When the New York Rangers announced that they will buy out the final year of Henrik Lundqvist’s contract, of course – given the continued swirling rumors that Toronto Maple Leafs starter Frederik Andersen is on the move – I had to consider the possibility of Lundqvist joining the Maple Leafs. His 15-year career with the Rangers is over, but what’s next?
Lundqvist is so much more than a goalie; he’s a walking legacy. He’s certain to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame shortly after he retires. But, is he likely to retire? And, if he doesn’t retire, might he be a possible netminder for another team in blue?
What a Career Lundqvist Has Had
What a career Lundqvist has had. He’s the Rangers’ franchise leader in wins and shutouts in the regular season and playoffs. His career save percentage is .918 %, again the best in Rangers’ history. He has been nominated for the Vezina Trophy five times and won in 2012, and the Hart Trophy once. He’s the sixth-winningest goalie in NHL history. All these are on the plus side of the ledger. However, on the other side is one line item – he turned 38 years old in March.
Anton Khudobin is 34 years old and stood on his head for the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final. For the Maple Leafs, Johnny Bower helped carry the team to four Stanley Cup championships during the 1960s and was the oldest full-time goalie in NHL history at 45 years old. He’s in the Hall of Fame. But those were different times – right?
Would Lundqvist Be Interested in Seeking Lord Stanley’s Cup?
Lundqvist hasn’t won the Stanley Cup and that’s likely the nut he’d like to crack. Perhaps similar to Jason Spezza, he’d consider trying his luck – or better yet engaging his skill – in Toronto? He’s one of the best NHL goalies ever. In fact, Yardbarker ranked him #10 all-time.
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun contacted Don Meehan, Lundqvist’s agent, about the Swedish goalie’s plans. The response was that his plans are still, “To be determined.” Undoubtedly, that rests in part on Lundqvist’s desire to continue to play. If he does, there might be a couple of contending teams he’d like to hook up with for a final chance at the Cup. The Maple Leafs could be one of them.
The Current Context of Lundqvist’s Choices
All these rumors and chatter about Lundqvist come in the context of Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas letting it be known that other teams have asked about his Danish goalie and that he is picking up the phone. The organization has made it clear that they aren’t shopping Andersen, but logic suggests he might be on the move.
The question isn’t whether or not Andersen is a good goalie, he is. He has a propensity to let in a soft goal or two; Columbus Blue Jacket’s Liam Foudy’s Game-5 goal during the qualifying round is case and point. Still, during that series, his save percentage was .936, which is strong.
On the other hand, if we’re debating, Andersen has a record of 0-4 in series deciding playoff games. While that isn’t totally his fault, he’s not totally exempt either.
Finally, given that Andersen will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, no sane Maple Leafs supporter likes the idea of watching him play in 220-2021 and then lose him for nothing when his contract expires. When a team has a goalie (or an asset, if you want to remove the human element from the conversation) this good, it isn’t good business to squander it for nothing. Some sort of backup plan is necessary.
If the Maple Leafs move on from Andersen, a number of “younger names” – most recently the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Matt Murray – have been tossed around as a possible replacement for next season. And, given what seems to be a plethora of quality available names on the free-agent market, is Lundqvist simply too old for his to be added to an already deep pool of goalies this offseason?
Considering How Lundqvist Has Played During Recent Seasons
Yesterday, Leafs Nation’s Brian Reid analyzed Lundqvist’s recent seasons and suggested that his statistics might be misleading. Sure, he is coming off back-to-back below-average seasons. Agreed, his best years are likely behind him. His save percentage has been declining and his goals-against-average has been rising since 2014-15.
He’s past his prime – no argument. Furthermore, he’d be a gamble for a team like the Maple Leafs who expects to challenge for the Stanley Cup. But, when Tim Thomas won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP when the Boston Bruins won the Cup in 2011, he was the oldest player in NHL history to win the award at age 37.
Reid then uses advanced statistics to make the case that, even at Lundqvist’s age, he was solid at five-on-five and his rising numbers could be attributed to a poor Rangers penalty kill. If that’s the case, his stats might be as much a function of the Rangers team in front of him as his skills. The Rangers have ranked in the bottom ten on the penalty kill over the last three seasons.
The quality of the penalty kill matters, as Maple Leafs fans know. After Sheldon Keefe took over as the head coach, the team ranked seventh in penalty-killing. During Mike Babcock’s 2019-20 season as head coach, it was the ninth worst in the NHL. That improvement helped the Maple Leafs’ record over that time frame.
Where Are Maple Leafs Fans Left in Considering Lundqvist?
So, where does that leave the conversation about Lundqvist joining the Maple Leafs? The duo of Andersen and Jack Campbell inspires more confidence than the duo of Lundqvist and Campbell. Still, the former Rangers goalie might be worth considering as a cost-effective choice. Now that the Rangers have bought Lundqvist out, it means that – should he wish to continue to play – he can probably be picked up cheaply. If that team is the Maple Leafs, there are advantages to the money saved on moving in a Lundqvist contract and moving out an Andersen contract.
That money could be used to bring in players who might improve the team’s defense. On some level, that has to be attractive. Still, although the thought might be enticing on one level, given the team’s desire to go for the Stanley Cup, Lundqvist isn’t likely to be a member of the 2020-21 Maple Leafs roster.