WARNING: This column may aggravate and astound you. Please read in a seated position.
After a conversation with a friend recently, I have come to the conclusion that, the unspeakable thought that all of us watching New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist at break up day last spring might not be as bad as was originally thought. Lundqvist, whether or not it was a serious statement, or just a negotiating tactic, was quite vague about his future with the blueshirts.
Now, Lundqvist has said that he loves it in New York and expects to re-sign with the Rangers, and blah blah blah. The simple fact is that Lundqvist has hardly shown himself to be the netminder he once was. His play of late has shown him to be beatable, human, and vulnerable at times. He’s been outplayed by his understudy, the plucky Cam Talbot, who has won the last 6 games he has started. This has led to whispers of a nagging injury, although Hank looks perfectly healthy. He simply has been beatable.
Looking at the list of free agents that Rangers GM Glen Sather has to contend with, some difficult decisions will have to be made. The two biggest features of the UFA list are defenseman Dan Girardi, and captain Ryan Callahan. Throw in upcoming RFAs Derrick Brassard, Chris Kreider, Michael Del Zaster Del Zotto, and John Moore, and it looks to be a very busy summer for Charles Dolan’s checkbook.
Let me be clear. Henrik Lunqvist is a once in a lifetime player, and his 10 year career on Broadway is not at all tarnished by a handful of average starts. He will command a contract that will give him an annual salary north of $8 million. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind in New York that Lunqvist is a better goaltender than Talbot, and there is no goalie controversy.
However, goaltending alone does not win championships. In today’s National Hockey League, Cups come from a balanced line up. Look at a team like the Chicago Blackhawks. Corey Crawford is an above average goaltender, but not in any way shape or form an ELITE class netminder. What do the Hawks do? They score. They score a lot. They have a balanced lineup to do so.
The Rangers don’t score. They are streaky in their scoring, and sometimes just can’t seem to get the goal to push them to a tie or a victory. They need scoring now, or they will need to blow this team up and start over. With that said, the line for the Rangers fans suicidal cliff jumping at that thought forms to the left.
The Rangers don’t have a ton of prospects they can shuffle for trade, and certainly, they don’t have a 35-40 goal scorer in their current group. Not only that, let’s face it, the Rangers will never have a poor enough record to earn a top 5 draft pick on their own. That leads us to the inevitable. Sather will have to trade a veteran to improve his “hovering around .500” club. That veteran could be Lundqvist.
Let’s face it, there aren’t many options to get a young, prolific scoring forward for Sather and Co. However, dangling Lunqvist in front of, say, Edmonton, may get them to part ways with one of their young stud forwards. That said, there are a lot of questions that would surround the Rangers if they dethrone the King.
For instance, any conversation about trading Hank would need to include a side note about the aforementioned Cam Talbot. The last goaltender to allow 2 or fewer goals in his first 7 career starts was the Boston Bruins netminder Frank Brimsek in the 1938-39 season. However, that’s Talbot as a backup. That says nothing of how he would react to a full time starting position in one of the biggest hockey markets in the US. Thusly, if Sather was going to entertain offers for Lundqvist, he needs to wait a bit to see how Talbot develops his game. However, if it’s a matter of goaltending, former Olympic Silver Medalist goalie Ryan Miller is a UFA after this season, and chances are that Miller will NOT be resigning with Buffalo, considering the Sabres are actually fairly deep at that position. If Talbot starts to plateau, Miller would be a much cheaper option, and is still an elite goaltender.
Letting go of Lundqvist for nothing once free agency hits accomplishes nothing. If the Rangers intend to part ways with the perfectly coiffed fashionista netminder, they would be better served to do it through trade. That way, they continue to build a balanced lineup, and raise hopes of a more than average team with a handful of superstars and big salaries.
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