The New York Rangers have played the Toronto Maple Leafs five times in the last two seasons, and every time the Rangers have put Alexandar Georgiev in net. The Leafs likely know him better than they know their own prospects. Which makes it only natural that when the Leafs need a goalie, his is the name that comes to mind.
The Rangers are in a fix, goes the story. They have three goalies, with their young prospects both with the potential to be starters. But Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin are blocked from becoming the best tandem this side of Long Island by Henrik Lundqvist, who is not leaving New York in the waning days of his career. Compounding this problem is the reality that those young prospects aren’t actually young. They were born 41 days apart, and in very short order, they’ll both be 24. They are at their peak now, and they should be in the NHL now.
And they should be a tandem.
I scoffed at the idea that tandems are the future for all teams back in November, but when one falls in your lap that has the potential for greatness, you don’t just wander away from it because you’re still terribly fond of your old starter.
And Lundqvist is old. In very short order, he’s going to be 38. Which is exactly why the Leafs should be doing everything in their power to get the Rangers to trade them Henrik Lundqvist.
The Case against Alexandar Georgiev
He’s 24. That’s pretty much the whole argument. He’s had two excellent seasons in limited starts in New York, and the Rangers are a laughably bad team defensively, so it’s not like he’s had an easy ride. But this is it — it’s go time for him. Someone has to put him in the net as a starter for real with the trust and backing of a team and their management. He worked as a tandem partner last year with Lundqvist and played 33 games, while this year they’re at 23 and 25 games played, and for Georgiev, this is all happening while he’s atop the tradebait lists.
The Leafs are not in the market for a starter, not yet. They have Frederik Andersen, historically in the class with Lundqvist, but having a poor season, and two young prospects in the minor leagues who are years away from the NHL. Joseph Woll is not going to be on the Leafs next year, and Ian Scott’s future is more uncertain. Maybe once Andersen’s contract is up after next season, they might be ready to find another goalie from outside the organization, but they aren’t there yet.
Georgiev is at his peak. You trade for him if you are replacing Andersen, and the Leafs are not doing that.
What they need to do is give Andersen some space, some breathing room, take the pressure off, and let him regress to his mean without a bunch of jackasses booing him or doing mock bows behind his net.
The Case for Henrik Lundqvist
The NHL has nine goaltenders this season over 35. Ryan Miller and Craig Anderson are the oldest at 39 and 38, and Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne and Mike Smith are all 37. Corey Crawford, Marc-Andre Fleury, Curtis McElhinney and Jimmy Howard are all 35 or 36.
Here’s how they rank by Save % Over Expected, using Moneypuck’s data (All-Situations, for goalies with at least 20 games played):
- Crawford: 23rd
- Fleury: 26th
- Lundqvist: 29th
- Anderson: 33rd
- Smith: 36th
- Rinne: 40th
- Howard: 47th/
McElhinney has only 13 games played, and he’s just above Anderson, and Miller has only 13 games as well, and he is just below Smith. Georgiev is seventh in the NHL, and Igor Shesterkin, who has high expectations, has only been in three games, and hasn’t proven anything yet. Oh, and Andersen is 35th, but is as likely to go up as Georgiev is to come down.
All of that is a roundabout way of saying old guys aren’t usually all that good. And Lundqvist is one of the oldest. He’s got one data point in his favour to back up hope he’s got more than just this season left in him. He’s the only one of these goalies with a statistical control.
Joel Lundqvist is fourth in points on his team in the SHL, and is playing the third most minutes per game for forwards. His team is in fifth place in the league and is ticking along, winning games with their soon to be 38-year-old centre still going strong. He’s 14th in the league in hits, in case you think he’s just taking it easy out there.
Meanwhile in the NHL, Lundqvist is doing better on the Rangers than Andersen is this season on the Leafs. And there’s nothing a hockey player likes less than a guy who is better than him coming in to sit in the stall next to him. Particularly not a guy you thought you’d already proven yourself the better of.
You see, back when Andersen was a young prospect of 22, he went to Sweden and played a season for Frölunda. It was the first real test of a goalie who had been drafted once, but never signed. He’d never played outside of Denmark. He obliterated expectations with the best save % in the league, the best GAA, the most shutouts and was a nominee for rookie of the year. And he did all that on Henrik Lundqvist’s old team, breaking some of his team records in the process.
Wouldn’t that make you want to prove yourself, if the old man who you’d put down on the mat once came sauntering back (in a better suit) to show you he wasn’t all the way out of the game? It’s damn near a movie plot.
While Andersen is busy buying newer, better clothes, and working to get back into form on the ice too, Lundqvist is several cuts above the rest of the Leafs options as a fill-in goalie, and he’s a solid, mature professional, and I hear maturity is lacking on the Leafs lately.
Okay, I hear what your thinking. How could this work? Lundqvist has a cap hit of a bajillion dollars, and a no-move clause.
The Case for the Cap Space
Lundqvist’s cap hit is $8.5 million, and his contract runs through next season. That extra season is exactly why the Rangers are in the spot they’re in. If it ran out this summer, they could just ride it out, running three goalies and playing Shesterkin enough to keep him happy. They can’t very realistically do that for another full season when they should have reason to believe they could be competitive.
That gives the Rangers a heavy motivation to retain to the full 50% on a Lundqvist trade and get themselves set up for the future with only one more year with some dead cap space on their books.
The Leafs would then need to find room for $4.250 million. And I know just how they can do it.
This is not a deal that has no cost attached. While the Leafs are solving a problem for the Rangers, the Rangers have to take a cap dump to make it work, and pay out half of Lundqvist’s salary next year (they don’t care about money, but the cap hit might be irritating).
But to give Andersen a backup/partner in net who can really pull his his weight, it could be worth it, and wouldn’t likely be Kasperi Kapanen. It might be very, very worth it come playoff time when the Boston Bruins aren’t the only team with two choices in the nets.
If there was reason to believe that Morgan Rielly was going to miss the rest of the regular season, the Leafs wouldn’t even need to clear any cap space. So making this deal work cap wise is the easy problem to solve. The tough one I’ve left for last.
The Case for Lundqvist to waive that NMC
Sit back — in your tux of course — have this perfectly stirred martini, Henke, and listen to the music.
Are you really done? Are you ready to go home and let Joel shoot pucks at you in practice and become a soccer dad? Are you hanging them up? Or do you want one more taste of a chance at glory? Do you want some silverware, Henke? Because as much as the Rangers have been your second home, they ain’t getting you that.
I get that Toronto isn’t Manhattan, but winning takes suffering. And there are compensations.
It’s practically Little Sweden these days in the Leafs locker room. If you ask nice, they’ll do a special third jersey where they just make all the white parts yellow. You’re not going to get any other chances to go to a team as rich as the Rangers, Toronto is it, and if it works, man, if it comes off, you’ll be a god. It’ll be like that year in Göteborg when you were a kid, and you could do no wrong. Only it will be happening right next door to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
What do you say? One more try? One more chance? Think of the possibilities, and just go for it. Take a leap.