Nobody likes to be the harbinger of bad news. Especially when it comes to a star player who’s clearly seen their better days.
Great players break down. It’s a hard reality for fans to accept. Even the legendary Willie Mays struggled in center field when he concluded his career with the Mets. Martin Brodeur ended his career in obscurity with the Blues. Hardly the way any Devil fans envisioned.
The Rangers are facing a similar situation with Henrik Lundqvist. A future Hall of Famer, the affable 37-year old franchise goalie has been a Broadway staple. Since he entered the NHL as a bright eyed rookie in ’05-06, the 2000 seventh round gem has been brilliant for the Blueshirts. He backstopped three very good teams to the Conference Finals and a Stanley Cup Final.
The ’11-12 Vezina winner has won a franchise record 449 games including a team record 63 shutouts. In 857 career games, he’s 449-298-93 with a 2.41 GAA and .918 save percentage. After leading the Rangers to the postseason in 11 of his first 12 years, Lundqvist has slowed down the past two frustrating seasons. Following putting up a respectable .915 save percentage in 63 games during a playoff less ’17-18, he slipped to a career worst .907 in 52 starts this past season. That included an 18-23-10 record with a 3.07 GAA and no shutouts. The first time in his career he didn’t record one during a season.
Rebuilding is a long process. It has to be especially tough on a prideful man who demands the very best out of himself and the team. Following the All-Star break, he didn’t play as much due to rookie Alexandar Georgiev. In his first season, the 23-year old from Bulgaria finished strong. He won 14 games in 30 starts while putting up a 2.91 GAA, .914 save percentage and two shutouts.
Georgiev’s good finish opened eyes. With top prospect Igor Shesterkin signed, Rangers brass will have a close eye on both young netminders with the future in mind.
Where does that leave Lundqvist? He could’ve accepted a trade over a year ago to go to a contender. But he wanted to stay. He’s a very loyal player, who loves being a Ranger. Signed through 2021, it’s coming to an end soon. With a hefty cap hit of $8.5 million AAV, it’s hard to see new Team President John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton keeping him. Once the contract expires, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.
The discouraging thing is Lundqvist did nothing to help himself in the IIHF World Championships. Playing for a loaded Sweden that featured Elias Pettersson, William Nylander, Gabriel Landeskog, Patric Hornqvist, Elias Lindholm, Alex Wennberg, John Klingberg and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the veteran goaltender struggled in the tournament.
In a crushing 5-4 overtime defeat to Finland in the quarterfinals, he allowed some bad goals. Sweden blew leads of 3-1 and 4-3 in the disappointing loss. A Finland team without an NHL player advanced when Sakari Manninen beat Lundqvist from the left circle with a unscreened shot that went high glove. It wasn’t the worst goal he let in. The game’s first goal to Niko Mikkola was a routine shot from distance that eluded him.
It wasn’t a good tournament for Lundqvist. He finished with a 2.84 GAA and subpar .887 save percentage. In a tourney where lesser known goalies such as Finland’s Kevin Lankinen, Swiss netminder Leonardo Genoni and Germany’s Mathias Niederberger shined, Lundqvist was one of the worst goalies in the big event.
What does it mean? It’s hard to say. What I do know is he’ll have to look a lot better following the summer vacation. If it doesn’t change, I can’t think of a good reason he should be the full time starter. His workload should continue to be micromanaged. At this point, 40-45 starts seems realistic.
Unless he rediscovers the form that made him one of the game’s best at the position, Georgiev and eventually Shesterkin should have every chance to show what they can do.
This isn’t to say it’s over for Lundqvist. There are still two years left to play. It’s getting increasingly hard to see where he fits in.
The good news is that whoever they wind up with as a consolation prize between Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, that’ll kickstart the rebuild in the right direction. It’s too early to get into what will happen this July. We’ll leave that for JD and Gorton.