Since launching the Adjusted Hockey project, a pair of goaltenders — Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood — are frequently in my Twitter mentions. Aside from being fixtures in Red Wing folklore, what do they have in common?
- Each won a pair of Stanley Cups as a starting goaltender.
- Each has had their HHOF case passed over for many years.
Goalies and teams have a famous chicken-and-egg relationship. Which came first — the great team or the great goalie? Today, we answer the question whether the feat of backing two Stanley Cup-winning teams warrants hockey immortality!
In 1979-80, the WHA merger brought the NHL franchise count to 21. It also represented the first season where the familiar 16-team format comprised the playoff pool. This is a logical starting point for us to begin investigating, the path comparable to today’s Cup bracket. This gives us 42 years of Stanley Cup winners to work from.
🔎 Takeaway #1:
12 goaltenders have won multiple Cups.
12 goaltenders have won a single Cup.
You read that right. Among the list of Stanley Cup-winning starters since 1980, it’s remarkably just as common for a goalie to win 2+ Cups as it is to win a single Cup.
Here’s our group of multiple Cup winners, in order: Billy Smith (four), Grant Fuhr (four), Tom Barrasso (two), Patrick Roy (four), Vernon (two), Martin Brodeur (three), Osgood (two), Jonathan Quick (two), Corey Crawford (two), Marc-Andre Fleury / Matt Murray (we’ll say 1.5 each, the pair splitting the 2017 run), Andrei Vasilevskiy (two).
We can plainly see some of the above goalies are not all-time greats. We also know many all-time greats (examples: Dominik Hasek, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist, Curtis Joseph) have one or zero titles.
What does this tell us?: If you’re a Cup-winning goalie, you have even odds (50%) of winning at least one more Cup ring. Incredible, really. This immediately takes some of the shine off the feat, the club being no more exclusive than the single Cup crowd. We have to remember that a Stanley Cup is the collective work of a 20-player roster, not an individual award. This suggests it’s important to get on the right team, above all else.
🔎 Takeaway #2:
Not every Cup-winning performance is outstanding.
We can’t dismiss the critical role goaltenders have on playoff success. The common sentiment is that elite (or at least reliable) goaltending is mandatory to win championships. This is generally true, rare is the team that gets mediocre puck-stopping and wins 16 playoff games.
We’ll look at Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) for each multiple Cup-winning goaltender. For the unfamiliar, GSAA is the number of goals saved (or allowed) vs. the league average save percentage on the same number of shots. An average goaltending performance in a season or playoff season is therefore zero goals above average.
What does this tell us?: Cup-winning goaltending is consistently above average. The average performance of the group is 7.1 GSAA per Cup run. In only two of 31 performances (Fleury, 2009; Quick, 2014) was a team able to sip from the Cup with below-average goaltending.
Yet, not every goaltender is an absolute force driving a team’s playoff success, at least not statistically. Most of the performances above could be described as solid, one or two goals per series saved above what you’d expect from an average goalie. Does being solid for 20 or so games on two occasions in a 15-year career mean you belong among the upper 1 to 2% of your profession to be inducted? So far, it seems like it would be a reach to weight Cup-winning performances so heavily. The Cup runs may be career-defining, but that doesn’t mean the goalie was the reason the Cup was won.
🔎 Takeaway #3:
There is a relationship between how impactful goalies are on Cup titles and their career overall.
You might have noticed in the above chart that the playoff performances were top heavy, a clear divide above and below the average Cup-winning performance of 7.1 GSAA. You might have also noticed the chart gradually went from the Roys and Smiths to the Murrays and Crawfords.
Below, our dozen goalies with multiple rings are plotted by their PPS score (i.e., their career HHOF worthiness) and their average GSAA in their Cup-winning playoff runs.
- Group #1: The all-time best goalie performances in Cup runs (those averaging > 10 GSAA per run) — Roy, Smith, Barrasso, Vasilevskiy, Brodeur — have impressive career chops to match. Each has at least one Vezina, combing for ten total. Three are in the HHOF, with Vasilevskiy well on his way at age 28, and Barrasso largely believed to be excluded because, well, he was an icy and dismissive dude.
- Group #2: Overall, the next six goalies by GSAA (between 3-7 GSAA per run) — Quick, Fuhr, Vernon, Osgood, Murray, Crawford — aren’t in the same class as our first group. These are the solid but not spectacular playoff performances, statistically. Fuhr is the only Vezina winner or HHOF goalie in the bunch. While Quick (active), Crawford (eligible in 2023), and Murray (active) are not yet eligible, only Quick is ever mentioned as a future possibility of the three.
- Fleury is the outlier. A Vezina winner and sure-fire future HHOFer, Flower is the only multi-Cup goalie with below average playoff results across his two Cup titles.
What does this tell us?: The five goalies with outstanding playoff results in Cup victories are all at least Borderline HHOF goalies by PPS (or in Vasilevskiy’s case, WAY ahead of the curve). The other seven goalies with average to good playoff results in their Cup titles consist of Fuhr, Fleury (both Borderline but above the PPS standard, i.e., appropriate HHOF choices), and five other goalies with careers well back of the HHOF standard.
✔️ Answering the Question
Let’s bring it all together and answer the question. Here is a summary of our multi-Cup winning goalies, listed by the strength of their playoff performances. To the right is how they rate under PPS in terms of HHOF worthiness.
The goalies with the better careers trend near the top. The goalies with the lighter cases lean toward the bottom. While there’s no question the HHOF has been hard on goaltenders (hello, Cujo!), they haven’t caved to the public pressure of allowing goalies with two Cups in automatically. Our work today shows this is the correct play.
PPS gives bonuses for Cups, as the titles are inextricably linked to a goalie’s legacy. Still, Quick, Vernon, Osgood, Murray, Crawford don’t approach the PPS standard for HHOF entry. In fact, there are a whopping 24(!) retired goaltenders ahead of Crawford, the top goalie of this fivesome. This is not meant to diminish their incredible careers. Simply put, there are many goalies that outperformed these five over their careers, many of which never get mentioned as HHOF candidates.
It’s understandable that fans want goalies with Cups in the HHOF. They were the faces of their franchise’s finest hours. To be clear, the playoffs matter. They matter disproportionately to the regular season, most can agree. Yet, we can’t act as if they are the only thing that matters in a goalie’s career. Pretending that any Cup-winning goalie stole a championship or has some deep clutch gene that willed their team to victory is a fun idea. But the analysis reinforces that Cups are a team result. With full respect to the achievement of winning a Cup, let alone two, it’s time to park some of these cases for now. The focus should always be on the next-best eligible goalies, regardless of team success.
You can be an above-average goalie on a great team and win multiple Cups. Winning two Stanley Cups should not get a goaltender into the HHOF.