Rangers

Hartnett: Rangers Playing With Fire If They Fail To Extend Lundqvist Pronto

Expect King Henrik To Command Over $8 Million Per Year
Henrik Lundqvist (credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Henrik Lundqvist (credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

Here’s a question that should make every New York Rangers diehard shudder in fear — what would the Blueshirts become without all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist standing tall between the pipes?

No, we aren’t talking about a long-term injury situation where experienced backup Martin Biron would have to step in for an extended time. That would be a cakewalk compared to the scenarios that could unfold if general manager Glen Sather allows Lundqvist to play out a contract year.

The Rangers can’t ignore the elephant in the room by allowing Lundqvist to begin the 2013-14 season without a lucrative extension in hand. Surely, Sather understands the treacherous risks that would come with this territory.

He must strike a lengthy deal with his gifted Swedish netminder — pronto.

Lundqvist has clearly stated that he wants to play without distractions once the puck drops in Phoenix on October 3. It’s entirely his prerogative should he want to turn off negotiations like a faucet once the new season commences.

There isn’t any reason why Sather should play with fire and potentially expose Lundqvist to free agency in 2014.

Could you imagine the price Lundqvist would command on the open market? It’s entirely possible his annual wage could rise to above $9 million, perhaps even into the stratosphere of $10 million.

Lundqvist heading to free agency in ’14 is a long shot. Still, the pressure is on Sather to get a deal done now. For Sather, it’s either pay Henrik large amount now — or pay an even more enormous salary later.

MY PREDICTION: LUNDQVIST WILL PRODUCE THE BEST STATISTICAL SEASON OF HIS CAREER

I’m fully expecting Lundqvist to have the finest statistical season of his distinguished career in 2013-14.

New head coach Alain Vigneault’s system will allow the Rangers to spend less time pinned in the defensive zone, thus Lundqvist’s workload will be decreased. A fresher Lundqvist could post 40 wins for this first time this season.

Truly elite goaltending has become increasingly rare in the modern NHL — and teams are paying top dollar for it. Tuukka Rask agreed a eight-year, $56 million contract in July. Previously, Rask was earning $3.5 million. That’s quite a raise.

Lundqvist earned $6.875 million last season, and is currently set to earn $5.125 million during the 2013-14 season.

An annual average salary near or slightly above $8 million is in the ballpark of what Lundqvist could be looking at if Sather opts to get a deal done now. The Rangers can offer Lundqvist a maximum extension of eight years.

It’s hard to understand the reasoning if Sather allows Lundqvist play out a contract year. Should Lundqvist deliver the Stanley Cup to Broadway, the Rangers will have to pay through the nose.

Meanwhile, there doesn’t seem to be any traction in talks with restricted free agent center Derek Stepan. Sather is standing firm on his usual policy of two-year bridge contracts for restricted free agents. Stepan’s camp appears to have very little leverage in negotiations.

Of course, Sather broke his policy by re-signing defenseman Ryan McDonagh to a six-year contract worth $28.2 million. It is probable that Stepan will eventually have to settle on a two-year deal.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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