On a Lundqvist buyout, trading Trouba/Strome/Fast

Igor Shesterkin Hart and Vezina winner?
Photo Credit: AP

As the regular season rolls on, the Rangers have won four of their last five.  This recent run of improved form has been propelled by improved process and development of young players but continues to negatively impact the lottery odds for a high pick in a stacked draft.  Pick your poison.  The deadline looms large, with the Blueshirts in an enviable position of holding a significant variety of assets that contending teams would find useful.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this deadline/offseason might be the single biggest indicator about the long-term success of the rebuild.

These organizational decisions; who to deal and who to keep, and on what terms, will show the team’s true colors with how the next phase of this process plays out, and what kind of team they are ultimately building.  That’s going to come back later, though.  In the meantime, I have some thoughts…

Lundqvist Buy-Out

The idea has been floated around more recently about buying out Henrik Lundqvist’s final contractual season in 2020-2021. Lundqvist carries an $8.5 million cap hit next season and a buy-out would save $3m ($5.5 million cap hit), while he carries a $4.5 million actual salary.  This would be stupid.

The Rangers are currently projected to have a hair over $16.5 million in cap space (based on this year’s $81.5m cap) to fill 9 roster spots.  Five of the spots are already in the organization as RFA’s and the cap will surely increase a small amount. The defense stays almost entirely intact (for better or worse) and Kreider and Fast are your biggest replacements.

Raises to Strome, DeAngelo and Lemieux (if they aren’t traded) can be offset by smaller dollar contracts to Vitali Kravtsov, Phil Di Guiseppe or other low-cost bottom six players.  Plus, after next season, Brendan Smith, Marc Staal, Lundqvist and Shattenkirk’s big buy-out hit are all off the books.  That’s just over $23 million (!), right there.

To push for an ugly divorce with an all-time franchise great with a year left on his deal, while he is still performing, no less, would be absolutely bonkers.  There is a decent probability, given his brand attachment and affinity to the New York market, that he would re-sign to be Shesterkin’s backup in one-year intervals.  I think this would be the preferred route for all involved if Hank wasn’t looking for a Ray Bourque moment.

An underrated aspect to all this is, is that given Lundqvist’s cerebral and hyper-technical approach to the position, Hank could be well positioned to be the successor to Benoit Allaire, who is approaching 60 years of age.  A buy-out would be an incredibly short-sighted decision on the organization’s part.

Shesterkin’s Performance

Speaking of goaltending, Igor Shesterkin has been everything Rangers’ fan could have ever expected and more.  His blend of technical discipline and athleticism is something really unique.  I will do a full scouting report on him when the sample size gets a little bigger, but seriously, enjoy watching him.  He is something special.

Georgiev’s Future

Sticking with the goaltending theme, the whole Georgiev aspect of this situation has completely lost the forest for the trees.  Georgiev is a perfectly acceptable backup goaltender, who is maybe capable of more, similar to Cam Talbot or Antti Raanta.  As I have said in this space on more than one occasion: literally any NHL goalie can get really hot and play a stretch of 5-10 .950% games.  That is why they are in the NHL to begin with.  What makes an NHL goalie great is when he can play .920% for 60 games.  Lundqvist had that capability, Shesterkin is showing very distinct signs of having it.  The jury is still very much out on Georgiev.

Could he be a more capable backup to Shesterkin than the soon-to-be 38-year-old Lundqvist? Possibly. But, that isn’t the point.  The point is asset management, and given the analysis above, how is Georgiev standing in the way of a symbiotic future with an all-time great who can carry Allaire’s message forward and personally nurture the development of the best goaltending prospect the organization has had since…himself?

It makes no sense.  The club shouldn’t shoot themselves in the foot because they don’t want to de-value Georgiev at the trade deadline or the Draft.  Of course, you don’t telegraph your intentions, but if their thought process is anything other than trade Georgiev as soon as you can for as much as you can, then ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Trading Trouba

Another fan fever dream run rampant is trading Jacob Trouba to clear room for a long-term deal for Tony DeAngelo.  There is no question that Trouba has had some bumps in the road adjusting to New York and the point totals aren’t where we would all like them to be. However, Trouba unquestionably has the talent and performed fairly well, overall, despite the lack of offensive production.

In this writer’s opinion, it doesn’t make sense to dump him for what would amount to cap relief for a guy who gives back a significant portion of is offense in his own zone.

Trading Strome

I know Strome has serious chemistry with Artemi Panarin.  I know he is on pace for 70 points this season.  I’m sorry, I don’t believe that he has actually become that guy.  He has questionable peripherals and an inflated shooting percentage.  GM’s are rubes.  Convince one of them that he is now living up to his draft pedigree and take everything you can get.  Otherwise, you are shelling out $5m+ for a guy who will be a 3C once Chytil takes the 2C mantle.

Trading Fast

Let me be clear.  I like Jesper Fast, I really do.  He’s been a good soldier and a solid role player, but I don’t find it that hard to let go of those guys when the team isn’t contending.  It was tough saying goodbye to Brendan Prust and Brian Boyle, because they were well-regarded role players at a time when their contributions were part of Stanley Cup aspirations.  With Fast, it’s just not   the same thing.  Get what you can get.

League Punishment

Not necessarily fully hockey related, but the other day, UEFA handed down punishment to the Manchester City Football Club for violation of their financial policies.  This came on the heels of MLB’s punishment of the Houston Astros (and pending Boston Red Sox) for their sign-stealing scandals from 2017-2018.  The MLB response has been ridiculed as a slap on the wrist with no meaningful impact.

More recently, Zach Kassian, a classic repeat offender was suspended only 6 games for kicking a player in the chest with his skate.  Try thinking of a more inherently dangerous behavior than that on an ice rink.   Six games.

Manchester City basically committed white collar crime in circumventing their financial rules and were suspended for 2 years from Champion’s League Competition and fined 30 million Euros.  Imagine if MLB banned Houston from the playoffs for 2 seasons?  You think they’d be stealing signs? The New York Times estimates that competitive participation in the Champion’s League will cost Man City 100 million Euros, per year of missed participation.

This just highlights the shill administrations that North American sports have.  The Commissioner’s offices are hired goons for the owners with no objective independence in their assessments of league business.  Whatever the best outcome for the owners, that’s the outcome.  Trash sports leagues we have here, folks.   This is a bigger discussion for another day, but I needed to get that out.

New TV deal/Conflict of Interest

Speaking of trash sports leagues, the NHL is finally moving to enter into a new TV deal after the 2021-2022 season, after the inevitable lockout, of course.  There are rumors that Fox, ESPN and other traditional sports carriers may be involved, but there are also suggestions that a higher-priced renewal of the 2011 Comcast/NBC agreement may be in the cards.

At first blush, it’s not really a big deal, sports’ leagues enter into different regional and national television and broadcast deals all the time.  This goes back to the shill discussion in the previous thought.   I’m sure it does wonderful things for the sport to have casual fans to have to search out the freaking NBC Sports channel or NHL network to find normal hockey coverage, and on the national games, to tune into NBC to hear the grating combination of tonal ear rape and verb salad that is Mike Emerick.  Let’s definitely renew that relationship instead of putting the product on the channels that other people, you know, actually watch when they want to see a sporting event.

So, what’s the problem? Oh, it might just be that Flyers owner Brian Roberts is the goddamn CEO and Chairman of Comcast/NBC.  While it’s possible that the NHL has a rigid vetting system and incorruptible ethical approach to these types of relationships, but let’s be honest.  At best, it’s shitty optics and at worst it’s openly flagrant corruption on Gary Bettman’s behalf to line the pockets of one of the owners at the expense of the sports reach and relevance in the hyper-competitive American sports market.  If the NHL (and every American sport, for that matter) doesn’t need a truly independent governing body, then I don’t know what the hell we are doing here.