After a frustrating end to the Rangers’ season in Boston several days ago, the voracious New York media was bestowed with the “We’ll see” heard round the world. Henrik Lundqvist’s non-committal response to his future in New York almost imploded the entire hockey media. Articles were written, page hits were had, and ad revenue rained down on media outlets. Many observers and analysts alike feel that the King possibly moving kingdoms was the impetus for John Tortorella’s unceremonious dismissal on Wednesday. Obviously, I’m not behind the New York Ranger curtain, so I couldn’t tell you with any certainty whether this is true, but I can dig a little deeper into those comments and see if the “threat” is credible in this case.
For those who missed it (and I’m paraphrasing), when asked about his long term future with the team, Hank responded with the functional equivalent of “we’ll see, I need to talk to my agent”. Normally, this is a very typical response from a player when asked about his contract, but considering Hank’s importance and impact on the franchise, his remarks were bound to cause a stir.
So, let’s look at this logically. First and foremost, we need to accept that directly after an elimination loss in the playoffs, against a rival, no less, he is going to be frustrated. Hank is surely aware that he’s not 25 anymore and those endless years to win a Cup aren’t all in front of him. He wants to win badly, and sometimes, you can’t always keep those emotions in check. Hank has been purported to be nothing but happy in NYC. It has the cultural and celebrity status that he values, and it’s probably (outside of Boston) the shortest flight to and from Sweden.
The statements themselves don’t really give us any information other than his agent isn’t a moron. Back in 2010 when Derek Jeter became a free agent with the Yankees, the entire world knew that Derek wouldn’t play for any other organization. Sure, some random speculation about the Rays and Giants popped up, but at the end of the day, he was a Yankee. And he got a contract worth about half of what he was after. It makes no sense for Hank to pledge his allegiance to New York when he is trying to get one last mega-deal. The Rangers would probably pay him either way, but it doesn’t hurt to not tip his hand and surrender valuable leverage.
Now, let’s look at it from a financial standpoint. The simple explanation is that he can get eight years from the Rangers and only 7 from any competitor for his services, per the new CBA. But let’s look a little deeper. Henrik Lundqvist is a brand, not just an athlete. He is handsome, charismatic and incredibly good at what he does. Being the King of New York comes with a little more cache than being the King of Phoenix. He is deeply entwined with the Garden of Dreams charity, and even has his own clothing line based on his royal status at the World’s Most Famous Arena. The Henrik Lundqvist brand is almost inseparably tied to the NYC market.
For a moment, though, let’s forget all that. This whole situation really begs the question of “where would he go?”. If we look at the list of possible teams based on criteria that would give Hank what he was looking for in terms of competitiveness, an environment that would help maximize his brand, along with a vacancy, the list becomes very short. The hockey markets that would meet the large market component are: Philly, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, LA, Chicago, Detroit, Vancouver, and maaaybe Colorado (probably not, though).
Now, let’s remove the teams that are worse off than the Rangers in terms of competitiveness. That means goodbye Philly, Colorado and probably Toronto. Actually not as long a list as I expected when I set out to write this post, but I digress. Alright, now who has a high-end goalie locked into a stable role? Boston has Tuukka Rask, Montreal has Carey Price, LA has Jon Quick for the next 9 seasons, Detroit just re-upped Jimmy Howard for the next 6 years and Vancouver has Cory Schneider. That essentially leaves Chicago as the sole realistic destination for Hank should he leave NY and still get everything that he wants.
Corey Crawford has emerged this playoff as a fairly capable NHL backstop. While Hank would be a massive upgrade, Chicago has a team full of stars. Toews, Kane, Sharp, Keith, Seabrook, Hossa, etc. is an expensive roster. With $62.6m already committed to next years squad, fitting in an extra $8-9 million for Hank doesn’t seem to fit. Besides, can you imagine Hank in the Midwest?
I have no doubt that Hank’s remarks rattled much of the fanbase, and maybe even some members of the front office, but when you look at the situation a little more closely, Hank needs New York as much as New York needs Hank. They are a perfect marriage. With the talent in place here, and a fresh voice coming from the coaching staff, this is where Hank has his best chance to win the Cup, and be one of the rare players in this day of professional sports who is immortalized by the only team he has ever played for. Fear not Ranger fans, Hank is not going anywhere.