Lundqvist deal is done, but now comes hard part for Sather, Rangers
That was the easy part. Now, New York Rangers GM Glen Sather has to get down to the heavy lifting.
The Rangers, to the surprise of absolutely no one, announced Thursday that they signed netminder Henrik Lundqvist to a six-year, $41.25-million contract extension deal.[+] EnlargeIcon SMIHenrik Lundqvist's new deal will keep him with the Rangers through the 2013-14 season.
Lundqvist's seven shutouts are second in the league and his 24 wins are tied for sixth overall, but he has struggled of late, recording wins in just six of his last 16 games as the Rangers continue to hover around the playoff bubble. Still, there seems little doubt that, even with this season's wobbles, Lundqvist remains one of the top half-dozen goaltenders in the NHL. At least, the Rangers have taken a six-year gamble he is just that.
Now, Sather must move forward in his bid to resolve some of the outstanding issues plaguing a team most believed was of the Stanley Cup caliber when the season began.
The offense is just now starting to show signs of life, thanks mostly to Chris Drury's recent spurt of productivity (he is still minus-11 and has just 18 goals after a career-best 37 a season ago).
The main issues confronting Sather are what to do about Jaromir Jagr and how to improve his average defense. One issue seems to naturally lead to another. Jagr is done in New York -- that much seems clear. Once again, this isn't about a mercurial star quitting, but a talented star (and captain) who has hit the wall. It is not a stretch to suggest Jagr's departure would free up the rest of the forward contingent to be more productive; addition by subtraction, if you will.
Barring a miracle that would see Jagr hit the 84-point mark and the Rangers win at least one playoff round, Jagr will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Top-end defensemen will be in play leading up to the Feb. 26 trade deadline and would be a welcome addition to a Rangers team that boasts a 19th-ranked power play. Joni Pitkanen, Rob Blake, John-Michael Liles, Dan Boyle and even the much-maligned Bryan McCabe might enjoy a change of scenery, and Jagr would be a juicy asset to dangle either in exchange for a defenseman or draft pick or prospect with a team looking to make a splash.
Sather doesn't necessarily need to trade Jagr for a defenseman. It's possible he could add younger assets or draft picks for Jagr and use those assets to acquire the defenseman he needs.
The other asset he may be in a position to move is netminder Al Montoya. The Lundqvist deal didn't change Montoya's future in New York; Montoya was looking at spending the foreseeable future as Lundqvist's backup or a starter in the AHL given Lundqvist's position. But Montoya, the sixth overall pick in 2004, has not yet developed into an NHL-caliber goaltender, at least not yet. He is 13-8-3 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .907 save percentage with the Rangers' farm team in Hartford. Those are decent numbers, but Montoya has been supplanted as the top goalie for the Wolf Pack by late-blooming Miika Wiikman, a 23-year-old who doesn't even show up in the NHL's list of netminders. Wiikman is 13-4-2.
Montoya, 23, remains an interesting commodity, though, especially for teams with uncertain futures in net, like Los Angeles. Edmonton might also be looking to get younger between the pipes and Detroit, at some point, will be looking at life after Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood.
Regardless, Sather has crossed one item off his "to-do" list by locking up Lundqvist for the long term. Now, he's got to get busy with the real work.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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