While there were numerous key contributors to the Stars’ golden era from 1997-2002 that also featured five division championships and two President’s Trophies - guys like Mike Modano, Joe Nieuwendyk, Brett Hull, Jere Lehtinen, Derian Hatcher - it can be argued that none of them had a bigger impact on the club’s fortunes than that of goaltender Eddie Belfour.
Belfour, along with Nieuwendyk who is now the Stars’ General Manager, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame back in November and will be honored by the Stars’ organization Saturday night prior to the club’s big showdown with Minnesota at the American Airlines Center.
For the pre-game ceremony, which will be emceed by Stars broadcasters Ralph Strangis and Daryl ‘Razor’ Reaugh, begins at 7:00 pm sharp. Fittingly, Belfour’s old teammates Nieuwendyk, Modano, Hull, and Lehtinen will also be participating in the festivities.
He may have only played five of his 18 NHL seasons in Dallas, but at the peak of his career, Belfour’s outstanding performance during his short but sweet stint here helped cement his legacy as one of the league’s elite all-time talents.
By the time he signed as a free agent with the Stars in the summer of ‘97, Belfour was already considered an upper-echelon netminder, having won the 1991 Calder Trophy winner as Rookie of the Year and Vezina Trophies as the league’s top netminder in 1991 and ’93 with Chicago.
He would go on to finish his career with an amazing total of 484 career victories, which ranks him third all-time behind two goalies he faced in the Finals, Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy, while also totaling a whopping 76 shutouts, tied for ninth all-time.
But his best years were with the Stars, including a stunning 1.88 goals-against average, still the franchise’s second-best figure ever, and a franchise-record nine shutouts that first year, 1997-98.
Through 307 regular season contests in a Stars jersey, Belfour amassed 160 victories, good for second on the franchise’s all-time list, and setting the franchise record with a stingy 2.19 goals-against average. His save percentage of .910 sits third, while his 27 shutouts are second on the organization’s historical list.
But Belfour’s exalted status here in Dallas is based far more on his playoff heroics than anything he did during the regular season, amassing an incredible 44-29 playoff record over that span. His litany of club playoff records include that wins total, his 1.84 goals-against average, his stellar .929 save percentage and his eight shutouts.
And while there’s little doubt Nieuwendyk deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in ’99, many believe Belfour should have won it in 2000, even though the Stars fell in double overtime of Game 6 to the Devils for the Cup.
“It was a dream come true to win a Stanley Cup and be amongst the group of guys I was with in Dallas,” Belfour, who was elected into the Hall during his first year of eligibility, said of his time with the Stars. “It was a real veteran team and Ken Hitchcock did a great job with the guys, and (assistant coach) Rick Wilson, and it was a real close-knit team and I’ll never forget the time we had together, winning the Stanley Cup was great. I still live here in Dallas and still love to go to games and feel the atmosphere. It was something I’ll never forget, it was a great experience.”
“Eddie, I think he took his job very seriously,” said Nieuwendyk, who also played with Belfour in Toronto (2003-04) and Florida (2006-07). “He prepared himself that way every night to play in net for us and was one of the best big-game goaltenders I’ve ever been able to play with.”
Belfour acknowledged that the playoffs always motivated him the most and were what he lived for, and there’s no question that showed in his performances, both in Dallas and in his other stops.
“I think for me, the most important thing was winning the Stanley Cup every year,” said Belfour, whose 88 total post-season wins ranks tied for fourth in NHL history and includes another trip to the Final in 1992 with Chicago. “That’s been the case ever since I was a little boy, watching on Hockey Night in Canada, Original Six teams and watching them win the Stanley Cup, as kids you were always playing for the Stanley Cup - floor hockey, street hockey, everywhere, hotel hockey, you always played for the Stanley Cup, so it was a dream come true to finally win the Stanley Cup. I always tried to prepare myself throughout the season to compete in the playoffs, and I took real pride in playing my best during that time.”
During his induction speech, Belfour made a point to thank his family members and past teammates, and singled out one person he never played with but who inspired him throughout his career, former Russian star netminder Vladislav Tretiak, the man he honored with his non-traditional number 20 jersey.
“I am proud and honored to receive this recognition and will treasure this weekend for the rest of my life,” Belfour said at the podium in Toronto back on Nov. 14. “I have been truly blessed with many awards and championships. I attribute this to my God-given talents and all the great people I have come in contact with that have supported me. Playing for all winning teams and having great teammates and coaches has been a great blessing for me and I am grateful for it all. You have all made a positive impact on my life and career and I will always remember all those special times we have shared.”
Belfour also acknowledged his fans - and no wonder, the way they rocked the old Reunion Arena chanting his name, as well as the occasional ‘Eddie’s Better’ chant to rile up old Colorado nemesis Patrick Roy.
“Thanks to all the fans and the ‘Eddie, Eddie’ chants, it always gave me inspiration and helped me play better,” said Belfour, who also spent time with San Jose, Toronto and Florida. “I’ll never forget it.”
Neither will we. And while it’s probably safe to say Belfour would prefer to still be playing even now (he did, after all, skate as a defenseman in the Stars’ First Annual Alumni Classic back on Oct. 1 and still plays in a local Dr Pepper StarCenter men’s league), he is happy to put his career to rest at its ultimate resting place, at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“There’s a lot of mixed emotions,” said Belfour, who was never even drafted, signing as a free agent with Chicago after an excellent freshman season at the University of North Dakota that concluded with the 1987 NCAA national championship. “You always have it in your heart that you want to continue to play, but it has to come to an end, it’s unfortunate that time comes for all of us, but it’s a great honor to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.”
Congratulations, Eddie, enjoy your night on Saturday!