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Great Goalie Mask Debate: Ranking the sharpest headwear among the NHL's top keepers

Gone are the days when goaltenders donned one mask — or stuck to one theme — for the majority of their careers, but the ever-changing mask art gives us the chance to rank the headwear worn by the NHL's top keepers.

We’ve entered the platinum age of goalie mask designs. It’s like television in the streaming era in that the quality has never been higher. Accomplished artists such as Dave Gunnarsson, Stephane Bergeron, Steve Nash and Sylvie Marsolais outfit their NHL clients with everything from 3-D effects to paint that changes colors when wet.

Yet something has disappeared during this boom of gorgeous art. Gone are the days when every star goalie sported a distinct, consistent design for which he was known. Gerry Cheevers had his stitches. Ed Belfour had his matching eagles. Today, goalies change masks almost as often as they re-tape their sticks. Some have different masks for home and away. Then we have special outdoor-game masks, one-off masks used for charity auctions and special anniversary designs tied to third-jersey promotions. It’s extremely difficult keeping track of who’s wearing what.

Still, a few netminders have found a way to maintain a degree of iconic consistency. Even if they alter their looks every year, we can count on some singular characteristics. The Leafs’ Frederik Andersen, for instance, rocks a Lego theme. Robin Lehner, crowned the champ in these rankings, doesn’t merely offer a cool-looking demon on his mask. The design represents his battle with bipolar disorder. Designs that reflect something personal and meaningful on top of having great aesthetics get a boost on this list.

It’s important to note there are no “bad” designs ranked here, but someone had to finish 31st, so certain traits were penalized, such as cluttered images or overly “safe” and thus relatively forgettable compositions. Fans everywhere tweeted about Jacob Markstrom’s delightfully creepy face-on-face look, whereas Braden Holtby went with simple variations of the Capitals’ logos. Nothing wrong with that, but it won’t win you a mask-art contest.

Other criteria: each mask belongs to an NHL starter or predicted No. 1, and one-off masks were not considered – the look had to be each goalie’s primary one. – Matt Larkin

1. Robin Lehner, Islanders (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) This mask, named ‘My Reality,’ brings the “wow” factor on so many levels. The demonic imagery is jarring and scary. The personal tale behind it brings emotional heft. Lehner has come forward this year about his battle with bipolar disorder and addiction, and the demons represent what he’s been up against. Plus we get the Fisherman on the mask to boot.

1. Robin Lehner, Islanders (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)This mask, named ‘My Reality,’ brings the “wow” factor on so many levels. The demonic imagery is jarring and scary. The personal tale behind it brings emotional heft. Lehner has come forward this year about his battle with bipolar disorder and addiction, and the demons represent what he’s been up against. Plus we get the Fisherman on the mask to boot.

2. Jacob Markstrom, Canucks (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) It’s all about the ears. They’re just so…creepy, aren’t they? The throwback look pays homage to goalies who wore true masks as opposed to helmets. It’s impossible to unsee it – or forget it. That iconic quality scores Markstrom huge points.

2. Jacob Markstrom, Canucks (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)It’s all about the ears. They’re just so…creepy, aren’t they? The throwback look pays homage to goalies who wore true masks as opposed to helmets. It’s impossible to unsee it – or forget it. That iconic quality scores Markstrom huge points.

3. Jonathan Quick, Kings (artist: Steve Nash) When your team nickname gifts you a cool mask theme, you don’t shy away from it. A knight protects a King, and the L.A. Kings’ last line of defense gets a knight helmet for a mask design. Simple, tough-looking and effective.

3. Jonathan Quick, Kings (artist: Steve Nash)When your team nickname gifts you a cool mask theme, you don’t shy away from it. A knight protects a King, and the L.A. Kings’ last line of defense gets a knight helmet for a mask design. Simple, tough-looking and effective.

4. Frederik Andersen, Maple Leafs (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) Lots to unpack here. Lego: invented in Denmark, Andersen’s home country. Lego Batman: a fun character. Voice of Lego Batman: Will Arnett, a Toronto native and diehard Leafs fan. A great mask any way you slice it.

4. Frederik Andersen, Maple Leafs (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)Lots to unpack here. Lego: invented in Denmark, Andersen’s home country. Lego Batman: a fun character. Voice of Lego Batman: Will Arnett, a Toronto native and diehard Leafs fan. A great mask any way you slice it.

5. Tuukka Rask, Bruins (artist: Ron Slater) A nod to the 1990s, when many goalies (a) had animal themes and (b) stuck to them consistently. The ‘psycho bear’ look is synonymous with Rask at this point.  It’s also genuinely intimidating. We can’t say that about many masks these days.

5. Tuukka Rask, Bruins (artist: Ron Slater)A nod to the 1990s, when many goalies (a) had animal themes and (b) stuck to them consistently. The ‘psycho bear’ look is synonymous with Rask at this point. It’s also genuinely intimidating. We can’t say that about many masks these days.

6. Cam Talbot, Oilers (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) Talbot’s mask themes stay consistent year to year, featuring the Ghostbusters logo, and with a creative twist: the ghosts appear as twins, representing Talbot’s children. Like Lehner’s lid, this one combines aesthetics and storytelling.

6. Cam Talbot, Oilers (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)Talbot’s mask themes stay consistent year to year, featuring the Ghostbusters logo, and with a creative twist: the ghosts appear as twins, representing Talbot’s children. Like Lehner’s lid, this one combines aesthetics and storytelling.

7. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning (artist: Sylvie Marsolais) Vasilevskiy’s mask was voted best in the league by NHL fans last season, and it features some high-tech art this year, changing color when it gets wet. The lion on the forehead looks ferocious, too.

7. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning (artist: Sylvie Marsolais)Vasilevskiy’s mask was voted best in the league by NHL fans last season, and it features some high-tech art this year, changing color when it gets wet. The lion on the forehead looks ferocious, too.

8. Mike Smith, Flames (artist: David Arrigo) The Incredibles color scheme jives nicely with the Flames’ colors, and Smith continues his ‘Smunchkins’ theme, featuring his kids as superheroes.  It’s fun and looks sharp up close or from a distance.

8. Mike Smith, Flames (artist: David Arrigo)The Incredibles color scheme jives nicely with the Flames’ colors, and Smith continues his ‘Smunchkins’ theme, featuring his kids as superheroes. It’s fun and looks sharp up close or from a distance.

9. Roberto Luongo, Panthers (artist: Stephane Bergeron) Arguably the most elegant mask on this list. An understated but classy Panthers logo, rendered in gold. Gorgeous.

9. Roberto Luongo, Panthers (artist: Stephane Bergeron)Arguably the most elegant mask on this list. An understated but classy Panthers logo, rendered in gold. Gorgeous.

10. Connor Hellebuyck, Jets (artist: Steve Nash) Maybe Hellebuyck’s design looks a bit busy from afar, but it’s full of goodies. The old-school motif includes an outdoor rink and the image of Hellebuyck’s fishing buddy, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. Featuring your own teammate is a bold but hilarious idea.

10. Connor Hellebuyck, Jets (artist: Steve Nash)Maybe Hellebuyck’s design looks a bit busy from afar, but it’s full of goodies. The old-school motif includes an outdoor rink and the image of Hellebuyck’s fishing buddy, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. Featuring your own teammate is a bold but hilarious idea.

11. Marc-Andre Fleury, Golden Knights (artist: Stephane Bergeron) A Golden Knight clearly lends to a strong mask design, which Fleury honors on one side of this mask. The other: another great decision, featuring some of Sin City’s best landmark images. It feels very celebratory, which fits Fleury’s happy-go-lucky personality.

11. Marc-Andre Fleury, Golden Knights (artist: Stephane Bergeron)A Golden Knight clearly lends to a strong mask design, which Fleury honors on one side of this mask. The other: another great decision, featuring some of Sin City’s best landmark images. It feels very celebratory, which fits Fleury’s happy-go-lucky personality.

12. Antti Raanta, Coyotes (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) I’ve read some criticism of this design before, calling it too cluttered. There is a lot going on, but what’s going on is pretty cool: a wild-west-inspired dog version of Wyatt Earp driving an old-school wagon.

12. Antti Raanta, Coyotes (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)I’ve read some criticism of this design before, calling it too cluttered. There is a lot going on, but what’s going on is pretty cool: a wild-west-inspired dog version of Wyatt Earp driving an old-school wagon.

13. Matt Murray, Penguins (artist: Stephane Bergeron) The matching Penguins tucked up on either side of the mask loom in a pattern similar to Belfour’s eagles, and it’s refreshing to see a revival of the ’90s ‘Robo Penguin’ design. It’s been gone long enough to feel new again.

13. Matt Murray, Penguins (artist: Stephane Bergeron)The matching Penguins tucked up on either side of the mask loom in a pattern similar to Belfour’s eagles, and it’s refreshing to see a revival of the ’90s ‘Robo Penguin’ design. It’s been gone long enough to feel new again.

14. Craig Anderson, Senators (artist: Sylvie Marsolais) Looks like standard secondary logo use from a distance. Up close, however, are portraits of late Senators GM Bryan Murray on either cheek. A classy tribute from a classy goaltender.

14. Craig Anderson, Senators (artist: Sylvie Marsolais)Looks like standard secondary logo use from a distance. Up close, however, are portraits of late Senators GM Bryan Murray on either cheek. A classy tribute from a classy goaltender.

15. Carter Hutton, Sabres (artist: Jesse Acciacca) The definition of safe. New Sabre Hutton goes with a simple, fierce looking Buffalo. Nothing wrong with it. Not particularly memorable, either.

15. Carter Hutton, Sabres (artist: Jesse Acciacca)The definition of safe. New Sabre Hutton goes with a simple, fierce looking Buffalo. Nothing wrong with it. Not particularly memorable, either.

16. Martin Jones, Sharks (artist: Steve Nash) A slick, aerodynamic shark look for Jones. Most of the imagery comes directly from the franchise’s official collection of logos and shoulder patches. It’s thus a conservative look but a sharp one nonetheless.

16. Martin Jones, Sharks (artist: Steve Nash)A slick, aerodynamic shark look for Jones. Most of the imagery comes directly from the franchise’s official collection of logos and shoulder patches. It’s thus a conservative look but a sharp one nonetheless.

17. Pekka Rinne, Predators (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) Pop-culture references are a defining characteristic among this generation’s goalie masks. Iron Man is a great choice for a goalie. The only drawback: it’s difficult to immediately recognize the Iron Man helmet right away, especially because Tony Stark’s colors are red and gold, not blue and gold.

17. Pekka Rinne, Predators (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)Pop-culture references are a defining characteristic among this generation’s goalie masks. Iron Man is a great choice for a goalie. The only drawback: it’s difficult to immediately recognize the Iron Man helmet right away, especially because Tony Stark’s colors are red and gold, not blue and gold.

18. Scott Darling, Hurricanes (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) The rising phoenix always finds its way onto Darling’s masks, representing his uphill climb to the NHL. The red on red makes the bird a bit hard to find if you’re not standing very close to the mask, however.

18. Scott Darling, Hurricanes (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)The rising phoenix always finds its way onto Darling’s masks, representing his uphill climb to the NHL. The red on red makes the bird a bit hard to find if you’re not standing very close to the mask, however.

19. Corey Crawford, Blackhawks (artist: Stephane Bergeron) The feathers are the design’s best feature, but they get overshadowed a bit by the other logo renderings on the mask. I do like the fact the feathers have become a trademark for Crawford.

19. Corey Crawford, Blackhawks (artist: Stephane Bergeron)The feathers are the design’s best feature, but they get overshadowed a bit by the other logo renderings on the mask. I do like the fact the feathers have become a trademark for Crawford.

20. Cory Schneider, Devils (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) What do you think of the “deliberately unfinished” look? It’s a neat idea, but the end result isn’t overly spectacular. It looks, well, unfinished.

20. Cory Schneider, Devils (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)What do you think of the “deliberately unfinished” look? It’s a neat idea, but the end result isn’t overly spectacular. It looks, well, unfinished.

21. Devan Dubnyk, Wild (artist: Franny Drummond) That beast is legitimately fearsome, but I wish it had a bit more real estate. The rest of the mask feels a bit cramped.

21. Devan Dubnyk, Wild (artist: Franny Drummond)That beast is legitimately fearsome, but I wish it had a bit more real estate. The rest of the mask feels a bit cramped.

22. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) Nothing wrong with Hank’s design, really. But, compared to some of the more creative lids he’s busted out for outdoor games, the simple Lady Liberty look feels a bit too easy for a New York goalie.

22. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)Nothing wrong with Hank’s design, really. But, compared to some of the more creative lids he’s busted out for outdoor games, the simple Lady Liberty look feels a bit too easy for a New York goalie.

23. Brian Elliott, Flyers (Franny Drummond) Points for a sleek, modern-looking design. But it’s abstract to the point hat I can barely tell it’s supposed to be antlers, representing Elliott’s nickname ‘Moose.’

23. Brian Elliott, Flyers (Franny Drummond)Points for a sleek, modern-looking design. But it’s abstract to the point hat I can barely tell it’s supposed to be antlers, representing Elliott’s nickname ‘Moose.’

24. Semyon Varlamov, Avalanche (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) Spikey, metallic-looking mountains give off a certain coolness, but they don’t feel ‘Denver’ to me.

24. Semyon Varlamov, Avalanche (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)Spikey, metallic-looking mountains give off a certain coolness, but they don’t feel ‘Denver’ to me.

25. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) The brick wall idea is so “done” for goaltenders that it would take a particularly spectacular rendition to land a mask high on this list. With the wall and straightforward Jackets logo, this lid doesn’t stand out compared to Dave Gunnarsson’s huge list of other high-concept designs.

25. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)The brick wall idea is so “done” for goaltenders that it would take a particularly spectacular rendition to land a mask high on this list. With the wall and straightforward Jackets logo, this lid doesn’t stand out compared to Dave Gunnarsson’s huge list of other high-concept designs.

26. Carey Price, Canadiens (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) Now we enter the logo-heavy tier. There’s nothing wrong with a goalie flying his team’s crests on a mask – but it just doesn’t come across as high art when juxtaposed with, for instance, what Gunnarsson did for Lehner. The stitched look is nice, but it’s still just logo, logo, logo for Price at the end of the day.

26. Carey Price, Canadiens (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)Now we enter the logo-heavy tier. There’s nothing wrong with a goalie flying his team’s crests on a mask – but it just doesn’t come across as high art when juxtaposed with, for instance, what Gunnarsson did for Lehner. The stitched look is nice, but it’s still just logo, logo, logo for Price at the end of the day.

27. John Gibson, Ducks (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) Gibson has a great alternate mask for the Ducks’ 25th anniversary, but I’m only grading the starters’ primary lids here. Two numbers take up most of the real estate here: Gibson’s 36 and a 25 to represent the anniversary. Meh.

27. John Gibson, Ducks (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)Gibson has a great alternate mask for the Ducks’ 25th anniversary, but I’m only grading the starters’ primary lids here. Two numbers take up most of the real estate here: Gibson’s 36 and a 25 to represent the anniversary. Meh.

28. Jimmy Howard, Red Wings (artist: Ray Bishop) Wings logo, Hockeytown logo…it all looks perfectly pretty, but it’s nothing you can’t already see on Howard’s jersey or the ice at Little Caesars Arena.

28. Jimmy Howard, Red Wings (artist: Ray Bishop)Wings logo, Hockeytown logo…it all looks perfectly pretty, but it’s nothing you can’t already see on Howard’s jersey or the ice at Little Caesars Arena.

29. Ben Bishop, Stars (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) There’s a thematic disconnect here. The voltage works if Bishop still plays for the Lightning. Feels like a missed opportunity. There’s so much history to draw from if you’re playing for a Texas-based team.

29. Ben Bishop, Stars (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)There’s a thematic disconnect here. The voltage works if Bishop still plays for the Lightning. Feels like a missed opportunity. There’s so much history to draw from if you’re playing for a Texas-based team.

30. Jake Allen, Blues (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) Maybe I’m punishing Allen because I loved his previous snake design so much. This one, featuring scales, takes such a hyper-real route that it doesn’t actually look like a snake anymore, in my opinion.

30. Jake Allen, Blues (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)Maybe I’m punishing Allen because I loved his previous snake design so much. This one, featuring scales, takes such a hyper-real route that it doesn’t actually look like a snake anymore, in my opinion.

31. Braden Holtby, Capitals (artist: Dave Gunnarsson) The idea of some D.C. imagery makes sense, but it doesn’t translate as well as I’d expect on a mask, and not only does the design prominently feature logos…it features the text-heavy ‘Capitals’ logo.

31. Braden Holtby, Capitals (artist: Dave Gunnarsson)The idea of some D.C. imagery makes sense, but it doesn’t translate as well as I’d expect on a mask, and not only does the design prominently feature logos…it features the text-heavy ‘Capitals’ logo.

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