Henrik Lundqvist’s time as a New York Ranger officially came to an end on Wednesday, Sept. 30, as the team bought the 38-year-old out of the final year of his contract. It’s possible he will retire, look for a new home in the NHL or return to Sweden to extend his playing career overseas. But one thing is for certain: Henrik Lundqvist will be a New York icon for the rest of his days. He will be in the Hall-of-Fame, he will have his number 30 retired at Madison Square Garden and he will be remembered as the best goaltender of this generation. Henrik Lundqvist is the best New York Ranger to ever put on the blue shirt.
After being taken with the 8th pick of the 7th round of the 2000 NHL draft, no one expected Lundqvist to ever make it to the National Hockey League, let alone become the face of the New York Rangers and be the best goalie in the league for a 15 year span. No one, except perhaps, Henrik Lundqvist, whose unmatched work ethic and drive for success made him the face of New York hockey since 2005 when he played in his first NHL game. Now that his 887-game Rangers career is in the books, he is 6th in NHL history with 459 career wins (1st among European born goalies), has five all-star appearances and a 2011 Vezina Trophy given to the league’s best goaltender. Add in the 50+ team records he holds, including save percentage (.918), goals-against-average (2.43), playoff wins (61) and playoff shutouts (10), and it becomes impossible to deny the incredible body of work King Henrik has.
The true beauty of Lundqvist’s place in hockey history comes when examining his worth to his team, which, outside of Lundqvist, has been somewhat of a disaster for two decades. Before Lundqvist’s rookie season, the Rangers had missed the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons. Then, once he took over the starting goaltender position in 2005, they went to the playoffs in 11 of his first 12 seasons. The only time the Rangers missed the playoffs during Lundqvist’s tenure as the number one goalie, they were eliminated in the final game of the season in overtime of a winner-goes-to-the-playoffs game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Without Lundqvist, I’d have been shocked if the Rangers made the playoffs once in that span, let alone win 11 playoff series along the way.
Hank the Tank’s brilliance as a one-man-show is also evident in the underlying statistics. Since 2007, when the wins-above-replacement stat was introduced to the NHL, Lundqvist has ranked first among goalies with 57.2 WAR, over 20 more than the second place Carey Price. During that same span, Lundqvist ranked first in goals-saved-above-expectation with a preposterous 278. The next closest was Jaroslav Halak… with 96. So essentially, if Lundqvist was replaced with a league-average goalie from 2007-2020, the Rangers would have won 57.2 fewer games while allowing 278 more goals. For reference, in Lundqvist’s Vezina-winning 2011-12 season, the Rangers allowed only 187 goals total. These outrageous numbers also don’t include the first two seasons of Lundqvist’s career, during both of which he received Hart Trophy votes as the league’s most valuable player. Lundqvist is the most irreplaceable player of the generation with nobody else in sight.
The main reason Henrik Lundqvist is not a household name for most—other than his name being difficult for most Americans to pronounce—is that he never won the Stanley Cup. Though he has almost single-handedly carried his team to three Conference Finals appearances and even one to the Stanley Cup Finals, Lundqvist never got to hoist the ultimate prize. But it’s not like he struggled in big games. In fact, Lundqvist played his best when the lights were brightest. In 130 career playoff games, Lundqvist’s save-percentage (.921) and goals-against-average (2.30) actually improved from his excellent regular season totals. And his numbers in winner-takes-all games are so good you’d think they were fake. In eight career Game 7s, Lundqvist is 6-2 with a .958 save percentage, tying him for first place all time in Game 7 victories with six. In those six wins, Lundqvist allowed no more than one goal in each game. He has two Game 7 shutouts and has never allowed more than two goals in a winner-takes-all game. I don’t know how you blame a guy for playoff failure with numbers like those.
Even with all that being said, if you asked Lundqvist what he valued most in his career he would say the relationships he’s made along the way. Known for being the best teammate someone could have, Lundqvist’s charitable effort in New York throughout his career is nothing short of saint-like. As the founder of the Henrik Lundqvist Foundation and the spokesperson of Madison Square Garden’s Garden of Dreams Foundation, Lundqvist has raised millions of dollars for impoverished children from New York to the Dominican Republic. The Rangers will never have as deserving a face-of-the-franchise.
Henrik Lundqvist has given everything imaginable to the New York Rangers, and he’ll go down as the most beloved Ranger on the face of the Earth. Not bad for a seventh-round draft pick.
Thank you, King Henrik.