The Hawks left Hall unprotected when the league doubled in size in 1967. A 10-time All-Star at age 35, Hall was making just $35,000 a year, and he had announced his intention to retire. But when the Blues drafted him, they were able to lure him back to the NHL with a raise to $47,500. Hall rewarded the expansion club by helping them get to the Stanley Cup finals three years in a row. He also finally began wearing a face mask. "Age, common sense," Hall explains. "You were looking at more deflections and screen shots. The players would tell me, you're crazy not to wear a mask, and basically you knew you were. But it wasn't like you put it on and felt invincible. We didn't have that much confidence in them."
The primitive mask certainly didn't diminish Hall's play. In 1968 he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs; the next season, at 37, Hall and 41-year-old Jacques Plante shared the Vezina Trophy, combining for a 2.07 goals-against average. When Hall retired, in 1971, he had 84 shutouts (third-most in NHL history) and a lifetime goals-against average of 2.51.
Since that time, goals per game averages have soared, and the question remains: Has modern goaltending somehow gotten worse? Are the shooters that much better? Or is it a combination of both?
Hall, for one, doesn't feel today's goalies should be blamed. He has seen the entire league shift the emphasis to more offense, playing like his old run-and-gun Hawks. Certainly more players today shoot the puck well than their predecessors did 25 years ago, and, with 24 teams, it is impossible for goalies to get a book on the strengths of every shooter, as Hall was able to do.
He has noticed, however, that more of today's goalies tend to throw themselves at the puck than they did in his day. "Someone came along with the phrase, 'Challenge the shooter,' " moans Hall. "I cry when I hear that. The whole game today is designed on getting the goalie out of position. That's why I preach recovery, recovery, recovery. I'd love to be playing now. I could move. I could get there. I was a good skater, which is the most important element of goal tending."
The 61-year-old Hall now assumes a familiar crouch, unforgettable to those who regularly watched him play. His knees are bent with his legs swaying back and forth like sea grass. His head protrudes so that it is in front of his hands, a little like a turtle with its neck out. He is fluid, relaxed, poised on the balls of his feet and ready to spring. Without equipment, without even ice, Hall is still the consummate goalie. No one has ever floated up and down, in and out of the crease, with quite his style.
"That's why I don't like the idea of alternating two goalies," Hall says. "When you get on a roll, you're moving with confidence, smooth and easy. When you're not confident, when you haven't played, you're jerky. And if you're moving jerky, you're looking at double figures.
"You know, today's goalies work harder in practice than we ever did," Hall says. "But I see a complacency—a lot of guys just happy being in the NHL. I'll never understand that complacency. Scotty Bowman used to say, just because you signed an NHL contract, doesn't mean you're a National Leaguer. That's the way I felt. God, I'd have hated to be an average goalie."