By the time Henrik Lundqvist accepts all of his buyout money from the New York Rangers, he will have earned more than $105 million playing (and not playing) for the Broadway Blueshirts. So there’s no doubt no goalie has made more money playing for the Rangers than King Henrik.
But is he the greatest goaltender the Rangers have ever had? Except for not being able to backstop the Rangers to a Stanley Cup championship, Lundqvist has done just about everything else for them. He has been a beacon for the Rangers on and off the ice and has been a class act in every sense of the word. You could argue that he doesn’t deserve an ending like this, until of course you consider that the game owes nobody a thing and the athletes who get to finish their careers on their own terms are in a minority.
The Stanley Cups have not been there for Lundqvist, but in that sense, he’s most certainly not alone on the list of Ranger greats without the ultimate prize. In fact, only five goalies in franchise history – Lorne Chabot, Andy Aitkenhead, Davey Kerr and Mike Richter, along with his backup, Glenn Healy) – have their names etched on the Stanley Cup. (This is one of the NHL’s oldest franchises, but has fewer total Stanley Cups than the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Sometimes I feel like not enough is made of how historically putrid the Rangers have been as an NHL franchise.)
There is no doubt that Lundqvist will go down in history as one of the greatest goalies in Rangers history. In fact, you could certainly make the argument that his body of work suggests he’s the best they’ve ever had. Some will argue Richter, who delivered the only Stanley Cup this team has won in 80 years is the best. But as far as individual accomplishments go, Giacomin remains the gold standard. Which is interesting because there are so many parallels between Giacomin’s and Lundqvist’s careers. Both were franchise icons, both were among the best at their position in the entire NHL for much of their careers and neither was able to get the Rangers to the Promised Land.
Aside from winning the Cup with the powerhouse Rangers in 1993-94, Mike Richter was never a first-team all-star or Vezina Trophy winner. He played about 200 fewer games than Lindqvist, who sits fifth on the all-time NHL wins list, and trails him by more than 150 wins. But Giacomin, who sits third on the Rangers’ all-time wins list, was an elite goaltender at the NHL level for longer than either Lundqvist or Richter. For five straight seasons, Giacomin was either a first- or second-team all-star, getting the first-team honors in 1966-67 and 1970-71, which essentially means he was the league’s best goalie. He won the Vezina trophy, which at the time went to the goalie(s) with the best goals-against average in the league and not the best goalie as chosen by the league’s GMs, in 1970-71. He did not win the Vezina in ’66-67, but likely would have under the modern-day criteria.
Lundqvist, by comparison, was a first-team all-star and Vezina winner in 2011-12 and a second-teamer in 2012-13. Lundqvist was considered either the best or second-best goalie in the NHL only twice to Giacomin’s five times, but he did finish in the top five in Vezina Trophy voting seven times over the course of his career. Giacomin led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup final in 1972, losing to the Boston Bruins in six games. Lundqvist also took the Rangers to the final once, losing in five games to the Los Angeles Kings.
In an organization so bereft of success, there are other goalies that deserve to be in that group as well, most notably Chuck Rayner, who won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player in 1949-50, the same year as he led the sub-.500 Rangers to the Stanley Cup final, which they lost in double overtime of Game 7 to the Detroit Red Wings. The Rangers did not play a single game on home ice in that series, playing two games at Maple Leaf Gardens because the circus was booked at Madison Square Garden, and the other five at the Olympia in Detroit. “Rayner is a tough call because his career was cut short by injury,” said goalie historian Bob Duff. “If there had been a Conn Smythe in 1950, he certainly would have won that as well. If you look at the whole scope of his career, he had that really fantastic season and that was it, but granted the Rangers weren’t that good of a team for most of his career.”
Kerr won a Stanley Cup and a Vezina with the Rangers and earned one first-team and one second-team all-star berth. John Vanbiesbrouck won the Vezina and was a first team all-star in in 1985-86 and Gump Worsley, who played more than 500 games with some truly awful Ranger teams, won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 1952-53.
And that’s really about it. So if Lundqvist does go down as the greatest Ranger in history, it’s the best of a very small group. That should not minimize his accomplishments because, like so many other goalies before him, he played his best years for a franchise that was almost never among the league’s elite.