Despite a flurry of offseason moves, the New York Rangers still live and die with Henrik Lundqvist. They need to take the cautious approach.
The New York Rangers formula for success has remained the same throughout the past decade.
Whether it was Tom Renney, John Tortorella, or Alain Vigneault behind the bench, there has been a common theme of over-reliance on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Can you really blame them?
Lundqvist has established himself as arguably the best goalie in the National Hockey League, carrying the Rangers to three Eastern Conference Finals and a Stanley Cup appearance. There is no denying how impactful he’s been ever since he arrived on the scene in the Big Apple.
After executing that plan for a plethora of years, it became brutally obvious last year that this formula would have its flaws. Their sizzling start exposed their heavy leaning on the King
Despite sporting one of the NHL’s best record through 20 games (16-2-2), the streak put a major levy on Lundqvist that he struggled to recover from the remainder of the season. He looked sluggish in net and just simply wasn’t the Henrik Lundqvist that fans were accustomed to seeing.
There are many different arguments as to why Hank struggled. The Blueshirt’s back line was an atrocity, resulting in Lundqvist getting absolutely pounded with pucks last year. The defense certainly was bad last year, but this was just the tipping point for the King.
The Swede’s workload over the past five years has been extraordinary for a guy who is on the wrong side of 30-years old.
Last season, it finally all caught up to him.
After enduring back-to-back deep runs that saw Henrik appear in 155 games from 2013-2015, Lundqvist, for the first time in his career, looked extremely fatigued during the second half of the season, and with good reason. Lundqvist faced the most shots of any goaltender in the league at the age of 34. Now, he may be able to handle this workload for one or two more years. But if the Blueshirts want to elongate their championship window, something needs to change.
The ideal move would be to add a quality defenseman. The pieces are certainly there to make a move, as the Rangers have a logjam at the forward position, but a move this close to the season is doubtful.
Another potential change that we could see put into effect is added rest for the King. Although we’ve seen his playing time slowly diminished over the years, it would be wise if they continued to lessen his time in the net.
It doesn’t have to be much, but if Vigneault cuts Lundqvist’s appearances by three or four games, we could see a rejuvenated Lundqvist.
While lessening the food on his plate may help the King, the Rangers’ defense corps needs to step it up. Last year’s group of defensemen was comically substandard at times. They were slow, sloppy in their own zone, and failed to lock down big time players (especially against Pittsburgh in the playoffs).
The Rangers defense must give Hank some sort of help this year in order to flourish, and that all starts with Captain Ryan McDonagh. The Minnesota native needs to help youngsters like Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath adjust to playing in the Big Apple (even though they both spent time with the Rangers last year). In addition, veterans Dan Girardi and Marc Staal must bounce back after poor campaigns last year.
Henrik Lundqvist has been the heart and soul of the Rangers for over a decade. When Lundqvist is thriving, as are the Blueshirts. But when he falters, the Rangers go right down with him. It’s an absolute necessity that Vigneault keeps him fresh if they want to be playing hockey in June again, especially with the World Cup of Hockey putting an early toll on the veteran netminder.
So if the Rangers are going to stick with the formula of living and dying with Lundqvist, fine go ahead. But if they want this method of hockey to work, then it’s pivotal that they keep the King healthy and rested.