What a long, strange, surprising eight months it’s been.
Almost a year ago when the NHL released the 2011-12 schedule, who could have ever expected that a team that would spend close to one month on the road to start the season and play in 5 different time zones because of renovations to their home arena, a team we’d learn was going to partake in the Winter Classic (and along with it, get thrown into the behind-the-scenes evasiveness of HBO’s 24/7) right before they left on that trip, a team that many thought would be better that last year but not the top seed in the Eastern Conference better, a team that hasn’t won more than one round in the playoffs since 1997, would have wound up just 2 wins shy of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals when all was said and done?
As disappointing as the finish was for the New York Rangers, looking back they gave their fans more than they could have ever anticipated when the puck dropped in Stockholm and they opened the season with an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings and a shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
Now that the season’s over and the Rangers had their breakup day and exit interviews on May 27th, Rangers management is planning what they are going to do in order to address the needs that were exposed in their exit from the playoffs. All of that will come in a time where there is labor uncertainty on the horizon as the Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire on September 15th.
Looking back is what I’m going to do here, but look ahead as well to what the future may hold for the current group. Odds are we will be saying goodbye to some of these guys that have enamored their fans with their gritty, tenacious play. Today’s focus is on the goaltenders.
What can you possibly say about the man who has been the backbone and the MVP of the team for seven seasons? Lundqvist’s 2011-12 season began where his hockey career started – in Gothenburg, Sweden, He had the opportunity to play against his former SEL club the Frolunda Indians, which his twin brother captains in an exhibition game before opening the season with two games in Stockholm. Lundqvist didn’t get his first win until the 4th game of the season, a 40-save shutout of the defending Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks. It was a sign of what was to come for him. Lundqvist would go on to achieve personal career regular season bests, winning 39 games, posting a 1.97 GAA and a .930 Sv%. He also recorded 8 shutouts.
On the national stage, Lundqvist shone bright as well. Who can forget him making a save on a Danny Briere penalty shot that was awarded with 19.6 left in the third period of the Winter Classic, preserving the win? Lundqvist was also named to the 2012 All-Star game and was appointed the assistant captain for Team Alfredsson.
For the fourth time in his career he earned a Vezina nomination and became a first-time nominee for both the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award, a testament to what General Managers, the PHWA, and his own peers thought of his accomplishments and how important he was to the Rangers’ success.
Heading into the playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference, there was a tremendous amount of pressure on ‘The King,” who had developed a reputation of being a strong regular season goaltender, but when it came to the playoffs, the wheels fell off. Lundqvist gave his team a chance, holding the opponent to 2 goals or fewer in 12 of his 20 starts, including 3 shutouts. With a .931 Sv% and a 1.82 GAA, both slightly better than his regular season numbers and both career playoff bests, one would expect he would’ve wound up with better than a .500 record (10-10). A goalie can carry his team, but he can’t do it alone. Those whispers about Lundqvist in the postseason won’t stop until he’s skating around on Garden ice with the Stanley Cup hoisted overhead, but his accomplishments should quiet them down significantly.
At 30, Lundqvist has 2 more years remaining on his current contract and will continue to be the backbone of this team going forward.
Biron was brought in as a free agent in 2010 to provide the Rangers a stable, veteran backup who could shoulder a portion of the workload to give the Rangers a more rested Lundqvist for the playoff run. A broken collarbone in 2010-11 didn’t let the veteran fulfill what he was brought in to do, but 2011-12 was a different story. Biron went 12-6-2 with a .904 Sv% and 2.46 GAA. He had a strong first half of the year, with 7 of those wins coming in 2011. Biron’s play did slip when the calendar turned to 2012, and he seemed to give up a lot of 5-hole goals, causing some fans to sour on him.
Biron is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. The market for UFA goaltenders is not particularly strong this offseason (here’s a link to the list that appears on capgeek.com). Among the crop, of those who played at least 10 games, only Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg had a better save percentage and goals against average. At 34, Biron knows and accepts his role as backup. He seems well-liked by his teammates and looks to have a good working relationship with Lundqvist.
As an $875,000.00 cap hit over the last 2 seasons, the Rangers got bang for their buck with Martin Biron. Given the options that are out there, how much of an upgrade would the Rangers really get by signing, for argument’s sake, Scott Clemmensen who might take up a little more cap space than Biron? It’s not clear if Biron’s second-half struggles are due to a decline in his skills or if it’s something that can be fixed with the help of the Rangers’ goaltending coach Benoit Allaire. It makes sense to re-sign him to a one-year deal, and then both sides can reassess again next offseason if they want the relationship to continue.
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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927