Only the most pessimistic, self-hating citizens of Rangerstown could take a gander at the Blueshirts’ developing goaltending depth chart and somehow come away believing that it presents a problem rather than a solution for this rebuild operation riddled with question marks.
Because though the dynamic will be a fresh one and uniquely competitive, management has the luxury of entering a 14th consecutive summer with goaltending literally the least of its concerns. That represents the luxurious sum of having Henrik Lundqvist as the incumbent since his 2005-06 rookie season.
This also represents the glittery promise of having both Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin in camp competing to join Lundqvist in the rotation. If too much depth constitutes a problem, where does general manager Jeff Gorton sign up for similar headaches at forward and on defense?
This presumes, of course, that Lundqvist does not change his mind about staying here in the aftermath of this taxing conclusion to 2018-19. There is no indication whatsoever the Swede, whose 4-1 defeat to the Senators at the Garden on Wednesday marked his sixth straight regulation loss and who has lost 14 of his 16 starts (2-11-3) since Feb. 2, is reconsidering.
Recency bias is real and Lundqvist’s recent play has been subpar, but that does not mean the honorable thing for him to do is to get out of town and leave the 2019-20 nets to the pair of young Russians. It is ludicrous to analyze Lundqvist’s season and conclude the Rangers would be better off without him.
The question for the organization and for David Quinn is not whether Lundqvist can be entrusted with the assignment, it is divining the threshold of action under which the King can play at an elite level. For instance, Lundqvist posted a .920 save percentage with a 2.62 GAA through November while starting 20 of the club’s first 26 contests. Thereafter, his game showed shrinkage, sometimes dramatic and sometimes subtle. It is similar to what happened last year.
The goaltender who once thrived under a workload of 65-70 starts per season, can no longer handle those rigors. It is his responsibility to make the adjustment to a 50-55 start regimen and it is going to be up to Quinn to resist riding him for weeks at a time in the early season when following that urge is all but guaranteed to produce diminishing returns.
No shame in that. According to the Hockey Reference play index, only two goaltenders over the past 40 years started as many as 60 games in their age-37 season, Martin Brodeur, 76 games for the 2009-10 Devils, and Dwayne Roloson, 62 for the 2008-09 Oilers. Lundqvist turned 37 on March 2.
“Throughout people’s careers they have to adapt and make adjustments to their games,” Quinn said. “He’s no different than a defenseman or forward. That position is no different.
“I think every player, no matter what stage they’re in their career, they’re going to have to have an adaptability to their game or they’re going to have a hard time. I think that’s where Hank is right now.”
Let’s presume that Shesterkin, who has won two straight since being reinstated as SKA’s starter in the KHL conference finals that is level at 2-2 against CSKA, signs with the Rangers as expected and is at training camp. But isn’t that one goaltender too many? Shouldn’t Gorton strike now and trade Georgiev over the summer?
The answer is no, and emphatically so.
Georgiev has played extremely well over the past six weeks, going 7-4-3 with a .926 save percentage and 2.60 GAA over his past 13 starts. But in a goaltender-heavy league, that hardly represents a track record that would bring back a return equal to his value. Georgiev has, after all, played a sum of 41 games in the NHL.
And while everyone within the organization believes Shesterkin’s game will translate to North America, no one is counting on him making an immediate splash. There is no good reason to force it and no good reason to put that kind of pressure on a neophyte whose defense in front of him won’t exactly feature Brian Leetch, Sergei Zubov and Kevin Lowe.
At some point, the Rangers will be forced to make a decision. Three goaltenders into two practice nets don’t go. Garth Snow (and Jean-Francois Berube) can tell you that. But the time for that assessment is not now. Georgiev, who will still be waivers-exempt, could be sent to the AHL Wolf Pack if necessary.
Fact is, the Rangers are set up in nets just as they have been since 2005. A goaltending issue that must be addressed over the summer? A developing problem?
That’s a laugh.