There’s plenty to look forward to for the New York Rangers despite being outclassed and outplayed in the first round of their Stanley Cup Qualifiers series by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad are poised to star on Broadway for years to come, Kaapo Kakko showed flashes of brilliance that made him the No. 2 pick of the draft last season, and goaltender Igor Shesterkin is the netminder of the future.
The pieces are there — but with it, comes the end of an era. One that defined Rangers hockey for the better part of the last 15 seasons.
Veteran goaltender and franchise great, Henrik Lundqvist, might have suited up for the Rangers for the very last time following the Game 3 loss, which he did not see action in after Shesterkin was fit to play.
Lundqvist started the first two games despite falling out of favor with head coach David Quinn before play was stopped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As the 38-year-old’s playing time gradually decreased over the last two years, he made just six appearances between January and March after Shesterkin was called up from the AHL.
Now with the 24-year-old Russian firmly in place as the starter next season, the final year of Lundqvist’s contract looks like an albatross at $8.5 million.
It already seems as though his Rangers teammates are starting to say their goodbyes.
“Unbelievable human being,” forward Chris Kreider said. “Unbelievable competitor. The kind of guy you want to be in the trenches with. He wants to win more than any guy I’ve ever met. It’s been an absolute honor and pleasure to play with him as a teammate and get to know him as long as I have and to see how he goes about his business on a day-to-day basis.”
“I have the utmost respect for Hank as much a person and player. He battled his ass off and he deserved better from us.”
A buyout likely isn’t an option considering it would only save the Rangers roughly $3 million. A trade is more likely, but with a flat salary cap next year, Lundqvist’s deal might not be too appealing to interested parties.
Rumors are already swirling that Lundqvist could consider retiring. He’d be 39 years old next season and is likely to spend a majority of 2020-21 on the bench — not exactly where he’ll want to be given his track record as a tenacious competitor.
Such a decision would be an ultimate parting gift for a Rangers team that often failed to supply him with the proper contender in front of him.
For now, head coach David Quinn isn’t ready to confront that conundrum.
“I’m not thinking about that right now,” Quinn said. “The disappointing part is that we lost and our season’s over. It was a great group to coach. It’s been a unique and odd four and a half months since we stopped playing. Obviously, we’re all living the moment right now. We’re all disappointed in how we played.”