If you were one of the imaginative fans who believed any discussion of a “goalie controversy” for the New York Rangers, then let this settle the issue for you once and for all. Henrik Lundqvist has signed a seven-year, $59.5 million contract extension to stay in Broadway Blue through the age of 39, and quite likely the end of his career.
Signing “The King” to a contract extension — even one which makes him the highest paid goalie in the league, with an average annual salary of $8.5 million which is $1 million more than the next highest paid goaltender, Tuukka Rask — was the only move for the Rangers, and it’s right one, too.
That’s true even as Lundqvist has had a sub-par start to the season, posting a .917 save percentage and 2.51 GAA through 20 appearances, with an 8-11 record as of December 4. This has been juxtaposed with the surprising play of rookie netminder Cam Talbot, who has gone 6-2 with a .934 save percentage and 1.79 GAA.
Meanwhile, there have been murmurs that the new equipment restrictions have hampered the 31-year-old Lundqvist, rumors that the unresolved contract and potential free agency had The King off his game, and even talk that Lundqvist was distracted by the looming 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he’ll be looking to lead the Swedish team to another gold medal.
That said, there never was a goalie controversy, and it was preposterous for anybody to even consider the notion. King Henrik has not only been the best player for the Rangers since he became the team’s goalie in the fall of 2005, he has indeed been the Rangers, carrying the club on his shoulder (pads) as a Vezina Trophy winner, and five-time finalist in eight seasons.
He’s been named the team’s MVP in seven of his eight years, and has won 30 or more games in every full season he’s played. He’s already second on the all-time Rangers wins and shutouts list, he’s amongst the active leaders in the NHL for all important goaltending statistics, and he’s a clutch performer in the playoffs. He’s also exceedingly comfortable in the limelight of Manhattan and Madison Square Garden, and the pressure cooker environment which New York City creates for all of its big-time athletes.
Lundqvist certainly hasn’t been at his absolute best this season, but a hot five or 10 game stretch fixes that perception, and his numbers, right up. A porous defense at the start of the year and a few nagging injuries account for much more of his purported struggles than anything else.
As for Cam Talbot, having a second quality goaltender — and that’s if he manages to continue living up to the early expectations he has now created for himself — on the roster does nothing but help the Rangers. If Talbot is playing well, then Lundqvist gets some much needed R&R during the season, keeping his minutes and appearances down so that he’s fresh for the playoffs. That’s particularly crucial in a year like this one, where Lundqvist will be logging extra time on Olympic ice.
As a rookie, serving as an understudy to one of the all-time goalie greats for a few seasons shouldn’t be too harsh an ordeal for Talbot. If he continues his strong play as a backup, another team will eventually seek him out, make a deal and scoop him up, and the Rangers will improve the club with his trade value.
Alternatively, if age and wear and tear begin slowing Lundqvist down earlier than expected, a concern with that lengthy contract, then Talbot could conceivably see more ice time in the future if need be. Either way, it’s a win-win for the Rangers
The falsely drummed up goalie controversy was about as weak and incorrect of a story as you could imagine for the Rangers. Signing Lundqvist to a new deal, even if it does end up being too long, was the only move for the Broadway Blueshirts, the obvious choice, and the team’s best chance at bringing back another Stanley Cup in the near future.
*This article was first published on Yahoo Sports on December 4, 2013