After 15 seasons of superlative goaltending, Henrik Lundqvist’s uncertain future with the Rangers will be one of hockey’s most intriguing offseason storylines.
Lundqvist’s role has diminished after 24-year-old Igor Shesterkin claimed the franchise’s No. 1 netminder gig, and backup Alexandar Georgiev finished the 2019-20 season with more games played and more games started than Lundqvist. And, though a strong Game 1 playoff performance was evidence of Lundqvist still being capable of puck-stopping mastery, his overall returns in recent seasons have been subpar. The 38-year-old has posted a .906 save percentage across 82 regular-season games combined over the past two seasons.
His declining statistics, $8.5 million salary, and full no-trade protection make it nearly impossible for the Rangers to ship Lundqvist to a different NHL city. Even if the Blueshirts were to pick up a significant chunk of Lundqvist’s cap hit, it’s hard to imagine another NHL organization viewing him as a clear-cut No. 1 goalie, surrendering assets to acquire him and taking on a large portion of his salary.
If Lundqvist is bought out by the Rangers, that’s a different story. Any team lacking an obvious No. 1 goaltender would be wise to snatch up Lundqvist on a minimal salary and have him compete for the starter’s net. Should the Rangers exercise a buyout, they would stand to gain $3 million in salary relief – but would still be on the hook for a $5.5 million cap charge next season and $1.5 million in 2021-22.
There is incentive for the Rangers to buy out Lundqvist given next season’s flat salary cap remaining at $81.5 million. Rangers president John Davidson has confirmed discussions with Lundqvist, though further talks will unfold as the offseason progresses. It’s unclear at this point what player and team are thinking.
Though the Rangers hold the power of a buyout, it might be in their best interest to pursue trading the younger Georgiev. Any team seeking to bolster their netminding options could bet on Georgiev’s potential and give up the pieces that would entice the Rangers to make a deal.
Then again, much of the situation depends on Lundqvist’s thinking. At this twilight stage of his career, would he even want to play a part-time role on the Rangers or, for that matter, play for a different NHL club? From the outside, the opportunity to finish his career in New York as a rare one-franchise man on a team with Stanley Cup ambitions seems like an appropriate send-off. In a defined role as No. 2 netminder, Lundqvist could mentor Shesterkin for one more season and possibly luck out if the Rangers put it all together and deliver him a Stanley Cup ring.
Retirement is a real option, though that could come through several avenues. Lundqvist could simply walk away from the game with nothing more to prove, and a No. 30 jersey raising ceremony at Madison Square Garden and enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame would eventually follow. Alternatively, he could retire from the NHL and bolt to Sweden to empty his competitive juices by finishing his hockey odyssey where it started in his homeland. If Lundqvist retires, the $8.5 million cap hit disappears.
There’s no simple or straightforward answer to how the Lundqvist Era of Rangers history concludes. For Rangers fans, it’s going to be an offseason of waiting to see how Lundqvist’s situation plays out.