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Henrik Lundqvist vs. Jonathan Quick vs. Pekka Rinne


Fantasy hockey is all about the numbers. It’s all about production but at a certain point the numbers become a total crapshoot – just dumb luck. This is especially true when you consider the truly elite goalies; Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick and Pekka Rinne (listed alphabetically just in case you want to read anything into the order). I could rattle off their basic stats from last year or an average from the last three years but it won’t really make much of a difference. With elite goalies it’s less about ability and more about finding that Zen-like zone where you simply see the puck better than ever before and then maintaining that for as long as possible. It’s what elevates good goalies into the elite. It’s what helps underdogs win playoff series and what can turn a contender into a Stanley Cup champion.



Picking the best goaltender in any given season is dumb luck. Every year there is a group of very likely candidates (just like we have this year) but there are no guarantees. So if we acknowledge that there is a very strong likelihood of being wrong regardless of what criteria we use to attempt to come up with an answer we can come to appreciate how fun this whole exercise can be. We know the Lundqvist, Quick and Rinne are the best bets to give us a brilliant fantasy season between the pipes but who is THE best bet? Well, that’s why we have Cage Match.

Having said that generic goaltending stats are next to meaningless from a straight comparison standpoint one thing I would like to point out is that Henrik Lundqvist has gotten better as a goaltender each of the past three seasons by virtually any standard metric:






Save %



























The Goals Against Average (GAA) going down each season is not much of a shock in general. League wide goal scoring has gone down each of the past few seasons so that should be reflected in the stats for most goalies but the improvements made in Save Percentage each season as well as the noted increase in shutouts the past two seasons, these are trends that poolies want to see. These trends are what have driven Lundqvist from consistently good goaltender into the upper echelon. What is the reason for this four-year progression though?

Has Lundqvist simply gotten better each year? Did Lundqvist benefit from the decreased workload the last two seasons and translate that into improved stats? I’m not certain but I do believe that the two biggest factors in Lundqvist’s progression to elite status are the presence of Rangers head coach John Tortorella and the in-house improvements made by the rest of the Rangers’ roster.

One of the first things you’ll think of when you bring up Tortorella’s coaching in New York is blocked shots. The Rangers have blocked shots like crazy since Tortorella was brought in towards the end of the 2008-09 season:



Blocked Shots










But correlation does not equal causation so we cannot say for certain that the Rangers’ dedication to shot blocking is what has Lundqvist improving year after year. Lundqvist would even tell you that as a goaltender who stays as far back in his crease as Lundqvist does that he would prefer to be able to see as many shots as he can because his ability to see and react is important to his stopping the puck but at the same time I doubt he’s complaining much. Instead, what I feel Tortorella has done is preach a system of defensive accountability that has fostered as selflessness among the Rangers that just happens to include their willingness to block so many shots.

Whether or not Lundqvist were to see a few hundred more shots a year probably wouldn’t make much difference in the numbers overall. What does make a difference is that the Rangers as a team have bought in to playing all-out on both ends of the ice and Lundqvist has clearly benefitted.

With the addition of Rick Nash, as well as internal improvements (the Rangers had the youngest team in last year’s playoffs so there is an expectation that several of their younger players will make strides) this Rangers team should once again be a strong defensive team.

Now will Lundqvist be ready (if) when the season starts? Well that’s another matter entirely. I do not question Lundvist’s dedication to his craft but he isn’t playing anywhere during this lockout and I view that as a negative. In my mind there was a breaking point where time off because of this lockout was of benefit to players from teams who went deep in last season’s playoffs. I don’t know when exactly that breaking point was but I definitely feel that we have reached it. If players don’t see action until January 2013, then they’ll have had a full six months off since their last NHL game action. This is too long to go without competition.

In Lundqvist’s defense, he has tried to get himself game action playing in the Swedish Elite League but the league will not budge on its stance to keep locked out NHL players off their rosters. Lundqvist has kept busy by playing in some charity games organized by himself and fellow NHLers but this is no replacement for real action. Lundqvist has even expressed that he “feels lost,” not playing at this point of the year, although I don’t read too much into that other than that I don’t think it’s a positive that he’s not on the ice.

There is no way that we can prove the effects of not playing during a lockout shortened season because we simply do not have enough data to look at. The only other example of a lockout shortened season that we can draw on is from the 1994-95 season and the results there are mixed. Most goaltenders did not play in other leagues during that season and for the most part they did not see any really negative results from the time off.

For instance, 1994-95 Vezina Trophy winner, Dominic Hasek played two games in the Czech League while the NHL was on hiatus. Did those two extra games really give him an edge? It’s probably just coincidence. Nevertheless, I view not playing as a negative for Lundqvist.