In 1993-94 season Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek both became full-time starting goalies in the NHL, Brodeur because he was a rookie, and Hasek because he had managed to get out of the Czech Republic, and was finally given the chance at a starting job. For the next decade, until Hasek retired for the first time in 2002, they were both considered among the premier goalies in the National Hockey League. Which one was better? Let's see what the numbers say.
From 1993-94 until 2001-02, Dominik Hasek faced 1,060 more shots than Martin Brodeur, and gave up 135 fewer goals.
I had to check those numbers again because I thought I had made a mistake at first. It is sometimes easy to shrug off save percentages, since there doesn't look like that much of a difference between Hasek's .926 and Brodeur's .911, but the difference shows itself in the totals. To try to quantify the gap between Hasek and Brodeur, I looked for a goalie that faced about 1,000 fewer shots than Brodeur and gave up 130 more goals in the same time period. There wasn't one, because no goalie that bad would get enough playing time to qualify. The two closest were Arturs Irbe (1870 fewer shots, 62 fewer goals against) and Jocelyn Thibault (1948 fewer shots, 77 fewer goals). Brodeur was much closer to guys like Irbe or Thibault than he was to Hasek in the 1990s. The Dominator was just on a completely different level.
Hasek was even more dominant in a team context. The 2002 Red Wings were great, but his Sabres teams were pretty average. Altogether, his teams won 343 out of 706 games from 1994-2002. The Devils were a consistently dominant team in front of Brodeur, with 380 wins in the same time period. They were not just better defensively but offensively as well, outscoring Hasek's teams by 116 goals.
Hasek's backups were 79-95-21, with a 2.96 GAA and a .900 save percentage. Brodeur's backups were 58-62-12 with a 2.63 GAA and a .900 save percentage, facing 3.4 fewer shots per game. Hasek's backups were more talented goalies, as most of them had been or became starters in the NHL: Grant Fuhr, Martin Biron, Dwayne Roloson, Steve Shields, Manny Legace. Brodeur had two decent backups, Mike Dunham and John Vanbiesbrouck, and they combined for a .911 save percentage. The mediocre Chris Terreri, backup for 5 of the seasons, was at .898, and the rest were minor-leaguers (.882).
What about the playoffs? Well, Brodeur certainly had more playoff opportunities because of the strength of his teams, playing 114 playoff games to Hasek's 90. His 67-47 record was also slightly better than the Dominator's 52-37. However, Brodeur's winning percentage of .588 was below New Jersey's regular season average of .615, while Hasek's playoff win mark of .584 was much better than his team's seasonal rate of .559, indicating that the Dominator carried his team in the postseason. In total, Brodeur faced 260 more shots and gave up 33 more goals than Hasek, which meant Hasek had a better save percentage, .927 to .922. Hasek only had one Cup win to Brodeur's two, but from 1994 to 2002 Hasek was the better playoff goalie.
So Brodeur is almost totally outclassed by that comparison. However, it is not really fair to him since the analyzed period includes his early seasons and none of his later Vezina-winning years. To compare apples to apples, let's put the two of them side-by-side at a similar age and look at their records from the age of 29 to the age of 34 (which because of Hasek's late start are the only seasons we can use to compare the two as starting NHL goalies):
Age 29-34 seasons: Dominik Hasek faced 1,494 more shots than Martin Brodeur, and gave up 41 fewer goals.
So Hasek faced almost an extra season's worth of shots, and still gave up fewer goals. Brodeur did miss his age 32 season because of the lockout, so I guess hypothetically he might have played an entire season without giving up a goal, while using his puckhandling skills to create an additional 40 goals of offence. But anything less than that, and it has to be conceded that Hasek was better than Brodeur at a similar age.
The team context is even more skewed in this sample. Between Hasek's age 29 and 34 seasons, Buffalo went 211-180-69 for 491 points in 460 games. In the same career point for Brodeur, New Jersey went 225-124-61 for 511 points in just 410 games. Buffalo scored 2.9 goals per game and gave up 2.5, while New Jersey scored 2.7 and gave up 2.3. One striking difference was in penalty minutes. Buffalo averaged 22 PIM per game, while New Jersey averaged just 11, another advantage to Brodeur who likely faced about half as many power plays.
Hasek's backups went 40-55-13 with a 3.31 GAA and an .897 save percentage, while Brodeur's were 17-15-6 with a 2.21 GAA and a .910 save percentage. Again, this despite Hasek's backups being better goalies (Fuhr, Biron, Roloson et al), as Brodeur's teammates in this period were Scott Clemmensen, Corey Schwab, J.F. Damphousse, and, for one season, the 38-year old John Vanbiesbrouck. The shot totals reinforce New Jersey's defensive strength: Buffalo's backups faced 32 shots per game, while New Jersey's faced just 24. New Jersey was a much better team than Buffalo, meaning that even if Hasek and Brodeur had similar statistics, Hasek would have been the better goalie. The fact that Hasek outplayed Brodeur by a wide margin despite the team factors shows that he was a decisively better goalie.
Hasek was also better in the playoffs in this sample. Brodeur went 44-36 with a 2.00 GAA and a .919 save percentage, stats that were about average given the low-scoring era he played in. Hasek was 28-20 with a 2.01 GAA and a .933 save percentage. Again, Hasek's playoff winning percentage (.583) was higher than his team's during the regular season (.534), while Brodeur's Devils went from a .623 regular season rate to just .550 in the postseason.
Some of Hasek's performance statistics are almost mind-boggling. It is probably only the fact that he came to the NHL late that prevents him from being a near-unanimous choice as the best ever, or at least one of the top 2 or 3 in history. He was much better than Brodeur in the late '90s, and much better at a similar age. Frankly, I think it is astonishing that anyone who followed NHL hockey in the 1990s would rank Brodeur ahead of Hasek. Subjectively and objectively, the Dominator was in a league of his own.