COVID-19 will cause the NHL’s salary-cap to be lower than expected next season, which could affect Henrik Lundqvist’s future on Broadway.
On March 4, 2020, it was announced that the projected salary cap for the 2020-21 NHL season would be somewhere between $84 million and $88 million. This would’ve represented a dramatic increase from this year’s $81.5 million and benefited the cap-strapped New York Rangers as they face the difficult task of re-signing several key free agents.
And then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The NHL’s 2019-20 campaign is currently under suspension, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the league can finish the season. Regardless of whether or not commissioner Gary Bettman finds a way to award the Stanley Cup, the NHL will lose an immense amount of its anticipated revenue, causing next year’s salary cap to fall significantly lower than forecasted.
To help teams adjust to the unexpectedly low figure, the league may allow compliance buyouts, which would let each team buy out a player’s contract without it counting against the salary cap.
For Jeff Gorton and John Davidson, there’s an obvious buyout choice: The longtime face of the franchise.
No, this is not how it’s supposed to end for the man nicknamed “The King,” the Rangers’ all-time leader in wins and shutouts, the lifelong Blueshirt, the backbone of the organization.
Instead of being quarantined at home in Sweden, the future Hall of Famer is supposed to be leading the Blueshirts on one final miraculous run in pursuit of that elusive Stanley Cup.
But it looks like Lundqvist won’t receive his last hurrah, his swan song, his shining moment, his send-off.
He won’t experience that well-deserved final standing ovation from the garden faithful, and he won’t get to enjoy the booming “Hen-Rik!” chant one last time.
He won’t get to ride off into the sunset and will ultimately have to wait until the night his No. 30 jersey is raised to the MSG rafters.
And while I’m sure nobody within the Rangers organization wants to buy out the New York icon, it simply makes too much sense.
Buying out Lundqvist would free up $8.5 million, which could then be used to retain Tony DeAngelo and Jesper Fast. In allocating “The King’s” money toward these two crucial restricted free agents, the Blueshirts would likely be able to find a way to re-sign the rest of their important pending free agents in Ryan Strome, Alexandar Georgiev, and Brendan Lemieux.
Additionally, losing Lundqvist wouldn’t result in a void that needs filling. With Igor Shesterkin and Georgiev in the fold, the Rangers have their goaltending tandem of the future.
While Lundqvist’s leadership will be missed, the increased reps and attention will benefit the two young goaltenders. A Lundqvist buyout would ultimately solve the failed three-goalie-rotation, therefore putting the team in a more favorable position moving forward.
The only other possible buyout candidates would hypothetically be Brendan Smith and Marc Staal, but neither move would give the Blueshirts as much cap flexibility as moving on from Lundqvist would.
Parting with Smith would open up $4.35 million in cap space, whereas the departure of Staal would leave management with an extra $5.7 million. All three of the aforementioned contenders have one more year on their respective contracts.
If the Rangers weren’t desperately in need of cap space, a buyout of one of the two defensemen would be justifiable. The Blueshirts would free up a substantial amount of money and Lundqvist could still play out his contract and have his farewell tour.
However, the current state of the franchise prohibits this from happening. Gorton and Davidson will need every penny they can get to keep the current core in place, so choosing not to buy out Lundqvist would be detrimental to the team.
Furthermore, the Rangers currently don’t have very many left defensemen. DeAngelo, Jacob Trouba, and Adam Fox all play on the right side. The only two blueliners outside of Ryan Lindgren that play on the left are Staal and Smith, thus losing one of them would leave an unnecessary hole within New York’s already shaky defense.
Keep in mind, there’s no guarantee that the NHL will grant each team with a compliance buyout. Although this is purely speculation, it’s certainly a legitimate possibility. Yet if this scenario does come to fruition, a Lundqvist buyout is the only logical option for the Broadway Blueshirts.
While it’d be difficult to see No. 30 depart in this fashion, it’s probably what’s best for him and the team.
If Lundqvist was to return to the Rangers, he’d likely earn very little playing time as the third goalie on the depth chart. On the other hand, a buyout would give him the chance to sign wherever he wants and get another shot at a Stanley Cup.
No, New York will not be a legitimate contender next year.
And for anyone dreaming of the Blueshirts using their buyout on Lundqvist only to have him re-sign on a cheaper deal, it’s not gonna happen. A compliance buyout forbids the player from re-signing with the team that executed the move for one year.
This could truly mark the end of his remarkable Rangers tenure.
Long live Lundqvist.
Long live “The King.”