Top 5 Tallest Goalies in NHL History

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In the fast-paced world of National Hockey League (NHL) hockey, goalies are the last line of defense. They act as a nearly impenetrable wall, standing firm against a barrage of pucks flying towards the net at blistering speeds. But beyond exceptional reflexes and agility, some goalies possess another undeniable advantage – height. This article explores the top 5 tallest goalies in NHL history, delving into their careers, playing styles, and the unique challenges and benefits that come with their imposing stature.

A History of Towering Goaltenders: The Rise of the Big Man in Net

While goaltenders of all sizes have achieved success in the NHL, there’s a certain mystique surrounding the towering netminder. The earliest days of professional hockey saw a more diverse range of goalie heights. However, as equipment evolved and shots became more powerful, the advantages of height became increasingly evident. This trend has led to a growing number of tall goalies dominating the crease in recent decades.

5. Sean Burke (6’6″): A Reliable Backstop with a Long Career

Sean Burke, standing at an imposing 6’6″, enjoyed a lengthy and successful NHL career spanning from 1985 to 2004. Hailing from Canada, Burke played for a multitude of teams throughout his career, including the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Philadelphia Flyers. While not known for flashy acrobatics, his size and calmness in the crease allowed him to consistently rank among the league’s best puck-stoppers. Burke’s impressive career included a Vezina Trophy nomination in 1990, awarded to the NHL’s top goaltender.

4. Curtis Joseph (6’4″): A Dominant Force with a Butterfly Style

Standing at 6’4″, Curtis Joseph, nicknamed “CuJo,” was a force to be reckoned with during his NHL career from 1990 to 2009. A pioneer of the butterfly goaltending style, Joseph combined his height with exceptional agility, allowing him to cover a vast amount of the net. His dominance was evident during his time with the Edmonton Oilers, where he helped lead the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. Joseph’s impressive career accolades include two William M. Jennings Trophies, awarded to the goaltenders on the team allowing the fewest goals in a season.

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3. Evgeni Nabokov (6’4″): A Stellar Career Anchored by Positioning and Technique

Evgeni Nabokov, a towering presence at 6’4″, carved out a remarkable NHL career from 1994 to 2014. Hailing from Kazakhstan, Nabokov primarily played for the San Jose Sharks, establishing himself as a fan favorite and a cornerstone of the team’s success. He relied on exceptional positioning and a calm demeanor rather than flashy saves. Nabokov’s impressive statistics speak for themselves, including multiple seasons with save percentages exceeding .910.

2. Pekka Rinne (6’8″): The “Pekka Wall” – A Force of Nature in the Net

Nicknamed the “Pekka Wall” due to his imposing stature (6’8″), Pekka Rinne was a dominant force in the NHL from 2005 to 2021. The Finnish goaltender spent his entire NHL career with the Nashville Predators, becoming a beloved figure and a key contributor to the team’s rise as a perennial playoff contender. Rinne’s combination of size and athleticism allowed him to make highlight-reel saves with remarkable consistency. His impressive career includes a Vezina Trophy win in 2018 and multiple appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

1. Ben Bishop (6’7″): A Modern Goalie with a Unique Skillset

At a staggering 6’7″, Ben Bishop stands as the tallest goaltender in NHL history. The American netminder enjoyed a successful career from 2008 to 2020, playing for several teams including the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars. Bishop’s style was unique, combining his immense size with exceptional reflexes and a butterfly technique. He was known for his ability to steal games with acrobatic saves, often leaving fans and opposing players alike in awe. Bishop’s career highlights include a Stanley Cup victory with the Lightning in 2020 and a Vezina Trophy nomination in 2014.

Beyond the Reach: Advantages and Challenges of Height in Net

While height offers a distinct advantage in the net, it also presents certain challenges. Here’s a closer look at both sides of the coin:

Advantages:

  • Increased Coverage: A taller goalie can cover more of the net with their body and glove, making it more difficult for opposing players to find scoring opportunities.
  • Better Angle Control: Height allows for a better view of the ice and developing plays, enabling goalies to anticipate shots and react more effectively.
  • Intimidation Factor: The sheer size of a tall goalie can be intimidating to opposing shooters, potentially affecting their shot selection and confidence.

Challenges:

  • Lateral Movement: While height offers advantages in covering the net vertically, it can hinder a goalie’s lateral movement, making it more difficult to react to quick passes and shots across the crease.
  • Flexibility: Maintaining proper flexibility is crucial for goalies, and some very tall players may struggle to achieve the necessary bends and stretches required for certain saves.
  • Equipment Fit: Finding equipment that properly fits a very tall frame can be challenging, potentially impacting a goalie’s comfort and performance.

The Evolving Landscape: Adapting to the Modern Game

The modern NHL game emphasizes speed and agility. This has led some to question whether the era of the towering goaltender might be waning. However, many tall goalies have successfully adapted their styles to remain competitive. Here’s how:

  • Butterfly Technique: The widespread adoption of the butterfly goaltending style, which emphasizes controlled lateral movement and a wider leg spread, has allowed taller goalies to compensate for potential limitations in agility.
  • Improved Equipment: Modern goalie equipment is designed to be more flexible and lightweight, even for very tall players, allowing them to move with greater ease.
  • Focus on Positioning and Reading the Play: While height offers a physical advantage, exceptional positioning and the ability to read the developing play remain crucial for goalies of all sizes in the modern NHL.

The Future of Goaltending: Height as One Piece of the Puzzle

While height will undoubtedly continue to be a valuable asset for NHL goalies, it’s unlikely to be the sole determining factor of success in the future. A combination of size, athleticism, technical skill, and a strong mental game will be essential for goalies to thrive in the fast-paced and ever-evolving world of NHL hockey.

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Conclusion: Standing Tall for Success – The Legacy of Tall Goaltenders

The top 5 tallest goalies in NHL history have not only achieved individual success but have also left a lasting mark on the game. Their imposing stature, combined with exceptional skill and dedication, has cemented their place in hockey lore. As the sport continues to evolve, the role of the tall goalie will likely continue to adapt. But one thing remains certain – height, when coupled with talent and hard work, can be a powerful asset in the pursuit of goal-setting excellence.

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