For those who follow such things, 2011 was all about the royal wedding.
For fans of the NHL, and specifically goaltenders, 2012 is about to be remembered as the year The King had his coronation.
It was about five years ago when my then two year old daughter and I were leafing through the sports pages. We were reading headlines and looking at pictures, as I tried to put an early emphasis on hockey as she learned letters and words. With the Rangers in town, we came across an action photo of Henrik Lundqvist. No, she didn’t melt at his mere presence. (Give it a couple more years when perhaps Bieber-mania will have subsided).
Rather, she – having already fallen under the Disney spell to love all Princesses – was excited to learn that his nickname was “The King.” For the next couple years, at a moments notice, I could mention Henrik Lundqvist and she was right there to belt out “The King”!
He has that lasting impression upon people.
But even through his unlikely emergence as the Rangers number one goalie in 2005-06 (based on being selected 205th in 2000), his good to great play could never lift the Rangers beyond the second round, or earn “Hank” any individual postseason honors through his first six seasons.
Six seasons I might add, that each produced 30 wins or more.
That will change in 2012.
Since the lockout, the Vezina Trophy winners have been Miikka Kiprusoff, Martin Brodeur (twice), Tim Thomas (twice) and Ryan Miller
Kiprusoff almost won Calgary the Cup in 2004, and came out of the work stoppage with 42 wins. Brodeur trumped that in back-to-back seasons with 48 and 45 win campaigns. Thomas shocked everyone in 2009 with a GAA of 2.10 and save % of .933. Miller followed with career highs in wins (41) and save % (.929). Thomas then reclaimed his spot with arguably the greatest season ever in modern-day play, posting a 2.00 GAA, and a record-setting save % of .938
But the run of three straight American-born Vezina winners ends June 20 in Las Vegas.
The question at the moment is: by how much will Lundqvist be obliterating some of these recent numbers?
His GAA is currently a paltry 1.77, and his save percentage is .941! And, while you probably recognize me as someone who uses numbers extensively as part of a thorough evaluation process, for me it’s not even close to being just about the numbers.
Two weeks ago at First Niagara Center, Brad Boyes
had Lundqvist beat with his go-to shootout move, one that I haven’t seen stopped. Yet Lundqvist found a way, en route to a 1-0 triumph over the nearly-perfect Miller that night.
A few days ago, Philly’s Claude Giroux tried the same Boyes move during regular game play and was also thwarted. But because it wasn’t on a penalty shot or in a shootout situation, and because there was no defense present to remove him from the area, Giroux kept jamming at the outstretched left arm of Lundqvist and eventually put it home.
Tuesday night, amidst a mad scramble and while lying down with his back to the slot area, he stopped a Zdeno Chara shot right off the nameplate on his jersey. Can you say Dominik Hasek?
When I read the numbers and see the plays, and then think back to a sit down interview that I did with Lundqvist in New York in the fall of 2009, I have no doubt in my mind that he is now at the place that he always expected himself to be: best in his class.
On that September day, Lundqvist talked about how much he can’t stand losing, and how it drives him to be the absolute best. The words may ring hollow on a piece of paper, or on a computer screen, but to hear him say it – and the way he said it – it was impossible not to believe just how deep rooted his disdain for losing was.
Combine the numbers, the passion, the God-given looks and charisma with which he is blessed, how can one not think of him as something close to hockey royalty?
Last year it was about Will and Kate. This year, through his will on skates, “The King” will be crowned Vezina Trophy winner on June 20 in Las Vegas. What we don’t know is whether he’ll have been doused in champagne cologne about a week earlier.