If future Rangers want to win the Cup, their best player can’t be the goaltender
A quick trivia question for all my friends out there in ForeverBlueshirts land. Who is the only current NHL goaltender to win the Vezina Trophy for the league’s best netminder as well as back-stop their team to a Stanley Cup Championship?
If you said Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals, you are correct. Holtby captured the Vezina in 2016 and of course, the Saskatchewan native backstopped his Capitals squad to the Stanley Cup in June of 2018.
Seems rather odd, doesn’t it? There are a precious few universally agreed upon notions in this crazy world we live in today. One of those rarities is the correlation between great goaltending and winning the Stanley Cup. You put 20 random hockey fans in a room who, hyperbolically speaking, couldn’t agree which color paint is on the walls. However, all 20 would wholeheartedly agree that a team cannot achieve hockey immortality without a superior performance from the men behind the mask. And yet, out of the seven active Vezina Trophy winners, only Holtby has pulled off the difficult daily double. In the spirit of transparency, Tukka Rask of the Boston Bruins and 2014 Vezina recipient was a member of the 2011 Bruins cup winning team. However, the talented Finn did not play as he was the understudy to Tim Thomas during his historic 2010-11 regular season and playoffs.
Rask, along with Carey Price, Ryan Miller, Sergei Bobrovsky (twice) Pekka Rinne and Henrik Lundqvist, were deemed good enough to be named hockey’s top regular season goalie but were never quite good enough to win the required 16 playoff games en route to a Stanley Cup championship. Heck, Carey Price, who is considered by some to be the best goalie in the NHL, has never even reached a Cup finals. Talk about irony…
Goaltending in hockey, like starting pitching in baseball and an elite QB in football, is thought to be nothing short of mandatory for an aspirational, would-be champion. Yet, the best of the best goalies, the cream of the crop netminders, with the exception of Holtby, have never sipped champagne from the bowl of Lord Stanley’s beautiful chalice. Again, the irony is so thick, you can slice it with a skate blade.
As it pertains to the New York Rangers, we’ve seen Henrik Lundqvist carry this hockey team on his slender but sturdy shoulders ever since his NHL debut and meteoric rise back in October of 2005. ‘The King” would take inferior Ranger teams to the playoffs, and mediocre Ranger teams on long playoff runs. Lundqvist has been the Rangers’ backbone and highest paid player, not to mention the face of the franchise. Same can be said for Price in Montreal and Rinne in Nashville. I mean, Sergei Bobrovsky has won more Vezina Trophies (2) than playoff series (0) for crying out loud.
The debate on why the Rangers and Lundqvist have yet to reach the Promised Land has become redundant and ridiculous at this point. There is no need to “go there” as the saying goes. Instead, let’s look towards the future of the Blueshirts, with apparently another superstar goalie in-waiting in Igor Shestyorkin ready to cross the pond and don the sweater of the team that drafted him back in 2014 and continue the great Ranger goalie lineage.
Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton and his staff need to learn from the past so they are not doomed to repeat it. Moving forward, Gorton needs to build a balanced team around Shestyorkin, Alexandar Georgiev, or whomever will take over once King Henrik relinquishes his throne in the next few seasons. If your goalie is your best player, based on the factual statements above, chances are not favorable of your team winning the Stanley Cup.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks have combined to win seven of the last eleven NHL championships without their respective goalies being among their top players. That is a stone cold fact that the Rangers hierarchy must take into account as they try and build the next great Blueshirt team. Shestyorkin’s highly anticipated Garden debut is sure to be exciting and electrifying, and if the acrobatic Russian meets the lofty expectations set for him, the transition from “The King” to ‘The Czar” should be seamless. However, if he turns out to be the Rangers’ best player, well, you know…
The stock-piling of first and second round draft picks over these last three seasons ensures the Rangers will have a plethora of talented kids in the prospect pipeline to build around. The onus will then be on David Quinn and his coaching staff to develop the talent afforded to him and make sure that the goaltender is not the Rangers best player.