is it possible that Henrik Lundqvist already has played his last game in a Rangers uniform?
Yes, it’s definitely possible.
If the 2019-20 season, which was put on pause March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, indeed is over, Lundqvist — after 14 years as the face of the Rangers — will have ended season No. 15 as the team’s No. 3 goaltender.
His last game will have been a third-period relief appearance March 7 in a 6-4 loss to the Devils at the Garden, and his last start will have been a 5-3 loss to the Flyers at the Garden on March 1, the day before his 38th birthday. He will have finished his final season 10-12-3 with a 3.16 goals-against average, .905 save percentage and one shutout.
“I know Hank can still play, and I know he can still play at a high level, and I know he can still be an NHL goalie,’’ said NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes, a former Rangers goaltender. “Does he stay with the Rangers? I don’t necessarily see that happening. I could be wrong.’’
Weekes, who during the NHL pause is doing daily Instagram Live chats with hockey guests in addition to his NHL Network duties, might not be wrong about Lundqvist’s playing career with the Rangers. But it’s hard for him to come right out and say it, because he and Lundqvist are very close.
They have been ever since the Swede joined the Rangers as a 23-year-old rookie for the 2005-06 season. Weekes, then 30, had signed with the team as a free agent before that season. The two instantly formed a bond that stayed strong even after Lundqvist supplanted Weekes as the No. 1 goalie early in the season.
Now it is Lundqvist who has lost the title of No. 1 for the Rangers. Igor Shesterkin, who came over from Russia last summer and came up from the AHL in early January, is the new No. 1. And in the last six weeks of play, Alexandar Georgiev settled into the No. 2 role.
It is impossible to imagine the Rangers carrying three goaltenders next season, when Lundqvist will be in the final year of the seven-year, $59.5 million contract he signed in December 2013.
On Feb. 24, the day of the NHL trade deadline, a reflective Lundqvist said he would sit down with management during the offseason and talk about his role with the team going forward.
“I’ve been very open with the management the two years I’ve been through this process that, if there comes a day where they feel like I’m not a good solution . . . let’s talk about it, let’s be open about it,’’ Lundqvist said that day.
With the fate of the 2019-20 season undetermined, there are many issues that will need to be resolved before the NHL returns to play. The biggest, perhaps, relates to handling lost revenue from the current season.
Per the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the National Hockey League Players Association, players and owners split hockey-related revenue 50-50. If the 2019-20 season doesn’t resume, estimates are the HRR will be about $1 billion less than expected. That could mean the salary cap will go down next season from this season’s $81.5 million.
If so, the Rangers may have no choice but to buy out Lundqvist. Of course, even if the league and the NHLPA agree to a deal that keeps the salary cap where it is, they still might choose to part with Lundqvist.
If that happens, he could retire, or return to Sweden and finish his career there, or try to find a job somewhere else in the NHL. Weekes believes a team such as San Jose might be a fit.
“Is it another [NHL] team next year? I don’t know,’’ he said. “But I know he can still play.’’
Maybe just not for the Rangers.