Biggest Concern Next Season: Goaltending
Since the lockout, Henrik Lundqvist has been the backbone of the New York Rangers, and main ingredient into their semi-resurgence since 2006.
He's the first goaltender in NHL history to record 30-plus wins in his first five seasons. He led Sweeden to a Gold Medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics. He's done it all, except get past the second-round in the playoffs.
A big reason is the Rangers' inability to give Lundqvist substantial rest down the stretch. Each year, the Rangers seem to have to win every game after Valentine's Day to make the playoffs, and thus must rely on The King to play 95 percent of those games.
Having a bonafide backup with NHL experience to step in and play 20 games for the Rangers will do wonders for not only Lundqvist once the playoffs come, it will also take pressure off of him during the early-to-mid months of the season.
Since the 2006-07 season, Lundqvist has appeared in no less than 70 games, with a career high last season — an Olympic year — 73 appearances.
There are a few backup goalies on the market this season who won't hurt the wallet, and will help ease the strain on Lundqvist, who has stated that down the stretch, his knees begin to go.
The first choice is Johan Hedberg, who has accepted the role of backup the last few seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers. He registered 21 wins last year in 47 games, with a .915 save percentage.
Obviously, Hedberg won't be seeing 47 games. If you give him 20 games, you should hope for maybe 10 wins. The downside is that he is up in age at 36, which for a goaltender other than Martin Brodeur, is a gamble.
Also available is Martin Biron. He's had a solid NHL career, which began when he was just 18-years-old. Like Hedberg, he's settled into the role of backup, which eliminates any problems that may happen when a starter is asked to become the backup.
At 32, he's younger than Hedberg, but is coming off a very bad season with the Islanders, in which he and Dwayne Roloson fought over the starting position.
I'm always a little hesitant to sign a former Islander or Devil, but for a cheap price, I'd give Biron a chance.
The last solid backup available for the Rangers is Patrick Lalime, who has seen his career and number decline over the last few seasons. Last season with the Buffalo Sabres, he won only four of his 16 games, which is about the same number he'd see in New York.
The positive with him, though, is that he's spent the last two seasons as the backup for Ryan Miller, who is on the same level as Lundqvist. He should be able to adjust to the role with the Rangers with little problem.
Of course, the Rangers may choose to promote Matt Zaba or Chad Johnson from Hartford to the Rangers, or re-signing Alex Auld.
Zaba and Johnson are still unproven, and therefore, coach John Tortorella may not be willing to start them in a big game in March or April.
Auld on the other hand, has already been shown that he isn't trusted by Tortorella, appearing in only three games last season after being picked up off waivers on February 27.
Whoever general manager Glen Sather and the Rangers choose, there is no disputing that Lundqvist can continue to play up to 70 games a season without burning out a bit come the playoffs- if they can make it.
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