The 2014-15 regular season was an unusual one for Henrik Lundqvist thanks to the scary injury he suffered on January 31st against the Hurricanes. Even with the time that he missed, Hank did manage to keep his career-long streak of winning 30 games (in a full regular season) alive with his victory in his last regular season appearance against the Capitals on April 11th. Lundqvist is now 33 years old and will be turning 34 towards the end of the 2015-16 season. No matter how the regular season goes after the puck drops on October 7th there is going to be a lot of talk about the Rangers' window to win the Cup while Henrik Lundqvist remains an elite goaltender in the league.
It's an uncomfortable truth that all Rangers fans have to start coming to terms with, when the quality of Lundqvist's play starts to slip as he gets older the chances of the Rangers winning the Cup while he is with the team will seriously diminish. I should point out that there have been no glaring signs of that decline beginning as of yet, and with Lundqvist's conditioning and discipline he is likely to get more miles out of his body than other goaltenders even with his considerable workload.
Despite the injury that knocked him out of the lineup in January that set the stage for Cam Talbot's superb regular season performance Lundqvist showed that he is still one of the best goaltenders on the planet with his play in the postseason. Although I'm sure there will be many who place Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens ahead of him in the power rankings without a second thought after Price's Vezina, Hart, and Ted Lindsay Award-winning season, Lundqvist unquestionably remains among the league's true elite goaltenders.
On August 30th Lundqvist talked to Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News about this season's Rangers team.
"I definitely think we have as good of a team as last year, but it’s up to us to prove it obviously. Changes will always happen for different reasons, but I like the fact that the core is still here. It’s a group that’s been playing together for a lot of years. We’ve been through the ups and downs, we know what to expect from each other, I think that’s going to help us again this year." - Lundqvist
As Lundqvist said the "core" of the Rangers from last season is still intact, but the retirement of Martin St. Louis and the trades that saw Carl Hagelin and Cam Talbot leave the team had a significant impact on the roster. There are legitimate concerns about replacing St. Louis' offense and whether or not the handful of depth players the Rangers signed and acquired in the offseason will make their bottom six forward group better than it was just a few months ago when the team fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. On paper, this Rangers' roster lost some of its star power but it does have the pieces and talent to duplicate the success the club had in the 2014-15 regular seaosn.
After dealing Talbot to the Oilers the Rangers acquired Antti Raanta from the Chicago Blackhawks, and in so doing placed another extremely capable and talented goaltender behind Lundqvist. Raanta challenged and pushed Corey Crawford for the starting job in Chicago several times over the last few seasons thanks to his talent, positioning, and true flashes of brilliance when he is on top of his game.
Although that highlight reel was from a performance in April 2014, it's easy to see how Raanta posted a record of 20-9-5 in his 39 appearances with the Blackhawks through his first two NHL seasons. Quick reactions, classic butterfly positioning, and excellent puck tracking is what made Raanta an elite goaltender in Europe before his rookie season in the NHL with the Blackhawks back in 2013-14.
In Henrik Lundqvist's last full season with the team he appeared in 63 regular season games as well as the 2014 Sochi Games. In the lockout-shortened season he started in 43 of the Rangers' 48 games and the season before that he appeared in 62 contests. So, what will his workload be like this season? We will get to see just how good Antti Raanta looks in a Blueshirt in about a week when the Rangers' preseason gets underway on the 21st.
The days of Lundqvist starting in 70 games a season are well behind us now and the case for his taking some of the weight off of his shoulders in the regular season to ensure he is in peak conditioning for the Playoffs is a strong one. Although there were more critics of his play in the 2015 Playoffs than I thought possible, Lundqvist was not the reason that the Rangers failed to get past Tampa Bay. Even at 33 years old Hank is still very capable of stealing games and series as he proven time and time again over the years.
Will we see Alain Vigneault call Antti Raanta's number more often than he called Talbot's before Henrik's injury? Knowing how competitive Lundqvist is and his influence with the media there is no chance he will be starting less than 60 games (if he stays healthy) even if there is a noticeable decline in his play. When we saw Lundqvist stumble at the start of last season Head Coach Alain Vigneault never shied from starting his workhorse superstar goaltender.
Even at 33 years old and with an exceptional backup goaltender ready to step in and give the club a great chance to win any given game, we should expect that to be the case once again.
There will be lot of discussion about whether or not this Lundqvist's "last best chance" to win a Cup and when the Rangers' Cup window closes, but the only thing that Hank will be thinking about is how he wants to be in the net every single game and how he wants to win. More than anything.
Thanks for reading. Let's go Rangers.