New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist is greatest goalie in team history

Jan 13, 2015; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) makes a save against the New York Islanders during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 13, 2015; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) makes a save against the New York Islanders during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /

Lundqvist is the “King” of Ranger netminders

They’ve called him the “King” for over a decade now, but a sad reality is coming our way with Henrik Lundqvist’s reign as netminder for the New York Rangers now coming to a close. I am not saying he is going to hang up his skates next season or the year after that, but the point is that as Lundqvist nears the age of 34, there is more sand sitting in the bottom of the hourglass than the top.

The Rangers have had a long 90 year history which may not include a ton of Stanley Cup banners, but they do boast a rich history of strong goaltending that rivals any franchise across the league. It is an interesting point to ponder just where Lundqvist will fit into the pantheon of Rangers’ goalies when his career is all said and done.

If you ask a fan of the Blue Shirts today who the best goalie in Rangers’ history is, the answer generally is pretty easy to come up with – Mike Richter.

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And why wouldn’t a fan choose him. Richter is the man who backstopped the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup victory in 54 years back in 1994, not to mention staying true to the red and blue from his first day in the NHL to his last spending 14 years in a Rangers’ uniform.

Now again, if you ask a Rangers’ fan who is either a history buff or an older fan who was able to witness him play, many will come up with the name Eddie Giacomin. Younger fans may not recognize the name, but to put it simply, Giacomin was the King of Madison Square Garden before Lundqvist was even a twinkle in his father’s eye.

Giacomin was the embodiment of the New York Rangers serving as a fan favorite, and the team’s unifying leader between the posts from 1965-1975. Despite losing in his only Stanley Cup appearance with the team, Giacomin was a living legend who actually turned Rangers’ fans against their own team when he returned to Madison Square Garden for the first time in a Red Wings’ uniform mere days after being claimed off waivers.

With all that being said, at the end of the day when Lundqvist retires, fans are going to be forced to think long and hard before answering the question, “Who is the best goalie in Rangers’ history?”.

There are excellent arguments to be made for both Richter and Giacomin, but when you stack them up one on one with Lundqvist, I feel like the scales start to tip in Lundqvist’s favor.

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  • For starters, Lundqvist currently sits as the Rangers all time leader in career wins, save percentage and shutouts, plus by the end of the season he should also secure the top spot in games played, saves, as well as shots faced.

    Now in Giacomin’s defense they did not play as many games back in the 60’s and 70’s so the numbers are slightly skewed even though Lundqvist has only played one more season than Giacomin did for the Rangers. Unfortunately Richter can not play the same card having played three more seasons than Lundqvist has been able to rack up so far, yet he still is trailing the King in most categories.

    I am not trying to rail on Richter because he will forever be a legend in New York City, but when comparing the numbers between Richter and Lundqvist the gap begins to widen considerably. The Rangers have made nine playoff appearances in eleven seasons with Lundqvist in net, while in the 14 seasons Richter was in New York the team made the playoffs just 8 times in total. A very respectable number, but the consistency the Rangers have experienced with Lundqvist in net has been nothing short of spectacular.

    The real argument to be had is between Giacomin and Lundqvist, whose careers are actually eerily similar when you review them. They both have a step up on Richter with a Vezina in each of their trophy cases, they also both were the face of the franchise during their stints with the team, while Richter played second fiddle to greats like Mark Messier and Brian Leetch.

    One of the toughest thing to do in sports is compare players who played in two completely different eras, but in this case I believe it is the defining reason why Lundqvist’s feats between the posts are more impressive than Giacomin’s.

    The NHL was still living in the salary cap free world back when Giacomin played, making it easier to keep a group of guys together for a long period of time which resulted in prolonged runs for certain teams where they were able to dominate until father time forced them to move on. Giacomin finished his career winning 51% of the games he suited up in goal for the Rangers, and even with the fact that he knew year in and year out he was going to have the same dominant group of familiar faces in front of him, in the salary cap era Lundqvist has been able to top his number winning 54% of his games in a Rangers uniform.

    The Rangers have been known as notoriously high spenders and risk takers in the salary cap era, but one constant has been the King in net who the organization knows they can always depend on to keep them in games. Other than the lockout shortened season where he won 24 of 43 games, Lundqvist has never finished a season with less than 30 wins, and has finished top five in either save percentage or goals against average six times during his career. To top it off Lundqvist has appeared in 110 playoff games during his time in the Big Apple, a number nobody gets to unless they have won a bunch of games over a long period of time.

    The one problem of course is that the Stanley Cup has been to elusive for Lundqvist to capture much like it was for Giacomin so long ago, meanwhile that is the defining feature that separates Richter from the former two and suspends him in Rangers’ history has one of the best of all time.

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    Still it is no contest in my mind that when the King finally steps down from his throne for the final time, New York Rangers’ fans should take a second to consider just how lucky they have been to not only witness the best goaltender in the Blue Shirt’s long, long history, but also one of the best to ever play the position.