If you've watched any Rangers hockey within the past 15 years, you should know that the starting goaltender has been Henrik Lundqvist. However, things changed this past year with the call up of Igor Shesterkin and the emergence of Alexandar Georgiev. The Rangers employed a three goalie system once Shesterkin was called up but it was more of a two goalie rotation of Georgiev and Shesterkin, leaving Lundqvist the odd man out. Hank started 26 games this past season, but only started five games in the new year. There were two instances where he went more than two weeks without starting a game: January 11th to February 1st and February 3rd to March 1st. For a 38 year old goaltender that is way too much time off. To say that King Henrik was treated unfairly is an understatement. Many people, myself included, feel that Lundqvist deserves better, but there are also a lot of people that feel the Rangers should move on and get rid of him. Mats Zuccarello recently made comments about the situation and we wrote an article about that here. But for someone that has done so much for the organization both on and off the ice, getting rid of him is the last thing they should do. This goalie situation the Rangers have is reminiscent of the one they had in the 1990s with Mike Richter and John Vanbiesbrouck.
Photo Credit: Allsport
Vanbiesbrouck was drafted by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 1981 NHL Draft and blossomed into a Hall of Fame goaltender. Beezer played in the league for 20 years, spending 11 years with the Rangers until he was eventually moved to the Florida Panthers via the Expansion Draft in June 1993. Vanbiesbrouck won the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie in the 1985-86 season.
Photo Credit: NHL.com
Richter was a second round draft pick in 1985 and is also a Hall of Famer. He would become the main backstop for the Rangers for all 14 years of his NHL career and had his number 35 retired in 2004. He never won a Vezina Trophy but he did win the Stanley Cup in 1994. Richter held the Rangers all-time wins record of 301 until Lundqvist broke it in 2014.
Richter and Vanbiesbrouck formed a dynamic duo in the early 90s and saw a lot of success during the 1991-92 season with both goalies having winning records and save percentages over .900, helping the Rangers to win the Presidents' Trophy as the league's best team during the regular season. Vanbiesbrouck became a free agent during the offseason but was re-signed by the Rangers for two years. The following year, however, with the expansion draft looming and the Rangers only able to protect one goalie, they decided to move him before the draft rather than lose him for nothing, effectively making Richter the present and future starting goaltender. Although not entirely similar to the situation the Rangers have currently, there are definitely similarities. In the 90s the Rangers had two talented goalies, while today they have three outstanding goalies. The decision on the goalie situation happened right before the expansion draft in 1993, but a decision for the current goalie situation should take place a year from the Seattle expansion because Lundqvist has one year left on his contract. In both situations the Rangers had and have to let go of one of their stars. The question is, though, which one do they keep?
I love all three of the goalies the Rangers have now. I think they're all outstanding, but they can't keep all three of them. If the Rangers buyout Hank's contract, they'll save $3M this year but be on the hook for $1.5M next year, according to CapFriendly, but that wouldn't be the best way to end a relationship with your star goalie that carried your team for so long. When you think about it there is no best way to end a relationship with an aging player that was once the heart and soul of the team. Lundqvist wants another shot at winning the Stanley Cup, and the Rangers aren't true Cup contenders yet, so it would make sense to trade him. The hard thing would be finding a team that can take his cap hit, but they also need to be a contender that needs a starter; an example would be Colorado. But as a fan I wouldn't be able to stomach living with the fact that the Rangers traded Hank, I mean I cried when they traded Ryan Callahan. At the same time though I feel like whatever makes Lundqvist happy will make me happy. When the letter was sent out about the rebuild two years ago, Lundqvist made a decision and said that he wanted to be here and stick through the process; he gave the organization his word. And from his point of view, they turned their back on him by not letting him start. I guess what Zuccarello said was true, sadly.
On Sunday, Lundqvist made some comments on his future. "Nothing lasts forever," was the main takeaway and basically said he always believed he would play his entire career for the Rangers. You can tell he's disgruntled. "I had a certain role in the team for almost 15 years," Lundqvist said. "I knew exactly the conditions. Now it changed sharply. So I think a lot daily, almost every hour, for months. It gets pretty hard mentally." To hear Lundqvist reflect on it just makes the situation even sadder.
In my opinion, I think the Rangers should trade Georgiev. I truly believe he's going to become a great starting goalie someday, and his numbers indicate that he is indeed, but he has a lot of value, more than Lundqvist. He's only 24 years old and is a restricted free agent this offseason so he can be locked up long term or be given short term bridge deal which makes a versatile asset in terms of salary cap. The fact that he's young combined with the amount of success he has already had and the potential for more teams interested or in need of this caliber of goalie could net the Rangers a good return. Because he has to be signed his value would probably diminish but not to the point that a team would be giving up less than if they just signed him as an RFA; the Rangers would probably get a bit more than the draft pick compensation they'd receive if they don't match an offer. Although Georgiev is good I believe he is replaceable, and the Rangers have a plethora of goalies in their system both in the short and long term future.
Of all the decisions the Rangers need to make this offseason, the goalie situation is by far the most important. It is obvious that Shesterkin is viewed as the future starting goaltender but the question of who to keep needs to be answered sooner rather than later, like the Rangers did in the 90s by keeping Richter over Vanbiesbrouck. After that they need to not only hope, but know they made the right decision.