Already in historic company, Henrik Lundqvist has established himself as a Garden legend. ESNY takes a look into the future to try to answer the question: “What would it take for Lundqvist to become the king of the goalies?“
When New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist earned career win number 400, he stepped into another elite circle of players. Laudable as it is, accomplishing that feat naturally begs the question: What would it take for Henrik Lundqvist to take over as all-time NHL wins leader and become the REAL King?
The short answer? Obviously: “a lot more hockey games played over the course of a lot more seasons.”
There’s been a cadence to Lundqvist’s career: he hits another hundred-win benchmark every three seasons. He’s done it more quickly than anyone who came before.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 12, 2017
That’s heuristic measure is enough to say “well, he’ll probably get to 500 by the time his contract is up.”
But what if it goes past that? What if he wants to go further? Let’s assume for a few minutes that some GM out there decides give Lundqvist a career extension. How long would he have to play to earn 692 career wins? What else would he have to accomplish?
Our robust NHL analytics squad (read: me, a steno notebook and an iPhone calculator app) took on the task of trying to answer that question with a little more depth and granularity than what one would get from a barstool fanalyst on Eight Avenue.
Before continuing, I need to make a few things clear in order to avoid getting eviscerated by critics, crabs and the real quants out there:
- Naturally, these are inexact figures measuring progress at a rate likely to change in unforseen ways.
- This is not a prediction, it’s speculation about something that is highly unlikely (albeit more informed speculation than counting with fingers and toes).
- It’s not an opinion piece and it’s not theory. I have no more of an idea what will end up happening than anyone else. I just wanted to know what the numbers looked like (roughly) and figured I wasn’t the only one with that thought. I have nothing to prove, or disprove here.
Where Lundqvist is now…
Lundqvist is the twelfth winningest goaltender in NHL history, a milestone he reached by making economical use of 762 career starts to arrive at 400 wins.
Within matter of weeks, barring injury, deportation or the apocalypse, he will surpass Chris Osgood (401), Grant Fuhr (403) and Glenn Hall (409), putting him inside the top-ten at ninth place, immediately behind Tony Esposito (423).
Espo’s career mark is in all likelihood safe from the Swede’s ascendance for now. Optimistically, one could posit that Lundqvist will catch him in the 2017 playoffs. While that would necessitate the Rangers first making it into the playoffs, then making it through more than one round, I see no reason to tempt a jinxy fate with that kind of guff.
The only current NHL netminder leading Lundqvist is the Florida Panthers’ Roberto Luongo. Luongo is playing in his eighteenth NHL season. His 451 career win mark is made more impressive because because at his age – he turns 38 in April – he continues to add to it and continues to maintain full-time starter pace in games started. Luongo recently passed Terry Sawchuck and should soon pass Curtis Joseph to end up fourth on th elist before the end of this season.
Why am I talking about Roberto Luongo? Isn’t this about Lundqvist? Well, it is and it isn’t. In reality, it’s about pursuing a goal by preventing them and doing so under incredibly stressful conditions.
Luongo is a working study in longevity, one from whom Henrik Lundqvist would be best served to get some pointers on staying healthy as the years, seasons, games and minutes mount. Lundqvist is going to need the input.
The operational life of many engines and complex machines is measured in hours of run-time. For athletes playing continuous play sports, measuring the cumulative wear on their bodies can be done similarly, but using minutes instead. Here is a comparison of Lundqvist’s career minutes against Luongo’s, in sum:
The disparity in playoff minutes jumps off the screen, but there is more. Henrik Lundqvist has played a total of roughly 90% of the number of minutes Luongo has…in basically two-thirds the amount of time. Additionally, he has faced a cumulative total of 1,559 more shots against.
The disparity in overall wear and tear should be alarming to a Lundqvist fan, but it shouldn’t be surprising. Averaging 62 starts a season, he really has been the engine turning the New York Rangers organization for almost 12 seasons.**
More to the point, however, I went to this level of depth to point out how hard it is going to be for a player of even Lundqvist’s calibre to make it as far as he would have to go. He has never suffered any major musculoskeletal injuries, but he is far from untouched. He’s in remarkable physical shape and keeps himself that way, but he is far from fresh. Further, he is going to have to adjust his style going forward in order to more effectively cut down angles and challenge shooters. That puts him at higher risk of getting hit – and he DOES get hit:
The first key to his pursuit of the title “Greatest of All Time” is necessarily his health. He is going to have to stay healthy to have the kind of longevity needed to surpass Marty Brodeur’s mark of 691.
What are the targets and how long would Lundqvist have to play to challenge them?
This question needs to be broken down and answering it must necessarily include the consideration of how the Rangers (or whatever team he may end up playing for) are going to manage his workload. To really do it properly involves more complicated projection work than I am prepared to bore you with (namely, some sort of moving range measurement using projections as data points), but I’m pretty confident in these numbers as guidelines and the waypoints are a given based on the chart you’ve already seen:
- ~500 wins probably gets him to third
- ~550 wins almost guarantees beating Roy for second all-time
- 692 wins crown him the NHL “Wins King”
Those targets can be ordered thusly: Pretty likely; pretty damned hard; just short of impossible (thanks, Brodeur…)
In order to figure out what would have to be done to hit them, we have to consider what a “season” is for Henrik Lundqvist and determine further what that measure is going to evolve into over time.
Over the course of his 11.77 seasons as a Ranger, Lundqvist has started an average of 62 games/season and won an average of 33.3 games/season. That represents a career .537 win average.
The number of starts is going to reduce over time, but nobody except perhaps Alain Vigneault and Benoit Allaire know by how much or at what rate. What probably won’t change all that much is the correlation between starts and wins. (Again, speculative)
Assuming a 10% workload reduction, Lundqvist’s per-season start figure drops to roughly 56, which should translate into ~31 wins/season (30.8).
Assuming a 15% workload reduction, Lundqvist’s per-season start figure drops to roughly 53, which should translate to ~29 wins/season (29.15)
Assuming a 20% workload reduction, Lundqvist’s per-season start figure drops to roughly 50, which should translate to ~27 wins/season (27.28).
Henrik Lundqvist will turn 35 on March 2, the same day the Rangers play the Boston Bruins in Game #63 of the 2016-17 season, after which the team will have played roughly 77% of their regular season games. His current contract runs through the end of the 2020-21 season.
It is going to be worth looking at seasons that way because the percentages translate back into rough game counts.