I listed my top-25 off-season questions last week. Throughout the summer and early-fall, I will cover each of those questions, hoping to finish before the draft or free agent, Rather than place a link to each one in the first paragraph, I will post the link following the completion of each blog in the table below that contains all 25 questions.
In this blog, I tackle question #5: "Should we prepare the jersey raising for Henrik Lundqvist now? (update: did anything JD said convince you that he might be back next season?)" Part of this question was tackled way back during the pandemic when I wrote an analysis of each player, bridging off Larry Brooks' columns of the same. For Lundqvist, the blog was titled Henrik Lundqvist: could this be the end in New York? K'Andre Miller.
Here is what Brooks wrote in his column:
The last two months of the season must have been exactly what Henrik Lundqvist envisioned at the 2018 post-Letter deadline purge when he chose to remain with the Rangers after he was given the chance to opt out of an embryonic rebuild program and pursue his Stanley Cup dream somewhere else.
Because here were the Blueshirts, powered to a great extent by kids and big-money free agent and trade acquisitions, storming into the playoff race by going 16-6 under just the type of accelerated rebuild program that the King foresaw two years earlier when he pledged his heart to New York.
Which made it even more cruel that Lundqvist was more apart from it than a part of it. When the NHL season came to a sudden halt following the March 11 match in Colorado, Lundqvist had started one of the Rangers’ last 19 games, and he got that one because Shesterkin was injured and Georgiev needed a break. And other than allowing for the possibility of a final ceremonial and sentimental last go-round at the Garden if the Blueshirts had fallen out of the race, there was not going to be another one.
The Rangers made their call and have thrived living with it, no matter how personally distasteful it might have been to each individual. They could have aggressively shopped Georgiev to set up a two-man rotation with Shesterkin and a 38-year-old Lundqvist for this year and next, but did not.
I do know that the executives and coaches involved in the decision believe they have been respectful in their communications with Lundqvist, and who am I to say that is untrue? Only the principals know the content of their conversations and none has revealed their nature. It may be a leap here, and I do not want to ascribe thoughts to Lundqvist that might not be his, but he sure didn’t appear overly respected over the last month or so of NHL activity.
Henrik Lundqvist is not just a star-type player. He is a pending first-ballot Hall of Famer who has had one of the great careers in the history of New York pro sports.
That’s all. He chose to stay when given an escape route. That was not selfishness. That was loyalty.
Lundqvist was not having a bad season. It was OK through his 22 starts that preceded Shesterkin. The thing is, though, despite turning in a number of vintage performances, there were also too many bad ones. The King had 12 starts in which he recorded a save percentage of .920 or better, but had the same number of starts in which his save percentage was under .890, seven of them at .875 or worse. That is unsustainable.
There were just too many marginal goals that often offset the importance of spectacular saves. Lundqvist not only was getting beaten more often in games, he was getting beaten more often at practices. And the Rangers seemed more unsettled in front of him than in front of either of the younger netminders.
Some of that surely can be traced to the kids’ superiority in handling the puck. But I wonder if part of the phenomenon wasn’t also a reflection of the gap between most of the Rangers, young and just getting their feet wet in the NHL, and Lundqvist, a generational player. Most were in grade school when Lundqvist first made his mark in New York.
This is what i wrote at the time:
. Lundqvist is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He was and likely still is the Face of the Franchise, When determining the Mount Rushmore of the team, he is quite likely one of the four, unless you have Mike Richter there for the Cup win.
The rapid drop-off in play should have been somewhat expected despite fine performances along the route. His advanced metrics still show a goalie that is saving more high-danger shots than expected and lower expected goals-against average as compared to what should occur based on the metrics. But, those numbers are still fantasy to an extent, despite the defense playing better in front if Igor and Georgiev, with the reality the bottom-line stats to a certain extent,
Georgiev could and might have been trade bait. But the organization decided to, in my opinion, rightfully hold on to him. You could have all three goalies back next season, especially if the cap rose as originally expected. But the lack of revenue and unlikelihood of massive use of the escrow could mean a cap similar to this season.. If that does happen, then keeping all three will be fiscally irresponsible.
Shesterkin is the future #1 with Georgiev pushing up and receiving copious amounts of ice time. Lundqvist could decide to play elsewhere, though seeing him in another jersey other than the red, white and blue of New York or maybe yellow and blue or Tre Kroner will be disconcerting.
If it does come to this, I will choose to remember the good moments. Especially the arms raised after Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014 when he shut out the Canadiens 1-0. To me, that's the last image of Henrik Lundqvist as a New York Ranger.
Brooks noted today that Lundqvist is returning over the weekend from Sweden where he had been with his family after the team lost to Carolina. He is coming back with his wife and two daughters for the children to start school in New York City. Once he arrives, discussions in earnest, which began after the Rangers arrived in White Plains, should pick up between Lundqvist, his agent, team president John Davidson, GM Jeff Gorton and possibly Glen Sather and/or James Dolan.
When the above column was first written, uncertainty existed as to whether the Blueshirts would be in the postseason. The NHL decided on 12 teams in each conference, allowing New York to face Carolina in the play-in round. As Brooks noted today, "the Swede did get the call for the first two qualifying round matches against the Hurricanes while Shesterkin was sidelined with a groin issue, and allowed seven goals on 71 shots in the 3-2 and 4-1 defeats. But his streak of 129 consecutive playoff starts that began with the third game of the 2006 first round against the Devils came to a close when Shesterkin was in nets for the elimination 4-1 loss in Game 3."
Lundqvist had a strong summer camp and acquitted himself well against the 'Canes. While he was far from the reason the Blueshirts lost, especially in Game 1, when he was brilliant, he was unable to will the team to a win or come up with the momentum changing save, as he had done so many times in year's past. His New York career in all likelihood ends with a whimper but he did get one more chance to put on the team's jersey.
After New York was eliminated, JD said that the team won't carry three goalies, meaning one has to go. Igor is going nowhere as he is the heir apparent. If the team really wanted to move Georgiev, they would have done so at the trade deadline. This leaves Lundqvist as the likely man out or third wheel.
Lundqvist has one more year on his contract that carries an $8.5 million cap hit. If the Blueshirts buy out the goaltender, they would save $3 million on the cap while adding $5.5 million of dead space for 2020-21 and $1.5 million of dead space for the following season. The buyout period starts on either Sept. 25 or on the first day of the Stanley Cup final (whichever is later) and runs through either Oct. 8 or six days after the Cup clincher (whichever is later).
A good chunk of that $3 million savings likely would be used to re-sign Georgiev, who completed his ELC. The Blueshirts already are carrying nearly $7.495 million in dead space into the 2020-21 offseason. This is why the talk about buyouts for Marc Staal and Brendan Smith, which we will get to when I cover those questions, has to keep this in mind.
Lundqvist will have his jersey retired and raised to the rafters. The only question in two parts: is what will be the exit strategy and how is it handled? One hope was that he’d retire from the Rangers, wiping the $8.5 million cap hit off the books, and play in Sweden for Frolunda with his twin brother Joel. If he did that, Lundqvist would forfeit $4.5 million in salary, as the contract was front loaded and he received $1 million on July 1. But, his return to New York effectively closes the door on the possibility. Option 2 is that he completely retires. As a proud athlete, this would be the hardest decision Lundqvist might ever make, especially if he still believes he could play.
New York could eat half his salary, saving $4.25 million, which is akin to a buyout, if Lundqvist waives his NMC and NTC and goes to a desired landing spot. The goalie market will be flooded this offseason, limiting the possibility of that occurring especially to a destination Hank might want. Could San Jose, Detroit, Buffalo, Edmonton and Ottawa be a landing spot? Sure, but is Lundqvist going to want to finish his career there with several of those teams unlikely to make the playoffs? If Tuukka Rask does retire, Boston could be a landing spot, as Jaroslav Halak is better served as a 1b or backup and the team doesn't have a #1 in the pipeline. The proximity to New York would be appealing to Lundqvist, so a match could be made. But lots of ground to cover before that would occur. Add in the list of potentially available netminders and teams will have options. Braden Holtby is a pending free agent, as are Robin Lehner, Jacob Markstrom, Corey Crawford, Cam Talbot and Thomas Greiss. If Lehner remains in Vegas, Marc-Andre Fleury is likely to be available in a trade. Matt Murray is on the trade market. Arizona could opt to deal Darcy Kuemper. Who knows about Jonathan Quick and the rebuilding Kings?
Lundqvist exiting stage left gracefully would be ideal. A protracted discussion, especially in the media, would be sub-optimal, sullying his career in New York. Hank is likely too classy to have that happen. But Sather, JD and Gorton have their work cut out for them.
11) Which is the true Brett Howden, the one that did little from October to March or the one we saw against Carolina?
12) Do you view the three-game sweep as a good learning experience, as mentioned by several including Davidson, for the neophytes on the team or is it too early to make that call?
13) Were you satisfied with the growth seen from Kappo Kakko and what's your realistic view as to what we should expect in years 2 and 3?
14) If Lundqvist is not back, do you want Alexandar Georgiev as Igor Shesterkin's 2020-21 backup or are you dealing him for additional assets? If bringing him back next year, are you signing him for more than one season?
15) Are you concerned with Artemiy Panarin's small late-season swoon? No goals in the last eight games before the pandemic and just one goal in the three-game sweep?
16) What is the identity of this Rangers' team? Do we know? Is one needed?
17) Can Brendan Lemiuex repeat how he played in Game 3 against Carolina or was that the aberration and not the norm?
18) What should be done with Lias Andersson? (from Tommy G on 8/7)
19) Who will be Jacob Trouba's partner next season if it's not Smith? (from Tommy G on 8/7)
20) How does the looming Expansion Draft affect the decision made for a particular signing/trade/buyout? (from Hedgedog 8/8)
21) If buying one player out, presuming that it's not Lundqvist for a variety of reasons, is it Staal or Smith, or do you not buyout anyone?
22) Presuming Lafreniere is the pick, on which line does he start the season? If New York makes no major acquisitions, what is your top-nine and fourth line? Is Morgan Barron on the team to start the season? (new)
23) Who do you want to target in free agency or via trade? (please be realistic in your proposals. That applies to who New York could get and what they would give up, so no 4-for-1 offers where the team grossly overpays. (new)
24) Does Gord Murphy end up on the coaching staff for 2020-21 or is someone else brought in to helm the defense and the penalty kill? (new)
25) When do you think New York contends for the Cup? 2021-22, 22-23 or other? (new)