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Playing devil’s advocate: Henrik Lundqvist

Scott Levy/Getty Images

Scott Levy/Getty Images

We’ve received some feedback over the past few weeks that readers are looking for a more objective viewpoint on hot-button Rangers issues.  In our insatiable desire to please our readership, I’ve decided to start the Playing devil’s advocate series, looking at both sides of major debates and lending our own conclusion.

For the inaugural edition of Playing devil’s advocate, I’ve decided to tackle the great Henrik Lundqvist debate (did you really think I would start with anything else?).  I’m going to break down both sides of the argument as to whether he is still elite, and whether trading the King makes any sense.

Considering The King’s looming free agency and slow start to the season, the debate about whether he is worth investing heavily in after the season was kind of inevitable.  He’s clearly looking to max out the term (a risky proposition with a 31-year old) and increase his current $6.8 million salary by a significant margin.  This has (understandably) made more than a few Rangers fans uncomfortable.  The question that is ultimately begged by this situation is: while Hank has been elite for the past nine seasons, will he continue to be elite for the next eight?  Additionally, is his pedestrian start to the season indicative of an already-in-progress decline?

The case for still elite:

Any case for Hank continuing his status as an elite NHL goaltender starts with his track record.  He has been the most consistently excellent goaltender in the NHL since Lockout II.  This means little for trying to predict the future, but thus far, Hank has yet to disappoint. 

While his start to the 2013-2014 season has been decidedly un-Hank-like, his numbers are still very solid.  While I’m not a fan of GAA or SV% of indicators of, well, anything really, over enough of a sample size, they can be decent at-a-glance references for a goaltender’s expected production.  At present Hank’s numbers are: 2.48 GAA, .918 SV%, contrasted with career 2.26 GAA and .918 SV%.  The goals against are a little high, but the save percentage is more or less in line with his career numbers.

These numbers also include the “disaster in the defensive end games” against the West to start the season.  Just to illustrate this in a small-sample environment, Hank’s save percentage in October was .908, and November has been .927.  His GAA in October was 2.84, and has been 2.19 since.  Even if you haven’t liked individual goals surrendered, I think even the most worrisome of Rangers fans will admit he has looked far better in November than he did to start the year.

The case for the decline:

Absent reliable advanced metrics for goaltenders, the biggest case against Hank still being elite is made by the eye-test.  Most detractors from Hank’s status as elite will point to the abnormal amount of “soft” or off-angle goals he has allowed so far this year.  The question begged there is, is there something amiss with Hank’s focus or is there an adjustment curve from switching to the overload from the previously utilized low-zone collapse?  Alternatively, are his skills just eroding and we have been spoiled for the past decade by a brand of goaltending he is unable to deliver going forward?

The other major concern with Hank is age.  An eight year deal for Hank would take him to his age 39 season.  There is a pretty decent chance that those last 2-3 years could be a little uncomfortable for all involved.  However, with Mike Smith, Corey Crawford and Jimmy Howard getting six year deals with out a fraction of the track record Hank has, and Tuukka Rask getting seven, I think that’s the minimum for Hank.

What about trading Hank to fill other holes at the deadline?

There is always the school of thought that says “let’s try to maximize the asset and trade him before he becomes outlandishly expensive”.  Unfortunately, that situation rarely nets the return anticipated by the trading club.

When you look at the history of major stars being traded at the deadline before free agency, the return is rarely as inspiring as the player dealt.  First off, there is almost no track record of elite goalies changing teams at the deadline (Patrick Roy is the closest, but he had an extra year on his deal, demanded said trade and was almost 20 years ago).

The two most recent examples are Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa.  Hossa was traded in 2008 from the Thrashers for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen (yuck), prospect Angelo Esposito and a 1st round pick.  Pittsburgh also got Pascal Dupuis in that trade.  Kovy, also involving Atlanta, landed the now-Jets Niclas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya, Patrice Cormier and a 1st round pick.  Are these the types of returns that are going to cure all the Rangers’ ills and make them forget the franchise goaltender they just gave up?  Let’s also not forget the Rangers fancy themselves Cup contenders.    It would not be my preferred course of action.

My take

From a scouting standpoint, I feel confident that Hank is still very much elite.  When goaltenders lose their edge, it generally manifests itself in movement/agility and reflexes.  Angular hiccups are incredibly frustrating, but I would theorize has more to do with the unfamiliar movement of the players in front of him.  Considering the contrasting styles of the overload vs. the low-zone collapse, players are firing the off-angle shots from different locations at different times than Hank is used to.  Couple that with the inconsistent play of Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi, I feel that it is pretty easily explainable.

Additionally, Hank is still just 31-years old.  Would I love to see the Rangers be able to limit his next contract to six years or less?  Absolutely.  But if they have to go seven or eight, its kind of the cost of doing business with this level of player.  I don’t think it’s unfair to look at Marty Broduer’s situation in Jersey for a decent comparison, and he’s still very good at age 41.  I also think Hank’s style will age better than Marty’s.  So my advice would be for everyone to relax, and that Hank is still the same guy who has dominated opposing offenses since the mid-aughts.

What do you guys think?  Has this little exercise calmed any nerves?  Think I’m an idiot?  Sound off in the comments below.

25 Responses to “Playing devil’s advocate: Henrik Lundqvist”

  1. Mundo says:

    Don’t forget the reduction of goalie pads this year.

    • Justin says:

      That’s a good point, Mundo. However, I would think it would be more of a safety issue than a production one. The target area of those adjustments were for the five-hole, and it doesn’t seem that its been a huge problem for Hank thus far.

  2. Tiki says:

    Great take. I once suggested that Henrik sometimes lacks focus (for example, after he’s let in a bad goal, or since the birth of his baby), a key element for any athlete, then found a SI article in which Henrik admits to losing focus during games (for example, he worries when his in laws are coming into town), and I got mocked like you wouldnt believe. As if it’s impossible for Henrik or any athlete to lose focus sometimes. Great take, I think he’ll be fine. However, I do think that he has a focus issue sometimes.

    • Justin says:

      Thanks for commenting, Tiki. It’s not heavily publicized obviously, but athletes are people. People get distracted and upset by an infinite number of external factors, you just have to hope they can put it out of their minds when its time to work.

    • Gary says:

      Tiki, that is exactly what it looks like to me… focus on, focus off… wax on, wax off. That’s the good news; focus can be fixed. Ability cannot.

  3. Bloomer says:

    Is Lundquist still an elite goaltender…yes he is. Will he continue to be an elite goaltender over the term of his next contract is the question. I would suggest that a fair and reasonable contract offer would be Tuukka Rask money (7 million) and a 5 year term.

    Hockey is a team sport not only do you need good goaltending, but you need to be able to ice a competitive team in front of the goalie. Hank is good, but he is not capable of winning every game on his own night after night. If Lundquist contract demands are higher then the above, then I think the franchise should wave him bye bye.

    • Tiki says:

      I respect your opinion, but allowing the team’s most valuable commodity to walk for nothing would be a huge mistake. You have to take into account that the salary cap could rise to upwards of $80 million in the next 4-5 years. The new NHL TV deal will definitely help in that regard.

  4. MBN says:

    Very well written. You presented both sides of the argument very nicely.

    Personally, I give him what he wants. That’s the Rangers Fan in me. Practically, I don’t think the Rangers have much of a choice. Try to get him down to 6 or 7 years, but in the end, ya’ gotta’ do what is best for the franchise, and in this case, that means keeping Hank around.

  5. Tiki says:

    If allowed by NHL CBA, I would also explore the max term of 8 years with lesser AAV, something like a $7 million AAV, with a personal services contract worth x dollars per year following his retirement.

  6. Walt says:

    Justin

    Nice work on this article!

    Hank looks human this season, and has made more than his fair share of mistakes, while looking like a world beater at times.

    I think there are several issues that are taking place all at once. New team system, smaller pads, off ice distractions, new child, in-laws (can’t believe I put that in). Hank is getting a bit older, teams figured out that he goes down too early, his glove hand is out of position more than ever before, and last but not least, some of his old team mates that played solid in front of him, being traded, have all taken their toll.

    Let’s face it Dubi played solid D, and is missed. The entire team in front of him isn’t playing the same defensive game as in the past. Girardi isn’t what he was last year, or the year before. Hank has been called upon more this year than before, and he hasn’t held up as well.

    Would I trade him, NO! Would I sign him to a contract for more than 5 years, NO! Would I give him the max in salary YES! It’s going to be Hanks call if he stays, or goes, but I would ask him up front what are his plans, and if he really wants to stay. If yes we try to sign him, if no then trade him and get back as much as possible. If he wants out, send him to the Oilers, or the Flames for some young players, and picks.

  7. John S. says:

    Nice job Justin, I was concerned you didn’t address the money issue and being able to ice a competitive team once you pay him all that money, but you took care of that in the comments! You, certainly, are no idiot!

    • John S. says:

      Actually, I guess that was Tiki that addressed it. Credit where it is due.

    • Justin says:

      Much appreciated, John. I don’t think the competitive team situation is that much of an issue due to a couple factors: 1) the rising salary cap (especially with the new TV deal) and 2) his current salary is already $6.8 million. Even if he is demanding $8.5 million, thats only a 1.7 million raise, so I don’t think the impact on the cap would be that great.

  8. Dave says:

    One thing about the trade market: The goalie market is flooded. Hank is an elite talent, but he won’t get the same haul someone like Kovalchuk got.

    The market is going to be set by Miller, and he’s likely only to net a 1st round pick and a prospect.

  9. Craig says:

    Long term contracts in any sports seem to turn more sour then sweet (Brad Richards, Di Pietro, Wayne Redden, and many others in the past). As Hank ages he will most likely lose something along the way to some degree.
    He may still be good in 5 or 6 years but in the meantime another decent goalie could be sought (drafted or signed), a lot of money saved for other club needs. Right now he could serve as really good trade bait for a young goalie prospect and some scoring.
    It’s about time the Rangers get a number one draft choice like a Sid Crosby or Steven Stankos and stop signing these mediocre and washed up players. I say see what you can get for him on the trade market and start building this team the right way like the Penguins and Blackhawks. Also get rid of some of the other one- dimensional soft players on this team. We’re not going to win the cup anyway with this team as it is with or without Hank. Shake up time! Lose to gain!!!

  10. AD says:

    Nearly every player on this team this season, except for McDonagh, seems to have gone through an adjustment phase. I don’t think there is much to be concerned with as it relates to Hank being Hank.

    That said, I do believe the GM has a responsibility to explore a trade of Hank before the trade deadline; it’s pure business and signing any player to the max 8 years (which Hank will get either here or w/another team), at a max salary, is very dangerous to an organization (see: Luongo).

  11. Al says:

    “Henke” is not having his best of starts but coming spring he will be one of the top 3 goalies in the leage. He’s always better in the end of a season. Also: He’s Sweden’s most important player for the Olympics and will probably be the best goalie in that tournament. Trading “Henke” is the most suicidal thing one could do to any team. /Al

    • Walt says:

      Al

      That may be the problem with Hank, his mind may be on the Olympics, rather than the team that puts bread, and butter on his table!!!!!!

    • AD says:

      I understand this point, however, other than Brodeur, how many other goalies have played at a top level beyond the age of 34? Tim Thomas had a great season after 34 but quickly went south; any others?

      Trading a 32 year old goalie for an elite package of assets that are much younger is a decent proposition to consider.

      • Marc Weissman says:

        Correct. And the only reason Brodeur has been able to play any where near as long as he has is b/c he had the notorious benefit of playing behind a Lemaire-trapping team all those years, and faced on average 15 shots a game.

        HUGE difference versus most other goalies, esp vs a guy like Hank who has had to face upwards of 40+ shots more often than not, whose style is to play much deeper in his crease than Marty which taxes his body and reflexes much more over time, and who has had the “benefit” of playing behind an abysmal offensively inept team for the last 4+ years, more often than not having to steal tense, one goal games by himself.

  12. Marc Weissman says:

    Honestly, couldn’t focus at all on ur “take” b/c of that RIDICULOUS inappropriate title – of all titles – you chose as the name for this ongoing series.

    Once u properly rename it, I will gladly provide my thoughts….

  13. Ray says:

    A key point is missed here. If Talbot is for real, the Rangers will lose either Talbot or Lundqvist in the next two years. If Talbot is truly a back up, he may stay, but he won’t hang around a a back up if he’s got a better opportunity. At this point, I think I’d rather keep Talbot.

    Lundqvist is first rate, but he never steps up in the playoffs.

  14. flatbush says:

    Hank said he loves NYC and Rangers so an offer now should be made to keep him. A modest increase and yrs. If he takes it all this focus stuff should go away. If he wants to wait for the end of the year it signals a bank breaker. The problem is not Hank its what is in front of him so spending an extraordinary amount to renew him won’t make much of a difference in results