Bill Durnan was a latecomer to the NHL scene, but he made his impact immediately upon joining the Montreal Canadiens in 1943. Durnan helped the Canadiens to one of the strongest seasons in NHL history, and won an astonishing 38 games, tying Tiny Thompson’s record from the 1929-30 season. He finished 2nd in Calder voting to Gus Bodnar, but did take home the Vezina trophy and earn a spot on the First All-Star Team. His dream rookie campaign was capped off with a Stanley Cup victory. Durnan followed that season by tying his 38-win season and playing all 50 games again while winning the Vezina again and also earning a spot on the First All-Star Team.
Durnan, who was unique in that he was ambidextrous, led the NHL in wins during the 1945-46 season with 24 wins, despite missing 40 games. He also led the NHL in shutouts with 4 and was on the First All-Star Team for a third consecutive year while also winning his third consecutive Vezina. Durnan’s value to the team was evident by his placement of third in Hart voting at the end of the season. The Canadiens would again with the Cup, relying on Durnan’s solid goaltending. In the NHL’s new extended schedule, Durnan was forced to play a full 60 games in the 1946-47 season, and did so while again leading the NHL in wins (34) while winning his fourth consecutive Vezina and fourth consecutive spot on the First All-Star Team.
The now 32-year old Durnan’s was offered the honour of becoming the captain of the Montreal Canadieans, a position he took. However, during the 1947-48 season in which he was captain, he so frequently delayed play to argue calls that the NHL made a rule in the following season, disallowing goaltenders to serve as captains. Durnan’s dominance streak was also ended in the 1947-48 season as the Canadiens had a sub-par season. Durnan popped right back into relevance with the 1948-49 season when he played all 60 games and led the NHL with an impressive 10 shutouts, part of which was due to a 309 minute shutout streak, a new record. He was awarded the Vezina for allowing the least goals and was 2nd in Hart voting, only behind Sid Abel in the vote results.
The 1949-50 was another very strong one for Durnan, but his Canadiens were in the process of rebuilding another dynasty, so they struggled to win. They didn’t lose many games either, however, giving Durnan the odd record of most ties in a season, with 17 ties. His record would be broken the following season by Chuck Rayner. Durnan was never one to enjoy the stress of the professional life and preferred a more relaxed life. He retired suddenly in 1950, while still being considered one of the best goaltenders in the league. While he was beginning to age at 35, his play showed little to no deterioration. Durnan retired at 6th all-time in wins and first in Canadiens history, the latter an honour he held until Jacques Plante surpassed him in the 1959-60 season. Durnan was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1964.