25 Years: Who is the best goalie in National Lacrosse League history?

Already in the NLL's Hall of Fame, was Dallas Eliuk the greatest ever backstop in the pro game? (Photo: NLL)
Already in the NLL's Hall of Fame, was Dallas Eliuk the greatest ever backstop in the pro game? (Photo: NLL)

Last week when we released our first edition in a series looking at the best ever to play in the National Lacrosse League’ previous 24 seasons, that initial post crowning Pat Coyle as the pro game’s top defensive defender of all-time (as voted on by past and present players, coaches and media), we mentioned we’d breakdown the five top vote getters, as well as make mention of the others that picked up some consideration. 13 names were dropped when we asked who the NLL’s best defender was.

This week’s question posed to our well respected and informed panel, “Who is the best goalie in National Lacrosse League history?” Of the almost 50 votes that were sent back to us over the week, just two names were even written down.

Below, check out the only two players that made it into this week’s NLL 25th Anniversary Poll, check out what our panelists had to say about the two all-time great’s legacy, and who is your selection for best every NLL keeper?

DALLAS ELIUK

52% of votes
Philadelphia Wings (91-05), Portland Lumberjax (06-08)

Skinny
Already in the National Lacrosse League’s Hall of Fame, inducted two years back along with Jim Veltman, Eliuk was “the” National Lacrosse League through the entire decade of the 90’s, still more than enough left in the gas tank to impact most of the past ten years in both Philadelphia and Portland too, later also serving as a Jax’s assistant coach when he finally hung ‘em up after an insane 18-year pro career. Reflexes and clutch stops like few to ever play the sport let alone just in the NLL, the former Wings legend has four championship rings to his credit in the NLL, and was an unbeatable presence for the Coquitlam Adanacs when they won the ‘01 Mann Cup against the Brampton Excelsiors. Eliuk pulled off the rare double Cup win during that year, maybe even more impressive in ‘01 when he left the Toronto Rock reeling at the ACC for his fourth and final pro title, named the game’s MVP too. And what words can’t come close to describing, check out one of the best lacrosse highlight reels ever to find its way onto the net, some of Eliuk’s stunning career below…

Thoughts
“Dallas Eliuk, hands down, no question.” – Steve Govett

“No Brainer, Dallas. No one has come up more when it counts than him.” – Erik Miller

“Of course I am biased and would love to say myself, but in all honesty I would without question say Dallas Eliuk. He is the best goaltender I have ever seen. He set a standard for goaltending that in my eyes has never been matched. I have never seen a goaltender single-handedly take over games and will his team to win with his play like Eliuk.” – Steve Dietrich

“There will be some tough questions as this poll moves along but I don’t find this to be one of them. I was fortunate to play with one of the greatest in Sal Locascio and I always thought Steve Dietrich was an all-timer also, but there was only one Dallas Eliuk. When you look at guys who could carry a team, make huge stops at crucial times and did it for so long, I have to say Dallas was the best.” – Pat McCabe

Dallas Eliuk on the bench with Derek Keenan and Kevin Alexander with the Portland Lumberjax after retiring from pro floors. (Photo: Matt J. Wiater)
Dallas Eliuk on the bench with Derek Keenan and Kevin Alexander with the Portland Lumberjax after retiring from pro floors. (Photo: Matt J. Wiater)

“Tough one. I keep going back and forth between Eliuk and Watson. Like NFL quarterbacks, goalies tend to need that Championship win to be considered among the best. These two have plenty of those. I give the edge to Dallas, but Whipper could put together another strong year in Toronto and sway my vote this time next year.” – Jeff Dowling

“Dallas was one of those goalies that made you over think your shots. As a teammate he gave you confidence knowing that anything was possible. A lot of guys had sick games in the ‘01 Finals, but Dallas was the difference maker, holding a ridiculously talented Rock offense to eight goals. He was the prototypical reactionary goalie. His quickness and athleticism is unparalleled at that position.” – Tom Ryan

“Dallas Eliuk followed closely by Bob Watson. Dallas was kind of a risk taker between the pipes and Whipper was more methodical.” – Chris Gill

“Although you have to include Steve Dietrich and Pat O’Toole in this conversation, the battle for the best goaltender over the last 25 years is a two-man race between Bob  Watson and Dallas Elliuk. In Bob Watson’s 14-years he has gone to  the championship seven times, winning five times and twice was the game MVP. Elliuk  played 18-years and went to the championship eight times, with four victories and two MVP’s. I would not argue with anyone who picked either of these two goalies but I’m going to choose Elliuk because he was the best goaltender or among the best for an astounding 18-years.” – Brian Shanahan

BOB WATSON

48% of votes
Baltimore Thunder (1996), Ontario Raiders (1998), Toronto Rock (99-10)

Bob Watson helped lead the Toronto Rock to five Champion's Cup wins over his still active NLL career. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Bob Watson helped lead the Toronto Rock to five Champion's Cup wins over his still active NLL career. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

Skinny
One of the winningest goalies in pro ball history, Watson, nicknamed after former Canadian pro wrestler, the late Whipper Billy Watson, was a post-season success magnet, going to the league’s last dance during seven of his 14 seasons and presumably counting, coming up with some of the most outstanding performances the NLL has ever seen. Even during some down years for the Rock franchise in recent seasons, Watson was arguably even better than when the franchise was collecting trophies, the league’s Goalie of the Year in 2008 when his Toronto side was just 7-9 and out of the playoffs. Watson’s 8.89 GAA during the ‘01 season is still the lowest ever single season average, a record that will be has hard to match as any high profile scoring mark, maybe even tougher. A Mann Cup winner a year after Eliuk’s also first Senior A summer title, Watson helped the Rock to yet another pro final last year alongside fellow all-time great Steve Dietrich.

Thoughts
“I’d have to go with Bob Watson. Five rings as a starter and a great teammate to play with.” – Josh Sanderson

“It is very difficult to limit this selection to one guy, but if I had to, my vote would go to Bob Watson. He is a guy that can stop you in both traditional ways that a goaltender can.  He is a great reflex goalie when he has to be and the way he plays his angles is textbook. You don’t really need to look much further than his success in this league to secure his spot at number one.” – Gee Nash

“For me, it comes to two things when deciding best goalie of all-time: Dominance and longevity. Both are required to win this honour. So, it’s either Dallas Eliuk or Bob Watson. I’ll go with Watson. While it’s easy to argue he benefited greatly from the defensive strategy of those early Rock teams (and he did, without a doubt), he still remains one of the best goalies in the game, to this day, despite all the overhauls his team has experienced over the years. In his prime, he was dominant. Think of all those battles with Rochester and Philly over the years. Still now, he can control a game. Impressive, indeed. ” – Ty Pilson

A timeless image for Toronto Rock faithful, Colin Doyle and Bob Watson seconds before the opening face-off. (Graig Abel)
A timeless image for Toronto Rock faithful, Colin Doyle and Bob Watson seconds before the opening face-off. (Graig Abel)

“Great guy, great teammate and no one plays better in big games! I know most will say Dallas but I have to go with Whip.” – Lewis Ratcliff

“I think there have been some great goalies over the years. Dallas made amazing saves over and over again, O’Toole always gave me fits, Coz is the next great goalie, but the Whip has won with me and that bond is tough to break. The true test of a goalie is consistency and big game ability. He had/has both in spades and that is why he gets my vote!” – Colin Doyle

“This is a two-horse race between Bob Watson and Dallas Eliuk. Whipper’s got five rings and Dallas has four, but Dallas also earns points for his ‘05 appearance on The Price Is Right. Freakin’ awesome. But I think Whipper gets the nod here as number one. As great as Dallas was, Watson’s been getting it done in a new era of specialized lacrosse where he’s been facing pure shooters, players designed for offense and nothing else. Much of Eliuk’s time was against the old-school style where many of the lines he faced included two-way players that weren’t quality shooters. It’s a fine line to draw between Eliuk and Watson, but it’s there.” – Bob Chavez

Of our voted on Top/Only 2, who is the greatest goalie in NLL history?

  • Dallas Eliuk (63%, 560 Votes)
  • Bob Watson (37%, 331 Votes)

Total Voters: 891

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The foremost boxla writer, Tutka is a former NLL scout and a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at paul.tutka@nllinsider.com.

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