New York, New York, NEW JERSEY
ONE DAY after the Toronto Maple Leafs chased New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in the first period of a 6--2 rout last month, this exchange appeared on the message board Islandermania. ¶ BOSSY FOR PRESIDENT: "If DP [Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro] was on, let's say, Toronto...they would be one of the best teams in the NHL. Henrik has a great team in front of him. He just has to be a bit better than mediocre and he's fine. DP has to be borderline FANTASTIC for his team to win. With a good team around him, DP is far superior, no question." ¶ ADAMJAY12: "Interesting topic, but the real important fact is: when will either be as good as that Marty [Brodeur] guy in New Jersey?
He's the greatest goalie in this area's recent history. I mean after [former Islanders Stanley Cup winner] Billy Smith, of course."
SECTION317: "Rick is 1000X the athlete Lundqvist is. The only one that comes close to Rick is Brodeur. Lundqvist is positionally sound because he NEVER takes chances and never leaves the crease. Rick is insane, but he backs it up with athleticism."
HAM2112: "DP 3, Queen 1 [a slam at Lundqvist's nickname, the King]. (Any questions?) DP 3, Brodeur 0 (Amazing how human Martin looks playing for a mediocre team)."
NEW YORKERS today conduct their sports arguments with posts and ripostes in a postmodern Dew Drop Inn on the Web, but in the mid-'50s debates were settled fan to fan in crowded, smoke-filled barrooms, where the pounding of a fist on the bar and not capital letters was the preferred form of emphasis. The favorite topic in those days: Who is the best centerfielder in New York—the Giants' Willie Mays, the Yankees' Mickey Mantle or the Dodgers' Duke Snider? Yes, talkin' Willie, Mickey and the Duke.
More than a half century later, America's leading metropolis is graced with Marty, Ricky and the King, another trio of superb players who play a marquee position. If comparing the New Jersey Devils' Martin Brodeur, the Islanders' Rick DiPietro and the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist with the holy trinity of New York centerfielders seems like sacrilege, you're probably right; only Brodeur, a certain Hall of Famer, has reached a level comparable to those ballplayers'. But both Lundqvist, 25, and DiPietro, 26—each by far the most important player on his team—are a decade younger than the masked marvel of New Jersey, and both can claim a place among the NHL's elite.
So who's your guy? The debate would be over in a New York minute if career accomplishments were the only measure. After the Devils' 3--0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers last Friday, Brodeur was a mere 36 wins behind Patrick Roy's career record 551. He is a three-time Stanley Cup champion; he helped Canada win the 2002 Olympic gold medal; and at 35, he is the gold standard for the position, having won three of the last four Vezina Trophies. "You always get a little extra excited when you're facing Marty," Lundqvist says. "He's achieved a lot."
But NHL goaltending is not a snapshot of past accolades, it's a kaleidoscope of the present, continually twirling.Lundqvist, who won the Olympic gold medal with Sweden in 2006 and has been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy in each of his first two NHL seasons, has been a linchpin in Manhattan, turning the laggard Rangers into Cup threats. And DiPietro, the first goaltender ever to be drafted No.1 (in 2000), has become Long Island's goalie for life after signing a 15-year, $67.5 million contract that labeled him as a franchise goalie in a way that's unprecedented. "Ricky has so much confidence that there's no fear of failure," says an Eastern Conference goalies coach. "He's special."
If you wanted one goalie to win a game, you would probably pick Brodeur, whose Devils led the Atlantic Division with 49 points through Sunday. If you wanted a younger goalie as a cornerstone of an organization, you might choose one of the two New Yorkers. (The Rangers and the Islanders were four and five points back, respectively.) "I wouldn't trade Hank for the others," says Rangers winger Brendan Shanahan. "He's technically sound, which should allow him longevity."