‘King Henrik’: A Generational Talent Gone To Waste

Most hockey fans would have no difficulty saying that Henrik Lundqvist is a great goalie, probably even the best of the post-lockout era (2005-present). However, when the conversation arises about Lundqvist being elite, people are generally a lot more hesitant to throw him into that “club”. Although I am likely a bit biased as a Rangers’ fan, I have some difficulty seeing where they are coming from. Hear me out here, I am going to list some of his remarkable achievements, and it is going to be shocking to that he is not considered an elite goalie.

  • Fastest goalie in NHL history to 400 wins
  • 1st goalie in NHL history to have 20 wins in each of his 1st 12 seasons
  • 1st goalie in NHL history to finish top-6 in Vezina voting in each of his 1st 10 seasons
  • Most wins by a European-born goalie

Pretty remarkable, right? However, it was just 2 short months ago that every Rangers’ fan was wondering whether Henrik Lundqvist, New York’s undisputed sports hero, still had a spot in New York after a series of poor performances. Antti Raanta, New York’s talented backup goaltender, had made a number of impressive starts while filling in during Lundqvist’s drought, and some questions started to arise about Lundqvist’s future in New York.

Well, let’s just say that Henrik Lundqvist did what Henrik Lundqvist does best: prove all the haters wrong. After a string of weak starts, ‘The King’ bounced back better than ever, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is the best goalie in New York, and probably even the NHL. Over the 14-game stretch following his drought, the Rangers’ went 10-3-1, led by a stellar performance in net by Lundqvist, in which he allowed 2 goals or less in 10 of the 14 games. Additionally, he did not allow more than 3 goals in any game during that stretch, guiding the Rangers’ back towards the top of the Metropolitan Division. While just 15 games ago his future in New York was unknown, Lundqvist has reasserted himself as the undisputed ‘King’ both of New York, but also this generation of hockey.

Before we move on further, let’s just make something clear: Henrik Lundqvist is the undisputed best goalie of this generation (post-lockout) and belongs in the conversation for one of the best goalies to ever play the game. If you don’t believe me (which most non-Rangers fans likely won’t), let’s take a look at his numbers against Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, and Dominik Hasek, arguably the 3 best goalies in NHL history.

Record Points per 82 Games GAA Save %

Lundqvist

402-244-74 100.0 2.31

0.920

Brodeur

691-397-105 102.2 2.24

0.912

Roy

551-315-131 101.4 2.54

n/a

Hasek 389-223-82 101.6 2.20

0.922

In the chart shown above, Lundqvist, Brodeur, Roy, and Hasek all appear to be in a very similar class, as their numbers are virtually identical. Admittedly, Lundqvist only has one Stanley Cup appearance (compared to Brodeur’s 3, Hasek’s 4, and Roy’s 5) and is a bit weaker in the points per 82 games category, in which he averaged 1.4 fewer points per season than his next closest competitor. However, these can both be explained by Lundqvist’s somewhat weak teams where he has lacked a championship-caliber supporting cast, as Brodeur, Hasek, and Roy all benefitted from being on much better teams, both offensively and defensively.

In New Jersey, Brodeur had the luxury of playing behind Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer for 11 years, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame now, and surely boosted Brodeur’s stats. Even adjusted for age, Brodeur’s stats dropped off the cliff after he lost these two stud defensemen.

In Colorado, Roy had Chelios, Robinson, Bourque, and Blake all at the same time, which proved to be a lethal offensive and defensive combination. On top of that, Roy played behind some of the best teams in recent history in Colorado, which surely inflated his goaltending statistics.

In Detroit, Hasek had possibly one of the best teams in NHL history, as he played behind Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Pavel Datsyuk, and Chris Chelios all at the same time, which undoubtedly had to make Hasek’s job one of the easiest in the NHL.

On the other hand, Lundqvist’s teams have severely lacked star power, especially for scoring goals up front, as the Rangers consistently have had problems scoring ever since Lundqvist came along. While the other 3 goalies have benefitted by playing with Hall of Famers in their prime, New York has time and time again brought in out-of-prime players who used to be really good but are no longer productive. Additionally, during his time in New York, Lundqvist’s 2 best defensemen have been Girardi and McDonough, both of whom are barely considered elite in today’s league, not to mention NHL history.

Unlike the other 3 goalies who were on teams that likely would have been quite good without them, Lundqvist has single-handedly made alright Rangers teams into very competitive ones. Additionally, Lundqvist’s historically clutch performances in Game 7’s have advanced the Rangers much further than they should have gone in the playoffs in recent years, yet another thing that gives him a slight edge over Brodeur, Roy, and Hasek. In any case, the Rangers are wasting his finite talent, and better get a move on it before it all goes to waste. Let’s look at their current situation:

There is no point in pretending that the Rangers have a realistic chance winning the cup this year without making some major changes. The only way the Rangers can fix their path to ultimate destruction in the future is by taking a more futuristic approach that still has a win-now mentality. Let’s be real here … although he appears like an immortal at some times, Lundqvist is NOT going to last forever. At best, Lundqvist has 3 to 5 years left in his prime and likely has about 7 to 9 productive years left in his career, and if the Rangers have any chance of winning the cup in the near future, it’s going to be when Lundqvist is still in town.

So you might ask how the Rangers would go about this approach? The Rangers need to transition from a line-up of players who are old and out of their prime (ex: Rick Nash) to a line-up of young, dynamic players (ex: Chris Kreider), and if they want any chance of winning soon, they need to do it fast. Dumping cap space by cutting players such as Rick Nash, Marc Staal, and Dan Girardi, and resigning players such as Mika Zibanejad, is imperative to the Rangers’ success in the future. Targeting young free agents, such as Kevin Shattenkirk, in the off-season, and not making other poor decisions (Duclair/Yandle trade, St. Louis/Callahan trade, Stralman non-signing, Hagelin trade, Talbot trade) is key to the Rangers’ success in the future.

While things and people can always change, in all honesty, this situation is not going to (or at least without shocking the world). Lundqvist is a once-in-a-generation player and unfortunately, his talents are likely going to go to waste, as if nothing major changes in the next couple of years, he is going to retire without winning a Cup.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, NHL.com, Hockey Reference, thehockeynews.com, and theglobeandmail.com. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: Getty Images

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