Alexander Georgiev

What is Henrik Lundqvist’s future with Rangers?

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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.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Can Rangers make the right moves with three goalies?

Rangers three goalies Lundqvist Georgiev Shesterkin
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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.

Henrik Lundqvist

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: First place Coyotes; Zuccarello leads Wild to another win

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Three Stars

1. Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild. After a pretty miserable start to the season the Wild are starting to get back on track and picked up their fifth win in a row on Thursday by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-4. Zuccarello was the big star for the Wild with three points (his first three-point game of the season) including the game-winner in the third period. His goal came just eight seconds after Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn had tied the game. Things looked bleak for the Wild’s playoff chances in the first month of the season, but their win on Thursday moved them — at least temporarily — into the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.

2. Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes. And which team sits on top of the Pacific Division after Thursday’s action? It is none other than the Arizona Coyotes thanks to their 3-1 win in Philadelphia. They have been road warriors this season and now own a 10-3-3 record over their first 16 away games. They used a two-goal effort from Kessel — as well as another great goaltending performance — on Thursday to get their latest win. Kessel has yet to make the big offensive impact the Coyotes were hoping for this season, but he tends to score goals in bunches and maybe this is the start of one of those runs. Arizona is back in action on Friday when Kessel makes his first return to Pittsburgh since the Penguins traded him over the summer.

3. Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers. Artemi Panarin scored the game-winning goal in his return to Columbus, but the biggest difference maker for the Rangers in their 3-2 win was their goalie. Georgiev was sensational, stopping 45 out of 47 shots in helping to steal one for the blue shirts. Read all about that game here.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Petr Mrazek had an eventful night for the Carolina Hurricanes in their 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks. He stopped a lot of shots, picked up a shootout win, and got punched in the face. Read all about it here.
  • Joe Pavelski scored the overtime winner for the Dallas Stars in their 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks let a 3-0 third period lead slip away in Boston against the Bruins, but Jonathan Toews bailed them out in overtime with the game-winning goal.
  • Milan Lucic was finally able to get his first goal of the season for the Calgary Flames. It turned out to be the game-winning goal in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Matt Calvert had a goal and an assist for the Colorado Avalanche in their 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Highlights of the Night

The Wild looked like the Harlem Globetrotters and the Lightning looked like the Washington Generals on this Jason Zucker goal.

The Colorado Avalanche have their top line back together, and Gabriel Landeskog wasted no time in making an impact in his return to the lineup.

Maybe this is the shot that gets Johnny Gaudreau rolling for the Calgary Flames.

Blooper of the Night

Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk accidentally hip-checked a referee in their 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Factoids

  • It was a highly competitive night around the league with eight of the nine games being decided by a single goal, including four overtime games. The only game decided by more than one goal was Arizona’s 3-1 win over Philadelphia, and even that was a one-goal game until a late empty-net goal from Kessel. [NHL PR]
  • Thanks to Ryan Pulock‘s overtime goal the New York Islanders extended their point streak on home ice to 12 games. [NHL PR]
  • Jonathan Toews’ overtime goal in Boston was the 14th of his career in the regular season, moving him into a tie for 10th place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]

Scores

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Boston Bruins 3 (OT)
Colorado Avalanche 3, Montreal Canadiens 2
Minnesota Wild 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 4
New York Islanders 3, Vegas Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Arizona Coyotes 3, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Carolina Hurricanes 3, San Jose Sharks 2 (SO)
New York Rangers 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2
Dallas Stars 3, Winnipeg Jets 2 (OT)
Calgary Flames 4, Buffalo Sabres 3

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Panarin scores in return to Columbus, helps Rangers steal one

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Artemi Panarin was back in Columbus on Thursday night for the first time since leaving the Blue Jackets to join the New York Rangers in free agency this past summer.

After hearing some early boos from the local crowd, Panarin ended up getting the last laugh and was the difference maker by scoring the game-winning goal in the third period of the Rangers’ 3-2 win.

Panarin was the Blue Jackets’ best player for two years and one of the biggest reasons they made the playoffs both years, finally winning their first playoff series a year ago when they upset the heavily favorite Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 1.

This is the video tribute the Blue Jackets had prepared for Panarin on Thursday.

So far his time with the Rangers has been everything the team’s management could have hoped for, and with his goal on Thursday is now up to 13 goals and 34 points on the season in his first 27 games.

What has to be especially frustrating for the Blue Jackets in this one isn’t just the fact that Panarin came back to haunt them by scoring the game-winning goal, but they were probably the better team in this game and played well enough to win. They ended up dominating the pace of the game and outshot the Rangers by a 47-19 margin and spent the entire night taking up residence in the Rangers’ end of the rink.

The problem was Alexander Georgiev was a rock in the Rangers’ net.

They also gave up a crushing goal to Brendan Lemieux in the closing seconds of the first period, erasing what had been a 1-0 lead and squandering what was a tremendous start to the game.

The win allowed the Rangers to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race and leaves them just three points back of a Wild Card spot.

The Blue Jackets fall to 11-13-4 and are already eight points back.

Related: Rangers’ Panarin returns to Columbus the way he left: as a superstar

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

PHT Power Rankings: Breakout candidates for 2019-20 NHL season

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In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a look at 10 potential breakout candidates for the 2019-20 NHL season.

We are looking for young players who have already made their NHL debut (so no Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko) and could be on the verge of taking a big step toward stardom.

Who makes the cut? Let’s find out. To the rankings!

1. Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes. He is one of just eight players since the start of the 2000-01 season to score at least 20 goals as an 18-year-old in the NHL. The previous seven (Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jordan Staal, Nathan MacKinnon, Steven Stamkos, Jeff Skinner, and Patrik Laine) scored an average of 31 goals in year two. With his talent and rocket shot don’t be surprised if Svechnikov tops the 30-goal mark and becomes a top-line player for the Hurricanes.

2. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche are loaded with young talent and with the offseason trade of Tyson Barrie are going to be relying on a lot of youth on defense. Makar made his NHL debut in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and never really looked out of place, showing the type of skill and potential that could make him a Calder Trophy favorite entering the 2019-20 season.

3. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers. Flyers fans have reason to believe their long-time goaltending headache could finally be going away. Hart finished with a .917 save percentage as a 20-year-old and is going to enter the season as the team’s starter. He could be a franchise-changing player.

4. Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils. Not every No. 1 pick is going to enter the NHL and immediately become a superstar. Sometimes it takes a couple of years. Hischier has been really good his first two years in the league and probably still has another level he can reach, and with the Devils adding some impact talent to their roster this offseason he should have a little more help in getting there.

5. Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks. There is an argument to be made that Labanc already had his “breakout” season this past year (17 goals, 56 assists) but it might still yet be ahead of him. He not only should get a bigger role this season for the Sharks but he also kind of bet on himself to have a big year with a one-year, $1 million contract. He has talent, he is already productive, and he has a lot to play for.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

6. Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning. Ton of talent, potential and already productive at a young age. He just turned 21 and has already played 150 games and has averaged 0.36 points per game. Only six other active defenders have had a similar start to their careers: Drew Doughty, Zach Werenski, Morgan Rielly, Aaron Ekblad, Tyler Myers and Cam Fowler. Hopefully for the Lightning’s sake he follows the path of the first four.

7. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal Canadiens. There was a lot to like about Kotkaniemi’s rookie season. Not only did he produce at a respectable level for a teenager, but he also posted dominant possession numbers (57 percent Corsi) that were among the league’s best. Was it a sheltered role? Sure it was, he was an 18-year-old rookie. But there is still something to be said for a player that age stepping right into the NHL and holding his own the way he did.

8. Robert Thomas, St. Louis Blues. A first-round pick by the Blues in 2017, Thomas has been a highly anticipated prospect in the Blues organization and, in making the jump from the OHL straight to the NHL, made a strong first impression for the Stanley Cup champions. Great talent and likely to be a core building block for the Blues in the coming seasons.

9. Henri Jokiharju, Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have added a lot of talent to their blue line over the past two years, drafting Rasmus Dahlin No. 1 overall in 2018 and then acquiring Colin Miller and Jokiharju. Jokiharju is definitely the more intriguing out of the latter two because he is still only 20 years old, was a first-round pick just a couple of years ago, and looked really good at times in the first half of the 2018-19 season for the Chicago Blackhawks. He never seemed to get the trust of new coach Jeremy Colliton and was eventually traded this summer for Alex Nylander. If he reaches his potential in Buffalo the Sabres might finally have the start of a playoff caliber defense.

10. Devon Toews, New York Islanders. Toews is an interesting one because he is the oldest player on this list (25) and only has 56 games of NHL experience (regular season and playoffs combined) on his resume. It took him a few years to get his first look with the Islanders, but he absolutely made the most of it and looked more impressive with each game.

Honorable mentionsRyan Donato, Minnesota Wild; Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes; Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars; Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers; Samuel Girard, Colorado Avalanche; David Rittich, Calgary Flames; Nolan Patrick, Philadelphia Flyers; Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings.

MORE: Top regression candidates for 2019-20 NHL season

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.