A Realistic Workload For Henrik Lundqvist
On Thursday evening, October 3rd, 2019, at Madison Square Garden, the World’s Most Famous Arena, the puck will drop on the New York Rangers 2019-20 season. Henrik Lundqvist, along with the rest of his teammates, will be announced, en masse, to the waiting and adoring Garden crowd. This will be Lundqvist’s 15th consecutive home opener donning that beautiful blue sweater with the diagonal team name across the torso. I have been fortunate enough to be in attendance for all 15 of Lundqvist’s introductions and I have been to every Ranger home opening night since 1992 overall.
New and Improved
The Ranger hierarchy did a masterful job upgrading key pieces of the roster during, what will surely go down as one the best and most important off-seasons in team history. Added to the forward core are prized free agent signing Artemi Panarin and the second overall selection in June’s draft, the Finnish man-child, Kaapo Kakko. Blue-line acquisitions Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox will undoubtedly, significantly, boost the skill level of the weakest link of last year’s team.
The only status quo area of the group is the goaltenders. While the wunderkind import from Russia Igor Shesterkin learns and assimilates to the North American style of hockey in Hartford, Lundqvist and his more-than-capable understudy, Alexandar Georgiev, will assumingly hold down the fort until “The Czar” is deemed ready to join the big club and assume the proverbial throne.
A polarizing figure?
Somehow, some way, for reasons I simply cannot understand or fathom, Henrik Lundqvist has become one of the more polarizing sports figures in New York, Hearing and reading, venom, vitriol and immature school yard epithets hurled at Lundqvist from Ranger hating fans is something that members of the Garden Faithful have become accustomed to. However, when those insults start coming from increasingly growing sects of Rangerstown, well, it defies the laws of logic and the pillars of common sense.
The success of the 2019-20 New York Rangers will be determined, in part, on the play of the goaltenders. It would certainly behoove all of Ranger Nation to get behind either masked man regardless of what the name plate on the back of his jersey says. In the view of your’s truly, the talent level and overall roster depth has been increased enough to make the Rangers a playoff caliber team. There is no reason for another February roster purge as the trade deadline approaches. The Blueshirts should still be playing meaningful hockey once the first day of Spring arrives in March.
Head coach David Quinn and renown goalie coach Benoit Allaire get paid the big bucks to make the big decisions. Since the team’s playoff chances will assuredly be predicated on the play of the goalies, the respective work loads of Lundqvist and Georgiev should be closely monitored. In each of the last two seasons, Henrik Lundqvist’s stellar early season play notched him All Star game selections. However, his level of play would significantly dip in the second halves leaving Ranger fans wondering, legitimately, if “The King” would abdicate his crown sooner rather than later.
It is absolutely crucial that Quinn and Allaire find that happy medium that keeps both goaltenders sharp and at the same time, make sure neither gets rusty from prolonged inactivity. The days of Lundqvist starting north of 60 games are over. Heck, even 50 starts could be pushing the limits of quality play at this point of Henrik’s Hall of Fame career. As long as Georgiev continues to demonstrate that he can not only compete, but win on the NHL level, there is no reason to overplay Lundqvist in the season’s embryonic stage as was the case in the last two campaigns.
I am not advocating for a strict alternate goalie rotation ala Mike Richer and John Vanbiesbrouck during the 1991-92 season. The late Roger Nielson simply rotated his veteran and neophyte goalies regardless of how each were playing and who the opponent may have been. I did not agree with Nielson’s method at that time and I hope Quinn does not go that route. But, Lundqvist’s work load must be greatly diminished compared to prior seasons and people a heck of a lot smarter than me would need to figure out the exact parameters as to how often each goalie will get the starting nod.
The reality is this: In all likelihood, October 3rd will be Lundqvist’s penultimate opening night introduction as a member of the only NHL team he’s ever known. I implore the Garden Faithful to give him the respect and ovation that he deserves. I equally insist that the coaching staff does what is best for the team as a whole moving forward and find the right combination of playing time and rest for the most important position on the roster. The Ranger playoff hopes could depend on it.