the contrast on this piece of gear is difficult not to like. We think the oversized logo feature is pretty awesome too. It's a bit of a change of pace for a netminder that has featured some elaborate art on his helmets. 

    Consider this look from a few years back that featured his dog, Chili. Koskinen also honored Colby Cave on his mask when play resumed following the shutdown in 2020. Cave died at the age of 25 after suffering from a brain bleed.

    These are a few examples of just how netminders are able to showcase what's important to them in ways that few other athletes are able to. Koskinen's look is a bit more relaxed this year, but we still think it's one of the slicker masks in the league.

10. Igor Shesterkin

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    Jared Silber/Getty Images

    After a decade and a half of enjoying "King" Henrik Lundqvist's rule over the crease, the New York Rangers appear to have another rock star in net in Igor Shesterkin. We ranked the 25-year-old goalie as one of the 30 best players in the league ahead of the season, and he's played up to that standard. 

    The former fourth-round pick is among the league leaders in GSAA and has the Blueshirts in the thick of things for the top spot in the stacked Metropolitan Division. 

    Not every high-end goalie has an equally high-end mask, but we love Shesterkin's helmet this season. Maybe it's that throwback Statue of Liberty logo that adorns the side of the gear. Or the gargoyle-looking eagles. How could one not love gargoyle eagles?

    The Rangers have arguably one of the best sweaters in the sport, which means that they also have an outstanding and classic color combination. That's on full display here on Shesterkin's mask, which also features a few playing cards subtly tied into the design.

    That's an interesting detail because Shesterkin also had the ace and the six on his mask a year ago. This is a mask design that looks like it'll stick for the young netminder, and we can't wait to see what his design looks like next season.

9. Petr Mrazek

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    Kevin Sousa/Getty Images

    Petr Mrazek's mask is about as Toronto as Toronto gets. The netminder signed on with the Toronto Maple Leafs a three-year deal this past offseason and clearly wanted to pay tribute to the city with his fresh helmet.

    Gunnarsson touched on that fact when he unveiled the mask on Instagram, writing the following:

    "Petr wanted his new Leafs mask to be a tribute to the city of Toronto and The Hockey Hall Of Fame⭐️🥅🏒. We brainstormed and came up with a clean and crisp design in total sync with the Leaf uniforms🔄. It is built on the contrasts of the beautiful Leafs logo and subtle 3️⃣-D effects."

    The detail in the helmet, like with all of Gunnarsson's work, is staggering. The Toronto skyline is highly stylized and prominently displayed on one side, while the Hockey Hall of Fame stands tall on the other. The addition of silver paint to go along with the traditional Maple Leaf blue is also a fantastic touch and one we're 100 percent on board with.

    Mrazek seems to understand that he'll be playing games in the mecca of hockey for the next few seasons, and it's great to see him embrace that fact through the art on his mask.

    He's on long-term injured reserve with a groin injury, leaving Jack Campbell to take on the lion's share of starts in the meantime.

8. Carter Hart

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    Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

    We're bending the rules a bit by including Carter Hart's mask here since he technically debuted the look towards the end of last season. But this mask is rock 'n' roll inspired, and what's more rock-inspired than breaking the rules just a little? Even when those rules are self-imposed.

    The Philadelphia Flyers backstop has only been in the NHL for four years, but he's established himself as a goalie who always has elite-level masks. This one prominently features members of AC/DC and is a nod to the goalie's off-ice hobby of playing the guitar.

    He spoke to Jordan Hall of NBCSports.com about that in January.

    "I think that's the most important thing is to find ways to get away from the game so that you can be more present in where you're at," Hart said. He also told Hill that he'd been trying to learn '90s rock classic "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" by The Smashing Pumpkins.

    Awesome.

    The former second-round pick has long been hailed as Philadelphia's goaltending savior, as it's a position they have historically struggled to fill. After a rocky 2020-21, Hart appears to be gaining his footing with a reshaped defensive core in front of him. He sports a positive GSAA, a marked improvement over the minus-22.6 he posted a year ago.

7. Elvis Merzlikins

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    Jared Silber/Getty Images

    A few things jump out at you when you take in Elvis Merzlikins' mask.

    For starters, you'll notice that it has No. 80 on the chin, where typically goalies will have their own number, nickname, or team name. That isn't the case for Merzlikins, who wears No. 90 for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 80 is in honor of Matiss Kivlenieks, who tragically and heroically died over the summer following a fireworks accident.

    Merzlikins spoke to Jeff Svoboda of NHL.com about the mask in September:

    "I want him close to me. I always want him with me. I know he is going to always be with me and he is going to look on from up there and help me. That's the minimum of what he can do for me because he is not here with anymore with us. The passion and love that he had for this game, that is what he is going to do, and I believe that.

    The mask contains several more nods to Kivlenieks as well as Heath Ledger's version of The Joker. It's not the first time the comic-book-villain-turned-icon has appeared on Merzlikins' mask, having rocked a similar design a few years ago as well.

    Merzlikins said during the offseason that he wanted to win the Vezina Trophy, and so far, he and the 7-5-0 Blue Jackets have been one of the bigger surprises early on in the season.

6. Adin Hill

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    We're trying to be as objective as possible as we break down these masks. Personal opinion will always play a role in lists like this, though. These helmets are art, after all, and what's more subjective than art?

    So we're going to let that subjectivity run wild for just one pick because we love sharks. Not necessarily the San Jose Shark—just the animal, in general, is pretty awesome. And the depiction of one of the ocean's apex predators on Adin Hill's mask is simply sensational.

    According to Hill's Twitter, his little brother and father helped artist Friedesigns design the mask, which is about as wholesome as it gets. There's also a touching tribute to Michael Maniago, who died early in the netminder's career.

    The airbrush work here is on another level entirely. Curiously, there's a shark depicted on one side with an octopus tentacle hanging from its mouth. It could be a coincidence, but the Kraken did just enter the NHL this season.

    Or maybe Hill isn't a big fan of the Detroit Red Wings, whose fans have been known to throw octopi onto the ice following a goal at home games. Regardless, this is a fantastic mask and one of the cooler ones in the NHL.

5. Juuse Saros

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Several of the masks we've showcased up to this point have had subtle details that make them unique. Juuse Saros', on the other hand, is just flat-out bad as hell. Seriously, take a closer look at this thing.

    It's another piece by Gunnarsson, and it's among the better masks that he's produced this season. This is really saying something since the man is basically the Wayne Gretzky of netminder helmet art. 

    It's a "new mask, who dis?" situation for Saros. In seasons past, he has rocked more simple designs featuring the Nashville Predators' guitar pick logo. Saros entered this year having emerged from the retired Pekka Rinne's shadow entirely, though, and his growth as a player and a person seems to be on full display on his mask.

    Over the summer, the 26-year-old netminder went through many positive changes, as Paul Skrbina of The Nashville Tennessean chronicled in mid-October. He got engaged, got some tattoos and moved to Finland to work out with other NHL players during the offseason.

    Saros willed the Predators into the playoffs last season, and as the de facto No.1 in Nashville, this year is playing well enough while sporting a 3.9 GSAA through his first 11 starts. And we can't think of a better way to open our top five than with this incredible and intricate design.

4. Jacob Markstrom

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    If we were doing a power ranking of each franchise in terms of how cool their masks have been historically, the Calgary Flames would earn the top spot. And it probably wouldn't really be all that close. The team's identity lends itself to awe-inspiring works of goalie mask art, and Jacob Markstrom has leaned into that entirely.

    His helmet contains nods to former Flames netminders and their awesome designs. Cristina Ledra of NHL.com broke down the homage that Markstrom is paying in September, writing the following:

    "On top of the mask is a fire-breathing dragon like the one Trevor Kidd wore during the 1995-96 season. Miikka Kiprusoff's angry flying skull is on one side, and the design from Mike Vernon's mask during the 1993-94 season is featured along the jawline."

    Kidd might be more well known for his iconic fire-breathing dragon mask than his actual play out on the ice. He spent half a decade with the Flames, compiling a 72-66-26 record to go along with a .898 save percentage. His 1994-95 season was the only time that he posted a positive GSAA in Calgary. But that mask, though. Oof.

    We strongly considered giving Markstrom the No. 1 spot, but the trio ahead of him are just a bit more deserving.

3. Cal Petersen

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    Bit of a spoiler here, but the two masks that we have ranked ahead of Cal Petersen's are draped in sentimentality. We love the personal expression that goalie masks open the door for, as we discussed in our open, and we think the top trio used the space on their helmets for personal nods that are impossible to ignore.

    Full disclosure, though: We think this is the best mask in the NHL strictly from a design standpoint. Bar none, game over and end of discussion.

    Petersen's career with the Los Angeles Kings is just getting started, as the 27-year-old netminder just recently appeared in his 60th game for the franchise. But, as longtime L.A. scribe John Hoven opined back in September, Petersen may already have the dopest mask in the history of the Kings organization. 

    "In recent seasons, Petersen has paid tribute to the Kings past by featuring a number of elements and iconography previously used by (Robb) Stauber," wrote Hoven. "For example, both of his masks last season (the primary black and white mask, along with his purple and gold Reverse Retro look), had a similar King graphic on top."

    This is the first appearance on this list for a mask from Bishop Designs, and based on their history of work, we can't help but wonder why more netminders in the NHL don't utilize their services. Hoven also disclosed that Petersen is working on a mask to go along with Los Angeles' new alternative sweaters, and we can not wait to see what that helmet looks like.

2. Jaroslav Halak

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    At first glance, Vancouver Canucks goalie Jaroslav Halak's mask might not seem like it belongs on a list like this. It's another fantastic piece from Gunnarsson, to be sure. All of his work is generally outstanding for the attention to detail and style, though.

    What makes the veteran netminders' helmet special is the backplate. It pays homage to the late Pavol Demitra, who, along with 43 others, was killed in a plane accident in Russia in 2011. It was one of the darkest days in the history of the sport, with almost an entire hockey team dying in the crash.

    Demitra was a close friend and compatriot of Halak's, who spoke to Dan O'Leary of NHL.com about the homage in September: "Obviously it's always hard to talk about it. It's been 10 years, but I just want to have a tribute to him and his family to just put him on a helmet."

    Demitra spent the last two seasons of his NHL career with the Canucks, making this tribute even more fitting. It's another example of how goalies can utilize their masks to give fans a little bit of insight into what's important to them off the ice. It's easy to forget that hockey players are people too and deal with grief just like anyone else would.

1. Robin Lehner

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    Robin Lehner has become one of, if not the, most outspoken players in the NHL today. While the culture of the game has by and large encouraged players to keep their opinions to themselves, the 30-year-old netminder has never really played by those unwritten rules.

    From ripping the NHL about how they handled certain COVID-19 vaccination protocols to accusing teams of giving players drugs without a doctor's consent, Lehner always speaks his mind. Perhaps the most important aspect of his outspokenness is that he's taking big steps to normalize being candid about mental health issues.

    He's been remarkably open about his experiences, and it's especially important given hockey's general obsession with hyper-masculine culture. Lehner has worn some incredible masks throughout his career, but they almost always include some aspect of mental health awareness and the #SameHere hashtag.

    On their website, SameHereGlobal.com, they state their mission as such: "To normalize society's perception of mental health and make it part of our everyday conversation."

    His current look is one of his most stellar yet, leaning heavily on the gold from Vegas' coloration. Still, it's the focus on mental health that we appreciate so much.

    It's an outstanding use of his platform, and that's why we're giving Lehner the top spot on our coolest masks in the NHL list. It's one thing to talk about how rad flaming dragons or cruising sharks are. It's another to open conversations about mental health, and the goalie deserves a lot of credit for trying to normalize those talks.

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