By Rob Vollman
If Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers were to retire today, he would rank as one of the five most accomplished goalies of the past four decades.
With continued success over this and the five remaining seasons on his contract, Lundqvist could ultimately compete with Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur as the best goalie of the modern era.
There's no question Lundqvist is one of the most valuable goalies in the NHL. The 33-year-old has been named the first star of the game eight times this season, tied for second behind forward Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals (10), and has been named one of the game's three stars 18 times, tied for second behind forward Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks (20), according to Sporting Charts.
No active goalie has been among the League's best as consistently as Lundqvist, who has received Vezina Trophy consideration in all 10 of his NHL seasons. He finished third in his rookie season (2005-06) and in the two following seasons, then finished sixth in 2008-09, a point past which he has never fallen. He won the award for the 2011-12 season.
Since the 1981-82 season, the Vezina Trophy has been awarded to the NHL's most outstanding goalie, as voted on by the general managers. As a frame of reference, Grant Fuhr was a rookie with the Edmonton Oilers that season. Since then, two goalies have finished top six in the voting more frequently than Lundqvist: Brodeur and Roy.
No other active goalie is on this list; 16-season veteran Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers has four top-six finishes, and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators each have three.
How much more Vezina Trophy consideration does Lundqvist have to accumulate to be held in the same esteem as Brodeur and Roy?
Given that goalies receive five points for a first-place vote, three points for second place, and one point for third, and adjusting for the fact there are 30 GMs voting today, compared to 21 in the 1990-91 season, Lundqvist has accumulated 254 points. That puts him in fourth place, behind Brodeur (451), Hasek (400) and Roy (384).
At 25 points per season, Lundqvist would be 37 when he approaches Roy's totals in 2019-20, and 38 when he passes Hasek the following season, after which his contract expires. If Lundqvist could keep this pace in his twilight seasons, he would catch Brodeur at age 42.
Vezina voting doesn't tell the whole story; they are weighted heavily on a variety of other considerations, including wins and losses. Ideally, there would be a pure statistical comparison between Lundqvist and Roy, Brodeur and Hasek, but most modern goaltending statistics weren't available until recently. Quality starts, for example, were first recorded in the 2007-08 season.
Save percentage was first recorded in 1983-84, which was Fuhr's third season, and can be used to establish a more objective ranking of which goalies were the best, or among the top five or top 10 at any given time.
This table considers only goalies who played at least half of their team's games in a given season, which means 40 games in the days of Fuhr, 42 in 1992-93 and 1993-94, and 41 since then, excluding 24 in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 and 2012-13 seasons, and so far in 2015-16. Even from this objective perspective, Lundqvist ranks as one of the most consistent top-10 goalies of the past 32 years.
This perspective does highlight one difference between Lundqvist and Roy and Hasek, in that Lundqvist has never led the NHL in save percentage.
He has finished in the top 10 in nine of his 11 seasons, and in the top four twice. In contrast, Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils and Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins have done it three times, and the four times Price has finished on the leaderboard, he has been in the top five.
That means Roy and Hasek are in a different category than Lundqvist, and their achievements may never be matched. In terms of style, Lundqvist may be more like Brodeur: a strong and reliable goalie on a consistently competitive team, but rarely the very best.
Lundqvist is likely to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. In Hockey Abstract 2014, Iain Fyffe presented a system, dubbed the Inductinator, which is "designed to predict which hockey players would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame."
In the specific sections dealing with goaltending, Fyffe wrote, "Goaltenders receive points for career regular-season games and wins, career playoff games, Stanley Cups won as a starter, postseason All-Star selections, and Vezina, Smythe and Hart awards. Points are also awarded for high-level international games played (Olympics, World Championships) and for career NHL won-loss differential. Finally, if the goalie played less than 600 career games, his suffers a penalty."
According to Fyffe's calculations, Lundqvist will be in the Hall of Fame, based on the past selections of its voters. Fyffe expects Lundqvist will need to wait two to six years after eligibility, but that could change with continued success.