The Carolina Hurricanes have had a great number of goaltenders in their history, dating back to their time as the Hartford Whalers. Even though they’ve been in the NHL since 1979-80, only five goalies for the organization have crossed the 200-game plateau. Within those five, is where we find the top-three netminders to ever play for the Whalers and Hurricanes. The top two are obvious, but the third spot is a bit more complicated.
Here they are, the top-three goaltenders in Hurricanes and Whalers history.
Honourable Mention: Sean Burke
Whalers/Hurricanes Record: 107-131-29
Sean Burke was drafted 25th overall in 1985, by the New Jersey Devils. He spent his first four seasons on the NHL with them, before sitting out in the 1991-92 season. He was then traded to the Hartford Whalers just before the 1992-93 season in exchange for Bobby Holik and a second-round pick that turned out to be Jay Pandolfo. Burke spent the next six seasons with the Whalers organization, his final season as a Hurricane after the relocation. That season he played 25 games before being traded to the Vancouver Canucks.
Burke was voted at the team MVP from 1993 to 1997 – all of his seasons in Hartford. While he did have a losing record, he maintained a .903 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.09 goals against average (GAA). He sits fourth in all-time shutouts in the organization (11), tied with Kevin Weekes, third in games played (281), and fourth in wins (107). He’s only one of four goalies (all on this list) in the franchise’s history to hit 100 wins. Burke does sit first in one category though, penalty minutes (85). He is also tied for most points, with 12 assists.
His best seasons came in 1994-95, where he went 17-19-4 with a .912 SV% and a 2.68 GAA finishing eighth in Vezina Trophy voting, and in 1996-97, going 22-22-6 with a .914 SV% and a 2.69 GAA.
3) Mike Liut
Whalers Record: 115-111-17
Very close to Burke, but just slightly better in his time with the Whalers, is goaltender Mike Liut. Before Burke got to Hartford, it was the Liut show and he made it count. He was traded to the team by the St. Louis Blues in Feb. 1985, in a four-player swap that was presumed to be salary-related. He stayed with the team for parts of six seasons until he was once again traded mid-season, to the Washington Capitals in 1990 for Yvon Corriveau.
Related: Best NHL Goalies from the 1980s
Liut brought a winning record to the organization in his first two full seasons, including an impressive 31-22-5 record in 1986-87 that saw him finish second in Vezina Trophy voting and fourth in Hart Trophy voting as league MVP. That season, he led the team to a first-place finish in the Adams Division, the first and only time the Whalers would do so.
Despite receiving Vezina votes in three of his six seasons in Hartford, his individual numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, with a .882 SV% and 3.36 GAA over his time with the franchise. He has the fourth-most games played (252) in the organization’s history, the third-most wins (115) and also sits third for shutouts (13). By the time he left the Whalers, Liut had 20 franchise records to his name (14 on his own, six shared). That is, until the next goaltender on this list showed up in Carolina.
2) Artūrs Irbe
Hurricanes Record: 130-122-44
Coming into the Hurricanes organization as a free agent, Artūrs Irbe became the starting goaltender to replace Burke after his trade out of town. Irbe had already started a very successful career with the San Jose Sharks, finishing once in the top-five for the Vezina Trophy and even in the top-15 for the Hart Trophy.
Irbe ended up playing six seasons for the Hurricanes, with some of their most successful hockey to date, including a 2002 Stanley Cup Final appearance. Although they were defeated by the Detroit Red Wings in five games. Irbe was a huge part in getting the team there though, with a .938 SV% and 1.67 GAA through 18 playoff games.
In Carolina, Irbe ended up twice more finishing in the top-10 for Vezina voting, and once in the top-30 for the Hart Trophy. In the season with Hart votes, he had a record of 37-29-9 to go with six shutouts, a .908 SV% and 2.45 GAA. All while facing the most shots in the league that season (1,947).
Irbe ended up passing Liut in a number of categories. This included new franchise records in big categories such as games played (309), wins (130), and shutouts (20). At the end of his Hurricane career, Irbe had a .906 SV% and a 2.49 GAA, better statistics than Liut. However, there’s one goaltender who flew past all of Irbe’s numbers.
1) Cam Ward
Hurricanes Record: 318-244-84
You can’t think of Hurricanes goaltending and not think of Cam Ward. The franchise’s best goalie of all-time has more than double the number of seasons (13) and games played (668) than the next goaltender (Irbe). He leads in every major statistical category, including the games played, wins (318), and shutouts (27). There should be no question that Ward deserves to be at the top of this list.
Ward broke into the league in 2005-06, after being the 25th-overall pick in 2002 by the Hurricanes. His first game was against the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he stopped Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby and Ziggy Palffy in the organization’s first-ever shootout. Welcome to the NHL.
That season, he played 28 games, going 14-8-2, with a .882 SV% and a 3.68 GAA. But in the playoffs, he really turned it on. Playing 23 games for the club, he led the playoffs with 15 wins and upped his stats to a .920 SV% and 2.14 GAA. He helped Carolina win their first and only Stanley Cup, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in the process. Not a bad start to his career, becoming only the second starting goalie to win the Cup as a rookie after Patrick Roy.
While those two trophies were his only two through his time with the Hurricanes, Ward was an All-Star in 2011, finished in the top-10 for the Vezina twice, and the top-20 for the Hart Trophy once. He held down the starters role in every season he played, becoming a core member of the club that could be relied on night in and night out.
Ward also leads the franchise in one more stat: goals by a goaltender. On Dec. 26, 2011, Ward was credited with an empty-net goal against the New Jersey Devils. He tacked that on to 11 assists for 12 points to share the lead with Burke.
With the time Ward spent in Carolina, he cemented his legacy as the top netminder in Hurricanes and Whalers history, putting up numbers that are not likely to be touched anytime soon. It should only be a matter of time before his jersey is up in the rafters.
Statistics from Hockey-Reference.com
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.