Is the King’s Reign Nearing Its End?
We sports fans are given great pleasure when a home-grown player from any of our respective teams turns in to a superstar. It’s a wonderful feeling to see a player get drafted, debut as an inexperienced neophyte, and slowly transform in to an All Star.
In 2000, the New York Rangers drafted an obscure goalie from Sweden named Henrik Lundqvist. He was taken in the seventh round. He was the 205th player overall to be selected. The year 2000 was smack dab in the middle of the dark ages for the Rangers and their fans. Those were the days in which this franchise could never do anything right. They missed the playoffs, misfired on draft picks and handed out some of the worst free agent contracts in sports history. Little did we know at the time that this skinny Swedish goalie taken in the seventh round, who no one ever heard of, would have been the savior of the franchise.
Henrik Lundqvist is in the discussion of the top five goalies of the last 25 years. His remarkable consistency and unparalleled competitive spirit made him the winningest goalie in NY Rangers history. He holds just about every Ranger goalie record. When he took over for the incumbent Kevin Weeks in 2005, we knew we had something special on our hands. It was the beginning of a reciprocal love affair between the man they call “Hank” and the Garden Faithful. He put this franchise on his slender shoulders. He took some really bad Ranger teams to the playoffs. He took mediocre Ranger teams on long playoff runs. He is closing in on his 400th career victory and he has a shot to notch yet another 30 win season. I could continue on listing the plethora of accolades Hank has achieved throughout his career. But, this article isn’t about his accomplishments. It’s about his seemingly rapid decline.
In 2013, Henrik signed a seven-year extension worth almost 60 million dollars. That meant that he’d be making 8.5 million dollars per year well in to his 30s. We knew that the back-end of his contract would be problematic. What do you do with a washed up goalie accounting for a large chunk of the salary cap? He’d be untradeable. You can’t cut him or send him to the minors. It was a ‘cross that bridge when we get to it’ type of scenario. I think most Rangers fans would accept this as long as he delivered us a cup. They came close in 2014 (going to the Finals) and 2015 (losing in the seventh game of the Conference Finals). But now, at the age of 34, which is not ancient for goalies, we are facing the real possibility that the decline has arrived sooner than expected.
Henrik has been pulled from the game because of poor play so many times this season that it’s become almost expected at this point. When he was yanked after giving up three soft goals to Columbus on Tuesday, we all said in unison, “Put in Raanta” and coach Vigneault obliged. Henrik looks dazed and confused out there. He looks dumbfounded each time he gives up a goal. His body language suggests that his confidence is nowhere to be found. Could this be it? Could “The King” be ready to abdicate his throne? AV has already stated that Henrik will play tonight in Buffalo. Ranger fans will watch the game as if it were a horror movie. You know, with our hands half covering our eyes waiting for the scary monster to appear. In this case, the scary monster is yet another soft goal let in by Lundqvist.
As wonderful as it is to see a home-grown player flourish in to a superstar, it is equally as difficult to see their decline. Adam Graves is my favorite Ranger. I first bought his jersey in 1991 for $35. When it was clear he had little left to give and was subsequently traded to San Jose, I was devastated. However, I realized that Gravy’s time in New York was over and it was time to move on. I have the same melancholy feelings watching Henrik. He has become just an average goalie now. You can count on one hand the games he has stolen this season. In season’s past, he stole so many games that the NYPD’s larceny division brought him in for questioning. It is painful to see the greatest Ranger goalie of all time wither and erode.
Henrik will turn 35 exactly one month from today. As stated earlier, by no means can’t a 35-year-old goalie win the cup. In 2011, Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins had arguably the single greatest year any goalie has ever had in leading the Bruins to a Stanley Cup. He was 37 at the time. The precedent is there for Henrik. He has to, somehow, recapture his mojo. He has to regain that unequalled desire that has him on the brink of being a hall of famer. Sure, the team around him has to be more sound in the defensive zone but, and Henrik would admit this, he has to significantly raise his level of play. I believe he can do it. I am not ready to throw in the towel just yet.
That day will come where Henrik will pack up his wife, kids and hair care products and return to his native Sweden. His legacy is already set in stone. His #30 will hang from the Garden rafters. He will surely make the hockey hall of fame. He re-wrote the Rangers record book for goalies. He won Olympic gold in 2006 for Sweden. The only thing missing, and it is the 400 pound gorilla, is the Stanley Cup. Will he be the Ray Bourque of goalies and win the cup elsewhere or will he be in that discussion of greatest players never to win the championship? It hurts me when he gets booed at home games. I know New York is the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately crowd but still….this man has done so much for this franchise. Help him regain his confidence. Booing him only makes him press harder and struggle more.
The Rangers do have a few top-level goalie prospects scattered throughout the world. Henrik’s successor will be either Igor Shesterkin, Adam Huska or Brandon Halverson. None of these kids are thought to be ready which means it’s Henrik or bust for at least a couple more years. We need him to be Henrik again. We need him to find his game. Ranger fans, I implore you, stop booing and start supporting. He has done so mush for us. It’s time we showed him the love and respect he deserves
Two of my biggest passions are sports and rock music. Both of which, I have many strong and at times provocative opinions on.
My favorite bands are AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Pantera, and 80s Metallica and well, I have to admit I listen to a lot of Kiss, too.
My teams are the Mets, Jets and Rangers(I know, they all suck)
I've never met a place for buffalo wings that I didn't like.
I am a customs house broker by trade but I have this yearning to express my views on a variety of topics and blogging has become a great outlet for my voice.
In the words of the immortal Bon Scott, "Lock up your daughter and lock up your wife. Lock up your back door and run for your life. The man is back in town, so don't you mess me around"