Astute followers of the New York Rangers are well aware of the impressive lineage of Ranger goalies that dates all the way back to the team’s inception in 1926. From Lester Patrick, who, at the ripe old age of 44. left his position as head coach to don the goalie pads in the 1928 Stanley Cup Finals, to the current keeper of the domain, Igor Shesterkin, the Blueshirts have certainly not lacked quality net-minders throughout the decades.
You’d think a franchise that has housed a plethora of fantastic goaltenders will have more than just a few winners of the award named in honor of Georges Vezina. The goaltender of the Montreal Canadiens died suddenly and tragically in 1926 of tuberculosis. But, only two Ranger goalies have been selected by the powers-that-be as the finest in their sport for a given season. With the caveat being prior to 1981 the Vezina Trophy was simply awarded to the team that surrendered the fewest amount of goals.
In today’s piece, we will profile the Ranger goalies that have had the distinction of being a Vezina Trophy award winner.
Dave Kerr 1939-40
Kerr, the only Ranger goalie to capture the Vezina during the Original Six era and the netminder who back-stopped the team to the 1940 Stanley Cup, won the coveted award by giving up just 77 goals in 48 regular season games. One would assume that even if the Vezina winners were voted on back in that championship season, Kerr would have received the majority of the votes by posting an eye-popping 27-11-10 record with eight shutouts and a sparkling 1.54 GAA.
Ed Giacomin/Gilles Villemure 1970-71
No, that is not a typo: Prior to 1981, it was somewhat common for a goaltending tandem to share the award. Giacomin and Villemure, the talented twosome that were rock solid for so many years during the Emile Francis era of Ranger hockey, were named co-recipients of the Vezina because of a minutes played stipulation. They combined to give up a league-low 177 goals, leading the Blueshirts to a 109 point season which stood as a franchise record until it was eclipsed in that magical season of 1994.
John Vanbiesbrouck 1985-86
The “Beezer” was as beloved and adored as any Ranger player of the last 40 years. The diminutive, but solid and sharp and durable goaltender was the first Blueshirt netminder to be voted in as the best goalie of the year. HIs legendary 1985-86 season endeared him to the Garden Faithful for decades to come. Not only did Beezer post 31 wins in that memorable season, he also posted a 3.32 GAA in an era in which double-digit goal scoring was the norm and not the anomaly that it is today. Beezer helped to carry his Cinderella squad to the 1986 Whales Conference Finals before bowing out to Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadians.
Henrik Lundqvist 2011-12
Never in my over 40 years of following the New York Rangers did I witness an exhibition of goaltending like what was displayed by Henrik Lundqvist in the 2011-12 season. “The King” single handedly carried his hark-working, but marginally talented team to a division championship and number one seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Lundqvist’s stat line from the 11-12 season is nothing short of stellar. 39 wins. 1.97 GAA. 930 save percentage and eight shutouts. Lundqvist continued his brilliance and excellence in the playoffs that spring, carrying his exhausted and beat up squad to just two wins short of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Rangerstown would love to see the current number one goalie, the aforementioned Shesterkin, join this exclusive list of Vezina Trophy award winners some day. Igor’s game has been a bit erratic at times as the young Russian continues to adapt and assimilate to North American life. As #31 gets more comfortable and confident and as the team around him gets better with more experience, I would not be the least bit surprised to see the Moscow native in the Vezina discussion in the coming seasons.