One of the reasons that
many Rangers fans believed signing Brad Richards was a good move is that Henrik
Lundqvist just turned 29-years-old and is approaching an age when many professional
athletes begin to lose a step. Fans suggest
the team should focus on winning now rather than being patient for the future
to maximize the team’s window while its all-world goalie is still at his best.
Lundqvist is coming off
arguably the best season of his career and posted a league-leading 11 shutouts
to go with 36 wins, a .923 save percentage and a 2.28 goals against
average. He’s in the heart of his prime
and only seems to be getting better, but Lundqvist has been the victim of
monstrous workloads in recent years and is nearing an age when many goalies can
begin to slip.
It is worth noting that
there are a number of current NHL goalies that have enjoyed tremendous success
in recent years older than Lundqvist. Tim Thomas just completed a season for the ages at 37-years-old, Tomas
Vokoun is 34, Miikka Kiprusoff is 34 and Roberto Luongo is 32. New Jersey Devils’ legend Martin Brodeur is finally
beginning to drop off at age 39, but Dwayne Roloson carried the Tampa Bay
Lightning this postseason at age 41.
Obviously every player is
different and it’s impossible to predict the future, but the Rangers have a ton
riding on Lundqvist and forecasting his career is an important part of the
team’s plans going forward.
To get an idea of what we
can expect from Lundqvist over the next few years, we spoke with Justin
Goldman, founder and director of the independent goalie scouting service, The
BB: My initial thinking is
that Lundqvist is more positionally sound than a guy like Tim Thomas and that
Lundqvist may be able to succeed longer because he doesn’t rely on reflexes,
which may be lost with age, the way a guy like Thomas does. I’ve read conflicting thinking on that, but
I’m curious, what type of goalie is able to thrive for the longest and how does
JG: Durability depends on
the specific biomechanics of each individual goaltender. Some
goalies have stronger joints and muscles than others and since every
goalie is different in the way that they move and execute their unique
style, it really comes down to their own understanding of their physical limits
and how hard they can push their body. Generally speaking, goalies that
move less will have more durability because their bodies are strained
less over the course of a game, a season and a career. But some goalies
can execute at a higher energy level than others, so it really just depends.
Things like workload, general health and physical condition are tied to a
number of athletic factors, all of which make one goalie different from another.
As goalies get older, they
can extend their careers by relying less on reflexes and more on reading plays
and putting their body in a position where back, knee and leg muscles are not
strained as much as a more flexible goalie. Martin Brodeur and Tomas Vokoun are
good examples of this. I would also say that Lundqvist does have to rely on his
reflexes, mainly because he plays very deep in his crease. He also puts a
considerable amount of strain on his knees and ankles because of his very wide
and low stance. But since this is how he has been playing for many years,
his body is very comfortable playing in this manner and it works perfectly for
him. That unique stance and muscle movement is what makes his biomechanics
unique from other goalies. I consider him a very durable goalie, but
if another goalie tried to play in that same fashion, they wouldn't
last nearly as long.
BB: I assume we can
probably expect a dip in his shootout/breakaway ability; what other areas of
his game would he be vulnerable?
JG: To be honest, I can't
really answer this because again, it just depends on how his body handles heavy
workloads. Up until now, he has been extremely durable. I expect this to
continue. I don't think there's any one specific area that will become more
vulnerable than others. Muscle memory for a goalie at Henrik's level is such an
intuitive aspect of being an athlete that I can't really answer this with any
legitimate insight. It would be a great question for an athletic trainer.
BB: Lundqvist is known for
being extremely competitive, how does his mental makeup translate to the next
stages of his career?
JG: Henrik's mental
toughness is certainly a thing to behold. I think what makes him such a great
competitor is that he's very even-keeled. He never gets too high during a
strong stretch of play and never gets too low when he's struggling. So he's
almost always in control of his emotions. When he does react negatively or has
a negative outburst on the ice, it's a rare sight and goes a long way in
proving he has that fiery competitive nature. Every NHL goalie displays
their competitive side in different ways, but Hank's body
language is usually very composed and in control. This is something I feel
will continue to prove that he's an elite goalie at
the NHL level.
Controlling emotions is
extremely important, as it can hinder a goalie's ability to focus on the game
and the puck. So I think you will continue to see him be a very even-keeled
goalie, thus making him a formidable opponent on a nightly basis. A goalie
with his amount of experience, including the Olympics and NHL
playoffs, lends a hand to this mental toughness because he's seen just about
everything there is to see. Nothing surprises him and he's very comfortable handling
the whole spectrum of emotions that comes with being an NHL goaltender.
BB: How would you guess
Lundqvist stacks up against other goalies his age health wise?
JG: I would say he's one
of the healthiest, but again this goes back to the fact that I'm not an athletic
trainer or physical therapist so I can't really comment on where his body is at
in relation to other goaltenders.
BB: Is having a reliable
backup goalie like Mary Biron a much more important thing as a goalie gets
older? What kind of workload is Lundqvist
best suited for going forward?
JG: Having a quality
backup that can push a goalie like Lundqvist is extremely important. There are
many reasons why a two-goalie system (what I call a true tandem) is a direction
more NHL teams should take. You never want a goalie to get complacent, so by
always having the backup pushing the starter for minutes, both goalies are
working their hardest on a daily basis in practice and in games.
If you look at what made Vancouver so successful
in goal last season, it was the coaching staff's trust in Cory Schneider.
He played very well in a solid 25-game workload and helped the Canucks win the
Jennings Trophy. At the same time, that ample rest Roberto Luongo received
allowed him to play at a very high level throughout the playoffs.
I think Lundqvist played
too many games in the regular season. Although this past season was a lighter
workload compared to the previous 2-3 seasons, I still think it needs to
be reduced by anywhere from 5-8 more games. I understand that Lundqvist must
play many games down the stretch in order for the Rangers to make the playoffs,
but there are still many opportunities in the first half of the season to give
him rest. That early-season rest only makes him stronger and more focused in
March and April.
I suggest your readers to
check out my article, Leave No Throne Unthreatened. This discusses why it is so
important for NHL teams to not only have a quality backup and why they should
be used as much as possible in the first half of the season. Giving Biron more
games in October, November and December not only makes Lundqvist more potent in
the second half, but if Biron is needed to step in and win some games, he's not
rusty at all.
Just look at the workloads
for Carey Price, Ilya Bryzgalov and Cam Ward this past season compared to Thomas and Luongo. Now compare those workloads to
how they performed in April and beyond. That's one example of why a
solid backup is necessary to providing your starting goalie with ample rest, so
that they can play at their absolute best when it matters most - in the
BB: What’s Lundqvist’s
window for playing at his current level and what can we expect after that?
JG: I hate to bail on
these kinds of questions, but if I can't provide legitimate insight, I won't
wander at guessing. I will say that I don't see anything at all that leads me
to believe Lundqvist can't play at his current level for at least another
3-4 years. What Rangers fans can expect after that is totally unknown. I
really have no idea. [Keep your eye out] for articles that talk about his
dedication to being in better physical shape or doing off-ice vision training
to keep his reactions honed.
More and more goalies are
also taking it upon themselves to do Pilates. As a goaltender myself, I am a
huge advocate of Pilates and Yoga training for goalies. This helps not only
balance the mind, but Pilates trains your body's muscles to react in a
more balanced and efficient manner. Every goalie, especially those at the NHL
level, should be taking Pilates lessons. Maybe that's something you'll see
Lundqvist incorporate into his training ... if he doesn't already!
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