Rangers GM Glen Sather has taken a lot of flak over the years – and deservedly so – for handing out contracts both imprudent and lavish. He dipped deep into the team’s well again to extend goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but this time, Sather was justified.
This was the right move. The only move, really. For the team can afford to pay Lundqvist $59 million over the next seven years. They could not have afforded letting him leave.
He is the face of the franchise, the best player on the team and the bridge between the Rangers and relevance. Without him, they’re just another team in the pack, the playoffs a possibility one year, a pipedream the next. But with him, they’ve evolved into a lock for the postseason year in and year out, and thus the Stanley Cup has become an attainable dream.
And now, the Rangers can dare to dream for seven more years. Realistically, the team’s championship window is probably closer to four or five years, considering Lundqvist, 31, won’t be the same elite player at age 37, 38. But sometimes, you have to open your wallet later to pay for greatness now, and that’s what the Rangers have smartly done here.
From a strictly financial perspective, Lundqvist’s extension – which will make him the league’s highest-paid goalie when it kicks in next season – doesn’t cripple the Rangers the way you might think. It’s a front-loaded deal, but the cap hit is a consistent $8.5 million for the duration of the contract. And with the cap expected to increase to $70 million next season, Lundqvist’s $8.5 million only accounts for 12 percent of next year’s cap.
The front-loaded structure means the Rangers owe Lundqvist $11 million next season – a whopping amount of money in today’s NHL – but a 12 percent cap hit for your team’s best player feels like a bargain. Lundqvist, after all, is well more than “12 percent responsible” for the Rangers’ success. There are some nights, like the one two weeks ago in Dallas, when Lundqvist is the only reason two points are earned.
And consider this: before Martin Biron retired, taking his $1.3 million contract with him, the Rangers had $8.175 million committed to goaltending this season, about 12.7 percent of the $64.3 million cap. Next season, assuming Cam Talbot returns as the backup, the Rangers will owe a combined $9 million to he and Lundqvist, about 12.9 percent of the $70 million cap. So even while rewarding their starter with a $1.7 million raise, the Rangers will end up spending essentially the “same amount of money” between the pipes.
Is there concern that Lundqvist might break down by the end of his contract? Sure, but by the 2019-20 season – the second to last year of Hank’s extension – the cap is supposed to expand to $100 million, meaning the team should have plenty of space to bring aboard an elite goalie if Lundqvist is no longer up to the task.
That’s assuming, of course, that such a goalie will even be available. Top-flight netminders are hard to come by, as performance is prone to heavy fluctuation. Ilya Bryzgalov won 42 games for the Coyotes in 2009-10, and found himself cut from the Flyers three years later. Pekka Rinne burst into the goaltending elite in 2010-11 with a .930 SV% and 2.12 GAA, then plummeted back down to earth last season, struggling through a sub-.500 campaign. Craig Anderson was flat-out ridiculous a year ago, losing out on the Vezina trophy only because of a mid-season injury, and has been so bad this year you have to wonder if an imposter is behind his mask.
But Lundqvist, throughout has career, has been demonstrated a Martin Brodeur-like level of consistency. He has posted a GAA above 2.4 just once, a SV% below .915 just once, and has won 35 games or more in every single one of his six full-length seasons. (In his two shortened seasons, 2005-06 and 2012-13, he set a 39-win pace.) Since the 2004-05 lockout, Henrik Lundqvist has won more games (284), recorded more shutouts (47) and made more saves (13,632) than any other goalie in the NHL. When you have a player doing these types of things, you don’t mess around in negotiations. You don’t hedge your bets, you don’t play hardball, you don’t look for leverage. You get the deal done.
Even if it might cost you later.
There’s a reason, of course, the Rangers waited as long as they did to extend their franchise player. Through October and November, Talbot was playing extremely well, making Life Without Lundqvist seem not so daunting. But just when the team expanded his role – naming him the starter in back-to-back games – Talbot faltered, surrendering four goals in a disappointing loss to the Jets on Monday. Glen Sather might deny it, but you’d be naïve to think that Lundqvist’s extension and Talbot’s meltdown weren’t related. The former came after the latter, and not by coincidence.
Because Life Without Lundqvist is pretty daunting, after all. But fear not, Rangers fans: Life Without Lundqvist is a long way off. As long as he’s playing professional hockey, he’ll be playing for the Rangers.
Long Live the King.