Why is it that we (our generation anyway) have trouble thinking of Esposito as one of the greatest hockey players of all time? Is it because he was on the same team as Bobby Orr, whose legend has endured far better? Is it because of Esposito’s extraordinarily unathletic physique? Is it because everything he did has since been done multiple times by multiple players so those records feel less important?
Sure, Espo benefited from playing more games per season in the newly expanded league (someone was going to set records) and, yes, he benefited from playing with the Greatest of All Time, but lesser players wouldn’t have excelled the way he did, over such a long period of time.
For two straight years, Bernie Parent was the best goalie in the NHL. He won two straight Vezinas (when it was the Jennings) and two straight Conn Smythes. Additionally, by Hockey Reference’s Goals Saved Above Average metric, Parent’s 1973-74 season is the greatest ever by an NHL goaltender.
Does this brief stretch of dominance put him among the ranks of the very best goalies ever? He’s certainly one of the couple best goalies of the 1970s.
Listen to us discuss Parent’s Hall of Fame case here:
We don’t know exactly what happened between 1987 and now, but the standards for goalie admission got a lot stricter. (Well, we do know that goalie stats got better.) It’s so hard to get admitted into the Hall of Fame as a goalie now, but when Ed Giacomin was inducted, it seems like it was less hard.
Giacomin has good traditional stats, such as wins. And it’s arguable he was the Most Valuable Goalie in the league for four seasons.
But he was never the best goalie in the league by Save Percentage, Goals Saved Above Average or even GAA – that Vezina is for total Goals Against – and his peak only lasted about four years. The rest of his regular season career is not outstanding (especially as he got older).
Additionally, his playoff numbers aren’t great.
So does Ed Giacomin actually belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame? Listen to us discuss it here:
Bobby Clarke is one of the most notorious players in NHL history but he’s also one of the most decorated, one of only a few players to ever win the Hart three times. (He also became a star in spite of his diabetes.)
He was extremely hard to play against but also an offensive star. He only won one Selke because it was introduced half way through his career.
So where does Clarke rank all time among defensive forwards? Listen to us discuss his Hall of Fame case here:
For 6 seasons – more than half a decade – there was arguably no better hockey player on earth than Guy Lafleur. And there is arguably no better team in NHL history than Lafleur’s Canadiens of the late ’70s.
For the rest of his career, Lafleur was, um, not the best hockey player in the world. And so the question is, was he good enough in those six seasons to rank among the very, very best forwards in history, who managed longer peaks but less consistency?
Listen to us talk about Guy Lafleur’s case for one of the Greatest of All Time here:
Tony Esposito has one of the best regular season careers of any NHL goalie ever, not just in germs of his peak but in terms of how long he was among the best goalies in the league (at least by Goals Saved Above Average). Also, he helped change goalie masks for the better.
Yet his playoff numbers are significantly worse. He underperformed in one of his two good playoff runs and he was only ever on one truly great international team, as a backup.
So, it’s obvious Tony Esposito belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame but where does he rank all time?
Denis Potvin was the greatest offensive D between Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey. He might have been the best all around defender too, as when was the last time you heard someone complain about his defence?
So obviously Denis Potvin belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But where does he rank all time?