As we all know, Henrik Lundqvist is one of the most prolific goaltenders to have played in the history of the NHL. He has become a fan-favorite during the last 15 years while playing in the world’s most famous arena. There’s no question that he is the face of the New York Rangers’ franchise and has been one of the key pieces to the team’s past success when they were making deep playoff runs several years ago.
Unfortunately, the times have dramatically changed for King Henrik and his reign as New York’s primary netminder. His numbers have taken a sharp decline in recent years causing fans from all over to question, how much longer will Lundqvist be the main man?
To put things into perspective, let’s take a quick scan through Henrik’s numbers so far from the 2019-20 regular season. In 30 games played, he currently possesses a 10-12-3 record with a 3.16 goals-against average and 0905 save percentage. That is a far cry from what so many of us have grown accustomed to seeing in the past. In the first 10 seasons of his career, The King would easily bang out 30 wins per campaign, and never have a GAA that would hang over 2.45. Now he would be lucky to save at least 90 percent of the shots he faces during a full regular season.
It’s also worth noting how his usage has significantly deflated in recent memory as well. Lundqvist has been the workhorse between the pipes for the vast majority of his career as he has averaged about 61 starts per season up until 2018. During the 2018-19 regular season, Lundqvist was only plugged into the starter’s role just 52 times. It was the lowest number of starts he had in a single season since 2014-15 when he missed a large portion of that year with an injury. It was becoming increasingly obvious that Lundqvist’s era as the No. 1 goalie was in its twilight days.
New Blood in the Crease
2018-19 marked the beginning of a new regime for the Rangers’ goalie situation. Roughly around that time, the team had announced they were going to undergo a rebuilding phase and make some major changes to their roster which included their netminders.
It was imperative for them to focus on their future goaltending prospects as Lundqvist was beginning to show signs of decline in his playing ability. The Rangers weren’t going anywhere in 2018-19 and they decided to give some extra work to youngster Alexandar Georgiev to prepare for the future. It was not a bad move by the organization as they needed to look ahead for their future success. This was only a small taste of what was to come for the current season we are in now.
The Rangers proceeded to roll with a committee goalie crew which consisted of both Lundqvist and Georgiev alternating between starts every few nights. While coach David Quinn was doing his best to give an even amount of playing time between his two starting netminders, it wasn’t yielding the results he and the organization desired. Lundqvist was not playing up to par and lost games more than he won.
The Rangers as a whole were barely clinging on to playoff contention in the standings and they looked like legit sellers for the late-February trade deadline. A little after the new year, they decided to make the move and call up rookie phenom Igor Shesterkin from Hartford to inject some talent in the crease.
Shesterkin did not disappoint as he stormed the league with his dominant style of play. The Rangers were hoping he would be the real deal and he certainly has shown that in the small sample of games we have seen so far. He played so well when called up that Quinn decided to go with the hot-hand philosophy and ride Shesterkin as his main netminder.
As a result, it left Lundqvist and Georgiev to compete for the No. 2 spot of the roster. Georgiev had been the better goalie over Lundqvist for the majority of the season prior to Shesterkin’s call-up so it didn’t come as much of a shock that the King was the third wheel in the trio.
Shortly after the Rangers had called up Shesterkin, they began winning games on a more consistent basis. They started to climb the ladder in the Eastern Conference standings and suddenly found themselves in contention for a playoff berth. As it currently stands, New York finds itself sitting just two points back from a wild card spot with 12 games remaining in the regular season.
It has been quite a turnaround and there’s a lot of positives to take away from what they have been able to accomplish up to this point. Unfortunately, Lundqvist has been virtually nonexistent during their recent success which poses the question of what will the Rangers do moving forward regardless if they make the playoffs or not?
The King Isn’t Pleased
Since Feb. 3, Lundqvist has only started in one game which is very uncharacteristic from what has been the norm in his career. He also didn’t look sharp at all in that contest which came on Mar. 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers as he allowed 5 goals on 26 shots faced. He also recently turned 38 years old and has lost some of his skills over the last few years. It’s only natural as this happens with all great athletes in any sport. Lundqvist is obviously not happy with how he’s being used, but he isn’t going to get in the way with the team’s aspirations of a playoff chase.
Lundqvist has expressed his displeasure with the lack of usage and wants to discuss things with the organization about his future moving forward during the offseason. He definitely believes he still has what it takes to be the No. 1 goalie, but the Rangers appear to have other ideas. They are focused on moving in the youth direction and Lundqvist does not fit that mold anymore. It makes some of us wonder whether or not he will request a trade out of New York and seek greener pastures. The only problem is the fact that Lundqvist’s demand on the market is most likely not very high due to his decline in skill.
Potential Paths Lundqvist Can Take
Maybe Lundqvist would be better suited as a mentor where he can help teach Shesterkin and Georgiev as they continue to develop their professional careers. It may not be what he wants, but he is most likely not going to be used as the primary goalie on any professional roster at this stage of his career. It’s time for Lundqvist to accept that “Father Time” has finally caught up to him and he must pass the gauntlet on to the next goalie waiting in the pipeline for the Rangers.
It’s sad to see Lundqvist’s reign as the king of New York nearing the end, but all good things are not meant to last forever. His 459 career wins rank him sixth among all goalies to have ever played the game in the history of the NHL. He’s a one-time Vezina Trophy winner (2012) and practically stood on his head in Game 6 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens to get the Blueshirts to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1994. Whatever Lundqvist decides to do after this season, he will always be regarded as one of the greatest goalies to have ever played the game.
If he demands to be traded with the hopes of leading a team to a Cup then there should be no hard feelings because he certainly deserves a championship on his professional resume. If he decides to retire because no teams are truly interested in him for a trade, then we as fans should not hold anything against him either. As a long-time Rangers fan, I would love to see Lundqvist retire with the club that had drafted him.
It’s ultimately his life though and we need to respect his decision no matter how much some of us may disagree. It will certainly be interesting to see how these talks between him and the organization go during the upcoming offseason. Only time will tell what transpires and hopefully, he’s happy with whichever path he decides to go down.