For the last few years, the New York Rangers’ goaltending situation has been well defined, but things have been different early on in 2013-14. Henrik Lundqvist was sidelined for two games with an undisclosed injury, but he returned to the crease during the Rangers’ 2-0 loss against the Montreal Canadiens.
Although Hank had a strong effort, he was not given the start on Tuesday night.
So is it fair to say that Cam Talbot is being given an opportunity to show that he is the future in goal for the Rangers?
Through three games, Talbot has two wins and one loss, and so far he has shown that he could indeed be the future in goal for the Broadway Blueshirts.
Talbot had a strong showing against the Philadelphia Flyers, and his ability to remain calm in goal allowed the Rangers to record come-from-behind wins against the Detroit Red Wings and New York Islanders.
The 26-year-old netminder usurped veteran Martin Biron to become the Rangers' backup goaltender, and so far he has shown that he is a capable goaltender who could start in place of the 2011-12 Vezina winner.
Thus far, Talbot is 2-1-0 with a 1.96 GAA and a .929 save percentage.
During the three games started, the Rangers' backup has turned aside 79 pucks, and only six have entered the net. This is a pretty great start for the "veteran" rookie, and it shows that he can be counted on.
While Lundqvist is the Blueshirts’ starter, there is no guarantee that he will be in that role a few years down the line.
Although Lundqvist is regarded as one of the league’s top netminders, Talbot has shown that he is a poised and composed backstop who is able to win games for his team.
The Rangers are in a unique situation this year because the future of Lundqvist is unknown. At the end of the season, the soon-to-be 32-year-old will need a new contract.
If Biron were still on the team, there would be more of a reason to extend Lundqvist long-term because Biron wouldn’t have been able to carry the team if Hank were to suffer an injury that sidelined him indefinitely.
In his prime, Biron was a capable netminder, but there is a reason why he retired and Talbot took his job.
Although Lundqvist is still one of the league’s best, Talbot’s play so far puts management in an interesting position. Although the sample size is small, Talbot has looked like the real deal.
He has been sound positionally, made some big saves when his team needed him to and won two games to start his NHL career. Martin Biron was a veteran netminder who never was considered a threat to steal Lundqvist’s job.
But Talbot is young, and he has a ton of upside.
The Rangers’ current backup had a solid NCAA career, and he developed his game at the AHL level with the Hartford Wolf Pack. If you had to describe Talbot with one word, the word "calm" immediately comes to mind.
Most rookies take time to adjust when they make their NHL debut, but thus far Talbot has looked cool as a cucumber while standing in the blue paint between the pipes.
It is not easy to step in and replace a netminder of Lundqvist’s stature, but Talbot has been up to the task so far. Talbot’s youth and continued growth is great for the organization, and it could play a role in how long Lundqvist’s next contract is.
There are obviously exceptions to the rule, but most goaltenders don’t have career years after age 35. Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek were great netminders, but they slowed down once they entered the “back nine” of their careers.
How long should Lundqvist's next contract be?
Lundqvist turns 32 in March.
That is something the Rangers need to take into account. The recent CBA has seen multiple teams lock up franchise players for six to seven years, but that may not be wise with Lundqvist.
He is still one of the league’s best, but how long will he remain on top of the world? Now that Talbot is the prince behind the king, Rangers’ brass may be pushing for him to get starts so they have an idea of how good Henrik’s successor is.
Obviously it is still too early to tell how good Talbot will be in the long term, but right now it appears that he is being pushed to show what he can do.
History shows that Lundqvist typically starts 75 percent of the games on the schedule, and it was very interesting to see Talbot start on Tuesday against the Islanders, especially when you look at how well Lundqvist played against the Canadiens.
The decision to play Talbot on Tuesday night paid off: The Blueshirts were victorious, and Lundqvist got a night off. So far Talbot has shown that he can be relied on, and he has started to plant some seeds in the mind of management. If Talbot plays this well the rest of the year, he could win between 15 and 20 games, and that could impact the next contract Lundqvist receives.
Ideally Lundqvist will be an elite goaltender for the next five years, but realistically he may only be elite for three years. For that reason it would make sense to offer Lundqvist a four-year extension because that would give him a chance to prove himself.
It would also give Talbot time to continue developing into a goaltender that could ultimately steal Lundqvist’s job.
For now the Rangers should enjoy having two solid goaltenders that could win games, but it is very clear that the franchise will lean more on Talbot than they would have on Martin Biron. Lundqvist will likely get his normal amount of starts for the rest of the season, but Talbot has shown that he could be the team’s future in net.
And that is a welcome sight for a team that has relied on veteran backups for the past few seasons.