Vancouver Canucks Top 5: Best Goaltenders of All Time

Now that the Canucks have a couple of days off, we at the Army figured we take a little bit of time to wrap up our look at the history of this fine team. You’ve seen our all-time roster – but who do we actually rank in the highest of echelons?

Let’s kick things off with the most important position in hockey – the goaltender. They’re the ones who bail you out, night after night. Well, in theory at least; if there’s a position where the Canucks haven’t had a ton of luck in over the years, it’s definitely between the pipes. Despite the fact that this team has spent forty-five years in the NHL, it was terrifyingly difficult to come up with these rankings. Regardless, lets take a look.

5. Dan Cloutier

Do you see what I mean? 

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Dan Cloutier is the scapegoat for West Coast Express era’s lack of success. If you asked a hundred Canucks fans why the team couldn’t win a Stanley Cup in the early 2000’s, a hundred and eight of them would respond with Dan Cloutier.

Yet, he’s on our all-time team. Why is that? Because, early exits be damned, he was between the pipes for a long time, which is more than just about any Vancouver goaltender can say. Cloutier’s 208 games played ranks him fourth in team history, and everybody ahead of him is also ahead of him on this list. Thanks to the Canucks’ scoring prowess, he also found himself with one of the better win-loss ratio’s in team history.

Beyond that, though, it’s hard to argue much in his favour. His save percentage was only (barely) above the league average in one of this seasons (2003/04), and finally managed to carry that level of performance over to the playoffs, he suffered a right ankle sprain three games in and ended his season. His 0.872 SV% in the playoffs is the lowest of any goaltender with 25+ games played in the 21st century by a whopping 30 points. He makes this list almost entirely because the Canucks didn’t really have any other options in his era.

4. Richard Brodeur

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This is the best photo of Richard Brodeur that I could find on Getty Images, in the sense that it has him completely out of position, but not yet in the process of letting in a goal. I’m being serious; there just isn’t a lot of “save by Brodeur” photography out there for us bloggers to use.

That’s not to say that he didn’t make a lot of saves while wearing the V and the flying skate; his 377 games played ranks him third all time, and he was a key component in the Canucks’ first-ever run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1982. League wide numbers for that year are impossible to come by, but his 0.891 SV% was likely far ahead of the curve, and he performed well enough to give the Canucks wins in 11 of their first 13 playoff games. At that point, they ran into the Dynasty-Era New York Islanders and got shell-shocked, but to even bring them to that point was impressive for Brodeur, then in his second season for Vancouver.

He would go on to play six more seasons for the team, ranging from below the curve to below replacement level, but was well liked by his teammates and the fanbase, and remains a member of the Vancouver community to this day. He also represented the Canucks in the 1983 all-star game, and won team MVP on three occasions (1981, 1982, and 1985).

3. Kirk McLean

As we get into the top three, we begin to stop things up a little bit. Admittedly, McLean probably isn’t statistically a top-three goaltender on most teams (then again, if we sorted via a spreadsheet we would probably be stuck with a list that somehow includes Eddie Lack), but like Brodeur, he defined an era and ended his tenure as the best Canucks goalie of all time, at the time.

To this day, no goaltender has worn any of the Canucks logos on their chest as many times as Kirk has, appearing in 516 games over eleven seasons. While not all of those years were the best (particularly his last three), when he was on his game, he was in the top half of the league. His best season game in 1992, when he put up 38 wins, 5 shutouts, and a 0.901 save percentage – bad today, but well ahead of the 0.888 average at the time. His performance put him just behind Patrick Roy as the best goaltender in hockey that year, and earned him enough Hart Trophy votes to finish fourth in the polls.

Of course, his most memorable year came two years later, as he turned a slightly subpar regular season into one of the best playoff runs by a Canucks player ever, posting four shutouts in 24 games en route to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. No goalie in this city has been able to attain that level of dominance for an entire long-term run since, nor had anybody prior.

2. Cory Schneider

I know we just said that we weren’t going to sort by a spreadsheet when making these rankings, but if there was ever a goaltender to do it for, it would probably be Cory Schneider. While he wasn’t my personal #2, the dominance he displayed such a relatively short period of time speaks for itself.

The Canucks originally drafted Schneider to be their goaltender of the future in 2004, and eventually, he proved himself to be worthy of the moniker. While his 98 games played ranks just 11th on the all-time list, his 0.927 SV% and 2.20 GAA put him at the very top of the charts by a fairly wide margin. His 55-26-8 record is also incredibly strong compared to those surrounding him, and his nine shutouts rank him fifth on the team’s list.

Unfortunately for Schneider, team politics, internal competition, and a half-season lockout set him up to never play more than 33 games for the team in a season before being traded to the New Jersey Devils at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. One would assume that whoever pushed this wonder-kid away from the team that planned around him must be something else…

1. Roberto Luongo

…and boy, was he ever.

I don’t think there’s a single Canucks fan that had any doubt as to who would lead these rankings. In a sea of goaltenders ranging from “awful” to “good enough”, Roberto Luongo was the trophy orca. He was everything that was interesting about the four previous goalies, and then some.

Longevity in the organization? He’s got it. His 448 games played are second only to McLean.

Statistical dominance? Luongo finished with 41 more wins a much better overall record, and nearly a whole goal fewer allowed per game. His 38 shutouts rank him first by a wide margin; McLean and Cloutier, who rank 2nd and 3rd respectively, have four fewer combined. 

A great entry story? Dave Nonis managed to turn the page on the Todd Bertuzzi saga by pulling off one of the most lopsided trades in team history to acquire him.

Carrying the team on his back? You bet. His first playoff run in 2007 was one for the ages; a 0.941 SV% through twelve games is nearly impossible for a near mortal. His 72 save performance against the Stars is probably the best individual performance in Canucks history. Just a few years after that, he would get as close to the promised land as McLean, bringing his team to within one game of the Stanley Cup while putting up two shutouts in the final. 

He even took the responsibility of being the Captain of the Canucks for some time; probably not the wisest decision by the club in hindsight, but given what he meant to the room and the fanbase, their blatant disregard for logic and the NHL rulebook made sense at the time.

While Luongo had his moments, and his last months in Vancouver could have went a lot smoother, there’s no doubt that he’s the best goaltender this team has ever had. Hell, he might be better than all of the others combined.

    • There were votes for Lack in the top five. One of our writers had him ahead of Brodeur.

      Gary Smith would have been a very solid option, though at the end of the day, having Cloutier up there for longevity drives home the point that the organization hasn’t had the best luck between the pipes over the years.

    • Dirty30

      Exactly … I’d have voted for Alexandre Burrows over Clouts any day (and yes, he did play net at one time) and was almost tapped to suit up for one game for the Canucks — that would have been something — but they found some dude from UBC to be back-up-for-a-day instead …

  • wojohowitz

    I believe Suitcase Smith stands as a benchmark in Canuck history but I can`t remember what for. First ever winning season? First time making the playoffs? Whatever it was Smith marked the Canucks as no longer an expansion team but a potential winner of it all.

  • wojohowitz

    Again I’m going to site age & recency bias on this. Gary Smith was the 1st goalie to get the Canucks above .500, the 1st goalie to get the Canucks to the playoffs and the only only goalie to land in the top 5 of Hart voting for the Canucks.

    Leaving him out and including a backup (no matter how good you think Schneids was, he was never more than a back up here) is ridiculous.

    In Bob Clarke’s MVP speech he said Smith woulda been a better choice (thanks Wikipedia). Can we get some over 30 voters next time?!?!

    • No kidding. For a site that has pretensions of being evidence-driven these lists are terribly short-sighted and driven by whatever biases influence the writers. Which would be fine if they weren’t also trying to pretend that there was a method to this madness beyond I REALLY LIKE SCHNEIDER. Corey Schneider played less than a 100 games here as a very good backup but he’s barely even been a starter in NJ so far. He might well be elite this year but he’s nowhere close to McLean, Smith, or Brodeur. If you are going by goalies who’ve been good here but better elsewhere you could put in Arturs Irbe or Sean Burke or jeez just about anyone. And Dan Cloutier? Are you kidding?

      Maybe you should change your name to CanucksPost2000Army.

  • Dirty30

    What! No Miller? He’s getting paid as much as Lou you know!

    Considering that Markstrom was working with Cloutier — “this is a beach ball … Be at one with the beach ball … Did that [email protected]&$er just go in?”

    And Miller was working with Alex Auld — “Hooters in the third row, hooters in the third row! Oh, that’s your wife? Sorry man…”

    It could be a very long season.

  • Dirty30

    Rangers goaltender Gump Worsley was asked what team gave him the most trouble.

    He considered the question for a few moments before giving his considered opinion:

    “The New York Rangers”

    Suitcase Smith was not only one of the best, he was also one of the best exemplars of the goalie as team eccentric.

  • Schneider over McLean is insane. Insane.

    Projected talent and outlook, sure, but impact on Vancouver, McLean all the way.

    Also putting in my support for Gary Smith. Dude was a great personality, one of the people who would have shined in today’s social media world.

    Was also a great goalie and one of the few bright spots of the barren wasteland of the Canucks early years. First winning team in Canucks history was under his reign!

  • Dirty30

    Schneider ahead of Kirk? Are you insane? Kirk is easily top 2. Some may argue for #1. Cloutier is SO NOT top 5. Who the hell writes this crap?! Is there anyone over 20 years old working on this site?!

  • Dirty30

    Gary Smith should have been on this list at number 4 or 5 and Dan Cloutier removed. Schneider was a back up not sure how he is ahead Mclean as he won alot of playoff rounds and games

  • wojohowitz

    Dan Cloutier did achieve one notable award that none of the other candidates possibly duplicated and that was player of the month – November it was but I don`t recall the year.

  • Spiel

    I have issue with Schneider higher than MacLean. MacLean took us to game 7 in ’94 and was the starter for far longer than Schneids… all due respect to schneids.

  • Spiel

    Anyone remember that center ice goal in the playoffs where Lidstrom beats Cloutier?

    Cloutier was a good goalie, but all i remember is that center ice shot… Sorry clouts…