TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- Glen Sather still has plenty of work to do before the start of next season, but a big part of the long-term future of the New York Rangers was secured Wednesday when the club announced a contract extension for goaltender Henrik Lundqvist reportedly worth $59.5 million over seven seasons.
Lundqvist, who will turn 32 years old in March, would have been an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2013-14 season but now could be a member of the Rangers organization through the end of his career. He is a five-time Vezina Trophy finalist (winning the award in 2011-12), and generally has been considered one of the League's elite players at the position throughout his nine-season career in New York.
The contract reportedly will carry an average annual value of $8.5 million, making Lundqvist the highest-paid goaltender in the League.
"Growing up, my favorite team was Frolunda back in Gothenburg [Sweden] and I had such a big love and respect for that organization," Lundqvist said after his team's practice. "It was hard for me to picture any other team for me to build that kind of a relationship. Now, being here and the connection I have to this organization and the love and respect I have for the organization is just what I had back home, if not more. That means a lot. To get that opportunity to stay with one club throughout your career is very special and something that I put a lot of value to."
He has been the face of the franchise and the face of hockey in the biggest media market in the United States for several years. The Rangers not only have built a team around the Swedish goaltender, but everything from marketing campaigns to fan chants at Madison Square Garden to magazine covers help tell part of the story behind the value of Lundqvist to the Rangers.
There always is going to be risk involved with any long-term deal, and especially for goaltenders, but Lundqvist has been consistent and durable during his career.
"We understand and I think everybody knows what he means to this group and to this franchise. He's such a competitor," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "He cares so much about his own game and the way the team is playing and everything going on around the team. It's really no surprise to a lot of us that he gets an extension like this. He deserves it and he's worked very hard so it is great for him."
A contract for Lundqvist is the first of several potential free agents for Sather and the Rangers to deal with between now and next season. There are 13 players on the active roster who are not signed beyond 2013-14, with seven of them potentially becoming unrestricted free agents.
That group includes captain Ryan Callahan and half of the team's top four defensemen, Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman.
"We have other people in the club that we've been in negotiation with and talking to, and this is just part of the process," Sather said. "In my mind Henrik was the one that needed to be signed first and that's how we tried to deal with it.
"It's an ongoing process. We've been speaking to all of their agents. We just don't announce that we've been speaking to their agents to anybody and we try to not let anyone know what's going on except for the people who are involved internally. I just think that's a better process."
The Rangers now have four players on long-term contracts. Top forward Rick Nash has four more seasons with an average annual value of $7.8 million. Center Brad Richards has six seasons left on a contract that counts $6.67 million against the salary cap. McDonagh is in the first year of a six-year contract valued at $4.7 million per season.
That would be 43 percent of the room below a salary cap of $64.3 million, which is what the League's cap is set at for the 2013-14 season, spent on four players. The cap is expected to increase for next season, and after recent television contracts agreed to with Rogers Communications in Canada and NBC Sports in the United States, along with other increases in revenue, hockey analysts project significant increases in the cap ceiling in future seasons.
"You need to have a bird in hand before you can really count on anything," Sather said. "A lot of that is speculation so far. Projections from the accounting people are to figure out if they're going to be accurate or not. I think in this case they probably will be, but we still have to be careful. We have a cap to deal with and other players to sign. It's terrific that Henrik decided to stay here. If he had decided to go somewhere else he would have I'm sure earned more money. But it always isn't money that's the factor. You have to have a competitive team. … There was no, 'I'm going to leave if you don't give me what I want.' There was none of that."
Sather lauded all of Lundqvist's accomplishments to this point in his career, and the goalie admitted winning a Stanley Cup with the Rangers is the biggest motivation for him. He has 284 wins, which is ninth all-time among goaltenders at his age, and with 25 more this season he would be fourth all-time behind Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy and Terry Sawchuk for netminders through their age-31 season.
That would mean 33 victories for Lundqvist in 2013-14, a figure he's reached in six of his seven full NHL seasons. His save percentage this season is .917; hardly poor, but lower than each of his past four seasons. It is partly a testament to his past play, but it actually was news this week when coach Alain Vigneault gave backup Cam Talbot back-to-back starts.
Whether or not the contract could help Lundqvist find his Vezina-level form was a popular question in the Rangers' dressing room after practice and then for Lundqvist at the press conference to announce his extension.
"This is a big, big thing for me. When you play at this level, every little percent of your focus will matter in the end. Maybe it can be a factor, but it is not like I've been thinking about it when I prepare for a game. I'm locked in to do what I have to do. Playing this game, especially for a goalie, is about blocking all the distractions and the things you can't control. I'll always talk about that, whether it is how the team is playing or the ref is calling the game or the negotiations. "
-- Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist
"During the summer I probably thought about it every day," Lundqvist said. "Going into training camp it was definitely there. I wanted to get it done, but then when it didn't happen for a couple of days it was on my mind but then I let it go. It hasn't been a factor for me the last month or so. I put it behind me and focused on my game. You always want to find reasons for why you're not playing at the top of your game. I'm not going to bring this into that. Of course it feels good now to have it in place and move forward.
"This is a big, big thing for me. When you play at this level, every little percent of your focus will matter in the end. Maybe it can be a factor, but it is not like I've been thinking about it when I prepare for a game. I'm locked in to do what I have to do. Playing this game, especially for a goalie, is about blocking all the distractions and the things you can't control. I'll always talk about that, whether it is how the team is playing or the ref is calling the game or the negotiations. You have to block it out. It is a very important thing, so maybe it has been in the back of my mind a little bit. I'm just happy that I'm going to be here."
Sather and the players on the Rangers certainly were happy to know Lundqvist is going to be with the organization for a long time. He will have a chance to own just about every franchise goaltending record there is and cement an already strong legacy in this city.
"The New York Rangers have had a long history of having great goaltenders and great goaltenders that have been with the organization for a long time," Rangers owner James Dolan said. "Eddie Giacomin, John Davidson, Mike Richter just to name the ones that come to mind in my time. I just wanted to say how proud and how pleased I am that Henrik is going to finish his career here with the New York Rangers and how appropriate that is given our history."