There really was no other way this was going to end.
Not for the franchise goaltender whose love for the Rangers may have eclipsed his admiration for his hometown team. And certainly not for the organization that has come to depend on Henrik Lundqvist as its most important player.
So, when the news broke Wednesday morning that the impending free agent was off the board, it was a relief for the Rangers star.
“About eight months ago I sat down with my family and my agent to discuss my future,” Lundqvist said during a mid-afternoon press conference at the team’s practice facility in suburban Greenburgh, N.Y. “There were two things that were really clear to me. No. 1, I really want to win a Cup here in New York. It’s my biggest goal, and it really pushes me to work harder. Secondly, I want to be a Ranger for life.”
Perhaps more importantly, the Rangers wanted him to remain in blue for his entire career, making that point evident by signing him to a seven-year, $59.5 million deal, which – starting next season – will have an average annual value of $8.5 million against the salary cap through 2020-2021, making him the league’s most well-paid goaltender.
“The New York Rangers have had a long history of having great goaltenders, and great goaltenders that have been with the organization for a long time,” said owner James Dolan, Executive Chairman of The Madison Square Garden Company. “Eddie Giacomin, John Davidson, Mike Richter. I just wanted to say how proud and pleased I am that Henrik is going to finish his career here with the New York Rangers, and how appropriate that is, considering the history.”
The length and dollars, judging by this season’s $64.3 million salary cap, seem like a steep price to pay. But with the cap going up substantially in future seasons, the deal may end up a bargain when Lundqvist finishes the contract at age 39. Most estimates say the cap could rise to above $70 million next season, and if the league’s growth continues to rise at the rate most observers expect, it could increase to over $100 million by the end of the current CBA.
“Growing up, my favorite team was Frolunda back in Gothenburg, Sweden,” said the Swedish native, expected to be the country’s starting goaltender in the Sochi Olympics this February. “I had such a big love and respect for that organization. It was hard for me to picture any other team for me to feel that kind of relationship. Now, I’ve been here, the connection I have for this organization and the love and respect I have for this organization is just what I had for that club, if not more. That means a lot. To get that opportunity to stay on one club throughout your career is very special, and something I put a lot of value to.”
Lundqvist has had a slow start to the season – by his lofty standards. He’s 8-11-0, with an uncharacteristically-high 2.51 goals against average and .917 save percentage, numbers that are well short of his career averages.
The Rangers know they’ll go only as far as their most marketable star. A common refrain among hockey teams is they get built from the goaltender outwards. Teams with strong goaltending need a strong defense to be a Stanley Cup contender. The Rangers have one of the best netminders in the world, and one of the best defenses in the NHL. They’re building it the right way.
Letting Lundqvist walk in July as a free agent was never an option.
“How the [Rangers have] treated me – everything from coaches to players to people working around the organization – the city, the fans, it’s been incredible,” Lundqvist said. “To go somewhere else was just wrong, and was never an option. I know it was speculation over the summer, but from the heart it was never an option for me to leave.”