Rangers Must Use the Nuclear Option on Lundqvist

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Dave Rogers

Editor-in-Chief at Cleared for Contact
Writer, photographer and a lifelong New York Rangers hockey fan.
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That feeling you get when you’re about to write an article that’s going to turn the New York Rangers’ fans against you…

That writing has been on the wall for the past two seasons. Rangers’ captain Ryan McDonagh is simply not going to have a chance to call Henrik Lundqvist over to where Gary Bettman stands smirking to let the latest savior of the Rangers’ franchise be the first player since 1994 to skate around the ice with the Stanley Cup hoisted over his head. If Lundqvist remains with the Rangers to finish his elite career, it will likely be having never won the ultimate prize in hockey.

The 2-6-2 start to the 17/18 season is an exclamation point on that reality. If GM Jeff Gorton is brave and as good at his job as he seems to be, that leaves only two options moving forward. Convince Lundqvist to waive his No Movement Clause (NMC) and find a team willing to take on 50% or more of his remaining contract or to buyout the legendary goaltender’s contract at the conclusion of this season.

Move Hank to a Contender

There are plenty of teams around the league that might feel that Lundqvist would give their roster a significant boost in goal. Whether that is a reunion in Edmonton with former backup Cam Talbot, who has struggled to start the season, to Toronto where the team is winning despite sub-par numbers from Fredrik Andersen, or to any number of other teams with strong young rosters but issues in net (Dallas, Winnipeg or even Philadelphia). The point is, there would be no shortage of suitors and the return in picks and prospects for four years of Lundqvist’s services, even as a 35-year-old, at a $4.25M cap hit thanks to a 50% retention by the Rangers, would almost certainly create a bidding war.

Would the Stars be willing to part with Julius Honka—a player the Rangers nearly acquired in exchange for Cam Talbot a few years ago—or Miro Heiskanen as part of a Lundqvist deal, for example? Or how about the Oilers and Jesse Puljujärvi? Even if no prospects come back, a return similar to what the Rangers paid for Martin St. Louis, a first-round pick and a conditional second first-rounder should the team acquiring Lundqvist advance in the playoffs does not seem out of the question.

Buyout at the End of the Season

A less optimal solution would be a buyout of the final three seasons of Lundqvist’s contract after the chips fall where they may for the 2017/18 season. The only reason to go this route would be if Hank refuses to waive his NMC for a trade.

The cap charge for such a buyout would be approximately (from CapFriendly.com):

18/19 – $3.9M
19/20 – $4.4M
20/21 – $5.8M
21/22 – $1.9M
22/23 – $1.9M
23/24 – $1.9M

Due to his declining salary in the final three years of his contract, the actual buyout cost to the
Rangers would be about $1.9M per year for six years, or a total of about $11.3M total. This would let Hank sign on with a new team next season at a significantly reduced cap hit and allow him complete control of where he ends his NHL career.

For the Rangers, either method would spark a transition to a full rebuild. Many have claimed that a complete teardown of the team and living through the terrible seasons that would follow is simply impossible in New York. The Toronto Maple Leafs, though, have shown that even a big market’s fan base can be patient in that regard. Many Toronto fans called for a rebuild after years of futility. They certainly bought into the proverbial “Shanaplan”:

The difference of late is that the losing is part of what’s become known as “The Shanaplan.” Ever since Shanahan sold the MLSE board on the idea of a scorched-earth rebuild in January of 2015, management was upfront with fans and media that the roster wasn’t going to be pretty. Key veterans – led by top scorer Phil Kessel and captain Dion Phaneuf – were dealt away, and the focus shifted to a youth movement.

Rangers fans would likely get on board as well, considering how it has worked out so far for the Leafs. They can also look towards Edmonton, who landed Connor McDavid for their troubles while also putting together great depth alongside him. If the ultimate prize is what it takes to convince some fans, that is fair as well. Over the last decade, half of the ten Stanley Cup Championships have been captured by two teams that tore it all down and rebuilt through the draft with three wins by the Pittsburgh Penguins and two more by the Chicago Blackhawks. Sure, you can point to Arizona, Edmonton and even Washington as teams where the method of tanking for top prospects has yet to produce a championship. Except for Arizona, those teams have at least been in contention. It is clearly the best method for building a contender.

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Whether it is through trade or a buyout, the Rangers would have other difficult decisions to make. The easiest would be to move on from Rick Nash and Michael Grabner as rentals – both likely fetching more picks and prospects in return. More difficult would be two other Rangers’ fan favorites, captain Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello. These moves would fetch returns in line with what a trade of Lundqvist would see. Both players would be valuable to contenders and have modest contracts compared to their skill sets, each with a year left after this one on their current deals. Removing these players would be instrumental in ensuring that the team was bad enough to finish in a position to be at the top of the draft lottery this season and next. Either could also be UFA targets for the club when their current contracts end in two years and the Rangers are ready to start competing again.

Those remaining on the roster are young enough to see the transition through, becoming the veterans of the team’s core once they are ready to contend again. At the same time, the number of draft picks and prospects the team would horde from such moves would bring in plenty of young, cost-controlled talent, likely with some at the elite level required to be competitive in a salary capped league.

Do not confuse this as cynicism of Lundqvist’s career or even his abilities to this day. Despite a rocky start, the goaltender proved in last year’s playoffs that he is far from washed up. The team simply took their shots with him and need to move on if they hope to avoid a similar fate to Alain Vigneault’s last team, the Vancouver Canucks, who held on way too long and are now paying the price in a stalled rebuild attempt. If Rangers’ fans have hopes of arguably their greatest goaltender in franchise history winning a Stanley Cup before his storied career ends and if they also hope for the same for their beloved New York Rangers, moving on from Henrik Lundqvist is the only sensible path forward at this time. Given the current direction, the Rangers must choose between having Lundqvist retire Cupless, though a life-long Blueshirt, or give him a real chance to cap his Hall of Fame career with a championship, even though it would be with another club

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