The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the New York Rangers on Tuesday night, completing a three-game sweep to advance in the NHL playoffs. With the Rangers eliminated, it raises questions regarding the future of longtime goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with the team. According to Newsday's Colin Stephenson, it's "quite possible" the 38-year-old Swede will not be with the Rangers when the 2020-21 season starts.
Lundqvist's last start was actually game two of the series, a contest where he allowed four goals on 34 shots as Carolina skated to a 4-1 victory. On the brink of elimination, New York head coach David Quinn turned to Igor Shesterkin for game three.
The arrival of Shesterkin along with fellow Russian goaltender Alexandar Georgiev and their growth over the 2019-20 season have made many question Lundqvist's future as a Ranger. While the team's 2000 seventh-round selection is still under contract through the 2020-21 campaign, Stephenson noted that doesn't necessarily mean the club won't move on from their franchise goalie.
"Despite everything Lundqvist has done for the organization over the years – he's been a marvelous ambassador for the team off the ice, too, and is a nominee for the league's King Clancy Award this season – carrying him on the roster as a backup would be dificult."
In February 2018, the Rangers announced they would be entering a rebuilding phase. It was reported at the time that the organization offered Lundqvist an opportunity to move on then and potentially play with a Stanley Cup contender, but he ultimately chose to stay. That process is seemingly coming along, as evidenced by the signings of marquee players such as Artemi Panarin, but Lundqvist's window in the league gets smaller with each passing year.
"Staying with the Rangers may have been the romantic thing to do, but in a salary cap league such as the NHL, there is no room for romance, or sentimentality," Stephenson said.
The opportunity to compete for a Cup still exists for Lundqvist, it just may not be in Manhattan. It also may not come in the form of a starting role for the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner, who has put up an impressive 0.918 SA through 887 career appearances.
If the Rangers ultimately choose to part ways with him before next year, he will likely have a few teams interested in his services. Still a solid goaltender capable of starting 20-30 games, "Hank" would fit well with an otherwise talented roster that might need a little help in the crease such as the Calgary Flames, the Vegas Golden Knights, or even the Washington Capitals.
Whenever it becomes official Lundqvist is no longer a Ranger, it will mark the end of an era in the history of a storied professional franchise. He will undoubtedly be honored in the rafters of Madison Square Garden alongside fellow Ranger greats such as Ed Giacomin, Mike Richter, and Mark Messier.