Let’s talk about Hank

NY Post

Things rarely happen in a vacuum.  Events, arcs and narratives have context.  A light switch doesn’t flip.  Change is mostly gradual.  Over the years, Henrik Lundqvist’s career has been, by and large, an upward trajectory.  He emerged on the scene in 2005 in the midst of a waste land of early 2000’s indulgence.  He represented a young, homegrown core player and quickly became a fan favorite.  It was only up from there.

He quickly went from young talent to superstar.  As a ridiculously handsome human being, his off-ice exposure went through the roof and he represented hope for the franchise for the first time in a decade.

Everyone knew those early teams were very flawed.  In his mid-20’s, the general consensus was that he took mediocre teams and made them contenders.  On numerous occasions he brought the organization thiiiiis close to finally grabbing another Cup.  He had bites at the apple, and you could see his heartbreak along with the fans.  He had become a mythic figure, universally beloved in the vein of Derek Jeter, minus the championships.

Then, all of a sudden, he was no longer in his mid to late 20’s.  His best days were no longer ahead of him.  Rewarded with (at the time) the largest goaltending contract in the history of the NHL, New York’s King was in his mid-30’s, with a roster that suddenly didn’t look quite as good as previous years.  The defense was a mess.  The emergence of talented young backups, continually escorted out of the kingdom, created restlessness amongst the people.

In the twelfth season of his illustrious, Hall of Fame career, Henrik faltered.  His rate stats and advanced metrics were below average.  All of the WFAN, talk radio mouth pieces who were bitter about goals that they felt should have been stopped, and would have been stopped by a goalie who could handle the puck a little better, or who should challenge the shooter a little bit more, began to chip away at the perfect façade Lundqvist had built over the past decade.

At age 35, whether or not his skill set is still intact is a valid question.  No one escapes father time, after all.  An east wind is coming, we all pay the boat man, etc. etc. As I mentioned before, it’s not a light switch.  Rarely do hockey players just completely fall of a cliff.  It’s a long, painful and usually, visible process.  Given the Rangers’ dreadful start to the season and Hank’s .904 save percentage thus far, it is easy to understand the conclusion many have arrived at.

Our biases affect our lives all day, every day.  Nothing in a more superficial way than sports.  We talk to co-workers, bicker with siblings and parents.  We casually peruse the box scores and highlight shows and create enough knowledge to be relevant in the conversation.  I’m as guilty of this as anyone.  I have very little interest in the NBA or NFL, but I will keep myself updated of major events to have a conversation with an uncle or co-worker who is more invested than I.

These biases color analyses and snap judgments based on what you see on the ice, read in the paper or on sites such as ours.  If you feel that a goalie’s responsibility is to be perfect in the biggest moments, you will be perpetually disappointed.  If look at the impact of the goaltender as a responsive role that is heavily influenced by the events happening around him, you will have a far more realistic understanding of the position.  The best goaltender in the world can only succeed within a structure.  If you are constantly pulling the goaltender in multiple directions, he is going to fail.  If he is responsible for 30+ saves per night, with 15 of them being high danger chances, he is going to fail.  Look no further than Carey Price.  Unquestionably the best goaltender in the NHL, Price has numbers so far this season that make Hank’s look Vezina worthy.  His team is a train wreck and his stats are paying the price.

At 35, Hank is most likely seeing an incremental erosion of his physical abilities.  There is just no getting around that.  However, from my analysis of his performance, there is nothing to suggest that he is not still capable of being a well above-average goaltender.  He has had difficulty with some execution early on this season.  If you haven’t checked it out, I broke this down in a bit more detail last week.  However, it is critical to understand that present talent level does not equal present performance.  This “what have you done for me lately?” attitude that we tend to have in New York is only ever worth it when you are winning. Otherwise, it’s a cheap way to complain when you are frustrated with your team.

Digging into the underlying causes for underperformance is the only way to actually move forward and improve.  Throwing your goaltender under the bus for the fact that the defenders have no idea where they are supposed to be on the ice is asinine.  Dave broke down the systemic deficiencies in the current defensive zone schemes here.  If you play for a team with serious defensive issues, you are going to have poor goaltending results.  Just look at the early returns on Talbot and Raanta.  They didn’t fall of a cliff, talent-wise.  They are being hung out to dry.  Just because Hank is 35, doesn’t mean he can’t be left completely defenseless by the players in front of him.

Look no further than last night’s performance against Tampa Bay as evidence of what he is still capable of.  A valid question remains of can he still turn in those types of performances consistently over 60+ starts, but we will never know unless the systems are cleaned up.  Even last night, there was an absolutely unsustainable level of high-level chances forced upon Lundqvist.  No goaltender can weather those types of shots at a .920 clip for 60 games.  It was a microcosm of the season so far, except Hank was able to cover for it, where he was unable to earlier in the year.

Goaltenders have to be accountable for the goals they should stop.  They should seek to learn from those mistakes and correct the deficiencies.  There are most certainly goals this season that are on Hank, and he is accountable for those goals.  However, blaming Hank’s “decline” for the struggles so far this season is like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound.  There are much bigger problems that need addressing first.

There have been bright spots this season; obviously this little winning streak is a positive, but a solid power play, Buchnevich and Zibanejad’s play, etc have been positives, as well.  If you are one of those people who thinks Hank is overrated and his contract is an anchor on the franchise, there is nothing I can to change your mind.  You have given over completely to your biases and anger.  However, if you dig a little deeper into his underlying abilities, you will find a goaltender who maybe isn’t as good as he once was, but is still very much an asset and someone who can still carry this team if they get their act together.

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  • Ain’t talkin bout Hank !
    He is the NY Ranger core–
    Aint talkin bout Hank !
    Like Justin told us before, before, before–

  • I would love to believe he can still carry the team as he once did. But watching every game reveals he is a league average goalie at best. Yes, he will have some “vintage” games like last night but the days of those nights being the norm are gone. His contract is going to be a problem sooner rather than later.

    • I think “league average goalie at best” is quite harsh. Hank has faced more high danger shots than any goalie in hockey the last season plus. The defense has hardly been stellar during this stretch. Let’s see what happens once the defensive lapses get sorted out before we bury the guy into the graveyard of mediocrity.

      • It’s terrible, E3–1 bad year behind a defense that was one of the league’s worst, and many fans have lost faith in Hank. So unjustified for one of the franchise’s greatest players, a guy who’s continually demonstrated the will to win, a guy who was a building block for this franchise’s rise to perennial contender.

        To top it all off, Hank once again had better numbers in the playoffs last year than he did in the regular season. That’s another fact the Hank haters choose to forget. Easier for them to believe the surface narrative as always.

      • Tampa Bays defence didn’t look so stellar last night and they are leading the East Conference. Castaway Stralman was a goat out there and as good as Henk was Tampa’s goalie was equal to the task.

        The Ranger victory was a total team effort. Not taking anything away from Lundqvist but it seems he is put on a pedestal when the team wins and the rest of the team and their coach gets sewered when they lose. Just saying.

        • Bloomer,

          I get what you’re saying. I, too, am a big fan of giving credit where credit is due. The coaches deserve credit when the game plan works, the team deserves credit when they execute, and the goalie deserves credit when they make the big saves and keep their team in the game.

          And while I do think the team played a solid game last night, top to bottom, Hank deserves special notice.

          This wasn’t a 3-1, 4-1 victory. This was a game where Hank had to be stellar, a game where despite yielding only 1 goal, he was one mistake away from a loss. The team in front of him came to play finally, but still only gave him one goal in support over 60 minutes. The pressure was on Hank more than any other Ranger, and he rose to the occasion.

          In a 4-1 victory, I’m much less inclined to single out Hank for praise because the guys in front of him gave him the margin of error to play without such a burden. But almost any time you win a 2-1 game in OT, your goalie is going to be the primary reason for that, no matter how well the team as a whole played.

        • Bloomer, love ya pal, but the Rangers scored one goal in regulation over a D that you said wasn’t stellar.

          Both goalies were off the charts good, Vasil just let in one more goal than Hank did. But both goalies kept their teams in it with spectacular saves.

          You’re off base on this one my friend.

      • Let’s hope we have the chance to see what the team looks like when the defensive lapses get sorted out

  • I am just being a realist. My assessment is indeed harsh. The NHL is a cut throat business with the salary cap and based on what I see father time is banging on the door. With average goaltending I worry we may be out of the playoffs before the defensive lapses get sorted out. I sure hope I am wrong. Nothing would make me happier. Good article.

  • Hayes, Killorn, and Stamkos all fined $5k for their antics yesterday.

    Somewhat curious as to how squirting water is equivalent to jabbing your stick at players on the bench, though.

  • Thank you Justin, another great and pertinent post.

    Most 30 game win seasons to start an NHL career in NHL history (would still be continuing if not for the idiot Bettman and his lockouts).

    SCF, ECF, playoffs made every year of his career, except one I believe, his first.

    Gold medal and other international awards.

    Vezina winner and should have more except for the anti-Ranger idiot press that votes on this garbage they call “awards.”

    By far the best goalie of his era with Luongo being a distant 2nd.

    Should be a HOF lock.

    Just one thing missing, unfortunately, and it’s not his fault.

    It makes me very angry to hear the shit that’s said about this man by Ranger fans. Shame on them.

    Thank you Henrik, for being one of the top home grown Rangers of all time.

    • Well said Richter! You and MC are 100% on point here. It’s one thing to objectively analyze where Hank is in his career, how much he should play, even should the Rangers have given him the big contract four years ago (although to me it was a no brainer back then given the alternatives). But to denigrate the guy with dopey nicknames after all he has done the way some do is just mind blowing and disgraceful.

      The guy has played 12 NHL seasons and has made the playoffs 11 times. And in those playoffs, he and his teams have only been knocked out in the first round four times. In the salary cap era, that is an unbelievable accomplishment in and of itself. And as we’ve said before, he’s never had anything resembling a stellar roster in front of him. In many of these seasons, Hank has had to bear a disproportionate share of the responsibility to just get his team into the playoffs, let alone advance.

      Just for clarification, the one season he and his team failed to make the playoffs came in 2010, his fifth season.

      • Agree 100% with what you & Richter are saying. Hard to imagine what prompts Hank hate, other than irrationality.

        Was going to mention missing the playoffs in 2010 too, E3–hard to believe that happened under the incredible motivator John Tortorella, eh? History holds many secrets.

        • What are you talking about MC? Torts threw a water bottle at a fan in 2009 and provided great motivation in that series—to the Caps. He growled at reporters. Waved his arms like a crazy man. That sure fired me up! Couldn’t you see how fired up the players were when they would barely make the playoffs most seasons when he was here? 🙂

        • I think it’s pure jealousy, quite honestly. Pretty boy, making lots of money in NY, but no Cup. It’s all his fault.

          • Yep…once you get the big bucks, some fans then expect miracles—even though the team has been flawed and lacking in the star power generally needed to win it all.

          • Plus, the one player on the ice that can win a game by himself is the goalie, even worse than blame for a QB.

            Is Hank as good as he was? No, I acknowledge that, but he’s still a top NHL goalie if his team at least gives him a chance.

            For some reason the quality chance rate that the Rangers give up on a game by game basis, that stat doesn’t penetrate the cranium of some Ranger fans.

      • How many playoff series has he stolen or won by himself?

        God’s honest truth, and I don’t like to opine about other people’s opinions, but I really question if fans understand what they are seeing when they watch the games.

        I call them “boxscore” fans, meaning you see 4 goals given up and automatically it must be because the goalie sucks. Not how the goals were scored or what were the situations or circumstances that led to the goals.

        • How many? Off the top of my head…

          2007 and 2008 the Rangers actually had an offense with Jagr and Shanny. But Hank was still great. I was actually more impressed with how great he was in defeat vs the Sabres and Pens those years.

          2012 vs Ottawa and the Caps, when the Rangers couldn’t score goals to save their lives. That was all Hank. He was spectacular, especially vs the Caps..

          2013 again vs the Caps…same deal (until Game 7 when the offense actually showed up!). But still, back to back shutouts vs the Caps when you are facing elimination twice? Unreal performance.

          2014…I would say the Flyers win was a team effort, until Game 7 when Hank had to be all-world again to get them past Philly. Against the Pens, yes there was the tragedy with MSL’s mom, but forgotten in this was that Hank shutdown the high powered Pens offense, allowing three goals in three games facing elimination all three times. Extraordinary. Vs the Habs—Games 2, 4 and 6 were 90% Hank. Especially Game 6, in that 1-0 nail biter. And the MSL OT game as well.

          2015….Everyone forgets, that was the year when it seemed every Rangers playoff game in the first two rounds was 1-0 and 2-1. All four wins vs the Pens were 2-1 wins. Hank had to be virtually perfect. Our offense was non-existent. Then another amazing comeback vs this time vs the Caps, all one goal games, two of them were 2-1 OT wins. Again, Hank had to be literally letter perfect.

          2017….No help whatsoever from our pop gun playoff offense. Hank wins two OT games and we rally back to win the last three games to advance past Montreal. He was the practically the sole reason why we did.

          Obviously no one is suggesting that Hank didn’t get help from a good defense in many of those years. Of course he did. But I will say it again, there has never been a NY athlete who has had to bear a greater burden for his team’s success than Hank (maybe Patrick Ewing…maybe). To ask him to continue to be THE reason why the Rangers succeed at age 35 is asking a lot. I’m sure by now management had hoped others would have stepped up to bear a bigger share of the burden.

          Why anyone would denigrate him after all he has done is truly beyond me.

  • Hank is 35 and there is no question he is not the same goalie he was 10 years ago. But that doesn’t mean that he is no longer a goalie that can win a cup. But he isn’t the guy who is guaranteed to carry a team on his shoulders anymore. It’s just that he will need the team in front of him to step it up.

    The real question that should be asked: is he the best goalie on the ice on a given night. That answer was almost always yes. Now, unfortunately the answer is no more often than not. Still good enough but not always the difference.
    And when you are taking the biggest piece of the cap, you need to be “the guy”. You need to be the difference and it’s not a lock anymore.

    This is no knock on Hank. They offered him the contract and he signed it. Who wouldn’t. But the back end was always going to be a problem. Maybe it’s this year, maybe it’s next. Igor is hopefully coming and Hank will be there to let him get his bearings, sharing the goal for a couple of years. The concern though is Igor is going to want a contract that the Rangers can’t afford since he can always stay home in the KHL.

    It’s tough to see any legend slip. The tendency is to look at other players and point a finger. But in a salary cap league the caliber of the surrounding players is often predicated by the salary of the stars. Girardi’s cap hit hurt for a few years when he was no longer a true first pair. Stahl’s is hurting the team now. Hank’s will do the same at some point.

    • Posting without comment from @digdeepbsb:
      Avg HDSA% for goalies with at least 3,000 minutes since 2016-17 is 18.8%.
      Lundqvist 22.3%

        • I believe Sitoo is referencing a point made about high danger shots by Mike Murphy, a writer for Blueshirt Banter. His Twitter handle I believe is @DigDeepBSB.

          • I was kidding, I know Mike very well, one of the nicest people I ever met. Sans you of course, lol.

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