How far will the Rangers get this season?

Examining Henrik Lundqvist's Future
We spoke with Justin Goldman, founder and director of The Goalie Guild, to learn about how Lundqvist's career might progress...

Henrik Lundqvist

Henrik Lundqvist

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 Goalie Guild.

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 Lundqvist compare?

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 playoffs.

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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Posted by Kevin Baumer | July 6, 2011 at 02:50 pm

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