During the 2018-19 regular season, Jacob Markstrom’s strong play surprised many fans and hockey experts. At that time, Markstrom looked like the “answer” for the Vancouver Canucks goalie depth for the next few years. However, during the 2019-20 offseason, he signed away with the Calgary Flames.
Now that young goalie Thatcher Demko emerged from being a prospect to showing promise as the Canucks’ goalie of the future, is there a chance that the Canucks’ goalie depth might become a strength as the team moves forward?
Considering the Canucks’ goaltending, here’s a look at who I believe have been the best goalies in Canucks’ franchise history.
Top Three Canucks Franchise Goalies
A number of goalies of note didn’t make my list. Specifically, Cory Schneider, Dan Cloutier, and Ryan Miller stand out.
Of those three goalies, Miller played with the team most recently and became the American-born goalie with the most wins in NHL history. He recently retired after posting an NHL career record of 390-289-87 a goals-against-average and a save percentage of 2.64. Miller played three seasons with the team (2015-17), getting into 150 games (with a 64-68-16 record). However, his best work was with the Buffalo Sabres before he joined the Canucks.
Schneider played with the Canucks between 2009-13 (during the Roberto Luongo era). He played in 98 games (a 55-26-8 record) and had a .927 save percentage (the best in team history). During the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Schneider was traded to the New Jersey Devils for the 9th overall selection, which the Canucks used to choose Bo Horvat. We appreciate that Schneider helped make that possible.
Dan Cloutier played for the team between 2001-06, during a time of relative success. He ranks fourth in games played (208) and in wins (109). Funny, when I looked at his record, his numbers warrant consideration for one of the top five goalies in Canucks history. Yet, I didn’t believe he was on par with the three goalies who made the list.
My list of the three best Canucks goaltenders includes Kirk McLean, Richard Brodeur, and Roberto Luongo. As always, any list of “best” goalies considers the statistics, a sense of the impact each goalie had on the team, and (I admit) as favorite players. I could have ranked Schneider the second-best goalie in Canucks history, but he simply didn’t play long enough with the team.
Number Three: Kirk McLean
When Kirk McLean played, he probably was the best Canucks goalie the team had ever had. He’s the all-time leader in Canucks games played (516 games in 11 seasons). Furthermore, he played at a time when save percentage was much lower than it is today, so his .901 SV% is better than it looks to modern hockey fans.
McLean’s best season was in 1991-92 when he played 65 games, with a record of 38-17-9. His 38 victories were the most in the NHL that season, and he played on par with Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy. He came in fourth place in the Hart Trophy voting.
Perhaps his best performance was during the 1993-94 playoffs. In 24 playoff games, McLean had four shutouts and led the team to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Interestingly, McLean won 23 games during the regular season, and 15 during the postseason. He was an amazing playoff goalie.
Number Two: Richard Brodeur
Richard Brodeur was the first really strong Canucks goalie. After Vancouver joined the NHL in 1970, the team tried a number of goalies who probably suffered because the team was an expansion team: Glen Hanlon (who began with the Canucks but went on to play with the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings), Gary Smith (who bounced around the NHL for years but had three pretty good seasons with the team between 1973-76), and Cesare Maniago (who spent much of his early career with the Minnesota North Stars prior to joining the Canucks) were the goalies of note. Brodeur easily surpassed them.
Brodeur played during the WHA and NHL years. He was drafted by the New York Islanders but instead signed with the Quebec Nordiques of the WHA and led them to an Avco Cup Championship in 1976-77. However, when the WHA folded, his rights went back to the Islanders who traded him to the Canucks for a 5th round draft pick.
It didn’t take long for Brodeur to become “King Richard.” In 1981-82, he led the Canucks on an improbable Stanley Cup Final run against the same Islanders that had traded him. The series wasn’t supposed to be a contest because the Islanders had 41 more regular-season points. Although the Islanders did win the series (in a sweep) to earn their third Stanley Cup, Brodeur’s goaltending helped keep the Canucks competitive during the series.
Brodeur played 377 games and had 126 wins for the Canucks (ranking him third all-time in both categories). He had three All-Star selections between 1980-1986. He was traded to the Hartford Whalers during the 1987-88 season after McLean joined the team. After Miller, Brodeur was my
Number One: Roberto Luongo
To nobody’s surprise, I’ve chosen Roberto Luongo as the best Canucks goalie of all time. He was interesting, he was a leader,
Luongo wore jersey #1 because, as he noted, “Well…it kind of says it all, doesn’t it?”
Luongo could carry the team. His 72 saves in four overtimes against the Dallas Stars during the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs was an amazing performance and continues to be a record. During the 2010-11 playoffs, Luongo led the team to the Stanley Cup Final but they lost by a single goal to the Boston Bruins is Game 7.
Perhaps most notably, Luongo was named the captain of the Canucks and held that difficult position (for a goalie) for two seasons from 2008-10. It was a move that showed the team’s respect for his leadership.
During the 2006-2007 season, Luongo won a remarkable 47 games, with a 2.28 goals-against average, and a .921 SV%. He earned nominations for the Vezina Trophy, the Hart Memorial Trophy, and the Lester B. Pearson Award. He still holds Canucks records for most wins in a season (47), most shutouts (9), and lowest goals against (2.11).
Over his career, Luongo ranks third in all-time career NHL wins, trailing only Hall-of-Famers Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. He will be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame when his playing days are complete.
His time with the Canucks was exciting and he was, by far, the best goalie the team has ever had.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf