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Best rookie goalie seasons

Tony Esposito tended the net in Chicago from 1969 to 1984. (THN Archives)

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Tony Esposito tended the net in Chicago from 1969 to 1984. (THN Archives)

Columbus goalie Steve Mason was named the NHL’s rookie of the month for November. The 2008 world junior championship MVP is a former London Knight and (briefly) Kitchener Ranger in the Ontario League. He started eight games in the month, posting a 5-2-1 record with two shutouts, a 2.09 goals-against average and .919 save percentage for the suddenly deep-between-the-pipes Blue Jackets.

Great numbers to be sure, but Mason’s month of work got us thinking about the best-ever seasons for rookie goalies. So we hit the books and ranked them. Without further ado, here’s THN’s Top 10 seasons from rookie goalies in the NHL:

10. Glenn Resch, New York Islanders 1975-76
• ‘Chico’ may have won the Calder Trophy in 1976 if it wasn’t for his teammate, Bryan Trottier. Nevertheless, Resch finished second in GAA, second in shutouts by one (despite playing 18 fewer games), cracked the top 10 in wins even though he was splitting time and was named to the second all-star team.

9. Ken Dryden, Montreal Canadiens 1971-72
• Dryden won a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1971 after playing just six NHL games prior to the playoffs. As a rookie, he led the league in wins, was fourth in GAA, second in shutouts and was named a second team all-star.

8. Glenn Hall, Detroit Red Wings 1955-56
• Hall took over for Terry Sawchuk in Detroit and didn’t disappoint. He played every minute of every game, finished second to Jacques Plante in GAA, third in wins, first in shutouts, was named a second team all-star and won the Calder Trophy.

7. Roger Crozier, Detroit Red Wings 1964-65
• The last time a goalie played every game for his team it was Crozier during his rookie season. Crozier also took over for – an older – Sawchuk and flourished. He led the league in wins by 14 and shutouts by two, finished second in GAA, was named a first team all-star and won the Calder Trophy.

6. Ron Hextall, Philadelphia Flyers 1986-87
• Hextall took the NHL by storm as a rookie with the second-overall Flyers. He led the league in games played, wins and save percentage. He also recorded six assists and 104 penalty minutes. Despite losing the Cup final in seven games to Edmonton, Hextall was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. He was later named to the first all-star team and won the Vezina Trophy.

5. Bill Durnan, Montreal Canadiens 1943-44
• Durnan was the only NHL goalie to play every minute of every game in 1943-44. His league-leading goals-against average was .82 better than second place and he had 21 more wins than any other goalie that season. For his efforts, Durnan was named a first all-star and won the Vezina Trophy. Oh, he also won the Stanley Cup.

4. Terry Sawchuk, Detroit Red Wings 1950-51
• Sawchuk entered the NHL as the starting goalie for the defending Cup-champion Wings and played every minute of every game, compiling a 44-13-13 record. Sawchuk led the league in shutouts with 11, finished second with a 1.99 GAA and first in victories. He was named a first team all-star and rookie of the year. He missed out on the Vezina Trophy – originally awarded to the goalie allowing the fewest goals against – by a single goal.

3. Tom Barrasso, Buffalo Sabres 1983-84
• Barrasso entered the NHL right out of high school as an 18-year-old and supplanted Bob Sauve as Buffalo’s No. 1 netminder. In 42 games he went 26-12-3 with two shutouts, a 2.84 GAA and an .893 save percentage. That may not seem like a great stat line, but this was the offense-driven NHL of the early 1980s – Wayne Gretzky tallied 205 points that season. Barrasso’s GAA was second in the league, his save percentage third. He was named to the all-rookie and first all-star teams, and won the Calder and Vezina trophies.

2. Ed Belfour, Chicago Blackhawks 1990-91
• Belfour didn’t pick up the moniker ‘Eddie the Eagle’ until later in his career, but he was certainly a high flyer during his rookie season. Belfour saw action in 74 games, compiling a 43-19-7 record with four shutouts, a league-leading .910 save percentage and a 2.47 GAA. He won the Jennings, Calder and Vezina trophies, was named to the NHL’s first all-star team and the all-rookie team.

1. Tony Esposito, Chicago Black Hawks 1969-70
• What is it about Chicago rookie puck stoppers? Tony ‘O’ not only had the best rookie goaltender season the NHL has ever seen, he may have had the best rookie season in NHL history. Period. Esposito went 38-17-8 to lead the league in victories, finished with a 2.17 GAA and set a modern record that still stands with 15 shutouts. For his efforts, he won the Calder and Vezina trophies and was named a first all-star.

The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.

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