October 10, 2012
It’s hard to compare athletes from different eras because most sports evolve over the years. However, with the announcement that former NHL star Dominik Hasek is retiring from hockey for good, a lot of people are making a case that the “Dominator” was one of the best if not the best goalie ever to lace up a pair of ice skates.
The 47-year-old Hasek recently announced that he was packing it in because his attempts at a comeback this season have been derailed by the NHL lockout. He had planned on signing with a club for one final year even though he hasn’t played a pro game since the 2010-11 season when he made four appearances with Spartak Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia.
Hasek had hoped to play in some American Hockey League (AHL) exhibition games during the preseason to show NHL clubs that he could still stop the puck. The goalie’s agent said one team was very interested in his client’s services, but wouldn’t reveal the club. He said that after the lockout started the club told him they weren’t interested in Hasek anymore.
The Buffalo Sabres said they were slightly interested in July when they heard Hasek wanted to return to the NHL, but decided to pass on the chance to sign him to a contract as a free agent. The last time Hasek played in the NHL was back in 2008 as a member of the Detroit Red Wings. He helped the team win the Stanley Cup that year by posting a record of 27-10-3 and a goals-against average of 2.14. He also added five shutouts that season.
Hasek, who hails from Pardubice in the Czech Republic, was originally drafted back in 1983 in the 10th round of the NHL draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. However, it would be seven long years before he would make his NHL debut. After leaving Chicago he joined the Sabres and played with them between 1992 and 2001. He won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie six times with Buffalo as well as two Hart Trophies for being the league’s MVP and a pair of Jennings Trophies for letting in the fewest goals against. After Buffalo, he had a stop in Ottawa for a season before ending his career in Detroit.
Throughout his career, Hasek was also voted to the league’s All-Star team six times. He played in a total of 735 season games and posted a record of 389-223-95. His career goals-against average was 2.20 and he added 81 shutouts. He also proved he was just as good in the postseason by going 65-49 in the playoffs with a goals-against average of 2.02 and 14 shutouts. Hasek posted a save percentage of over 93 per cent in five of his seasons. He won the Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2002, but retired at the end of the season. He sat out for a year and returned to the Wings in 2003/04 and won the Cup for the second time.
Hasek was also just as prominent on the world stage. He played for the Czech Republic at four Olympic Games in 2006, 2002, 1998, and 1988, and won a gold medal with his country in 1998. These numbers and trophies have impressed a lot of hockey people such as former coach and general manager John Muckler.
Muckler said Hasek was the greatest goalie he’s ever seen because he was unconventional and didn’t actually play by the book. Muckler coached Hasek in Buffalo and was also his general manager with the Sabres and Ottawa. Muckler said Hasek often scared him because he doesn’t know how he stopped the puck with his odd and unorthodox goaltending style. He admitted that he used to think the best goalie ever was Terry Sawchuk, but after seeing Hasek play for all those years believes he’s the best ever.
Ken Holland, the Red Wings GM, said Hasek could make saves that nobody else could because he could get in his opponents’ heads and take away their will. He added that nobody could raise their game to another level like Hasek could and he was still doing it when he was in his forties. Holland said he’s never seen anybody with more competitive spirit than Hasek and he hated letting in goals in practice just as much as he detested letting them in during games.
Hasek certainly had a unique style when it came to goaltending. Sometimes he was a standup goalie and at other times he preferred the butterfly style. He would stack his pads and pick up pucks with his blocker if he had to. Whatever it took to keep the puck out of the net, Hasek was willing to do it. Holland said that his coaches and teammates didn’t always know what Hasek was going, but the goaltender certainly did.
Former NHL player Joe Nieuwendyk, who is now the general manager of the Dallas Stars, said Hasek used to intimidate a lot of shooters simply because he was so good. He said when Hasek stood in the net there wasn’t really any room to puck the puck by him because the 6-foot-1 goalie filled it from post to post.
There are those who believe Sawchuk, Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, or Jacques Plante was the best goalie in the history of the NHL and they may be right. But there’s no doubt that Hasek belongs somewhere on that list and will be nominated into the Hockey Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible.