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Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers agree on seven-year contract extension

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist puts on his helmet

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist puts on his helmet against the New Jersey Devils in the first period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden. (Nov. 12, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - After agreeing to a seven-year contract extension worth $59.5 million that will allow him to complete his career as a Ranger, Henrik Lundqvist said Wednesday he couldn't ever picture himself playing for another NHL team.

"It was never an option," said Lundqvist, 31, who will earn the highest average annual salary of any NHL goaltender -- $8.5 million -- starting next year, his 10th with the club that drafted him in 2000.

For team president and general manager Glen Sather, there really wasn't much choice either, except to cut the best package he could with the perennial team MVP and face of the franchise.

The organizational depth in net is thin and so is this summer's free-agent class. Allowing Lundqvist, who won the Vezina Trophy in 2010-11, to test the market in July would have forced the organization into a bidding war that might have cost an eighth year, and perhaps $9 million a season.

"If he had gone someplace else," Sather said at the team's practice complex, "I'm sure he would've earned more money."

And so, a protracted negotiation that Sather described as "very friendly" and "low-key," but was on Lundqvist's mind since last summer, ended peacefully for the Swede, who will likely finish his tenure on Broadway with virtually every goaltending record for the franchise.

There is one unattained goal, one that would solidify his place in Blueshirt lore: "I really want to win the Cup here in New York," said Lundqvist, who admittedly has not been consistent this season, with an 8-11 record and a 2.51 goals-against average, considerably higher than his 2.25 mark for his first eight seasons. "I hope from here, personally, I can just raise my game."

Coach Alain Vigneault, in his first year with the Rangers, (who are a disappointing 14-14) sensed a shift in the wind. "Anytime your top players are going into the last year of a contract, there's going to be a lot of outside noise," he said. "You can see this was a relief for Hank; I think this is very positive for the whole team."

That's true, at least for this season, but the roster could then change considerably. Seven players, including captain Ryan Callahan and two of the top four defensemen, Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman, can be unrestricted free agents next summer.

"In my mind Henrik was the one who had to be signed first," said Sather, who confirmed ongoing talks with other players. Forwards Brian Boyle, Taylor Pyatt, Benoit Pouliot and Dominic Moore also are eligible for free agency. And there are financial decisions to be made on seven restricted free agents: Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Michael Del Zotto, Justin Falk and John Moore.

Lundqvist, who won the gold medal for Sweden in the 2006 Olympics and will start for Team Sweden in Sochi in February, has been paid an average of $6.877 million the past six years, which constitutes about 11 percent of the team's salary cap.

Even with Lundqvist's raise and long-term pact, the team is not facing a serious cap crunch. The cap ceiling is expected to rise considerably next season and into the future, thanks in part to a new $5-billion Canadian television deal with Rogers Communications.

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Rangers, Madison Square

Garden and Cablevision.

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