Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist’s Rangers future have switched
Over the last two off-seasons and trade deadlines, Marc Staal has been the one Rangers veteran most talked about. Fans have been bemoaning his play for years now expecting him to be the same exact player during his prime years of 2010 to 2015. However, as Staal has settled into his role as a third pair defender, another Rangers veteran has become the one fans want to move. That player is none other The King himself, Henrik Lundqvist.
Marc Staal has been staple on defense for 13 seasons and vital for the Rangers young blue-line today. He has been a steadying presence for a host of greenhorns over the last 2 years including Tony DeAngelo and Adam Fox. While it is true he is not the #1 shutdown defender he used to be, Staal’s role as the longest tenured Ranger not named Lundqvist (15 seasons) has been a calming influence to the rookies and a safety valve for David Quinn.
This season Staal has averaged 17:39 of ice time in 52 games. That is almost 3 minutes less than his career average of 20:37 and a far cry from the 25:44 he recorded in his 4th year as a pro in 2010-11. He has been relegated as a third pair defender, but he unlike Lundqvist has adapted to the new role. Plus there is simply no one ready to take his place.
The 33 year old Staal like Lundqvist has one year remaining on his deal next season. When it concludes, he will be a UFA and very likely to be traded at the deadline for picks and/or prospects. Sadly, Henrik Lundqvist is more likely to be traded or bought out at the conclusion of this season (especially if the NHL allows unpenalized buyouts coming out of this postponement). That means Staal will have outlasted the King, which is something no one could have predicted.
The phrase “the writing is on the wall” is so overused in sports because it fits so well in these situations. Henrik Lundqvist, the man who has backstopped this Rangers franchise with honor and grace for the last 15 seasons is now in essence a 3rd string goalie, who was serving as an honorary backup before Igor Shesterkin fractured a rib in a car accident.
Henrik Lundqvist opened up in the wake of the NHL Trade Deadline that he wants to speak with management about his future. He was honest with the Rangers about his desire to remain through the rebuild and they were happy to have him. John Davidson called Henrik Lundqvist a pro for how he is handling a very difficult situation. The team’s President should know better than anyone having been a goalie in the NHL what this feels like. Henrik realizes that this could be the end for him in NY. When the season concludes he wants to know what his role is and if it really is a fit. Of course as he told media, is it “something else”?
While this is what I like to call educated speculation, it is just that until it happens. One possible “something else” is a buyout, but that is the least likely outcome because it only saves them $3M on the cap and comes with a penalty of over 1M the year after. The scenario most expect would be waiving his NMC and getting traded to another team for one last shot as a starter and the playoffs. The Rangers would need to eat 50% of his 8.5M to make it happen and regain $4.25M to the cap. Now if the NHL reintroduces a compliance buyout, the Rangers would almost assuredly use it on Lundqvist and gain the full cap relief.
So why is Staal going to outlast the King? The facts are both K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundkvist are not ready to make the leap to the NHL next season. Even if Miller were to magically shed all his bad defensive habits overnight, that would only remove Brendan Smith from the left side. And if Nils Lundkvist proves ready, which is more probable, that would move DeAngelo or Fox over to the left and still only impact Smith. Only the belief that both rookies can make the lineup would signal the end of Staal’s tenure with the Rangers and obviously that’s not happening.
On the flip, Henrik Lundqvist has become expendable and his contract a hinderance to signing all their RFA’s this summer. The success of phenom Igor Shesterkin and the stellar play of Alexandar Georgiev should mean that this situation and the path ahead are no surprise. A sad end for Lundqvist as a Ranger.