After the 2004-05 NHL lockout had officially ended during the Summer of 2005, the New York Rangers were eager to create a new team identity and product that would take to the ice at Madison Square Garden that October.
At the start of the 2005-06 regular season, the Broadway Blueshirts’ roster had experienced quite the makeover. The Garden Faithful would no longer see players such as Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Alex Kovalev and more notable names…
In fact, New York had two new goaltenders on its roster, as the club parted ways with netminders Mike Dunham and backup Jussi Markkanen (2003-2004). The goaltenders that would stand in the blue paint at the World’s Most Famous Arena were veteran Kevin Weekes and Swedish native, Henrik Lundqvist.
Now, 11 years later, Lundqvist, a former seventh-round draft-pick (2000) has tied the great Dominik Hasek for the most career regular season wins by any European NHL goaltender to strap on the pads (389). And, what fans across North America do know — is that the Swedish native will surpass Hasek, and could potentially separate himself from the rest of the pack; if his notorious success between the pipes continues.
However, what isn’t exactly clear — is Henrik Lundqvist the great European NHL goaltender, ever?
It is interesting when you look back at who could/would be considered for the conversation of – who are the best NHL European goaltenders of all-time?
For starters, names such as Hasek, Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff, Olaf Kolzig, Tomas Vokoun, Nikolai Khabibulin, Pelle Lindberg and even Arturs Irbe come to mind in relation to that topic. All of those players listed above have something other than being European in common, which is that they’re all retired from the NHL.
Then, we can throw in the likes of current NHL netminders such as the Boston Bruins’ Tuukka Rask (183 career wins) and Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne (251 career wins). At this rate, it’s safe to say that Lundqvist has separated himself both of those netminders named above, and that’s not to downgrade either, too. Both Rask and Rinne have been all-star caliber goalies for a number of years now.
Where It Becomes Controversial
This hockey enthusiast believes the topic does get gray and becomes tricky, especially with the retired NHL goaltenders. Prior to Lundqvist’s rookie campaign (2005-06), the style of which NHL goaltenders play the position was different, to say at the least.
Equipment is larger than in the past and is also specifically designed to benefit the netminders to take up more space in the net, which prevents more goals to be scored. During the 1980’s and 1990’s equipment was much smaller and was utilized more for a goalie’s protraction, rather then preventing pucks from finding the back of the net.
Additionally, ties were in place prior to Lundqvist’s rookie season. Ties were eliminated and the Shoot Out was added to take place after overtime had ended. So, Lundqvist has had a greater chance to earn more victories than those netminders mentioned above — just something to keep in mind.
Would Lundqvist still have as much success if the former seventh-round draft-pick played in let’s say the late 1990’s — when for example Mr. Hasek Dominated the position? We’ll never know…
A Deeper Look
However, Hank’s biggest competition are in fact four goalies who are retired — Khabibulin, Nabokov, Kiprusoff and Hasek. All of whom approached playing the position differently, well, for the most part.
Khabibulan finished his NHL career with 333 regular season wins in 779 games played; however the Bulin Wall’s playoffs stats read — seven (years) postseason appearances, which entailed a career record of 39-31, plus a Stanley Cup ring in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Stanley Cup ring is loud, but the edge will go to Hank given his longevity and more playoff appearances.
Nabokov, won an impressive 353 career regular season games and in just 697 games played. Yet, the former 1994 ninth-round draft-pick never found similar success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and often received a majority of the blame for the San Jose Sharks early playoffs exits. In playoffs games in which he started, Nabokov’s record was 18-22. A sub .500 record with a much smaller sample in comparison to other netminders on this shorter list. Advantage Lundqvist.
The former Calgary Flames stud goaltender in Kiprusofff stunned the hockey world when he caught fire during the 2003-04 Stanley Cup Playoffs; which led the Flames to game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals and only to lose to Khabibulan and company. “Kipper” only played for another eight seasons in the NHL before retiring after the 2013 season. The Finnish native won a total of 319 career regular season games in 623 games played — impressive. If he chose not to retire “early,” Kipper would more than likely have more career wins than Lundqvist. Yet, let’s not forget that The King and the Swedish Olympic team beat Kipper and the Finish Olympic team in a Gold Medal game during the 2006 Winter Olympics…
Then, where do we begin with The Dominator? Dominik Hasek.
All of his career numbers were worth enough to have him inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame, and for a number of years he was labeled the best goalie in the world. Not only was his unique playing style entertaining, but both impressive and effective. Unlike Lundqvist, Hasek has two Stanley Cup rings, and one of which where he was the number one netminder with the Detroit Red Wings during the 2001-2002 campaign. The Dominator also has a Gold Medal (Czech Republic) after a major upset during the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Does the question boil down to perspective and by the eye of the dedicated hockey fans? Or, do the Stanley Cup championships separate goaltenders when it comes down to debating which netminder ‘was better…’
To this hockey enthusiast, it seems that the top NHL goaltenders’ success stories are not separated by the individual trophies or save-percentages, statistics etc; but the Stanley Cups and success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, overall. Just look at which top goaltenders have been inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame already, and which have been on the bubble or have not been accepted into the prestige class, yet.
While Henrik Lundqvist has been a phenomenal goaltender at both the NHL level and Olympic stage, he should not go down as the best European NHL goaltender until he wins at least one Stanley Cup, and as a number one netminder.
That title belongs to Dominik Hasek, for now.