The New York Rangers face a problem most NHL teams would love to have: they have “too many” competent goalies. For the time being, the Rangers must manage a delicate balancing act between Henrik Lundqvist, Alexandar Georgiev, and Igor Shesterkin.
Actually, the balancing act is more complicated than that. That’s saying something, too, because it isn’t always easy to juggle three goalies who deserve reps (both in practices and games).
The Rangers also face challenges in managing fan expectations, their aspirations to compete soon (vs. the likelihood that this isn’t a playoff year), and the trade deadline.
Having too much beats suffering without enough, but it’s a problem nonetheless. Let’s consider the situation by looking at all three goalies.
Few goalies would dare to dream of enjoying the run Lundqvist went on from 2009-10 to 2015-16, where his save percentage never dipped below .920. Even before that stretch, Lundqvist enjoyed some strong seasons. His Hall of Fame entry is a matter of when, not if.
And while Lundqvist has looked human — uncannily handsome, but human — during the past few seasons, there’s evidence that he’s still pretty effective. When you take the Rangers’ shabby defense into account, Lundqvist often shines like dandruff-free, well-conditioned hair. Take, for instance, his solid work in 2019-20 by standards such as this chart from Charting Hockey:
That’s pretty impressive, especially for a 37-year-old.
Of course, that’s the rub: Lundqvist is 37. He’s expensive at an AAV of $8.5 million through 2020-21.
If we were all robots, we’d make the cold, calculated call to trade Lundqvist. We’re not robots (eyes you suspiciously), however, so the Rangers have to consider the politics of making such a trade. Frankly, it’s tough to imagine that happening, unless Lundqvist asked for a trade.
Context and marketing point to Georgiev or Shesterkin being the odd goalie out, even if team-building logic would punt “King Henrik.”
Georgiev seems like the easiest omission of the Rangers’ three goalies
Plenty of factors point to Georgiev being the odd goalie out:
- While Lundqvist and Shesterkin are under contract through 2020-21, Georgiev is a pending RFA.
- Georgiev (23) isn’t the lone youngster, as Shesterkin is 24.
- Georgiev doesn’t have the NHL resume of Lundqvist, nor does he seem to boast the fascinating potential of Shesterkin.
That said, Georgiev is more battle-tested (.913 save percentage in 66 NHL games) than Shesterkin (.929, but in just three so far).
Things also get more complicated if the Rangers value Georgiev more than the market. The Athletic’s James Mirtle notes (sub required) that the Rangers reportedly want a young player who can contribute immediately — rather than a pick or prospect — for Georgiev.
Such an asking price may explain why Elliotte Friedman wondered if the Rangers might wait until the offseason to address this three-headed goalie monster, rather than a seemingly more logical situation of trading Georgiev to a team that needs a backup.
Personally, I’d be more eager to move Georgiev for something at the trade deadline, but we’ll see. With Chris Kreider and other decisions to make, the Rangers figure to be busy.
Shesterkin boasts most fascinating, mysterious potential of Rangers’ three goalies
This situation presents headaches, but the Rangers seem to realize that Shesterkin has a strong chance to be worth it.
Now, the usual caveats apply. Goalies are explosively unpredictable, and as currently constituted, the Rangers’ porous defense only ratchets up that volatility. Shesterkin could very well wilt where Lundqvist and Georgiev kept at it.
That said … goodness, Shesterkin’s numbers look promising.
Along with three mostly strong NHL appearances, Shesterkin managed an impressive .934 save percentage in 25 AHL games this season. Shesterkin’s KHL save percentage ranged from .933 to .953 from 2016-17 to 2018-19.
The body of work isn’t that large, but a goalie can only stop the pucks they face, and Shesterkin’s thrived in every stop so far.
The Rangers deserve credit for a strong rebuild, but the toughest tests lie ahead. It’s more difficult to go from average to good (and especially good to great) than to step up from moribund. Getting this goalie part right is important, even if it could get a little messy.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.