Henrik Lundqvist’s career has been filled with milestones and markers that reflect his greatness. He leads the New York Rangers, an Original Six franchise with a history of over 90 years, in wins, shutouts, and playoff wins. Lundqvist was the fastest goaltender to earn 400 wins in NHL history, has recorded the most wins of any European-born goaltender, and is currently eighth all time in games played (887) and sixth in wins (459); that’s particularly noteworthy for a goaltender that debuted at age 23.
But those statistics only scratch the surface of what the generational goaltender has achieved over his 15-year NHL career so far. A deeper look shows just how dominant he’s been between the pipes for the Rangers compared to his peers and goaltenders all time.
Consistency In The Face Of Difficulty
For seven straight seasons — between 2009-10 and 2015-16 — Lundqvist earned at least a .920 save percentage. In addition to those seasons, he kicked off his NHL career with a .922 in 53 games back in 2005-06 for a total of eight full seasons at that marker or better.
To compare, Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur only reached the .920 marker as starters three times each. The only other goaltenders to come close to Lundqvist in that respect are Roberto Luongo and Dominik Hasek, each of whom have seven .920-plus full seasons on their record. However, neither player maintained such a performance for seven consecutive seasons — no goaltender in NHL history has besides Lundqvist, which is a testament to his high level of play and consistency.
And this was the team he was playing behind during those seven seasons; one that allowed quality chances at an above average rate in all but one year.
A Performance That Transcends Time
Save percentage alone, however, doesn’t reflect the true workload Lundqvist faced. Factoring that in makes his play that much more impressive: he didn’t just tend goal at a high level, he did so consistently behind defensively flawed teams.
One way to assess his play while factoring in the shot quantity he faced is with Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) which represents the number of goals a netminder saves above or below the league average. This metric applies the league average save percentage to the shots a goaltender faced to provide the number of goals an average netminder would have allowed had they faced the same number of shots as that particular goaltender.
In all but three seasons (2016-17, 2018-19, and 2019-20 via Hockey-Reference.com), Lundqvist saved more goals than the average netminder — with his best coming in his rookie year (30.62, ranked fourth in the league behind Miikka Kiprusoff, Tomas Vokoun, and Roberto Luongo) and 2011-12 (28.57, second to only Mike Smith).
The below beeswarm plot created by Prashanth Iyer visualizes how Lundqvist stacks up to his peers in terms of GSAA throughout his career. It highlights how he was not just above average in 12 of 15 seasons, but towards the upper echelon in most of those years.
A benefit of GSAA is that along with being able to look at Lundqvist’s entire career with this metric, it’s possible to compare him to goaltenders dating back through 1955-56.
The plot below (also by Iyer) visualizes GSAA by season number for each goaltender. Again, Lundqvist stands out for his strong netminding and longevity, but this time to goaltenders from more than just the most recent era.
A Workload Harder Than Most
The weakness of GSAA is that the focus is shot quantity, not quality, and the Rangers are a team that have struggled with both.
Take the 2009-10 season, for example. The Rangers were dead last in the rate of quality chances they conceded at 5-on-5 (2.72 expected goals against per 60) and second to last in all situations (3.14 xGA/60).
Lundqvist saved 53 goals above expected (GSAx) according to Evolving-Hockey.com in all situations which was more than double the next best in the league (Ryan Miller’s 25.08). He also led the league at 5-on-5 with a GSAx of 39.9, which once again was more than double the goaltender who ranked second (Jonas Hiller’s 17.3). According to Micah Blake McCurdy’s model, there was a negative 17 percent chance of an unblocked shot attempt becoming a goal with Hank in net in all situations. It’s worth noting, though, he only finished sixth in voting for the Vezina Trophy that year.
Because of data limitations, this metric can only be tracked through 2007-08. But in all but one of those 13 seasons, in all situations, Lundqvist saved more goals than expected (as he allowed 5.6 more than expected in 2018-19). At 5-on-5, he’s finished all 13 seasons above expectations.
Lundqvist led the league four times in regular season GSAx, and finished in the top-three twice more. Iyer’s plot below visualizes that, once again showing his consistent dominance.
Since GSAx is a counting stat, the playing field can be leveled a bit more by translating this into a rate stat to account for playing time. That does help bring Lundqvist back to earth in some of his stronger seasons because the Rangers leaned on him so heavily in games played. It also boosts his numbers in more recent years when he started fewer games.
In total, if we look at Lundqvist’s body of work between 2007 and 2020 in all situations, he has saved 277.9 goals above expected, which leads the league. The next best goaltender was Jaroslav Halak with 95.9. Hank has also saved more goals than expected than any other goaltender at 5-on-5, with 224.5 (the next best, once again is Halak at 69.9).
HockeyViz’s model echoes much of what Evolving-Hockey’s does in terms of Lundqvist’s level of play through the years (though it’s worth noting McCurdy’s work does not include any rink adjustments). There were some of the lowest odds of an unblocked shot becoming a goal with Lundqvist in net in all situations. Of the 13 seasons tracked, just two years were considered ‘average’ while three ranked in the top four of all single season records for goaltenders. No goaltender managed to play at such an elite level as consistently.
New shooter / goalie model is ready, gonna publish it next week. As a teaser: best goalie (overall talent, not single year performance) in the league:— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) December 1, 2019
Winning v. Father Time
Lundqvist is not immune to age-related decline. It’s clear that his level of play has dropped from what it once was. But because his caliber of play was so high through much of his career, his decline only brought him closer to average, not below it. As the work of Eric Tulsky shows, goaltenders who play at this caliber for as long as Hank have are above average to begin with and are better equipped to manage the effects of age-related decline. That’s why he could still be a useful add for teams in need of goaltending, even at age 38.
Along with his regular season play, there’s also the netminder’s postseason resume. Lundqvist carried his team to the playoffs year after year, and was their backbone throughout. His postseason milestones include having the most playoff wins by a Rangers goaltender (61) and a stellar Game 7 record.
Through 130 playoff games across 12 postseasons, he has a cumulative .921 all situation save percentage. Since the 2008 playoffs through present, Lundqvist saved 54.4 more goals than what was expected in the postseason when factoring in his workload which leads all goalers (Braden Holtby’s 34.27 ranks second). He also had the second toughest workload in that span, facing 322 expected goals against which trailed only Marc-Andre Fleury’s 349.
The King, Indeed
The fact that Lundqvist has yet to lift the Stanley Cup, or that he has just one Vezina Trophy, are easy narratives that overshadow all that he’s accomplished over the last 15 years, but neither should diminish what’s already been an amazing career. Lundqvist has been the driving force behind almost all of the Rangers’ successes for more than a decade.
Goaltending is the most volatile aspect of hockey, especially as netminders age. But that wasn’t the case for the Rangers with Henrik Lundqvist in the blue paint. Despite not having much support in front of him, Lundqvist stood on his head for much of the last 15 years, and forced his team into the playoff conversation time and time again.
Since making his NHL debut, Lundqvist’s excellence has been unparalleled by his peers. It’s not just something our eyes let us see, the numbers back up what has been truly an amazing career to date. That’s why Henrik Lundqvist is a future Hall of Famer, the best netminder in Rangers’ history, and already one of the NHL’s greatest of all time.