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A slinky for a spine

July 21, 2020, 9:56 AM ET [3288 Comments]
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They said he was unorthodox. He looked like a fish out of water, flopping around out of control. He was unconventional. He was odd...weird even. He was the rubber man with a priceless “slinky for a spine”.

When you gathered up all of those descriptions of Dominik Hasek...they tended to be translated into something like this. “He’s a different breed that relies on his flexibility, athleticism and a bit of luck to get the job done.”

Sure, people would concede that he was good..even great...but Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur, who were more of your traditional goaltenders...they did things the “right way” and won Cups...and were just better. Nevermind the facts.

Hasek’s greatness was constantly downplayed through flippant descriptions like the ones above. But they couldn’t be further from the truth.

For me, Hasek is without question...the greatest goaltender I’ve ever seen play. And though it’s tough to compare to goalies of previous eras...I can’t imagine any of them being able to match Hasek’s pure dominance.

One of the best articles I’ve ever read on Hasek’s goaltending style was a piece written by Paul Campbell for In Goal Magazine titled Hasek’s Genius of Dynamic Space. In this article Campbell describes how Hasek was a master at directing shooters to exactly where he wanted them to go. He talks about saves that would appear to most viewers as random, last-ditch, desperate attempts to keep the puck out of his net...but in fact, when you break them down, you’ll find a series of moves that actually created “one fluid interconnected save”. And the purpose of this “interconnected save” was to guide the shooter to exactly where Hasek wanted him to go.

We can all picture his patented barrel roll...and that’s probably because he used it quite frequently. And with outstanding results. Reading the article you can see how there are so many little things going on within that one or two second barrel roll that ultimately forces the shooter into a tough angled shot that appears to be wide open...until, as Campbell puts it, “the trap snaps shut like clockwork”.

The piece is a phenomenal read...well worth a few minutes of your day.

There are two obvious contenders that will be forever linked with Hasek when it comes to crowning the greatest goaltender (of the modern era).

Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. No surprise here

Both were phenomenal goaltenders. And phenomenal for the duration of their careers. Looking back on it now...it’s remarkable that all three of these goalies were so consistently elite. You don’t see that very often. I mean, think of Carey Price, and the ups and downs his career has seen. Jonathan Quick. Tukka Rask. Henrik Lundqvist might be the only current goalie who you could argue has put together a consistently great career, although since the age of 34 his career has started to decline.

Martin Brodeur won a Vezina post-34 years of age.

Hasek won two.

When I think of Patrick Roy, I think of playoffs. I can picture his imposing presence in the net. His confidence. The wink.

Roy had it all. He was intimidating. He was cocky. And he was good.

Of the three goaltenders, it’s Roy who won the most Stanley Cups (4). And he was the only one to win the Conn Smythe, awarded to the MVP of the playoffs. He did that three times. His regular season numbers don’t quite stand up to Brodeur and Hasek’s. But at the end of the day, the goal is to win championships...and he was able to achieve that more often than the other two.

Marty Brodeur...I honestly just think of consistency. He was incredible at handling the puck, so much so that the NHL decided to change the rules. He played the most games, earned the most wins, recorded the most shutouts...scored the most goals...and could be counted on to play very good, night in and night out.

But Hasek...he was just on another level.

Before we begin, there’s one thing when it comes to Hasek that doesn’t get nearly as much consideration as it should.

Dominik Hasek didn’t get to the NHL until he was 25!

And really, it was a situation that was out of his control.

Hasek was drafted in the 10th round (199th overall) of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. He wasn’t even made aware of this fact until a few months later. Being from Czechoslovakia, a country that was behind the Iron Curtain at the time, the transition to the NHL was a difficult and rare one. Players from that part of the world didn’t often find their way to North America. Hasek would have to spend the early part of his career honing his skills in his country’s professional hockey league, Extraliga. During this period he would win the league MVP three times (1987, 1989 and 1990), and also be named the leagues Top Goaltender for five straight seasons (1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990).

It makes you wonder what he could’ve accomplished had he been able to begin his career when he was 20 or 21 like Brodeur and Roy were fortunate enough to do.

When he finally did make it to Chicago, Hasek landed in a less than ideal situation. Eddie Belfour arrived on the scene at the same time and was immediately handed the net. All Belfour did that year was win the goaltending trifecta. He took home the Calder, Vezina and Jennings while Hasek saw just three games of action with the big club.

With Belfour firmly established as the team’s number one goaltender, Hasek saw spot duty the following season as well...playing a total of just 15 games.

In the summer of ‘92, Hasek was shipped off to Buffalo where he spent his first season there splitting time with Grant Fuhr and Darren Puppa. That year he would add 25 more games to his career totals.

Consider this... in order to be classified a rookie in the NHL, a player must not have played in more than 25 NHL games in any preceding seasons, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons. Under those rules, Hasek would still be considered an NHL rookie at the age of 28. The rule has since changed to discount players who turn 26 by September 15th of the current season...but the point is made.

It wasn’t until the 93-94 season that Hasek would finally get his chance to be a starting goaltender. And with what he did that year...you have to wonder...just how on earth it took so long?

When you compare Hasek’s career path to that of Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur...who both landed with team’s in desperate need of a goaltender (Steve Penney and Chris Terreri are the goalies who respectively stood in their way) it’s easy to see the disadvantage Hasek had from the get-go.

To say he had a tough start would be an understatement. Hasek was coming directly from Czechoslovakia, where he was widely considered the best goaltender on that side of the world, and found himself having to adapt to the off-ice challenges of a new culture and language, while also trying to adjust to the on-ice hurdles such as different rink dimensions and styles of play...all while playing for a team led by Mike Keenan, who undoubtedly would’ve had his own opinions about Hasek’s “unorthodox” style….which may have had an effect on Hasek’s slow start.

I can also imagine there was a pretty intense mental battle going on inside Hasek’s head. He was fighting to prove his talent...but not been given the chance. I’m sure it was three very long years for the Dominator.

Save percentage has to be the single most important statistic a goaltender can have. The job of a goalie is to stop the puck. That’s it. They have basically zero impact on how many goals their team can score. So if a goalie gives up one goal...now he has to hope his team can score at least two...or they lose. It’s that simple. The more saves a goalie makes...the more valuable he is to his team.

There was no one better at making saves, in the history of the NHL, than Dominik Hasek.

Patrick Roy’s career save percentage was .910. Martin Brodeur finished his career at .912. The Dominator holds the highest save percentage in NHL history at .922.

Goals against average is another stat often used to compare goalies. But I don’t feel it’s as accurate a representation of a goalie skill as save percentage is. A goalie doesn’t control how many shots are fired at him. It would stand to reason that the more shots a goalie faces, the more goals he would be expected to surrender.

So if you look at just a goalies' goals against average and don’t take into account the average number of shots he’s facing...it could be misleading.

For the record, Hasek’s career goals against average of 2.20 is second best in modern day history behind only Ken Dryden. Roy finished his career with 2.54 mark. While Brodeur came in at 2.24. If we look at the average number of shots each goalie faced, we find that Hasek and Roy were very comparable. On average, Hasek saw 28.32 shots to Roy’s 28.25. But Brodeur saw nearly 10% less per game at just 25.56.

Another thing to consider with goals against average would be...how does it compare to the rest of the league. The NHL has gone through different stages of goal scoring proficiency. For example, when Patrick Roy entered the league in 1984-85 goals were going in the net at a rate of 3.89 per game. Compare that to Hasek’s first full season as a starter and Brodeur’s rookie year (93-94)...the goals per game rate had dropped to 3.24. This would obviously affect the goals against average stats.

To account for this, we can take each goalies career goals against average and compare it to the league average over the same period of time, and then calculate the difference. Brodeur finished his career averaging 0.47 gaa better than the league average. Roy was 0.60 better. Hasek 0.66.

One statistic that Martin Brodeur has over not only Hasek...but the entire NHL...is career shutouts. Brodeur set the standard with 125. But the numbers are deceiving, as over the duration of their respective careers Hasek has shutout teams at a rate of one shutout for every 8.73 games, while Brodeur blanked the opponent once every 9.94 games.

Brodeur has also won the most games in NHL history, with 691. Roy sits second at 551. While Hasek is 14th with 389. But again, when it comes to accumulated stats, Hasek is at an unfair disadvantage due to his late start.

Career win percentages are a more fair representation. Brodeur and Roy both won 61.84% of their games. Hasek 61.74%.

All three goaltenders were highly decorated throughout their careers. But when it comes to the individual accolades, Dominik Hasek steals the show.

Roy Hasek Brodeur
Seasons Played 18 16 21
All-Star 6 6 7
Calder 0 0 1
Vezina 3 6 4
Jennings 5 3 5
Hart 0 2 0
Lindsay 0 2 0
Conn Smythe 3 0 0
Stanley Cups 4 2 3

If you were to make it a more level playing field and consider what each player did from the time they were in their 28 turning 29 year old season (when Hasek was first given a starting role) the numbers become even more eye opening.

Roy Hasek Brodeur
Seasons Played 9 13 14
All-Star 1 6 5
Vezina 0 6 4
Jennings 1 2 3
Hart 0 2 0
Lindsay 0 2 0
Conn Smythe 1 0 0
Stanley Cups 2 1 1

When you consider Dominik Hasek was just over 8 months older than Roy, and then look at the 9-year time period in which they were both starting goaltenders...Hasek left no doubt who was the better goaltender.

During what was basically a head-to-head competition, Roy was named to one All-Star team, picked up one William Jennings, won one Conn Smythe, and was a part of two Stanley Cup winners. Hasek was named to the All-Star team six times, collected all six of his Vezina’s, two of his Jennings, both Hart Trophies and both Ted Lindsay Awards, as well as one Stanley Cup.

Brodeur won all four of his Vezina Trophies, all five of his All-Star’s and three of his Jennings after Hasek turned 38.

The only leg that the anti-Hasek-ers have to stand on is the Stanley Cup. Both Roy and Brodeur won more. And Roy has those three Conn Smythe trophies.

But the Stanley Cup isn’t won by a player, it’s won by a team. And as much as Roy and Brodeur excelled in the playoffs and helped their teams win more Cups...Hasek’s career playoff numbers were still better.

ROY 61.63% 2.30 0.918 28.19 9.1%
HASEK 57.02% 2.02 0.925 26.92 11.5%
BRODEUR 55.39% 2.02 0.919 24.81 11.3%

In 1993-94 Hasek’s Sabres lost in seven games to Brodeur’s Devils. Both goalies were spectacular. Both goalies finished the series with matching 1.61 goals against averages. The difference was...Hasek faced 67 more shots over the 7 games...and came away with one less victory.

Unfortunately for Hasek, this type of scenario would repeat itself over and over while he was with the Sabres.

Hasek’s ‘98 and ‘99 playoffs were championship calibre. His save percentages were .938 and .939 respectively, both higher than any Roy or Brodeur produced during any of their Stanley Cup-winning playoffs.

Hasek’s goals against averages during those campaigns were 2.03 and 1.77. He faced a whopping 32.53 and 28.94 shots per game. His team scored at a clip of 3.07 and 2.68 goals per game for Hasek in those two series.

Roy won a cup behind a team that scored just 2.8 goals per game...but he faced less than 25 shots against. His other three cups saw his teams produce 3.30, 3.64 and 3.00 goals per game, while allowing 30.02, 26.78, and 25.72 shots respectively.

Brodeur got his cups a different way. His teams didn’t allow shots. For his three championships, Brodeur faced 22.73, 22.22 and 25.03 shots per game. They gave him goal support to the tune of 3.35, 2.65 and 2.63. As were all well aware, the focus in New Jersey was defense.

The argument that either Roy or Brodeur is better than Hasek based on playoff success is a ridiculous one. Hasek’s numbers prove that. He did the best he could with what he had. I mean..if you were to switch either Roy or Brodeur with Hasek during those championship runs...those teams would still have won those titles.

When Hasek finally got to a team that could give him the support that Brodeur and Roy enjoyed...he won his cup. He was 37. Roy won his last cup at 35...Brodeur at 30.

The only arguments against Hasek being considered the greatest goalie of all-time turns out to be things that are completely out of his control.

When we focus on the things that Hasek could control...it leaves no doubt.

A higher career shutout percentage than either Roy or Brodeur.
A higher playoff save percentage than either Roy or Brodeur.
An equal playoff goals against average with Brodeur (and better than Roy), despite averaging over 2 shots more per game.
Number one all time in save percentage.
Number two in modern day goals against average.
Winner of more Vezina Trophies than any goalie in the post-Original-Six era.
The only goaltender to ever win the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay twice.

And a slinky for a spine.
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