Thinking the unthinkable: Trading Henrik Lundqvist
Let’s start this article out by saying how much I love Henrik Lundqvist and how I really do not want him to be traded. If you ask anyone about the Rangers one of the first things they will talk about is Hank. The now 4-time All-Star was passed over by every other team multiple times until the Rangers finally drafted him in the seventh round of the 2000 Entry Draft, 205th overall. After making his debut on October 8th, 2005 against the rival New Jersey Devils, which he lost 3-2 in overtime, he has accumulated many great accomplishments such as a gold medal for team Sweden in the 2006 Olympics and the Vezina Trophy in 2012. He’s the Rangers’ all-time leader in wins (426), shutouts (63) and playoff wins (61). He’s the first goaltender in NHL history to record 20 wins in his first 11 seasons and he’s the only goaltender in NHL history to reach 30 wins in each full season he’s played as well as currently being eighth on the all-time wins list for NHL goalies. All that being said, it still makes a lot of sense to trade him.
Hank’s Touch of Gray
The obvious reason to trade King Henrik is his age. He turns 36 in March of this year and, unfortunately for the Blueshirts, he’s not getting any younger. In the beginning of this season, it looked like he was continuing his poor play from the 2016-17 season, where he posted his worst statistical season of his career with a .910 SV% and a 2.74 GAA. Getting back to this season, it looked like the beginning of the end for our aging king, posting a 3.12 GAA and a .900 SV% in the first twelve games of the season. With the Rangers starting the season with an anemic 3-7-2 record, it looked like they were going to rebuild on the fly and the trust in Hank was all but gone.
Fortunately, Henrik has elevated his game, and by extension, his stats, getting back up to a respectable .922 SV% and a 2.61 GAA propelling the Rangers to sit just outside of playoff contention with 55 points.
I now bring up this question for you; how often do you think Hank can bail the Rangers out? He’s faced the second highest shot total in the NHL this season with 1316 (only Frederik Andersen has more with 1420). His mental fortitude is unparalleled and his confidence in his fellow teammates will never be diminished. However, due to father time creeping on him, he might not be able to produce the same way he has been in recent years. He may not be able to play three straight seven-game series in the playoffs where he has to make 30+ saves and only let up one or two goals. Eventually, he’ll start to show his age and when that happens he won’t be able to bail the Rangers out as much as his team might need.
His Frustration is Over 9000!
Nod to you if you got that reference, but you cannot disagree that he is starting to become frustrated that he hasn’t won that elusive Stanley Cup. The three years where he has come the closest were 2011-12, 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. The Rangers have made the playoffs all but one year (09-10) while Hank was in the net. The King is hungry for a Stanley Cup and you can’t argue that he doesn’t deserve one. He always gives his best and when he comes up short he always upset about it. Just like fellow countryman Lias Andersson throwing his silver medal away at World Juniors, he has the same fire in him when he doesn’t go the distance, although he didn’t throw any of the trophies that he’s won. You get the point. I believe that if the Rangers do sell at the trade deadline, and I pray to all gods imaginable that they do, that they trade Hank to a contending team either now or after the season. Just like Ray Bourque being traded to the Avalanche in 2000 and then winning the Cup in 2001, Hank deserves to go to a team who has the pieces to claim the cup but are only missing an MVP-caliber goalie to get it done.
All By Himself
Since the 2013-14 season, there are only six players not named Henrik Lundqvist that are still on the Rangers that were apart of that Stanley Cup run in 2013-14. That being said, there could be trades that cause more of that Cup team to not be part of the Rangers next season, as was written about previously on the site by Steve and Dan.
But you may be asking yourself, this is a professional sports team, aren’t the players used to having new teammates each season? Well of course they are, but is Hank ready to go through a rebuild for even one season? If this rebuild is true, then we’ll see key players and veterans moving onto other contending teams leaving Hank high and dry for one more season. Morale and chemistry can play a big role in a team’s success throughout the year, and if the Rangers are patching together a team of AHL players and new free agents next season, would Hank want to go through that with a rebuilding team or would he be better off just learning the names of new teammates for a contender?
If you don’t know who the Czar is, listen up. Igor Shestyorkin is a 22-year-old Russian born goaltender currently dominating the KHL for SKA St. Petersburg, putting up a 1.77 GAA and a .930 SV%. Drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 entry draft, the Czar is potentially the next goaltender that will be in the Rangers crease for the foreseeable future. Getting the call to play for the Russian Olympic team this year, Igor has shown his potential for NHL superstardom as being regarded as one of the top goalie prospects out there. Even though the Olympics are not going to be as competitive as in previous years, he’ll still face a great challenge against countries like the United States and Canada showcasing their best available talent.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, they’ll have to wait for the 2019-20 season to have him come over to North America since his contract with SKA isn’t up until then. Hank has had potential replacements in the past such as Cam Talbot or Antti Raanta, but the Rangers have had faith in King Henrik to provide his best and he usually does. This time though, there is a stronger, younger and possibly more talented goaltender looming in the background and waiting to make New York his new empire. It’s up to Lundqvist to decide if he wants to play second fiddle to the Czar in a few years or give up his kingdom now for a potential shot at the cup.
Can You Put a Price on Greatness?
It’s no surprise why most aging players are traded, and that is to loosen the cap hit. I’ve saved this one for last because along with the $8.5 million cap hit until the 2020-21 season, Hank has a no-movement clause. You must be asking yourself if you haven’t already; three years with that type of cap hit for an aging goaltender? What team would be stupid enough to take that kind of trade? Well, we’ve seen worse trades for worse players (Scott Gomez for Ryan McDonagh, thanks, Montreal!) and I’m sure part of his cap hit would be absorbed by the Rangers if it were to go through.
But what would the other team give up you say? To start, Raanta and Derek Stepan were traded for a first round pick (7th overall) in last years draft along with Anthony DeAngelo from the Arizona Coyotes. If the Rangers were to trade their superstar, I’m sure they could get a package very similar without giving up any other established players. Perhaps they could also trade for multiple prospects or multiple drafts picks, but for a team struggling to keep goals out of the back of the net, that’s a small price to pay for a huge upgrade in a key position. But none of this is possible because it all comes down to if Henrik really wants to stay with the Blueshirts for the remainder of his career. Ultimately it will be his decision to leave or not because Jeff Gorton, James Dolan and Alain Vigneault (hopefully he’s not around past this season) cannot trade him unless he decides to accept his new fate.
Let’s Wrap It Up, As The Kids Say
Now after writing all of this and reading it over constantly because I’m sure I made a few mistakes along the way, I’ve come to believe my own writing. Trading Lundqvist makes a lot of sense whether you look at it from a rebuilding standpoint, financially, or wanting him to finally get what he deserves by winning a Stanley Cup. But after thinking about it some more, I just know it probably will not happen. Why? What’s the main reason he stays? He loves this team. He loves the fans, and the fans love him. He’s built a life here. Eventually, he will be gone, most likely not this season or next; but he’ll retire or finally realize winning a cup with this team isn’t possible and he’ll request a trade. Hopefully, he wins a cup here, because no matter if you want him gone or need him to stay, he’s put the team on his back time and time again and he bleeds blue.
BTW: What do you mean hopefully?
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) January 29, 2018
Note: All Stats courtesy of NHL.com, CapFriendly, Hockey Reference and Eliteprospects.