Contextualizing Hank’s place in history

CBS Sports

CBS Sports

With his win over Ottawa on Tuesday night, Henrik Lundqvist passed Mike Richter for the Rangers’ all-time wins record.  His 302nd career victory came on the heels of back-to-back disappointing losses, so this achievement was somewhat marginalized.  It’s very difficult to take stock of history while you are in the middle of a somewhat frustrating playoff race.

Aside from the Rangers’ franchise record, Henrik moved into a tie with Turk Broda for 26th on the NHL all-time wins list.  Just for some context, he is only one win behind Olaf Kolzig, and two behind Billy Smith before some separation sets in.  In only eight-plus seasons, Hank has put himself in the discussion with current or projected hall of famers.  This got me thinking about his overall career trajectory.

The top 5 winningest goalies in NHL history are Martin Brodeur (686 and counting), Patrick Roy (551), Ed Belfour (484), Curtis Joseph (454) and Terry Sawchuk (447).  Of those five, only Brodeur (still active) and Joseph are not members of the Hall of Fame.  Now, obviously wins aren’t a great objective measure of performance, but over a 15+ year sample size, they are a testament to longevity and overall success.

Now, for some fun with arbitrary projections.  Assuming Hank doesn’t win any more games this year (he better not), plays out the remainder of his contract and retires (possible, but unlikely) and only puts up 20 wins per season (again, not going to go over well in NYC), he is on pace for 140 additional wins.  This would give him 442 career wins, just five behind Sawchuk for fifth place all-time.

If he averages 25 wins, he would add 175 to the total and top out at 477, which slots him comfortably into 4th all-time.  I think this puts the obscene amount of individual success Hank has had in his career thus far into context.  But, the thing that really blew me away was the trajectory.  Hank has more wins than any of those guys through nine full seasons, and it’s not particularly close.  Marty Brodeur leads the way with 286 wins through nine years, followed by Sawchuk (268), Roy (225) Belfour (215) and Joseph (213).  That’s looney tunes.

Now none of this is to say that Hank will definitely occupy this upper echelon of all-time greats when all is said and done.  A lot of things can happen in the next 7-10 years.  We all saw Mike Richter’s career cut tragically short by concussions.  I guess the point of all of this is that we have been extremely fortunate to watch a career as impressive as Hank’s blossom right before our eyes.  He may not have that elusive Cup yet, but his place in New York Rangers history is now secure.  Long live The King.

16 Responses to “Contextualizing Hank’s place in history”

  1. Adam says:

    48 shootout wins

    • Justin says:

      Even if you take those away, he’s still comfortably third with 254 plus any other regulation wins he gets this year. However, in this era of the NHL, shoot out wins count just the same. Think of it as credit for all those years where the team couldn’t score…

      • Ray says:

        Come on Justin. Wins count the same, but you can’t put Lundqvist over Brodeur if he got wins from games that Brodeur would have gotten ties from. The actual #1 guy is clearly Sawchuck, who did it in shorter seasons. And earlier goalies didn’t have overtime wins either.

        • Justin says:

          The problem Ray, is that it’s impossible to normalize over different era’s of the game. It’s not like box office returns in movies that you can adjust for inflation or use a simple quantifying characteristic that puts everyone on even ground.

          Sure, you can make many arguments about why the all-time leaders in any statistical category didn’t deal with the same hardships as their predecessors. But this post was about taking stock of Hank’s accomplishment, which regardless of how you value wins in the shootout era, is still impressive after only 9 years in the league.

          • Ray says:

            You can’t normalize everything and you certainly can’t truly compare players of different eras. But you can normalize wins. Lundqvist has had roughly the same opportunity for wins in nine years that Sawchuck had in twelve. The numbers don’t justify Lundqvist as #1.

            Still, they do point out that the eight year run that Lundqvist had as an elite goaltender was pretty impressive.

            • Justin says:

              I think you may be overlooking team strategy with regard to normalizing wins. In the era of the Bettman point, teams often will play more conservatively toward the end of the game and sort out the second point in OT. In the era of ties, teams went for it because they wanted the 2 pts. Hard to seamlessly transfer that.

              • Ray says:

                So I did a quick check. In 1954-5, 50 of 210 games ended in a tie. So far this year, 259 of 1049 games have gone to OT. At the 1955 pace, it would only be 250. So this conservative strategy is resulting in ten ties a year. That would mean that Lundqvist would have an extra five ties over the course of his career. So the new strategy has cost him 2-3 legit wins. Not a factor. Obviously my statistical analysis isn’t very thorough, but I don’t think the numbers from this year and 1955 unfairly reflect the results of the two era.

                Bottom line: 1955: average team won 26.7 games.
                Now: Average team wins 41 games.

  2. Chris F says:

    You have to assume Hank will log at least 30 wins a season for a good chunk of his new contract. I’d put him safely over 500 wins when it’s all said and done.

    As for shootouts, for as long as they’ve been in the league Broduer has been playing so his stats are nicely padded in that regard as well.

    • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

      Broduer’s stats are IMO tainted from all those trap teams he played on in the late 90′s & early 2000′s. It’s just as hard now to win a game in the NHL as it ever was. More so now with all the parody in the NHL. No games are a Win for just showing up like it used to be pre salary cap.

  3. Steven Cifuentes says:

    You have an entire article about wins and do not mention the shootout and how many more wins he will accumulate because of it?

    I mean to say he is on a higher pace in nine years as those other guys and not think that those guys had ties to deal with does not affect that.

    Take 48 wins away because they would have been ties and those numbers change dramatically. He would still be 2 seasons away from Ritchers record.

    I am not saying what he has done has not been great…but to mention he is blowing away those guys win pace at the same amount of time is just not full story.

    • Justin says:

      You make a good point, Steven. However, it’s not particularly relevant. We could go down the rabbit hole and talk about how much higher Hank’s career save percentage is compared with the other guys on that list. The fact is they played in different eras with different offensive and rule-based environments.

      At the end of his career, if he is the all-time wins leader, no one is going to take that away because the shootout existed during his playing days. He’s playing the cards he was dealt, and impressively so.

  4. The Suit says:

    I actually credit Lundqvist more with getting those shootout wins as most of them he earned singlehandedly.

    • bayman says:

      Not that the King hasn’t been mostly outstanding in SO’s, but a goalie can’t win a SO singlehandedly. Someone has to score. Unless, I concede, it’s the goalie who scores.

  5. Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

    Long live the King!!!!

  6. bayman says:

    Goalie win stats are horribly distorted. Not just the SO’s. There was no overtime until the ’90s. Little surprise goalies of recent vintage dominate the Win leader board. Also, when I started following hockey in the ’60s (Ed-die! in goal for the Blueshirts), a season was only 70 games. The season is 17% longer now. Bottom line, you can’t compare goalies of different eras based on wins.

  7. Ray says:

    Actually, in terms of Lundqvist’s place in history, what has gone before may not matter at all. If Lundqvist falls even a small amount from what he has done this year (average), his new contract will go down as the worst in Rangers’ history and nothing else will matter.

    OTOH, if the present season is an aberration and we see the Hank of 2005-13 going forward, the final numbers will be impressive – corrected or not.