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Behind The Numbers

Henrik Lundqvist has numbers on his side

Rangers goaltender should keep climbing all-time wins list

by Rob Vollman / NHL.com Correspondent

When the New York Rangers defeated the Florida Panthers 5-2 at BB&T Center on March 7, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist earned the 404th win of his NHL career, passing Grant Fuhr for 10th place on the League's all-time list.

Lundqvist hasn't won since.

Lundqvist, 35, injured his hip in that game and didn't return to the Rangers lineup until Sunday, when he and New York lost 6-3 at the Anaheim Ducks. On Tuesday, he and the Rangers lost 5-4 in overtime at the San Jose Sharks.

Still, with five games left this season, Lundqvist has a chance to tie or pass Glenn Hall, who is ninth with 407 wins. If he can stay healthy during the 2017-18 season, Lundqvist could move up to seventh place and pass Jacques Plante, who has 437 wins. Tony Esposito is eighth with 423.

Martin Brodeur is the leader with 691 wins. To catch him, Lundqvist would need 287 more wins. Even at a career-high pace of 39 wins per season, that would take him until midway through his age-43 season. So, no, Lundqvist likely won't catch Brodeur, but how high can he climb?

According to the numbers, Lundqvist realistically can catch Ed Belfour, who ranks third with 484 wins, but Patrick Roy, who is second with 551, and Brodeur may be out of every goalie's reach.

(Note that the adoption of the shootout in 2005-06, Lundqvist's first season in the NHL, eliminated ties and guaranteed a winner in every game.)

Video: NYR@ANA: Lundqvist robs Rakell with quick glove save

 

Projecting wins

Goalie wins are a difficult statistic to project, not just because of injuries and early retirements, but because they are fundamentally a team statistic. Goalies have no control over the team's scoring, which is half the equation. They also don't have complete control over goals allowed, since each team's defense will give up different numbers of shots, which are of varying quality.

So, even if Lundqvist remains healthy, active, and playing for the Rangers for the duration of his contract that runs through 2020-21, it is difficult to predict how many wins they will help him get. And beyond that, it's virtually impossible to predict how he might perform in his 40s, since fewer than 20 goalies have played past that point.

Based on a weighted average of the past four seasons, Lundqvist wins about 33 games per season, which would result in 132 more wins in the following four seasons. However, because he is 35, the natural decline goalies experience as they get older needs to be factored in.

The best method to model how a goalie's performance changes as they age is to use baseball's delta method, which calculates a player's performance as he gets older.

Based on an analysis of every goalie from the 1967-68 expansion until 2015-16, a typical goalie improves his annual win count until age 26, but at an increasingly slower rate. Then, his win totals remain relatively steady until age 29, at which point they start to decline gradually until age 32, and then by an average of at least five wins per season at ages 33 and beyond.

This model estimates a typical 35-year-old goalie who averages 33 wins will see that number drop to 25, 18, and 13 wins in the following three seasons before retiring. It drops by eight, seven, and then five wins because older goalies play fewer games, and have fewer wins left to lose. Add it up, and that means Lundqvist would win 56 more games over the next three seasons, and retire at age 38 with one season remaining on his contract. Even if he wins no more games this season, that would still place him at 460 wins, six more than Curtis Joseph, who is fourth, and 231 wins behind Brodeur.

Video: Lundqvist joins the Top 10 wins of all time list

 

Lundqvist's exceptionalism

The only problem with this calculation is Lundqvist is not a typical goalie. He has outperformed average goalies at every age in his career, so it makes sense he would continue to do so in the future. That's why Lundqvist should be compared to other exceptional goalies, not typical ones.

Lundqvist's peer group can be assembled by finding the goalies who have won at least 300 games at the end of their age-34 season (as of Feb. 1), setting aside those who were already retired at that time, like Harry Lumley, or who are still active this season.

Of the 14 goalies who qualify, the average was 81 more career wins from age 35 and up. At that rate, Lundqvist would reach 485 career wins -- one more than Belfour -- which would rank third, assuming Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, who will be 38 on April 4 and has 453 wins, doesn't get there first.

Could Lundqvist be capable of even more wins? If the field of 14 goalies is narrowed even further to the seven who also were winning games near the rate of 33 per season at Lundqvist's age, then the average improves to 114 more wins from age 35 and up. Given that Roy, Curtis Joseph and Terry Sawchuk won 107, 108, and 109 more games respectively, and would have won some of their 28, 9, and 24 tied games if they spent their final seasons in the age of the shootout, 114 more wins seems like an ambitious but reasonable target for Lundqvist's final seasons.

Even in this optimistic scenario, Lundqvist still would fall 33 wins short of Roy, and 173 shy of Brodeur. Based on a statistical examination of history, it appears Lundqvist may have to settle for third place.

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