Henrik Lundqvist's New Contract Is Questionable, but the Rangers Had No Choice

Dave LozoNHL National Lead WriterDecember 4, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 21:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers looks on against the Boston Bruins in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 21, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It's good to be The King.

The situation dragged for longer than either side would have liked, but the New York Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist agreed Wednesday to a seven-year, $59.5 million contract extension that will begin next season, according to a report from TSN.

The Rangers are expected to make the deal official in a noon EST announcement. 

It’s a questionable term and dollar amount for a 31-year-old who is in the midst of his worst season since 2008-09 and will be 39 when the contract expires. But it’s also the type of deal he would have received if he had reached the open market in July, and the $8.5 million cap hit won’t be as extreme with the salary cap rising in the coming years.

The Rangers have two key UFAs to sign after the season -- captain Ryan Callahan and defenseman Dan Girardi. James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail projects the cap to rise from $64.3 million to about $68 million next season. The Rangers will have plenty of room to sign Callahan and Girardi and if there is a cap crunch, an amnesty buyout of Brad Richards is an option.

At the team's press conference in Greenburgh, N.Y., GM Glen Sather said signing Lundqvist was his top priority and he believes projections of a rising cap are accurate. From Andrew Gross of The Record:

“You need to have a bird in hand before you can count on anything,” Sather said. “Projections are for the accounting people, whether they’re accurate. I think it will be in this case. If he had gone somewhere else, I’m sure he would have earned more money.”

That doesn’t make hitching your wagon to a goaltender who established himself as the best in the league while playing in a goaltender-friendly system the team no longer employs any less dubious.

During his four full seasons playing for coach John Tortorella, who demands compulsive shot-blocking and strict attention to defense, Lundqvist posted his best numbers in the NHL. Lundqvist had a goals-against average of 2.17, a save percentage of .925 and won his only Vezina Trophy in 2012 during that time.

Lundqvist was always a very good goaltender before Tortorella arrived in New York, as evidenced by his being a finalist for the Vezina three times. But Lundqvist went from very good to the best with the fiery coach who was fired after the 2013 season.

Here’s a look at Lundqvist’s season-by-season, even-strength save percentage and where it ranked him among goalies that started at least half their team’s games:

2012-13 — .937 (4th)

2011-12 — .933 (4th)

2010-11 — .930 (8th)

2009-10 — .929 (4th)

2008-09 — .920 (14th)

2007-08 — .922 (13th)

2006-07 — .931 (4th)

2005-06 — .929 (5th)

Under new coach Alain Vigneault this season, Lundqvist has looked less like The King and more like The Noble Lord.

Lundqvist is 8-11-0 with a pedestrian 2.51 GAA and an above-league-average .917 save percentage this season. After playing the previous four seasons behind a team that ranked sixth, fourth, fourth and 11th in blocked shots, the Rangers rank 20th this season. 

Goaltenders With Biggest Cap Hits Starting in 2014-15
GoaltenderCurrent AgeStartFinishCap Hit
Henrik Lundqvist, NYR312014-152020-21$8.5M
Tuukka Rask, BOS262013-142020-21$7M
Pekka Rinne, NAS312012-132018-19$7M
Carey Price, MTL262012-132017-18$6.5M
Cam Ward, CAR292010-112015-16$6.3M

Even with his declining numbers, this is exactly what Lundqvist is worth right now. If Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks is worth six years and $36 million, what the Rangers are paying is plenty fair in terms of market value.

What are the Rangers other options in net if they let Lundqvist walk after this season? Current backup Cam Talbot has been a nice story this season, but he's not a franchise goaltender. The best available potential free agents include Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Miller and Jonas Hiller, but there's no guarantee their current teams won't re-sign them between now and the summer and all three carry their own long-term question marks.

Lundqvist's deal reportedly has a no-movement clause, and he's hoping that means he'll spend the rest of his career in New York.

“I really want to win a Cup here in New York, that’s what pushes me now to work harder,” Lundqvist said. “Secondly I want to be a Ranger for life. It’s a big thing that became really clear to me. It was how they treated me, from coaches to the players to the city and fans. It’s been incredible. To picture myself anywhere else, it was wrong. It was never an option. I know there was speculation over summer but, from the heart, it was never an option.”

The problem the Rangers are going to run into is the back half of the contract, when Lundqvist would play the final four years of the deal as an over-35 goaltender.

While elite forwards have a tendency to age like fine wine—a bottle of Teemu sounds like it would be crisp and refreshing—goaltenders tend to age like a block of cheese left out on a hot summer day. In the history of the NHL, only five goaltenders have posted a save percentage of .920 or higher while playing at least 60 games during an age 35 or over season

Soften the save percentage criteria a little to .915 and only 10 goaltenders in league history have been able to reach that number at age 35 or older while playing at least 60 games.

Six of those 10 seasons were put forth by three goaltenders—Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek, generally the three players at the forefront of the argument for the best of all time.

Lundqvist earned this contract. There's no question about that. But it will be how Lundqvist plays in the twilight of his career that will decide if this contract is a bargain or an anchor around the neck of the Rangers.