Thursday, September 01, 2005

Aging Goalies

In the long history of the NHL very few goalies have managed to stay active into their forties. Since the league formed in 1917, there have only been ten goalies so far who played in the NHL at that age. They are Johnny Bower, Tony Esposito, George Hainsworth, Eddie Johnston, Hugh Lehman, Lester Patrick, Jacques Plante, Moe Roberts, Terry Sawchuk and Gump Worsley. With the exception of Patrick and Roberts (who were emergency injury replacements and only appeared in one game), all are great goalies. Except for the injury replacements, Eddie Johnston is the only goalie not in the Hockey Hall of Fame who lasted into his forties (in fact Lester Patrick is in the hall, but not for his goaltending). Most of these goalies were well past their primes when they hit their forties. There hasn't been a forty year old goalie in the NHL since Tony Esposito played 18 games in 1983/84. Johnny Bower won the Stanley Cup at age 42 in Toronto in 1967, although he was the backup goalie (backup to future 40 year old goalie Terry Sawchuk). In 1969, Jacques Plante played in 10 playoff games with St. Louis. This is the most playoff games ever played by a forty year old goalie. In 1935/36 George Hainsworth played the entire season (48 games) for the Montreal Canadiens. This is the record for most regular season games played ever by a forty year old goalie. The most games since then is Johnny Bower's 43 in 1967/68.

This year, two different NHL teams plan to try their luck with forty year old goalies in net. They are Ottawa with Dominik Hasek and Toronto with Ed Belfour. Both plan to use these goalies as their number one guys and both hope that they will be able to far exceed some of the games played records for goalies their age.

Looking at the track record for aging goalies, there is a good chance that injury and age will prevent either of them from putting up all star years. Nevertheless, I expect that there is a good chance that at least one of them does exceed Hainsworth's games played record. If they don't, their respective teams will be in trouble. Ray Emery and J.S. Aubin do not strike me as competent starting goalies.

We could very easily see something historic this year. It could be the best year ever for a 40 year old (or older) goalie. This post was inspired by this hfboards thread.

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