Profiling Cup-Winning Goaltenders

The 2007-08 season is the Capitals’ 33rd in the National Hockey League. Thirty-two Stanley Cup titles have been won since Washington joined the league in 1974-75, and a total of just 16 different goaltenders have backstopped those teams to those titles. Including the up-to-date win totals of the goaltenders from that list who are still active, those 16 netminders have an average of 333 career regular season wins in the league.

If you weight that average, and give Patrick Roy’s 551 wins four times as much weight as Cam Ward’s 65 (because Roy accounted for four of those 32 Cups to Ward’s one), then the average climbs to 364. Roy didn’t have that many wins when he won his first Cup, of course, and neither did Ward. Goalies of various age, experience levels and pedigree have won Stanley Cups, but most who have won them have either had or have gone on to have stellar careers.

I’d argue that Ward, who turns 24 later this month, is a good bet to surpass 250 career wins simply because he was good enough to win a Cup so early in his career. Ward, J-S Giguere (177) and Bill Ranford (240) are the only three of the 16 goaltenders with fewer than 250 career wins. Giguere is likely to eventually surpass that figure, too.

Five of those goaltenders (Bernie Parent, Ken Dryden, Billy Smith, Grant Fuhr and Roy) are Hockey Hall of Famers. Three more (Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek and Eddie Belfour) are locks to join them once their playing careers are over and they’re eligible for enshrinement. Four others (Tom Barrasso, Mike Richter, Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood) have at least a shot at eventual enshrinement. The other four are Bill Ranford, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ward and J-S Giguere. Both Ranford and Ward won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVPs during their Cup seasons.

The last time a two goaltender tandem evenly backstopped a team to the Cup was in 1972 when Boston’s Gerry Cheevers (eight postseason games) and Eddie Johnston (seven) helped the Bruins to their second Cup title in three years. Cheevers was 31 years old and Johnston 36 at the time.

A split tandem also won the Cup in 1969 when 23-year-old Rogie Vachon and 39-year-old Gump Worsley led the Canadiens to the Cup; in 1967 when 41-year-old Johnny Bower and 37-year-old Terry Sawchuk split the net duties for the Leafs and in 1965 when Worsley (then 35) and Charlie Hodge (31) helped the Habs to a Cup.

In the modern era (since 1943-44) two goaltenders have backstopped their teams to the Cup only two other times: in 1951 when Turk Broda and Al Rollins did so for Toronto and in 1953 when the Habs needed both Jacques Plante and Gerry McNeil to win.

Of the 55 Stanley Cup titles won before Washington joined the league, Hall of Fame goaltenders won 46 of them, so far more than half of all Cup titles have had a Hall of Fame goaltender as their basis.

Of the 16 goaltenders who have won a Cup in the last 33 years, only Belfour and Parent were never drafted. Parent came up in the Bruins’ chain as did Dryden, who was chosen 14th overall in 1964, before the institution of what is considered the “modern” draft in 1969. Goaltenders taken as high as Barrasso (fifth overall) and as low as Hasek (207th) have won the Cup. In the fifties (Roy, 51st; Ranford, 52nd; Osgood, 54th; Vernon, 56th; and Smith, 59th) is where most were drafted. The twenties (Brodeur, 20th; Ward, 25th; and Richter, 28th) also represented well. Barrasso, Fuhr (eighth) and Giguere (13th) are the other high picks while Khabibulin (204th) is the only other late-rounder to win.

Hasek and Khabibulin are the only European goaltenders to win so far, but European goaltenders have become prominent in the league only in the last decade to decade and a half.

Only nine of those 32 Cups were won by goaltenders with their original NHL organizations, and Brodeur (three) and Roy (two) account for more than half of those.

Since the NHL opened for business in 1917-18, 21 different goaltenders have won more than one Stanley Cup title. Those 21 goaltenders account for 65 of the 88 Stanley Cups won over that span; 59 of those 65 were solo efforts (not split with another goaltender). Eleven goaltenders have won more than two Cups.

Currently, the last six Cups have been won by six different goaltenders. The last time a longer succession of different goaltenders won the Cup was from 1924-30 when seven Cups were awarded with no goalie winning more than one.

The most unlikely Cup-winning goaltenders were probably Frank McCool (Toronto, 1945) and Andy Aitkenhead (Rangers, 1933). McCool played two seasons and Aitkenhead three in the NHL. Those are the shortest careers for any Cup-winning goaltender.

McCool had Memorial Cup and collegiate (Gonzaga) experience before he won the Calder Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season at the age of 26. Aitkenhead had played several seasons in minor leagues out west and had plenty of experience, including two Allan Cup finals runs. He was 29 when he won the Cup in his first NHL season.

Ulcers prematurely ended McCool’s career, while Aitkenhead went on to play several more seasons in the minors after losing his job in New York.

After McCool helped the Leafs to the 1945 championship (pitching three straight shutouts in the finals along the way), a quarter-century would pass before the NHL would see three different goaltenders win the Cup in as many seasons.

I think we all know that teams need great goaltending to win a Cup, and it looks like the only way to get great goaltending is to have a great goaltender. Easier said than done of course, and no way of knowing which 18- or 19-year-old is going to go on to become a great goaltender, great enough to win a Stanley Cup. The plus side is if you do manage to find that goaltender, he frequently wins more than one Cup.

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11 Comments on “Profiling Cup-Winning Goaltenders”

  1. Marks4Java Says:

    Nice piece, Mike.
    So now, all we need to do is trade for 2 goalies selected in the second round with a couple hundred NHL wins under their belts. No biggie, right?

  2. Melissa Says:

    This was a well put article in my opinion. All the goaltenders mentioned are historical and soon will be. I would also think that Ty Conklin could be added into the run of breaking some records as he is already on the road to do so. I do agree with your piece and that it would be nice to find a younger goaltender who starts out great and only increases to far beyond what Smith, Fuhr, and Roy have already done. Then maybe the outcome for the Stanley Cup Finals would be a little different.

  3. Mike L Says:

    What is also interesting is that on three occasions, the Conn Smythe winner came from the team that lost the finals, and each time it was a goaltender, including the aforementioned J.S. Giguerre.

    Great piece. Now to find that goaltender. You know, there’s a rumor that the Hawks are shopping Khabibulhin….

  4. Drew Says:

    Sure would be nice to look back on 2008 as the year we found a multiple Cup-winning, eventual HOFer in DC. But I’d be thrilled if we could just find the right combination of tending and smart defense that would lead us a couple rounds into the playoffs for many consecutive years. (Leonsis’s pocketbook would surely be thankful too.) Would anyone complain if the Future Caps Goalie was a “non-winner” like Kiprusoff, Luongo, or even a standout phenom in the Leclaire or Backstrom mold? If the team had a mandate for stingier defense, could the Caps pull a guy from the late rounds of the draft and make him a star?

    Even if the team squandered some great chances to advance in the Wales Conference playoffs of the late 80s and early 90s, I’m not sure Poile ever thought of goalies as high priority. Clearly the tide has shifted. We need to burn more picks on goalies than ever before. I don’t envy GMGM — I can’t imagine how hard it is to decide when to draft a goalie over another prospective skater to round out the minor league squads.

  5. […] never come true’ label…What does it take to be a Stanley Cup winning goalie? Mike Vogel takes a look…Just how good has Ovechkin been this year? James Mirtle takes a look (man do I link to his […]

  6. Norm St Landau Says:

    Thanks for excellent analysis and history. I’d really appreciate a follow-up summary and analysis for current Caps goaltending prospects, how they’re playing, and whether any are likely to get a shot at the NHL in the next year or two. Along those lines, is there a particular style of goalie that is better suited for the new NHL style of play?

    Finally…a trivia question: What ever became of Don Beaupre and where is he today?

  7. […] three in the NHL. Those are the shortest careers for any Cup-winning goaltender. source: Profiling Cup-Winning Goaltenders Dump and Chase __________________ :paladin: With out pain, we wouldnt know true pleasure. […]

  8. Luc Bertrand Says:

    The Capitals are my favorite hockey team for 31 years. Though I believe they have good chances to earn a spot in the playoffs, I don’t expect them to win the Stanley Cup this year. Olaf Kolzig is too inconsistent and Brent Johnson has always played as a backup. To their defense, the Caps defense has been shaky throughout all season quite Mike Green has emerged as a leader in offence. There is more depth up front compared to the last two years and promising young forwards. But the Caps are more than a solid goaltender away from the Cup. Then, for this year, let’s forget a thrust towards Lord Stanley trophy. We ought to make sure that, when the Caps will be a contender for this, they have all the ingredients to win it all.

    The first area to improve is defense. Washington’s offense is now recognized for its ability to come back in any game, but the team still manages to give up more goals against than it can score. Both Caps goalies, even though they had a few tough nights, have been able to stop close to 90% of the shots against, which is the basic recognized standard for NHL netminders. Don’t forget the Caps surrendered many goals against while playing shorthanded 3 vs 5, making the figures worse. Yes, if we could have somebody who could turn down 93-95% of the shots, maybe the team would have ranked better, but no one can be that excellent for a long time with 30-40 shots every night. If the Caps don’t want to burn out their best prospects (Machesney, Varlamov) or make the acquisition of a top goalie useless, the first thing to do is to strenghten defense. Actually, it’s nice to see Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin and some others piling up goals and assists some nights, but defensemen cannot take alone the burden to contain the opposition’s offense. The forwards will also have to improve their backchecking and their play without the puck.

    If the youngsters can still develop and if the Caps can retain them in Washington, the team will be very well placed in a couple of years. Until then, Caps management should resist to the temptation of trying to cut short to become a contender right now. Let the future of the team get the useful experience and keep on building around. It’s the best way to go given the salary ceiling forcing the teams to be very careful when they try to get top players elsewhere. The Washington Capitals have endured the necessary pain in finishing last or close to over the last few years. Don’t spoil this rare opportunity in repeating the errors of 1980-82 or of the late ’90.

  9. orderprozac Says:

    Thanks for sharing this

  10. Erin Says:


    Wow! This was a really enlightening article.

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