When it comes to the National Hockey League, there have been a lot of great netminders that have graced our game.
Hockey fans will always mention the likes of Patrick Roy, Terry Sawchuk, Martin Brodeur, Glenn Hall, Jacques Plante, Dominik Hasek, Bernie Parent and so on and so forth. Almost all of these netminders are or will be in the Hockey Hall of Fame with all of the other legends that have succeeded in the sport.
The New York Rangers might just have a Hall of Fame legend in the making manning their pipes on Broadway and beyond. In fact, this particular player played an extremely crucial role in making the Blueshirts a relevant player in the National Hockey League once again.
This masked man, of course, is 30-year-old Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. No one could have ever thought that a 9th round, 205th pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft would accomplish so much in the best hockey league in the world and change the Rangers’ franchise for the better.
The Rangers B.L. (Before Lundqvist)
Before Lundqvist arrived on the scene, the Rangers’ franchise was in disarray both on and off the ice.
For starters, the Blueshirts’ were a team that did not make the postseason for seven straight seasons. The team was extremely inconsistent, did not have much chemistry and did not get the kind of goaltending that an NHL team needs to have in order to get into the playoffs.
Off the ice, the team was actually worse. General Manager Glen Sather was content in signing overprice free agents or trading for again veterans whether it was Eric Lindros, Anson Carter, Theoren Fleury, Kirk Mclean, Bobby Holik, Stephane Quintal, Sylvain Lefebvre, and so on and so forth.
Then, in March of 2004, Sather went ahead and traded away franchise defenseman Brian Leetch to the Toronto Maple Leafs. For the Rangers and their fans, this was rock bottom and no one quite knew the direction the team was headed in.
Lundqvist to the Rescue
The bleak state of the Blueshirts changed the year after the lockout of the 2004-05 season.
The organization finally realized that it needed be younger and full of new blood to head in the right direction. This all started when Lundqvist made the team out of training camp as the back-up goaltender to Kevin Weekes.
While Weekes started the first two games of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers (win) and Montreal Canadiens (overtime loss). After those two games, however, it would become the Lundqvist show on Broadway, one that would have rave reviews.
The “King” burst onto the scene the following game against the New Jersey Devils at the Izod Center. Even though the team lost in overtime, Lundqvist showed that the team would be set in goal for the foreseeable future.
After his first game in the NHL, Lundqvist would go on to have one of the best seasons by a Rangers’ rookie. Lundqvist posted 30 wins, 2 shutouts, had a 2.24 goals against average as well as a .922 save percentage.
For his play during the 2005-06 season, Lundqvist was a Vezina Trophy Finalist as the league’s top goaltender. This is something that would be a familiar nomination to the Swedish goaltender from here on out.
In the following two seasons, Lundqvist would become a household name in the NHL, being frequently mentioned in conversations regarding who the best goaltender in the game is. Lundqvist was nominated for the Vezina Trophy in both seasons, consistently put up good numbers, got the team into the postseason, won a few playoff rounds and also won the hearts of Blueshirts’ fans.
Fast forward to now and the “King” is still doing all of those things and more for the Rangers. He was especially terrific this past season in winning 39 games, posting a 1.97 goals against average, a .930 save percentage, picking up 8 shutouts and getting his team to within two wins of going to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994.
For his terrific efforts, Lundqvist was nominated for his fourth Vezina Trophy along with his first Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player and the Ted Lindsay Award as the league’s most valuable player as voted by the players. It was a banner season for Lundqvist as he led the team to their first Atlantic Division title since 1994 and also helped the team finish No. 1 in the Eastern Conference.
Impact on Franchise
Not only has Lundqvist made an impact between the pipes for his hockey club, but he has also made an impact on the franchise as a whole.
For starters, his strong rookie season gave the team confidence in its prospects and other younger players on the roster. Guys like Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal were all given the opportunity to succeed because Lundqvist showed that young players can play well on Broadway.
Secondly, he has put the Rangers’ back on the map. Lundqvist is clearly the face of the franchise right now and his name has been mentioned in not only hockey magazines, but other kinds of magazines as well.
Lundqvist’s success has led Sather to have a whole different mindset. Sather is now interested in developing prospects and getting younger players into lineup rather than looking for over-the-hill players or costly free-agent signings.
Lundqvist has also earned the love and adoration of all Rangers’ fans. The “Hen-rik! Hen-rik!” chant after he makes a good save is not only heard at Madison Square Garden, but is also heard in other tri-state area locales such as the Nassau Veterans Coliseum (New York Islanders) and the Prudential Center (New Jersey Devils).
Finally, Lundqvist has made the Rangers a legitimate Cup contender. With Lundqvist in net, the Rangers win far more often than they lose, they make the postseason and are considered one of the best teams in the NHL.
Lundqvist may not have brought hockey’s Holy Grail back to Broadway yet, but with him manning the pipes at the World’s Most Famous Arena, the Rangers are closer than ever and better as a franchise because of it.