Mike Halford

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist sits on the bench during the third period after being pulled during game 5 in a first-round NHL playoff hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Saturday, April 23, 2016. The Penguins won 6-3, to clinch the best-of-seven games sereis 5-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Rangers may need King Henrik now more than ever


This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

The farewell image of Henrik Lunqvist last season wasn’t a good one — dejected, wearing a baseball cap rather than a goalie mask, looking on as Antti Raanta mopped up a blowout elimination loss to Pittsburgh.

The only thing worse might’ve been Lundqvist’s closing remarks.

“I just didn’t have it in me to make a difference,” he said. “And that’s painful, you know? That’s my job, to try to make the difference there and help the team.”

Coming the Rangers’ rock for a decade plus, it’s a worrisome quote. Because heading into next season, New York probably needs Lundqvist to make more of a difference than ever.

This is no longer the team that advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. Gone are the likes of Derick Brassard, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Benoit Pouliot, Keith Yandle, Dan Boyle, Brian Boyle and Carl Hagelin.

On paper, the club looks to have its weakest roster in years.

This would suggest Alain Vigneault and company will rely on Lundqvist an awful lot which, in the past, has worked out just fine — No. 30 has been a workhorse and world-class netminder, capturing one Vezina Trophy while finishing as a finalist four more times.

But the past is the past. What about the future?

Looking ahead, it’s hard to overlook a few things. One, Lundqvist was the fourth-oldest starting netminder in the league last year, in which he started 64 times and led the league in shots faced. (Oh yeah, he also turns 35 in March, and makes $8.5M annually through 2021.)

Two, his rough finish to ’15-16 wasn’t limited to just the playoffs.

Prior to allowing six goals on 23 shots in Game 5 — and failing to make it to the third period for the third time in the series — there were signs Lundqvist was slowing down. He posted a .906 save percentage in March, and an .896 in April.

Veteran netminders tiring deeper into the season is nothing new. Last year, 37-year-old Roberto Luongo admitted he was “exhausted” during Florida’s run, to which the Panthers (in part) responded by bolstering their blueline, and adding James Reimer in free agency.

New York didn’t have those options.

The cap-strapped club was a bit player in free agency, adding inexpensive depth guys like Michael Grabner, Nathan Gerbe, Adam Clendening and Josh Jooris. As such, the blueline remains a major area of concern, and it’s unclear how much more the team can coax out of Raanta, who matched a career-high with 25 appearances last season.

For now, Lundqvist should get the benefit of the doubt. He’s earned as much, and one unfortunate end to a season shouldn’t be blown out of proportion. Players bounce back, especially the great ones.

But with that said, it’s hard to look at the situation at hand and not be somewhat concerned — because this isn’t just about Lundqvist. It’s also about the team in front of him.

How often will he need to stand on his head?

And, what happens if he can’t?

Oilers part ways with Howson, Dellow as front office shakeup continues

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26: Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton Oilers attends the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Edmonton’s hockey operations overhaul continued on Tuesday, as the club made a flurry of changes under the Peter Chiarelli regime.

The most noteworthy, and one we passed along yesterday, was the hiring of Keith Gretzky as Chiarelli’s assistant GM. Gretzky, 49, had spent the past five years with the Boston Bruins — which was his connection to Chiarelli — and most recently served as the club’s director of amateur scouting.

And the Oilers weren’t done there.

— The guy that held Gretzky’s new post, Bill Scott, has been re-assigned from AGM to “Director of Salary Cap Management and Assistant to the President of Hockey Operations.” His business card must be the size of a billboard.

— Kelly Buchberger, who was working in player development, will now serve as the group’s VP. Duane Sutter has been promoted to VP of player personnel, while Frank Jay and P.J. Fenton were hired as amateur scouts.

— In a pair of exits that will undoubtedly get some coverage, the Oilers have parted ways with Scott Howson (replaced by Sutter) and analytics consultant Tyler Dellow.

Howson, oft-maligned during his six season as GM in Columbus, returned to the Oilers in 2013 — the same organization that employed him as an assistant GM From 2002-07.

He started as a scout, worked his way up to senior VP of hockey ops but was demoted following Chiarelli’s hire last summer.

Dellow was hired two years ago. Though it wasn’t the first addition in the NHL’s “analytics movement,” it was arguably the most high-profile.

A Toronto-based lawyer turned amateur statistician, Dellow was one of the Oilers’ fiercest critics prior to joining the club. He reportedly had overtures from other teams before Edmonton offered him a contract.

Evander Kane sued by woman claiming he injured her

HOLLYWOOD, CA - AUGUST 20:  NHL player Evander Kane attends the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' "We Are Your Friends" at TCL Chinese Theatre on August 20, 2015 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) A 21-year-old Buffalo woman has sued Sabres forward Evander Kane, saying he seriously injured her in the hotel room where he lives.

Documents filed July 1 in Erie County State Supreme on behalf of Rachel Kuechle Court say Kane met her in a bar, invited her to what he said was a party and then attacked her, causing cuts and bleeding that required multiple surgeries.

Kane had been cleared in March of any criminal charges after authorities investigated the Dec. 27 encounter initially described as a possible sexual assault.

His lawyer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday but has denied any wrongdoing by his client.

Kane pleaded not guilty Monday to non-criminal harassment, disorderly conduct and trespass stemming from an unrelated incident at a bar in June.

Related: Kane pleads not guilty to charges in Buffalo bar incident

Edmonton will have a captain by opening night, says McLellan

Todd McLellan

After going without a captain last season, the Oilers will have someone wearing the “C” in 2016-17.

“Will we have a captain? Yeah, we will,” head coach Todd McLellan said on Wednesday, per the Oilers’ website. “We will have a captain.”

The last player to serve as captain in Edmonton was Andrew Ference, who inherited the position from Shawn Horcoff in ’13 and held it for two seasons.

Last year, the veteran blueliner appeared in just six games, and underwent season-ending hip surgery. He was in no position to serve in the club’s leadership group and, ergo, the Oilers opted to play without a captain.

So… who will be next to wear the “C?”

Most are thinking about Connor McDavid. Though he’s not publicly campaigning for the role, the 19-year-old did say it would “be one of the greatest honors. ” Though he missed significant time to injury last year, McDavid still enthralled Oilers fans with a rookie campaign that saw him rack up 48 points in 45 games, finishing as a Calder Trophy finalist.

Of course, there will be others in the mix.

Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Matt Hendricks have all served as alternates in Edmonton, and Hendricks captained the U.S. at this year’s world championships. There’s definitely some leadership to choose from, and it’s worth noting Eberle is one of the most vested veterans in Edmonton, having appeared in 425 games over the last six seasons.

Oilers’ Yakimov going back to KHL — this time, on loan

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Bogdan Yakimov #39 of the Edmonton Oilers looks on prior to the start of the game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on October 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Bogdan Yakimov is on his way back to Russia.

On Wednesday, the Oilers announced they’ve loaned Yakimov to KHL club Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik, the same team he joined after leaving AHL Bakersfield last season.

The 83rd overall pick in 2013, Yakimov has appeared in one game for the Oilers since getting drafted. He’s spent almost all of his time in North America in the AHL, and didn’t impress the club last year when he bolted the farm team to return to his native land.

“He made a career decision to return to Russia and I’m not sure how he played or how many games he played,” Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said at the time, per the Edmonton Sun (McLellan was then informed Yakimov was away for 11 games).

“Well, that’s 11 games he didn’t spend with us. During his time away, there were a number of players recalled. I would have preferred to see him in an Oilers uniform and he was real close. Now he has to reset his Oiler clock and get playing again.”

All told, Yakimov played in 36 games with the Condors last season, scoring five goals and 15 points.

At 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds, Yakimov has impressive size and is still only 21 years old, so he’s got some value. But it remains to be seen whether he wants to try and push for an NHL career, or opt to stay in the KHL.