I had several readers express discord regarding my comment last week about Dominik Hasek being the best goalie to ever play the position. I did not claim he was one of the best ever. I did not imply he was the best goalie in his era. I did not casually suggest he was the best in a certain Division or Conference. Not on a team. Nationality. Favorite. Opinion. Gender. Hair color. Nope. Nope. Nope. Negative. Not. Nada. No way. Not I.
I clearly stated, as if were a matter of fact, as if agreed on by everyone, that he was the best goalie of all time. Period. He was referenced by the hockey world as the “Dominator”. He was the Wayne Gretzky of goalies.
People around the league went to games against the Sabres to witness him play in person. That is not typical for goalies to sell tickets. The ‘Superman’ theme played at the old “aud” from the Christopher Reeve movies when Hasek would make a brilliant save look easy. “Superman” by REM would play when he was routinely named one of the three stars at the games end. He would be named the first star in a losing effort. Play by play legend R.J. proclaimed “Call the cops.” And “We are not worthy”.
Mike Robitaille, who is not shy about his opinions, is known for always stating that Bobby Orr was the best player he ever played against. In fact, he was the greatest he had witnessed play. That means he chose Bobby Orr over Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. He always backed up opinions with many stats and reasons. This is the same guy who said that Hasek, hands down, was the best night in and night out to ever play his position.
Hasek was not getting extra votes due to popularity. Yes, he did charitable things in Buffalo. But he was not Daniel Briere or Pat Lafontaine as far as his likability.
He had run-ins with media. Most notably, NHL Hall of Fame sportswriter Jim Kelley of the Buffalo News. Hasek was fined $10,000 for an altercation where he ripped the writer’s shirt after a playoff game against the Ottawa Senators.
He was accused of quitting on his team a couple of times as well as not playing through injuries. He was not on Shred and Ragan or other morning radio shows joking around. He was blamed by the fans for Ted Nolan leaving town. My point here is that those folks that indicate he is the best of all time are not being persuaded or playing favoritism because he won any popularity
Goalies do no win power struggles with coaches. They usually are not involved. Goalies demand trades because the coach and general manager are decision makers and entrenched in the job. Patrick Roy stated he would never play another game in Montreal after being left in a blowout to be embarrassed. He never did play another game for Montreal and was soon a star in Denver.
Right here in Buffalo Al Smith stepped off the bench and saluted to Seymour and Northrup Knox, the Sabres owners at the time. It was immediately following the national anthems when he quit the team. He was the back up to Gerry Desjardins who was injured. Instead of Smith getting the nod, Buffalo started the kid called up from the minors, Don Edwards.
Tom Barrasso wore out his welcome in Buffalo and was traded away because he had the value of a fourth overall Penguins draft pick, young defenseman, Doug Bodger.
With Hasek, he remained a Sabre as Ted Nolan was basically only offered a one-year contract, following a Jack Adams Coach of the year winning season. That is basically a slap in the face, unofficially sending a signal to the coach that he is not important enough to be a long-term solution. The one-year contract was offered to allow Buffalo to say he quit and was not fired, but clearly, it was done to send a message. Hasek was here to stay. He was a goalie with the power of Sidney Crosby or Jack Eichel. The power to basically chose when they did not want to play for a coach any longer.
It is much deeper than the power Hasek had or the nickname. It was more than being a goalie starring in a national credit card TV commercial. Slinky for a spine? Priceless.
Buffalo acquired Dominik Hasek from Chicago for Stephane Beauregard and a fourth-round pick in the 1993 entry draft. Buffalo had previously acquired Beauregard for Christian Ruuttu. Blackhawk’s fans had to watch both Hasek and Belfour (who they chose to keep in favor of Hasek) go on to win a ton of hardware elsewhere. At least they landed a Buffalo boy in Patrick Kane decades later who has three Stanley Cups so far.
No goalie has been as head and shoulders above the others for that long stretch uninterrupted. No goalie has played the position quite as well as Hasek did night in and night out. He routinely carried his outshot team on his back. Winning games they had no business winning. At one point in his career, Hasek won five Vezina Trophies in a six-season stretch. He is the only goaltender to win both the Hart trophy and Ted Lindsey award twice. Mike Liut and Carey Price are the only other goalies to win the Lindsey award twice.
Hasek was a first-team All-Star six in-commensurable times. He won two Stanley Cups with Detroit. He carried the Sabres on his back to the playoffs bounteous times. The semifinals twice and to the finals once. The outmatched-in-talent Sabres were so close to world champions, going to game six of the controversial finals, in the famous “no goal” game. The game won by a Brett Hull goal puts an asterisk next to the Stars only Cup victory.
His .922 career save percentage is still the NHL record even with the current stats trending upward with the big goalies and capacious equipment.
Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy have more victories and Cups but did not dominate so many years every night. Roy had talent in Montreal and Colorado where he was the topping on the cake. Marty played for a team that gave up very few scoring chances. The Devils were the founding fathers, masterminded by Jacques Lemaire, of the smothering boring “dead puck” era in hockey. The trap.
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Hasek did not get a starting opportunity in the league until he was 28 years old. Brodeur already had 244 wins by age 28 and two of his three Stanley Cups. Roy already had two of his Cups and 225 of his wins by age 28. Hasek was just getting started. Getting started is an enormous understatement. I digress…
Hasek took over a game and got in the opponent’s heads night after night and game after game. No goalie has ever accomplished such a task from his own zone. I will not proclaim from his own crease because Hasek went on some journeys away from his crease creating newsworthy —highlightsdiving and flopping using any possible method in existence to stop the puck short of magic. He absolutely never gave up on a play. It showed with some of the near-impossible saves that he made.
The position is the hardest, loneliest position in the sport, blamed for losses and celebrated for victories. Mental toughness to bounce back after letting in a goal and slam the door closed for the rest of the game is what really separated him from the rest.
Hasek would, at times, give a shooter an opening to go for, essentially dictating where they would be targeting. He then would close that glaring opening as quick as can be. When I watch breakaways or two-on-ones with other goalies tending the net, I usually think that it would be really a great opportunity for the team if that goalie could make this save. I would not be expecting the save by any means though. When Hasek was in his prime, I was very confident that he had a huge advantage over the shooters as he dictated the play being in opponents’ heads. I recall John LeClair and Eric Lindros talking to the blades of their sticks, shaking their heads in disbelief after being poached numerous times in a playoff series.
Each year that passes by since his last of several times announcing his retirement, his accomplishments are magnified just how special was.
Before you totally disagree based on the previous career stats I pointed out, do not forget he single-handedly won the Olympic gold medal for his home country of Czechoslovakia in Japan in 1998. Who will ever forget the shootout saves that he made outdueling Patrick Roy of Canada? Not I. The best there was, is and ever will be. Pure Dominance.
Things we know about the Buffalo Sabres this week:
- The Sabres will play a dyad of regular-season games against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden in the fall. Dahlin, Larsson, Nylander and Ullmark are the current Sabres who will have home ice advantage, provided they are still sporting the blue and gold. Rasmus Asplund, Victor Olofsson and Lawrence Pilut could potentially be on the big-league team next season as well. Time will tell.
- Nylander has three points in two games for the Sabres. He is being rewarded with a spot on the line with Jack Eichel. If he is going to make a nice run at an NHL career, playing alongside Captain Jack is a significant tool to accomplish that.
- Montreal is the only team that Captain Jack has neglected to score against thus far in his career.