Here were my reactions in order after hearing Alain Vigneault was going to bench Henrik Lundqvist in favor of Cam Talbot.
3. Is this real life?
4. Are you effing nuts, AV?
Henrik Lundqvist has been the sole reason for any Rangers success in the post-lockout era with maybe the exception of his rookie season in 2005-06. Then again, the Rangers’ success that season was going to be defined by just making the playoffs for the first time in forever (or nine years) and that’s why their five-game, first-round loss to the Devils wasn’t viewed as much of a disappointment. The face of the franchise, the backbone of the organization and the one man responsible for the Rangers’ postseason drought not running into its 17th year was going to be benched for a 26-year-old rookie with seven career starts? Oh …
Benching Lundqvist wasn’t going to go over well with Lundqvist (even if he pretended like he was fine with the decision) and it wasn’t going to go over well with a fan base wondering why a first-year Rangers head coach would decide to shake things up like Coach Orion taking over for Gordon Bombay. The only way for the controversy to end would be if the Rangers were to lose when Talbot started in place of Lundqvist. So in order for everything to be righted, the Rangers would need to give up two valuable points. And that’s what happened.
But let’s live in an “if” world for a minute. What if the Rangers had won against the Jets on Monday night? Talbot would have to start in Buffalo on Thursday after winning back-to-back games as the now No. 1 goalie, which would then turn a seemingly harmless one-game break for Lundqvist in an Olympic-condensed season into a full-blown controversy. A win over the Jets would have forced the Vigneault-created crisis to take on a life of its own. What would be made of AV’s inability to manage goalies after the Roberto Luongo-Cory Schneider disaster in Vancouver? What would become of Lundqvist if Talbot were to win again in Buffalo on Thursday and consistently win? What would happen with the relationship of the new head coach and the face of the franchise? What would this do for Lundqvist’s impending free agency? Most importantly, what would become of Lundqvist’s contract negotiations and extension?
Luckily, none of that matters now and not because the Rangers lost to the Jets in their quest to never separate themselves more than one game over the .500 mark. It doesn’t matter now because Glen Sather did the one general managerial he absolutely had to do since becoming Rangers general manager in 2000: extend Henrik Lundqvist.
Lundqvist will be a Ranger next year. After signing a seven-year extension, he will be a Ranger for the next seven years. He will be a Ranger for his entire career (well, unless he is looking for some money when he’s 38 and the Rangers aren’t willing to give it to him, but that’s something we can worry about for the 2020-21 season).
A lot of people are unhappy with the years and dollars committed to the 31-year-old and the belief of paying him for what he has done over the last seven years and not what he will do over the next seven years. But it was going to take the Rangers giving Lundqvist a seventh year and it was going to take at least $8 million per season to keep him in New York with the free-agent market waiting and teams with better futures and more realistic Cup-winning chances ready to break the bank. So if you wanted Lundqvist to retire as a Ranger and one day watch him raise his Number 30 in MSG then that means you were fine with what it wound up costing. And if you wanted Lundqvist to stay, but at a lesser price, then you never really wanted him to stay or at least were fine with him leaving.
Sure, there’s a very good chance and pretty much a certainty that the 37- and 38-year-old Lundqvist won’t be posting the 1.97 GAA that the 29-year-old Lundqvist did or the 11 shutouts that the 28-year-old Lundqvist did. But right now this Rangers team (and by “this Rangers team” I mean the 2014-15, 2016-17, and so on teams because he is already on and under contract with the current Rangers team) needs Lundqvist. They can’t worry about what his level of play will be like in 2019-20 and 2020-21. This June it will be 20 years since the Rangers won the Stanley Cup and without Lundqvist the chances of that drought ending in the near future weren’t going to improve. In the spirit of Christmas, let’s borrow the Ghost of Rangers past to show how every post-Cup Rangers season has ended.
1994-95: Lost second round
1995-96: Lost second round
1996-97: Lost conference finals
1997-98: Missed playoffs
1998-99: Missed playoffs
1999-00: Missed playoffs
2000-01: Missed playoffs
2001-02: Missed playoffs
2002-03: Missed playoffs
2003-04: Missed playoffs
2005-06: Lost first round
2006-07: Lost second round
2007-08: Lost second round
2008-09: Lost first round
2009-10: Missed playoffs
2010-11: Lost first round
2011-12: Lost conference finals
2012-13: Lost second round
Still worried about and want to complain about having a 36-, 37- and 38-year-old Lundqvist? Does anyone really want to complain about having the best goalie in the world in 2014-15 because of what he might be in five-plus years?
The biggest knock on Lundqvist during his career has been his “inability” to lead the Rangers to the Cup or even the Stanley Cup Final, which is a comical knock since one person isn’t going to lead any team to the Cup by single-handedly winning four seven-game series against only the best teams in the league. Once the 83rd game of the season starts everyone seems to forget that Lundqvist is actually the one mostly responsible for getting the Rangers to that 83rd game and the “What have you done for me lately?” crowd takes over. The same crowd that booed Marian Gaborik because he didn’t want to use 40-goal scoring body as a shot-blocking pylon for John Tortorella and muck it up in the corners like a fourth-line grinder. The same crowd that jumps on their seat and causes chaos in the aisles over free T-shirts during TV timeouts. But here’s something that crowd probably doesn’t know or doesn’t care enough to know.
The Rangers have reached the postseason in four of the last five years. In that time, they are 19-25 in the playoffs, which means Lundqvist is 19-25 in the playoffs over that time. In those 25 playoff losses, the Rangers have scored 36 goals or 1.44 goals per game. Here is the breakdown by goals scored in the losses and how many times they scored each amount of goals:
0 goals: 5
1 goal: 9
2 goals: 8
3 goals: 3
4 or more goals: 0
That’s 14 playoff losses when the Rangers couldn’t score more than one goal and 22 when they couldn’t score more than two.
No, Lundqvist’s career will never be complete without winning it all. He knows that. That’s why the thought of going to the open market and a better place caused these negotiations to drag on through the first two-plus months of the season. He knows that when it comes time to raise his Number 30 that if it he must do so without his name on the Cup, it will as empty as buying a brand new house, but being unable to furnish it.
The Rangers and their fans need new memories. The 1993-94 season was two decades ago and the team, the Garden and the MSG Network have exhausted every possible perspective to recapture and remember the Cup run. The first step in trying to create those memories has always been locking up Henrik Lundqvist.