The Best Bruin To Ever Wear The Number One

(Photo Credit: George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

Welcome to the first of what will hopefully become a long and very entertaining series of articles. I am going to look at the best Bruin’s player to wear each number throughout the organization’s long and storied history. I will be skipping the retired numbers because it’s pretty self-explanatory who the best Bruin to don each of those revered numbers was.

Just to get it out of the way, in case anyone has forgotten, these are the current retired numbers in Boston:

#2 – Eddie Shore, #3 – Lionel Hitchman, #4 – Bobby Orr, #5 – Dit Clapper, #7 – Phil Esposito, #8 – Cam Neely, #9 – John Bucyk, #15 – Milt Schmidt, #16 – Rick Middleton, #24 – Terry O’Reilly, #77 – Ray Bourque.

Eleven numbers may seem like a lot, but it still leaves us 88 more to contemplate.

The best place to start this series, numerically anyway, is pretty obvious, and that would be with the number one. Generally speaking, the number one is worn in the NHL by goaltenders, and the greatest players to ever sport that number in B’s history were no exception. In an organization that has been around as long as the Bruins have, you would think that the competition would be pretty fierce? Normally, that would be a safe assumption. Unfortunately, in the case of the number one, the competition IS fierce, but it’s not for first place, it’s for third. That said, there is still a worthy discussion to be had for the runner-ups.

(Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Bruins have two goalies that played their careers primarily in the 1930s and 1940s that have without question locked up the first and second spots as the greatest B’s players to ever wear the number One. Those two guys are Cecil “Tiny” Thompson and Frank “Mr. Zero” Brimsek. While it is difficult to compare players across different eras, these two players were able to pile up more than enough wins and hardware to leave no doubt that they were the top dogs in this contest.

Thompson was the preeminent goaltender of the 1930s. During that decade (and in 1928-29,) he played in 468 games for the Bruins, had a GAA of 1.99 (Save Percentage was not a stat yet), and a whopping 74 shutouts. He won 252 games for Boston, and both his games played and win totals are 2nd all-time for the B’s. They were 1st until recently being eclipsed by Tuukka Rask. In addition to those impressive numbers, Tiny won a Cup in 1929, had four All-Star game appearances, and four Vezina Trophies on his resume. In that era, the Vezina was given to the goalie whose team allowed the fewest amount of regular-season goals. This was no slight as Thompson was largely responsible for that. In 1936 he became the first goalie in NHL history to record an assist in a game. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1959. For my money, he is the best player to wear number one for the Bruins.

Frank Brimsek played for the Bruins from 1938-1948. Somewhat ironically, it was Brimsek that forced out and took over for Thompson in 1938. Tiny suffered an eye injury, and Brimsek played so well in his stead that the Bruins dealt Thompson to Detroit in November of 1938. It would mark the beginning of an impressive nine-year run in the Boston goal. Brimsek would suit up for 444 games (tied for 3rd on the B’s all-time list), winning 230 with 35 shutouts. During that time, he would also win two Stanley Cups and two Vezina Trophies, along with being named to the All-Star team eight times.

(Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Brimsek earned his famous “Mr. Zero” nickname after recording six shutouts in his first eight games and setting a league record for consecutive scoreless minutes in the process. Brimsek was born in Eveleth, Minnesota, which is notable because he was one of very few Americans in the NHL in the 1940s. The United States Hockey Hall of Fame was established in Brimsek’s hometown in 1973, and he was part of the original group of 25 to be inducted. In addition, an award given to the best senior high school goalie in the state of Minnesota is named after him. He joined Tiny Thompson in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966 and is a close second to him for best Bruin to ever wear the number one.

There are a number of other goalies that have worn the number one for the Bruins over the years. Some have been goalies that made their fame with other teams and wore it briefly for the Black and Gold. Guys like Terry Sawchuk, Rogie Vachon, and Marty Turco fall into this category. While they were great netminders, they were not in Boston long enough to warrant consideration.

The next trio of goalies I considered were all players that fell short of third place for one reason or another, whether it be lack of tenure or performance. Andrew Raycroft had good numbers with Boston (2.62 GAA, .908 Save %), but he only played 108 games and had a losing record before being traded to TOR for Tuukka Rask. Pete Peeters played 171 games in Boston and had 91 wins, but his stats were not great (3.00 GAA, .883 SP), and he had more games and years in a Flyers uniform than a B’s sweater. Last but not least was Reggie Lemelin, who, while he was in Boston, was beloved by the fans for his “fist pump” celebration after games. In six years in Boston, he played in 182 games, had 92 wins, but the numbers were average. His GAA was 3.09, and his save percentage came in at .884. All three of these players were good, but not good enough for the top three.

(Photo Credit: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Third place for the best to wear the number one in Boston came down to two goalies in my estimation, Eddie Johnston and Gilles Gilbert. Readers younger than myself are probably much more familiar with Gilbert than Johnston, who played primarily in the ’60s for the B’s. Gilbert was known for being on the losing end to Philly and later Montreal in the ’70s under Don Cherry.

While Johnston might be lesser-known to today’s Bruins fans, he has a very respectable resume. He played in Boston from 1962 thru 1973, amassing 444 games for the B’s (tied for 3rd all-time with Brimsek), winning 182, with a GAA of 3.22 and a .900 Save Percentage. He was the starter before Gerry Cheevers established himself and backed “Cheesy” up in the late 1960s and early ’70s. His numbers were very comparable to Cheevers,’ and he actually played in more games for the Bruins. He was also a key contributor on both Stanley Cup teams, playing 37 games in 1970 and 38 games in 1972. Despite these solid stats, Johnston may be more well-known as a successful coach and GM for the Penguins in the 1980’s and 90’s?

Last but not least, is Gilles Gilbert, the acrobatic French-Canadian goalie with the memorable flow. He played in Boston from 1974-1980, totaling 277 games for the B’s, winning 155 of them. His GAA was 2.95, and he had a save percentage of .890 over that time. I remember Gilbert as being a key component in net for the highly effective “Lunch Pail AC” teams. Despite their success in the regular season, those teams came up short in the playoffs. Unfortunately, my most lasting memory of Gilbert will be of him falling to the ice after he gave up Guy Lafleur’s game-tying goal as time was running out in Game Seven of the 1979 Stanley Cup Semifinals. That goal is not the reason I am going with Eddie Johnston as the third-best to wear number one for the Bruins…but it didn’t help either.

So, there you have it, the three best players to wear the number one for the Bruins are Tiny Thompson in first, followed by Frank Brimsek as a close second, and Eddie Johnston as a distant third. I hope you enjoyed this look back in B’s history. Next up on the agenda is the number six, where there should be a lot more debate for the title.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 187 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 187 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Should The Bruins Retire Tim Thomas’ Number?

Tim Thomas

( Photo Credit: AP/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward )

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

Whenever hockey fans get together to discuss whether a certain player’s number should be retired, the conversation is bound to get hot and heavy. When that player happens to be a goaltender, the discussion seems to be even more heated than it normally is for some reason? I’m not sure whether it is as simple as because goalies wear such a limited range of jersey numbers (so people don’t want any retired) or because goaltending statistics seem so much harder to quantify than skaters who play out of the net?

Whatever the reason, there are only 17 goalie numbers that have been retired in the history of the NHL (Patrick Roy’s #33 is retired twice, for both the Canadiens and the Avalanche). The Bruins are the only Original Six franchise that does not have at least one netminder’s number hanging in the rafters. Toronto (Broda and Bower), New York (Giacomin and Richter), and Montreal (Roy and Plante), have two each. Detroit (Sawchuk) and Chicago (Esposito) have one apiece.

In recent months, with the NHL season suspended, many sports channels have taken to replaying past series and games in order to fill in the gaps left by the lack of hockey. NESN was no exception and they recently replayed the Bruins memorable Stanley Cup playoff run in 2011, highlighting Boston’s first championship since 1972. There were many key contributors during the run to the Cup, but the most valuable was deemed to be Tim Thomas. In 25 games, Thomas posted a .940 Save Percentage, a 1.98 GAA, and had four shutouts en route to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

The recent re-airings of these Cup classics have people talking about Thomas again and many have brought up the question of whether or not Thomas’ #30 jersey is worthy of being raised to the Garden rafters. On the surface, it would appear that perhaps a goalie like Gerry Cheevers is just as/more deserving, and what about Tuukka Rask? Let’s take a deeper look at Thomas and some of the other potential candidates the B’s have to offer.

Thomas2

( Photo Credit: Brian Babineau/NHL via Getty Images )

Thomas is a pretty familiar story by now to most B’s fans. He played hockey for the University of Vermont (along with fellow future-NHLer Martin St. Louis), and was drafted in the 9th Round by the Quebec Nordiques, but was never signed by them. From 1997-98 through 2005-06 Thomas kicked around a number of leagues including the IHL, AHL, SHL, and Finnish Liiga before playing in the NHL for Boston. His season for Jokerit during the lockout in 2004-05 was what likely catapulted him to finally getting a legitimate NHL opportunity. With a lot of NHL talent playing in Finland that year, Thomas dominated the goaltender position playing 54 games with a 1.58 GAA and .946 save percentage during the regular season. In the playoffs, he was nearly as good with a 1.83 GAA and .938 save percentage, leading his team to the finals. 

It must have been quite a transition in 2005-06 for Thomas to go from a European powerhouse to one of the worst teams in the NHL when he became a regular in Boston, and eventually took over the starting job from teammate Andrew Raycroft. The Bruins finished as the 5th worst team that year and 8th from the bottom the following season. Despite the horrible team in front of him, Thomas put up respectable numbers. The 2007-08 season would bring a number of changes, including new head coach Claude Julien, whose defensive style was much more “goalie-friendly” than the prior regime. Thomas’ stats would reflect that as the B’s returned to the playoffs. 

From that year through 2011-12 (his last with the Bruins), Thomas was a monster in net for Boston, winning a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe, and two Vezina Trophies as the NHL’s best goaltender. He was, without a doubt, the league’s best during that period of time. During his eight years with the B’s, he played in 378 regular-season games, winning 196 with a 2.48 GAA and .921 save percentage. Generally speaking, those are fantastic numbers, and even more impressive when you add the hardware. 

The knock against Thomas (when you are talking about retiring his number) is and has always been his longevity. He did not become a regular in the NHL until the age of 31, and while he made up for his lack of quantity in the league with a great deal of quality, there are people who will always hold this against him. If you want to compare him to some peers, he’s middle to the low end of the pack for NHL games played. Of course, that was out of his control to a large extent due to circumstances. 

The two names that I hear mentioned the most in comparison to Thomas when it comes to potentially retiring numbers are Gerry Cheevers and Tuukka Rask. Of the two, the far easier comparison is Rask, because he played in the same era as Thomas. It is extremely difficult to compare players from two different eras and even more so when it comes to the goaltender position because the position has evolved more than any other in the game in my opinion. 

In these situations, I think the only fair thing to do is to look at the player’s stats and rankings among their peers of that era. In my opinion, this is a far more relevant way of looking at it, as opposed to just comparing the two players, regardless of when they played. Cheevers played a total of 418 games (171 in the 60’s, 247 in the ’70s) over an NHL career that spanned 13 years (compared to nine for Thomas). If this seems a little low, it’s probably because Cheesy left the B’s for four years in the mid-’70s to play in the newly formed WHA, registering nearly 200 games there. 

Gerry-Cheevers-Bruins

( Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images )

When you dig a little deeper, Cheevers ranked 14th for games played in the 1960s. His 2.97 GAA  was good for 19th place, while his .907 save percentage placed him 18th. If we do the same for the 1970s, he is 23rd for games played, 14th for goals-against average (2.97), and 23rd for save percentage (.895). Personally, I tend to look more closely at the save percentage numbers because goals against can be reflective of the strength of the team in front of a goalie. To be perfectly honest, before I started this article, I expected Cheever’s stats to be better than they were, relative to his era. In his defense, if he had stayed with the Bruins, the four years he was in the WHA likely would have been some of his best and bolstered his numbers considerably. For intangibles, Cheevers has two Stanley Cups, including the first in 29 years for the B’s in 1970. 

Thomas’ teammate Tuukka Rask is a much easier comparison when it comes to the numbers. Through this year, Rask’s career has spanned 13 seasons and he has played in 536 games (50 in the 2000s and 486 in the 2010s), surpassing both Cheevers and Thomas. His statistics are impressive when compared to his peers. Just looking at this decade, Rask is 1st in GAA (100 games or more), with a 2.29 mark and 2nd for save percentage at .921 over a span of almost 500 games. The only black mark over this period (and it’s huge for some) is that he has been unable to lead Boston to a Cup as a starter, losing in the Finals in both 2013 and 2019. 

If we do the same for Tim Thomas at his stats for his era, they are very good for the most part. His 2.61 GAA in the 2000s was 35th among goalies with more than 100 games played. I think this number is largely reflective of the two years the Bruins were awful when he became a regular. His save percentage (.918) is much better placing 8th. In the 2010’s his 2.38 GAA is good for 4th and his .924 save percentage is 1st (ahead of Rask). 

Boston Bruins v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Three

( Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images )

We have looked at three goalies and to me, they represent three different situations. Cheevers has the worst stats by far among his peers, but he has the most Cups with two and has four prime years missing to the WHA. Thomas has very good numbers in his era, along with a lot of hardware (one Cup, one Conn Smythe, and two Vezinas). Rask has the best statistics of the three men, also has a Vezina Trophy, but lacks a Stanley Cup. 

I can see why some Bruins fans think that Cheevers number 30 should be retired (he also wore 31 earlier in his career), despite the lack of great stats. I can also see why a lot of B’s faithful think that Thomas’ number 30 should be retired (obviously problematic) despite his lack of longevity. This may be somewhat controversial, but I don’t believe either of those guys should have their numbers raised to the rafters. If I had to choose one, it would be Rask, who has been statistically the most dominant goalie of this decade, despite him not having a Cup. I say this because in both playoff runs where he went to the finals, Rask has been nothing short of phenomenal (1.88 GAA, .940 Save% in 2013 and 2.02/.934 in 2019). He could not close either series out, but the Bruins don’t get there if not for Rask in both instances. Agree? Disagree? That’s why discussing sports is so much fun.

( I want to thank both QuantHockey and Hockey Reference for their invaluable statistics)

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 181 that we recorded below on 5-31-20! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher!

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Bruins Alumni: Happy Birthday Marco Baron

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PHOTO CREDITS: (goaliearchives.com)

By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj

Happy 61st Birthday to Former Boston Bruins Goalie Marco Baron!!

Marco Baron was born on April 8th, 1959 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He started his junior career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) at the age of sixteen with the Montreal Juniors. Baron played four seasons with the Juniors up until the 1978-79 season. He can be considered to be one of the best goalies to play on the Montreal Juniors, holding the all-time record in franchise wins (92), franchise shutouts (6), and franchise games played (192).

During his time in the QMJHL, Baron had a 92-62-21 record, with his best season coming in his last where he finished with a 37-17-13 record along with a .877 save percentage and a 3.80 goals-against-average to pair with his three shutouts. Additionally, Baron was named to the QMJHL All-Star Second Team in 1977-78.

Being from Montreal, Baron wanted to be drafted by his hometown Canadiens, but instead, was drafted 99th Overall (5th Round) in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. Baron did not join the Bruins immediately, instead of playing with the Grand Rapids Owls in the IHL (International Hockey League).

Marco Baron’s NHL debut has a place in NHL history as well. On January 10th, 1980, both Gerry Cheevers (knee) and Gilles Gilbert (flu) were injured so rookie goalies Jim Stewart and Marco Baron played the game for Boston against the St. Louis Blues. Stewart struggled in net, so Baron replaced him following the first period, allowing two goals on thirteen shots in a 7-4 loss. As of March 29th, 2018, that duo is one of three NHL teams where two goalies each made their NHL debut in the same game (NJD in ’86/’87 and CHI in ’17/’18).

Throughout the next three seasons, Baron played a combined 64 games for the Boston Bruins, amassing 31 wins, 23 losses, and five ties/overtime losses to add onto his .866 save percentage and 3.41 goals-against-average and one shutout that came in the 1981-82 campaign. On January 3rd, 1984, the Boston Bruins traded Baron to the Los Angeles Kings for right-wing Bob LaForest who failed to play a single game with the Bruins. 

In Los Angeles, Baron had a measly 3-14-4 record with a 4.31 GAA and a .863 SV%. Following his only season with the Kings in 1983-84, he was signed as a free agent by the Edmonton Oilers where he only played only part of a single game, allowing two goals on nine shots. After his NHL career ended in 1985, Baron played a few seasons in Switzerland, but never put up stellar numbers.

Since his retirement from professional hockey, the now 61-year-old spent time as a head coach for a Swiss team as well as becoming a commentator and a hockey analysis on Swiss Italian-language broadcasting. Happy Birthday, Marco Baron!

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 173 that we recorded below on 4-4-20! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!!