When the New York Rangers were eliminated in the Stanley Cup playoffs, many thought that this was the last time we would see Henrik Lundqvist in a Rangers uniform. Conventional wisdom dictates that the Rangers would not keep three goaltenders on the active roster when the 2020-21 season commences.
However, we all know that we live in a time where conventional wisdom does not always apply.
That was evident when Igor Shesterkin was deemed “unfit to play” for the first two games of the playoffs, which allowed Henrik Lundqvist to start and play fairly well. While it was not the Lundqvist we had seen in the past or had hoped to see, either he or Shesterkin were the major factors in the Blueshirts exit in three games.
You will be hearing the words “unfit to play” quite a bit in the coming months, thanks to COVID-19. The NHL already allows teams to be cryptic about what that term means. Nowadays, it could mean an injury or a positive test for coronavirus, something that many were wondering what it meant for Shesterkin until it was later revealed he had a groin injury.
If you think the pesky coronavirus is going to go away soon, you are mistaken. While hopes of a vaccine reaching people in the next couple of months are possible, it is unlikely that it will make everything go away by the time the NHL hopes to start their next season around Dec. 1. That season may or may not be or start in a bubble.
This is why there are whispers that the NHL might rework their roster rules next year, allowing for more flexibility to help teams deal with the added concern of COVID-19. It seems to be working for the MLB and allowing players to back-and-forth to Hartford might be enough to give Alexandar Georgiev enough work to keep him sharp in case he is needed, or if Lundqvist decides to retire at the end of next season, join the expected Shesterkin-Georgiev tandem for 2021-22.
The Rangers would be wise to keep the King around. His leadership for such a talented young team would be of immense value. His teammates know it as well. “Consummate professional,” Chris Kreider said of Lundqvist after the Rangers were eliminated. “Unbelievable human being. Unbelievable competitor. The kind guy you want to be in the trenches with. Wants to win more than anyone I’ve ever met. I mean, it’s been an absolute honor and a pleasure to get to know him as a person and as a teammate. To play with him as long as I have and to see how he goes about his business on a daily basis, I have the utmost respect for Hank as a person and as a player.
The monkey wrench in all of this is the King’s contract, which will carry an $8.5 million salary-cap hit.
The second issue is, does Lundqvist really want to stay in New York and be a back-up?
Being the classy individual he is, Lundqvist does not generally air his laundry out in public, so we have no way of knowing what his feelings on this subject are. There had been some speculation that he may want to go back to Sweden and play with his brother Joel, on the Frolunda team where he started his wonderful career.
But we have a post-COVID wrinkle in the NHL timetable for buyouts. Under normal circumstances, an NHL player would be bought out and then have time to decide whether to sign in Europe. Not anymore. The NHL buyout period will be held after the Swedish Hockey League season begins.
Lundqvist could retire, but he would give up over $5 million dollars owed to him.
There are many things that could happen between now, the buyout period, and the targeted start of the season, as well as possible tweaks in roster rules. That is why the New York Rangers would be wise to at least give consideration to keeping three goaltenders, and allow one of New York’s marquee sports figures the exit he deserves.