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.
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.