Patrick Roy retired last week, perhaps a year too soon, as the best goaltender in NHL history. His litany of accomplishments includes 551 regular-season wins, 151 playoff victories, two Stanley Cups each with the Montreal Canadiens and the Colorado Avalanche, and three Conn Smythe Trophies. Roy, 37, was a technical goalie, scientifically precise on his angles as he dropped into his familiar butterfly: pads splayed and stick covering the five hole, leaving only pinpricks of daylight over his shoulders at which shooters could aim. He might not have dominated as the Detroit Red Wings' Terry Sawchuk did 40 years ago or Buffalo's Dominik Hasek did in the late 1990s, but to dwell on Roy's shortcomings—his sometimes indifferent puck-handling, his spectacular meltdown in the 2002 Western Conference finals against Detroit, his 6-7 record in Game 7s—is to dwell on Cindy Crawford's mole.
Roy was more than great. He was significant. Jacques Plante popularized the goalie mask, the position's most important innovation, but Roy, adopting the principles laid out two decades ago by current Anaheim goalie consultant Fran�ois Allaire, made the butterfly the predominant goaltending style in the NHL, as anyone watching the Mighty Ducks' Jean-S�bastien Giguere in the ongoing Stanley Cup finals can see. (The Devils' Martin Brodeur once idolized Roy, as did many children in the goalie factory called Quebec, where Roy grew up, but Brodeur plays a more stand-up style.) The butterfly, practiced by men padded out to resemble the Michelin Man, is one element in the NHL's descent into the Dead Puck era. For years of low-scoring hockey, Roy probably deserves our dubious thanks.
Last week, when asked what shooters he had most feared during his 18-year career, Roy said, "To be honest with you, there's none." It's not bragging if you can back it up, and the numbers show mat Roy could. The man may have skated off, but St. Patrick's spirit will be there whenever the puck is dropped.