The Climbing Legacy of Henrik Lundqvist

He’s got 400 career victories now, which is just another line item on a remarkable career resume.

Henrik Lundqvist is going to the Hall of Fame when all is said and done, and his No. 30 will ultimately hang from the spoked ceiling at Madison Square Garden.

Lundqvist is 11th all-time at 400 wins and should be ninth by the end of this season. He will probably be third (currently Ed Belfour at 484) by the time he retires, with an outside shot of catching Patrick Roy (551) for second behind Martin Brodeur’s record of 691.

He was the fastest ever to 400 wins, though that comes with the asterisk of shootouts — he has 55 shootout wins and some of the others on the win’s list didn’t have shootouts in their careers. Some didn’t even have overtimes, let alone 3-on-3 overtimes.

Lundqvist’s list of accomplishments — he leads the 90-year-old franchise in wins, appearances (727), shutouts (61), and save percentage (.920). He is the winningest European goalie in league history, is one of three goalies (with Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy) to win 30 or more games in 10 different seasons and the first to win 20 or more in each of his first 12 seasons — gets you thinking.

Some of those who think about it have started a couple of interesting conversations this week:

First, if you had one game to win, would you pick Lundqvist or Mike Richter, also known as the only Stanley Cup-winning goalie in the last 76, going on 77 years?

Second, is Lundqvist the greatest home-grown player in franchise history?

I don’t know if Lundqvist thinks about these things, but I do know that he thinks about winning the Stanley Cup, and that he is bright enough to know that the best way to do that is to prepare and compete as best you can. Nobody does those two things better than Lundqvist. He also has the great gift of being able to focus only on the immediate task, which is the next practice, then the next game (in this case Thursday in Brooklyn).

I also know that being in conversations such as these, and breaking records such as he has, and hitting important milestones, mean much to Lundqvist because he’s an athlete who gets it. He’s a New York athlete who gets it, who knows and understands and appreciates the history of the franchise and the city’s sports. A guy who lights up when you talk about an Eddie Giacomin or a Rod Gilbert or an Andy Bathgate, a Brian Leetch or a Mike Richter.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 24: (L-R) Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers stands with former goalies Mike Richter and Eddie Giacomin as they watch a tribute video congratulating Henrik Lundqvist on becoming the franchise leader in wins and shutouts prior to the game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Madison Square Garden on March 24, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

Leetch, in my opinion, is the greatest home-grown Ranger ever, at least to this point, a Hall of Famer/retired number/Cup champ with three massive individual awards – two Norris Trophies as the NHLs best defenseman, and that 1994 Conn Smythe Trophy as the first American-born MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Plus, he captained the U.S. team in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey championship, perhaps the best international tournament ever.

Leetch won his two Norrises in the era he shared with five-time winner Raymond Bourque, seven-time winner Nicklas Lidstrom and three-time winner Chris Chelios, not to mention Paul Coffey, Al MacInnis, Rob Blake and Chris Pronger.

If Lundqvist wins a Cup and fills that one hole in his career, maybe that changes things. As of now, Lundqvist has loads of records, one Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie, and an Olympic gold medal.

The Richter-Lundqvist discussion is more interesting because of the Cup that Richter won. He is a forever Ranger, even though he’s not in the Hall of Fame and even though Lundqvist broke many of his records.


Richter easily could have been the Conn Smythe winner in 1994, had it not been for Leetch’s other-worldliness, giving the Rangers a chance to win Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern final – he was better than Mark Messier for most of Game 6 – stoning Pavel Bure in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, and playing lights-out as the Rangers protected the lead against Vancouver in Game 7.

Richter was arguably even better when he won the MVP at the ’96 World Cup.

If you had one game to win, do you pick Richter or Lundqvist? We all know about Lundqvist’s ultimate shortcoming in the postseason. We also know how eye-popping he has been in elimination games (he had won 10 in a row at one point), and in Game 7s (tied with Brodeur and Roy with six Game 7 wins).

We know that he has won playoff series with the team on his back.

What if you could put Lundqvist on that team in the 1990s and Richter on the team of the 2010s? Would their stations change? Would their accomplishments change?

Lundqvist never played on a great team, but has played in one of the best Rangers eras ever, on teams that contended for a long period of time. And he was the main reason for that, or at the very least the cornerstone and the team leader.

February 11, 2017: The New York Rangers face the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Richter, like Leetch, finished his career on some very lousy teams. Richter also had his career shortened by three serious injuries – ACL tears to both of his knees and a fractured skull and concussion(s) that eventually forced his retirement.

Lundqvist, health and age permitting, will have a few more chances to change the whole conversation, or both conversations.

He can do it by winning 16 games in one spring.