Could This Be Henrik Lundqvist’s Last Season with the Rangers?

I think philosophy is the most neglected subject matter in schools. Philosophy has many benefits, but a major one is that it opens up the mind to questioning. If one can get to a point in which he is comfortable questioning the most basic tenants we hold to be obvious truths, then it becomes much easier to be open minded and explorative in areas holding more uncertainty or subjectivity. To be vague but frank, the world would be a better place if people were willing to question the truths they hold to be given.

So let’s get philosophical and question the absurd. Could this be Henrik Lundqvist’s last season as a New York Ranger?

Spoiler alert: The answer is almost assuredly that it will not be. Henrik Lundqvist is still a great goaltender who has three years remaining on his contract and full no-trade protection. Even if the Rangers wanted to move him, he ultimately controls his destiny. And he made it clear to the organization at the trading deadline that he has no desire to move elsewhere.

But let’s nonetheless explore why it could be.

Alexandar Georgiev had a turbulent start in the AHL last season before developing consistency and playing some superb hockey for the Wolf Pack in the winter. He got time with the Rangers once Ondrej Pavelec got injured and the Rangers decided to dismantle the team, and he was a bright spot on a team with few to note. Posting a .918 save percentage given the shot quality he faced was impressive, even if only during a 10-game sample size.

The Rangers could have added a legitimate backup goaltender this offseason if they wanted to. There were options, and in fact still are now; Pavelec and Steve Mason are still on the free market. Instead, the Rangers re-signed Marek Mazanec and added Dustin Tokarski. Both have spent time in the NHL and could do a perfectly mediocre job as a stopgap backup goaltender this season, but have spent the majority of their time in the AHL. It’s evident that the Rangers are ready to give Georgiev the job if he proves capable over the course of a full season.

Let’s say Georgiev does win the job in training camp and plays well during the 2018-2019 season. That will be great, and he will earn even more starts the following season.

Igor Shestyorkin’s contract in the KHL expires on April 30th, 2019. At that point, the Rangers will be free to sign him, and there is every expectation that they will. And if Georgiev has a good season, then it’s going to create an awkward situation for the Rangers.

They could have Shestyorkin start the year in Hartford. We could only speculate as to how he would feel about that. This is a player who earns starts for the best team in the world outside the NHL, SKA. He gets a decent paycheck and they have world class facilities. Is he going to be willing to give that up and take a pay cut in order to ride buses and play against inferior competition? It’s possible that he would demand a European assignment clause in his contract and refuse any time in the AHL. Or, he might be willing to spend a few months in Hartford, but not a full season.

Georgiev will also be eligible to be sent to the AHL for the 2019-2020 season without requiring waivers. So the Rangers could send him down. Though that solves the Rangers’ problem on paper, it’s unlikely that Georgiev would react well to it. Demoting someone after a strong season is not a great way to build trust and morale.

Georgiev may very well have an up-and-down (or worse) 2018-2019 season in the NHL, or may not make the NHL roster altogether. The Rangers may also nonetheless be able to convince Georgiev that 60 games in the AHL in 2019-2020 will be great for his development. Igor Shestyorkin may also be content with spending the 2019-2020 season in the AHL.

But what if not? What if Georgiev proves he belongs in the NHL, and Shestyorkin insists on playing in the NHL?  That would create an extremely awkward situation for the Rangers.

There would be a few solutions. The Rangers could keep three goaltenders on the roster. They could also sign Shestyorkin, but assign him back to play in Russia for another season. Or, as previously mentioned, they could send Georgiev to the AHL, tell him they think 60 starts is better for his development, and hope he approves. These are all temporary solutions, though. The Rangers will again have the same problem in 2020-2021, with Lundqvist still under contract and those two even more prepared for NHL action.

They could trade one of Georgiev or Shestyorkin. It can’t be definitively ruled out without knowing what the return would be, but generally speaking, this is inadvisable. Though each is individually a very good goaltending prospect, success is far from guaranteed. Should the Rangers trade one, only to watch the other fail to live up to his potential, then it would create a massive problem for the team.

That might mean that the path of least resistance is moving on from Henrik Lundqvist. If not  in the summer of 2019, then maybe 2020. It’s ludicrous to think about in concept, and of course there’s still an entire season that has to play out before this even begins to become a problem. Making any definitive declarations on the correct decision would be putting the cart before the horse.

The concept is absurd, but 18 months ago the idea of the Rangers trading Ryan McDonagh would probably have also seemed bizarre. Opening ourselves up to absurd possibilities is in our own interests. It’s in Rangers management’s interest to do so, lest they be unprepared to deal with a difficult situation should it arise. And it is in the interest of the fans in the unlikely scenario where they have to be prepared to say goodbye sooner than they might have anticipated.