Welcome to the top five, your majesty. ‘King’ Henrik Lundqvist has officially passed Curtis Joseph for the fifth-most goaltending wins in NHL history.
Even at 37, he still manages to flash his vintage, Vezina Trophy-winning form on occasion, and we saw it Monday during his New York Rangers’ 3-2 overtime victory over the Minnesota Wild, when he flashed a gorgeous glove hand to rob Jason Zucker on a short-side wrist shot in the third period.
Still, while Hank can turn back the clock and thrill us once in a while, he’s obviously in his twilight years. He has just one season remaining on his contract after this one, and he’ll be 39 when the deal expires in 2021, so there’s a decent chance he retires then. Before that happens, Hank, who sits at 455 wins, has an excellent shot to pass Ed Belfour for fourth on the all-time wins list.
What then, will we make of Lundqvist’s legacy several years down the road? He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, one of the best ever to play his position. But can we also call him the No. 1 puck-stopper of his generation? When our panel of historians ranked every goalie in history for our master top 100 list a year ago, Lundqvist finished 24th overall, higher than any other active goalie at the time. If we define his generation by the start of the salary-cap era in 2005-06, which was his rookie season, is he the best?
We know the win totals are strong. As is the case for pitchers in baseball, wins are an overrated and misleading stat, but they can still carry meaning when a goalie wins for so many years. It takes a great team to puff up a goalie’s win total, but it takes a great goalie to post big win totals year after year after year. That’s why most of the all-time wins leaders are legends of the game. You have to be really good to keep the starting job on that team that wins a ton of games.
Lundqvist checks the Vezina Trophy box, having captured it in 2011-12, and has been a finalist five times. He led Sweden to Olympic gold in 2006. His .918 save percentage places him 11th all-time, and he’s enjoyed some deep playoff runs with Ranger teams on which he was the star, including in 2013-14, when they reached the Stanley Cup final. Lundqvist owns a .922 career playoff SP. On the intangible side, he’s a fashion icon who was named one of People magazine’s 100 most beautiful people in 2006, and he also passes the “auteur” test as a netminder with a signature style. He plays extremely deep in his net, allowing himself that extra split second to read plays.
Another measure of greatness is to ask whether a player represented the pinnacle of his or her position for an extended period. Lundqvist undoubtedly did. His peak three-year window came from 2010-11 to 2012-13. Across that stretch, he finished fourth, first and second in the Vezina vote; earned a first- and second-team all-star nod; and had the second-highest SP among 31 goalies who played 100 or more games. At 5-on-5, in the 100-game club, Lundqvist ranked second in goals-saved above average per 60 minutes and first in high-danger SP over that span. He was the best in the world, right there with Tim Thomas at the time.
So Lundqvist has as strong a case as any goalie to be the best of his generation, as he’s combined longevity, consistency and excellence. Still, the fact he hasn’t won a Stanley Cup leaves the door open to debate in the eyes of some. Who else can contend for “best of the cap era” between the pipes?
The first and most obvious threat is Carey Price, who has reached a higher summit than any goalie this generation considering he’s the only one to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP in the past 16 seasons. He matches Lundqvist’s Vezina and Olympic gold. Any time in the past five years or so, when I’ve polled other goalies, including retired NHLers and analysts, Price has gotten the vote as the No. 1 puck-stopper in the game. No one this generation has been so revered or so icy-cool unbeatable at his peak, so I don’t fault anyone who ranks the top-two as Price-Lundqvist instead of Lundqvist-Price. In our top 100 special edition, Price finished just three spots behind Lundqvist at No. 27, and Price is five years younger, so he has a real shot to surpass Lundqvist in potency of resume. Price, too, needs a Cup, though.
Roberto Luongo played most of his career in the cap era. He arguably was his best in his first run a Florida Panther. In 2005-06 and 2003-04, he saw the third- and fourth-most shots ever in a season and still managed to be elite. He was so good for so long and finished 29th in our top 100 rankings, but Luongo also never won the elusive Vezina, was inconsistent in high-pressure games and lost his one great chance at a Cup in Game 7 of the 2011 final as a Vancouver Canuck.
The guy with the Cups, of course, is Marc-Andre Fleury. He has three rings, though he owns 1.5 of them as a starter. He’s hot on Lundqvist’s tail in the wins chase and will pass him eventually as the younger goalie by 2.5 years. Still playing prime-level hockey on a competitive Vegas squad, Fleury has a strong shot to finish top-three or even top-two on the wins list. If he can nab the elusive Vezina, his legacy as a very-good goalie gets redefined as that of a great goalie.
Do we consider Thomas “this generation”? It may not feel that way because he wasn’t a regular NHL starter until 32, but he played all but four of his career games from 2005-06 onward. He earned two Vezinas in three years from 2008-09 through 2010-11, and his 2010-11 belongs on the short list for the greatest seasons ever by a goalie. He got the Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup. Thomas was a supernova, but Lundqvist was just as good – for a lot longer.
The only goalie to snag multiple Vezinas since Thomas did? Sergei Bobrovsky. Still just 31, ‘Bob’ can start inching toward Hall of Fame consideration if he can establish any sort of playoff legacy. Last spring marked the first time he ever played well in the post-season. Maybe he builds on that throughout his new Florida Panthers career.
If we value our goalies simply by how often they stop the puck, Tuukka Rask deserves some love. Only Dominik Hasek, Johnny Bower and Ken Dryden can top Rask’s career SP of .9214, and he owns a Vezina Trophy plus two trips to the Stanley Cup final as a starter.
Other netminders with strong resumes over the past decade and a half include Pekka Rinne (349 wins, Vezina winner and four-time finalist) and Ryan Miller (Vezina, 381 wins).
But I’d argue that none aside from Price belongs in the same tier as Lundqvist. Barring a shocking championship run in the next couple years, he’ll join the ranks of the greatest goalies never to win a Cup – alongside Luongo, Tony Esposito, Ed Giacomin and Curtis Joseph.
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