From A-to-Z, or rather from Frederik Andersen to Ken Wregget, the Toronto Maple Leafs have had nearly a hundred goaltenders take the ice. As one of the NHL’s original six franchises, founded in 1917, they’ve had their fair share of great goalies. This article looks at the best of the best.
The Maple Leafs, one of the oldest and most storied organizations in the NHL, have won the Stanley Cup 13 times, their last being in 1967. There have been 10 Hall of Famers in the Leafs crease, but most of them didn’t stick around for that long. Bernie Parent, for example, only played 65 games for the Leafs. Gerry Cheevers only played two. King Clancy and Charlie “The Big Bomber” Conacher, a defenseman and a winger respectively, spent some time in net back when goalies had to serve their own penalties.
It’s tough to compare goalies from such a wide span of years. There’s the difference in goalie equipment–smaller, minimal, less protective equipment vs. larger, stronger, more modern equipment and facemasks. Plus, there’s the difference in sticks, curved blades and conditioning through time.
Related: Hockey Goalies – A Breed Apart
Before arriving at the top three, it’s worth noting some honorable mentions: Mike Palmateer, Jacques Plante (who played in his 40s) and Terry Sawchuk.
Felix “The Cat” Potvin finished third in voting for the Calder Trophy for his rookie season (behind Teemu Selanne and Joe Juneau) in 1992-93. He led the Maple Leafs to two consecutive Conference Finals (1998 and 1999), helping win over a generation of fans. He didn’t win any hardware and his stats weren’t stellar, but neither was the team in front of him. He routinely stood on his head to keep the team competitive.
Like most goaltenders, Ed Belfour was odd. But he was also very effective, fearless and got the job done. The undrafted Manitoba native bounced around the league, signing with the Leafs in the twilight of his career as an unrestricted free agent in 2002. He finished his Maple Leafs career with a record of 93-61-15. He ranks 13th all-time in games played for the Leafs but is tied for eighth in all-time wins. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.
Now, on to the top three.
3. Curtis Joseph
Games Played: 270
Goals-Against Average (GAA): 2.49
Save Percentage (SV%): .910
Undrafted, “Cujo” was a good goaltender while he was playing for the St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers, but elevated his game when he became a Maple Leaf. He played for the team from 1998-2002, then left due to a dispute with head coach Pat Quinn. The feisty goaltender made his beliefs known that the Leafs couldn’t win a Stanley Cup without significant upgrades. He came back for a short-lived second stint in 2008-09.
The undrafted, butterfly-style netminder backstopped the team to the playoffs every season he played in Toronto, except his final season. During his first season with the Leafs, he finished with a 2.56 GAA and a .910 SV%, was second in Vezina Trophy voting and led them into the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
In his initial four-year stint in Toronto, Joseph won 29 games or more every season. In 1999-00, he set the Leafs’ record for wins in a season with 36 and held that record until Andrew Raycroft won 37 games in 2006-07. Since their last Cup win in 1967, the Leafs have yet to even advance to the Stanley Cup Final, however they have gone to four Conference Semifinals, twice led by Joseph in net.
His accomplishments include winning the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2000 and playing for Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics. He has not been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but was inducted to St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. Cujo holds the distinction of winning the most games of any NHL netminder to never win a Cup. He ranks fifth all-time in games played with the Maple Leafs and ranks fourth in all-time wins.
Related: Top 10 Best Undrafted NHL Goalies
2. Johnny Bower
Games Played: 475
Johnny Bower was actually born John Kiszkan, but changed his last name to Bower during his first professional season to make it easier on sportswriters. He began his career with the New York Rangers, appearing in 77 games over three seasons, but was chosen by the Maple Leafs in the 1958 Inter-league Draft. He made his Leafs debut during the 1958-59 season and played the next 11 seasons of his career with the Blue & White. Calm and confident, he was the face of Leafs’ netminding for over a decade. All-time, he’s second on the club’s wins and games played lists and ranks third in shutouts with 32.
Known as “The China Wall” for his impenetrable standing style of play, he won four Stanley Cups with the Maple Leafs (1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967), two Vezina Trophies (1961 and 1965) and three Hap Holmes Memorial Awards (1952, 1957 and 1958). At the time, the Hap Holmes Memorial Award was a trophy awarded annually to the goaltender with the lowest goals-against average who appeared in at least 50 percent of his team’s regular season games. He was also the runner-up for the Hart Trophy in 1961.
In an era when many goaltenders were starting to leave their crease and play the puck, Bower played conservatively. He rarely strayed beyond his goalposts, preferring to stay close to the net. He perfected the now lost technique of poke checking to prevent shots and fluster shooters. He was also fearless, known to dive across the net and use any part of his body to stop a puck.
Bower was a late bloomer. He began his career as a 29-year-old and his best season came as a 39-year-old veteran during the 1963-64 season. His 2.11 GAA, five shutouts and 24-16-11 record led the Leafs to the playoffs and an eventual Stanley Cup. Though later passed by Gordie Howe, Bower was the oldest player to ever play when he retired at the age of 45.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976. His No. 1 sweater was also retired by the team and he was listed among the NHL’s Top 100 Greatest Players of All-Time as part of its Centennial Celebration in 2017.
1. Walter “Turk” Broda
Games Played: 629
Turk Broda was the original Leafs franchise goaltender after being acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for $7,500. Having never played a game for the Red Wings, he made his NHL debut with the Leafs in the 1935-36 season. He proceeded to play in Toronto for his entire career until retiring after the 1951-52 season. He appeared in a total of 14 seasons with the Leafs, stepping out from 1943-45 during World War II.
Broda was involved in what is probably the NHL’s first weight controversy. In 1949, head coach Conn Smythe ordered the goaltender to lose weight and threatened Broda’s starting job. He even brought up two goalies from the minors to back-up his threat. In what would come to be known as “the battle of the bulge,” Broda eventually lost enough weight to keep his job.
The clutch goaltender didn’t just dominate his position, he helped invent it. He was one of the key contributors who helped develop the goalie pad as we know it today. He was calm in the crease but had a temper, too. After allowing a goal, he was often furious with himself.
He’s the Leafs’ all-time leader in wins, shutouts and games played in net. He was a five-time Stanley Cup champion (1942, 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1951), a two-time Vezina winner (1941 and 1948) and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1967. His No. 1 sweater was retired by the team. He was also listed among the NHL’s Top 100 Greatest Players of All-Time as part of its Centennial Celebrations.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”