There has been a changing of the guard for the New York Rangers.
After being the team’s starting goalie and the backbone of the entire franchise for 15 years, Henrik Lundqvist‘s time as their starting goalie appears to be over.
At least for now.
For the past month-and-a-half the Rangers have been using a three goalie rotation of Lundqvist, Alexander Georgiev, and rookie Igor Shesterkin that had mostly relegated the former to the bench. On Thursday, coach David Quinn announced Shesterkin as the team’s No. 1 goalie for the time being and that “keeping people sharp” was no longer a priority for the team.
“I think when you get three goalies and you were in the situation we were in, you’re a little bit sensitive to everybody,” Quinn said, via the New York Post. “You want to give everybody an opportunity and see how this thing unfolds. I thought everybody had an ample opportunity and everybody had a chance to state their case. I just felt that Igor made the most impact and was in a position to ride him for a little while.”
By making that announcement Quinn simply confirmed what had already been obvious: the Rangers are looking toward the future in goal.
Since Shesterkin’s recall from the AHL in early January, Lundqvist has started just three games for the Rangers (fewest among the three goalies on the team) with the prized rookie getting the bulk of the playing time.
Shesterkin has a .941 save percentage in his first seven appearances during that stretch.
There had been speculation in the first half of the season that the Rangers might trade Georgiev, but a rebuilding team out of playoff contention dealing away a 23-year-old goalie doesn’t make much sense unless you are getting a massive haul in return. Given what the trade market for young goalies usually looks like, that was always going to be unlikely.
With him and Shesterkin in the mix, a franchise legend is left sitting on the bench.
So what happens next for Lundqvist?
The most intriguing option is a potential trade, either before the Feb. 24 trade deadline or in the offseason.
Lundqvist holds all of the cards in such a discussion and can dictate where — and if — he gets traded. At 37 he is not the player he was in his prime when he was one of the league’s elite goalies, but he has still performed at a better than league-average level the past two seasons while playing behind what has been at times a porous defense. A contender in need of a goalie could find a use for him, while also giving Lundqvist an opportunity to complete his resume with the final remaining honor he needs — a Stanley Cup.
Lundqvist loves being a Ranger and has always had a desire to play his entire career with the team, but he did open the door for a possible move this past spring when he admitted to a Swedish publication that it’s possible he could end up playing for another team.
As harsh as it is to say, the Rangers aren’t in a position where they can put loyalty over the good of the team. While neither Shesterkin or Georgiev is a proven commodity at this point, it stands to reason that one of them — or perhaps both — will be the focal point of the next Rangers team that competes for a Stanley Cup.
While it’s certainly possible that Lundqvist could return next season and wrestle playing time away from the two young goalies and regain his starting job (maybe one or both falters? Maybe Lundqvist still has one more big year left?), that seems to be unlikely given the current direction.
It could also create a situation where instead of a trade, the Rangers and Lundqvist agree to a buyout of the final year of his contract (as suggested by the Post’s Larry Brooks about a week ago), making a clean break and allowing Lundqvist to become a free agent.
The other option: Lundqvist decides this is it, rides out the remainder of the season as a third-string goalie that gets an occasional start here and there and simply retires. But that is not exactly the way you want to see the best goalie of his era go out.
It’s going to be interesting to see what path this all takes, but either way it is pretty clear that barring injury to one of the young goalies we are probably not going to see many more appearances for Lundqvist in a Rangers sweater.