Long will live the King in New York City.
Arguably the best goalie in the NHL, Henrik Lundqvist, has signed a long-term deal to stay with the Rangers.
The final year of Lundqvist’s deal will be in 2020, at age 38, but the Blueshirts had to give their franchise player the years to ensure he would avoid free agency.
What they get in return has been a bastion of consistency.
Outside of the lockout-shortened 2013-14 season (where he had 24 wins anyway), Lundqvist had won at least 30 games in every season of his 7 year career. According to hockey-reference.com, his 2.26 career GAA ranks 10th all time. He stands 3rd in NHL history for Save Percentage, at .920 (with only Dominik Hasek and Tim Thomas ahead of him). His 47 shutouts rank 27th all-time (5th amongst active goalies).
He has struggled a bit this year in one of the slowest starts of his career. His record stands under .500, with 8 wins and 11 losses. If the season ended today, 2.51 GAA would be the worst of his career.
But many factors play into this start.
First has been the trade talks, which many assumed would distract him and will hopefully be gone now.
Second was the 3rd consecutive season-beginning long road trip. Beginning the season with 9 games on the road is taxing on any hockey player, let alone one who carries the weight of a team like Lundqvist does. Over the past month, his numbers have stabilized, with a 2.40 GAA and a much more normal SV% of .920.
Indeed, if you look at the splits, he has been the normal Hank at home. His away numbers of 3.28 GAA and .899 SV% on the road is blown out of the water by his marks at Madison Square Garden, which are 1.69 GAA and .939 SV%.
Which takes into account the third reason – a lack of goal support. Comparing the home and road records, there is barely a difference (4-6 away, 4-5 home), which shows that no matter what he does, his team just is not giving him support. Over the years this has been frustrating to Lundqvist and probably plays a part in his consistency.
The Rangers are 6th from the basement in goals, with 62 goals in 28 games – a 2.21 goals for average. Even Lundqvist has only had two seasons that would be capable of keeping up with that.
And that is the fourth and final issue: his supporting cast.
This starts with the head coach, Alain Vigneault, who was brought to New York to fix the goal-scoring problem many assumed was John Tortorella’s fault. While the PP% has improved to middle-of-the-road for the NHL, the goals in general have not. When you couple that with a system that is nowhere near as defensive-oriented as Torts’ was, it is a bad situation for any goalie.
In 2012-13, the Rangers were 6th in the league in blocked shots. That followed a 2011-12 season they were 4th, and a 2010-11 season they were also 4th. In 2013-14, they are currently 20th.
Dan Girardi, who was the league leader in blocked shots last year, only ranks 33rd this year. A change in defense strategy, along with a down year in general for the Blueshirt defense has left Henrik open for opposing offensive abuse. There is only so many times you can yell about Girardi or Michael Del Zotto not playing well, and going into games having to play your 7th defenseman, before you start to realize the toll that can take on a guy who is usually solid between the pipes.
And that situation can also be seen from Hockey Reference’s Goalie Point Shares Stat, which has Henrik Lundqvist ranked 1st in the league. He is considered more responsible for his team’s points than any other goalie in the league, according to this statistical measurement. So perhaps all the numbers are not going against him.
Which leads to the biggest numbers issue: The size and length of the contract.
As Greg Wyshynski for Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog writes, many goalies, including Martin Brodeur (the guy Lundqvist is most often compared to statistically), Patrick Roy, Miikka Kiprusoff, Dominik Hasek, Tim Thomas, and a host of others have been able to keep up their stats late into their careers. Outside of the start to this season, Lundqvist has shown no signs of slowing down, and in fact, has gotten stronger in recent years.
And while his cap hit will be 5th overall in the NHL (highest amongst goalies), his $8.5M salary only represents a reasonable increase from the $6.8M he has been making.
If you think this is too much, consider some of the goalie hungry teams out there that would have easily pushed over $9M for an elite goalie. The King may not have even had to leave his perch in New York, as the soon to be Brooklyn-located Islanders would have sure come calling.
So this can be considered a “hometown discount” (an idea, either way, sullied in a lack of perspective for the athlete’s side), and fitting for the player he has been.
On a team perspective, the final issue with the deal is how much of the cap has been taken up, but as I wrote last week, the new Canadian television deal could push the cap up $3-million immediately, taking hold next year. That would only be the start, with all the new revenue sources the NHL could be tapping into in the next half-decade. With all the worry about decline and paying top dollar later for top play now, who knows if that $8.5M might be more of a bargain later on.
And if that does not win you over still on the Henrik Lundqvist contract, consider one last thing:
The Islanders will still be paying Rick DiPietro 9 years after Lundqvist’s deal is done; on a contract that would have only originally ended, yes, after that final 2020 season.
It’s nice to pay a guy who will actually play; especially a guy who is only the NHL’s best.