Examining the role of New York Rangers backups from 1989 to present

NHL: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins
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Before the lockout of 2004-05, the New York Rangers employed five netminders to reach a 27-48-7 record and miss the playoffs by 22 points. Interestingly, those players were Mike Dunham (57 games), Jussi Markkanen (26 games), Steve Valiquette (two games), Jason LaBarbera (four games), and Jamie McLennan (four games). 

Upon returning to action in 2005-06, New York finally had the chance to let Henrik Lundqvist play, their hidden gem from the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. By the time he reached Broadway, he was already voted Sweden’s player of the year, a two-time SHL champion, and a Silver Medalist at the World Championships. Ultimately, he was the goalie of the future and immediately dressed in 53 games in his first season, compiling a 30-12-8 record. 

Realistically, when Lundqvist started his first game, he ushered in a new era for the franchise, becoming their number-one goalie for the next 15 seasons, playing in 887 games. Although he ended up splitting the duties in his final season (2019-20) with Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin, the official history of starters in New York since 2005 goes directly from Lundqvist to Shesterkin. 

Statistically, for the last 18 years, the Rangers have had a bona fide starter, with Lundqvist and Shesterkin skating in 1,045 games, or 74.4% of the club’s games (1,404). Additionally, they combined to win 558 contests, which surprisingly accounts for 74.3% of the team’s 751 wins during this time.

So, after acquiring three-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick this summer to replace Jaroslav Halak, he becomes the 18th netminder (excluding Lundqvist and Shesterkin) to put on a Rangers sweater since 2006.

In this article, we’ll explore who the backups were, their statistics, and impact on the team over the past 18 seasons. 

Related: Reliving Henrik Lundqvist’s Vezina winning season

Henrik Lundqvist had many partners in his first nine seasons

NHL 12-10-05: New York Rangers at St. Louis Blues
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat-USA TODAY Sports (©) Copyright 2004 by Dilip Vishwanat

In 2005-06, the Rangers employed three goalies: Lundqvist, Kevin Weekes, and Chris Holt. As mentioned, King Henrik started the most games with 53, while Weekes played in 32 and Holt dressed for one. Interestingly, Weekes returned in 2006-07, skating in 14 games, while Holt never played for New York again. 

During that 2006-07 season, Steve Valiquette made a few appearances (three) to kick start a run as the official team backup, a role he had for three seasons. Altogether, during this stretch, he played in 34 games over three seasons, eventually sharing the duties with Chad Johnson (five games), Matt Zaba (one game), and Alex Auld (three games) in 2009-10. 

Johnson would see his tenure extend into the 2010-11 season (one game), joining recently acquired free agent Martin Biron (17 games) during his first season in New York. Eventually, Biron would hold down a spot in the lineup until 2013-14, playing in 29 games, before Cam Talbot joined the ranks with 21 appearances that year. Although Talbot only played two campaigns with the Rangers, appearing in an additional 36 games in 2014-15, he shared the bench with Mackenzie Skapski, who played twice that season. 

During his first nine years in the league, Lundqvist shared the crease with ten goalies, who played 199 games and combined for an 89-66-19 record (44% win percentage), compared to his 620 games and 339-208-65 record (54% win percentage). 

New York Rangers goalie shuffle

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at New York Rangers
Sarah Stier-USA TODAY Sports

Starting in 2015-16, Lundqvist shared the crease for two seasons with Magnus Hellberg (three games) and Annti Raanta (55 games). Then, in 2017-18, the Rangers employed Ondrej Pavelec (19 games), Brandon Halverson (one game), and Georgiev (10 games). Ultimately, that year marked the beginning of the Georgiev era since he would be Lundqvist’s only partner in 2018-19 (33 games) before Shesterkin debuted, playing 12 times in 2019-20. Although New York had three world-class netminders on the roster, Georgiev led the trio with 34 games during the shortened season. 

After the Rangers bought out Lundqvist’s contract after the 2019-20 campaign, Shesterkin became the number one, resulting in fewer games for Georgiev. During the 2020-21 season, he skated in 19 games, while Keith Kinkaid came up for nine. Ultimately, the duo continued playing behind Shesterkin in 2021-22, with Georgiev working 33 games, Kinkaid one game, and Adam Huska playing once.   

Once Shesterkin won the Vezina Trophy in 2021-22, the team let Georgiev walk in free agency (signed with the Colorado Avalanche) and restructured their goalie platoon by signing free agent Jaroslav Halak. Realistically, at 37 years old, Halak was on the backend of his career and played just 25 games, which is what fans should expect for 37-year-old Quick during the 2023-24 season.

As the Rangers dealt with the end of Lundqvist’s Hall of Fame career while ushering in the Shesterkin era simultaneously, the team employed eight netminders to serve as backup since the 2015-16 campaign. Ultimately, these skaters played in 243 games and earned a 104-83-22 record, equalling a 42.7 win percentage. Meanwhile, Lundqvist and Shesterkin combined for 425 games, a 219-144-46 record, and a 51.5 win percentage.

Historical Perspective

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at New York Rangers
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Without splitting hairs, the recent Rangers’ starting goalie lineage dates back to 1989-90, when Mike Richter debuted. Immediately after he retired due to concussions in 2002-03, the team scrambled to find his replacement, running with five netminders in 2003-04. 

During his 14 years between the pipes, Richter backstopped New York to a Stanley Cup victory in 1994, playing 666 games and compiling a 301-258-73 record. Interestingly, the team relied on 16 backup goalies to play on his off days, with these players dressing in 529 games, registering a subpar 196-220-64 record. 

Overall, since 1989-90, the year Richter debuted on Broadway, the Rangers have played 2598 contests, with a 1275-1027-144-152 record. Collectively, Richter, Lundqvist, and Shesterkin combined to skate in 1711 games (65.68%) and earned an 859-610-73-111 record. Meanwhile, during this time frame, the 34 backups combined to play in 971 games, sporting a 389-369-64-41 record. 

Before anyone gets their calculators out to highlight any errors, there is a difference between the two totals, 27-48-7, the record of the 2003-04 Rangers, who employed five goalies between the Richter and Lundqvist eras. 

Ultimately, New York’s number one goalies have won 50.2% of their games over 30 years, while the plethora of backups is less at 40.0%. Considering the Rangers have won 49.0% of their regular season games since 1989, the team has more success when their stars backstopped them on a nightly basis.

We all knew this would be the case. However, it was interesting to see how much action the backups have seen since 1989, given the lengthy injuries sustained by Richter, Lundqvist, and Shesterkin throughout their careers.

Some of Ryan Gagne's all-time favorite goalies have been Mike Richter, Henrik Lundqvist, and Igor Shesterkin. As a Yankees... More about Ryan Gagne

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