Few goaltenders in 103-year history of the NHL have performed at a higher level than Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist. While Dominik Hasek is in a class of his own, there’s a healthy debate to be had where the likes of Jacques Plante, Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden, Terry Sawchuk, Roberto Luongo, Glenn Hall, Johnny Bower, Tuukka Rask, Brodeur and Lundqvist follow on the all-time greatest goaltenders list.
It’s safe to say that any way you slice it, Brodeur and Lundqvist belong in the top 10. If 20 hockey historians were brought into a room to determine the 10 greatest all-time goaltenders, the result would likely be 20 different answers.
Differences between the eras, quality of teammates, individual statistics and postseason success factor into the discussion. Let’s pinpoint the debate to whether Brodeur or Lundqvist should be placed higher on the list.
Brodeur’s case is built on impressive all-time records. His 691 career regular season wins may never be eclipsed. Over 22 seasons, Brodeur accumulated the most regular season shutouts (125) and playoff shutouts (24) in league history. His career regular season shutout record is probably safe, too.
Yet, those records and his three Stanley Cup rings wouldn’t have been possible without the benefit of playing behind a pair of Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer – as well as another two exceptional blueliners in Brian Rafalski and Ken Daneyko.
To win the Stanley Cup, a lot of things need to break right. Brodeur was surrounded by stalwart defensemen on a Devils dynasty team that played the neutral-zone trap to perfection. But what happened to Brodeur after Stevens and Daneyko retired, Niedermayer bolted to Anaheim and Rafalski joined the Red Wings? The Stanley Cup champagne dried up.
Brodeur edged Lundqvist in a memorable 2012 Eastern Conference Final that ended on an Adam Henrique Game 6 overtime winner. The 2012 playoffs were Brodeur’s last hurrah. Age and a weakened supporting cast caught up to Brodeur. Over his final five seasons, Brodeur played below replacement level with a .904 save percentage across 190 games.
Though his final years lowered his career save percentage to .912, save percentage was never Brodeur’s strongest metric. From his 1992 debut through his last elite statistical season of 2009-10, he owned a .914 save percentage.
Which brings us to Lundqvist, who is in many ways the inverse of Brodeur due to his remarkable consistency and absence of Stanley Cup rings. From his 2005 debut through the 2015-16 season, the future Hall of Famer was a .921 save percentage man for the Blueshirts.
Lundqvist posted seven straight seasons of above .920 save percentage play and that was without anything close to a Hall of Fame defenseman, nevermind two. Brodeur only surpassed that mark in three seasons.
Brodeur benefitted from being in the right place at the right time, while Lundqvist suffered from playing with a distinct lack of Hall of Famers in their peak years – with three years of Jaromir Jagr being an exception.
No one could ever doubt Brodeur’s excellence on the playoff stage, yet his playoff save percentage of .919 is bested by Lundqvist’s .922. “King Henrik” accomplished this without a single defenseman on Rafalski’s level, nevermind a foursome of Niedermayer, Stevens, Rafalski and Daneyko.
As good as Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal were at their best, that foursome is nowhere close. The Rangers regrettably allowed Stralman to walk to Tampa Bay, only received the final strides of Dan Boyle’s career and brought in Keith Yandle only for a cup of coffee. McDonagh was traded in his prime to the Lightning in the midst of his prime. Girardi and Staal regressed significantly in their 30’s.
Still, Lundqvist ranked third or better in regular season and playoff goals saved above expected per 60 minutes among NHL starters for every season and playoffs he competed in from 2007-08 to 2013-14.
The only thing that robbed him of a Stanley Cup ring was timing. Lundqvist began his career after Brian Leetch called The Garden home. Age caught up to him before the current crop of talented Ranger blueliners blossomed and Artemi Panarin was acquired to lead the way offensively.
Brodeur was an integral part of championship teams. No one is questioning his legacy or reputation as an all-time great. Lundqvist carried an unexpected team to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final and was the singular reason why ordinary Rangers teams qualified for the playoffs and went on deep runs.
For Lundqvist and Brodeur, it’s a tale of two contrasting careers. The degree of difficulty that Lundqvist played with and the caliber which he shined elevates him past Brodeur in my book.