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Jan Levin analyzes the ups and downs in hockey this week, including the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist, who's struggling through a tough year.
Past Fantasy Outlooks
Perhaps for the first time in his career, Lundqvist represents something of an enigma ahead of the coming campaign. Now 35 years old, the Swede is coming off the worst season of his career in terms of GAA (2.74) and save percentage (.910), but he was able to elevate his game in the playoffs (2.25, .927). Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to propel the Blueshirts to the Stanley Cup, making it that much more difficult for Lundqvist to add that accomplishment to his Hall of Fame resume. The difference in his stats between the regular season and playoffs last year may be attributable to Lundqvist consciously conserving his strength and energy, but that won't soothe prospective fantasy owners. If not for an injury, he would have cleared 60 appearances yet again last season, but he settled in at 57 instead; that’s a solid approximate target for him in 2017-18, with new backup Ondrej Pavelec unlikely to challenge Lundqvist for supremacy in the Rangers’ net.
Tick, tock – the years just keep going by, and while Lundqvist still looks sharp at age 34, he’s certainly not getting younger and that Stanley Cup seems more and more elusive every year. Although he finished last season with a typically Lundqvist-esque .920 save mark, he did so with a strangely inconsistent season of hot and cold streaks. Part of it is that the Rangers’ defense and penalty killing weren’t so sharp, as they often hung Lundqvist out to dry and gave up more shots than he’d faced in years, but the Swede’s finest seasons are clearly behind him. Of course, even with the clock ticking on the King's championship aspirations, he’s still one of the top few fantasy goalies thanks to his nearly guaranteed 30-plus wins with strong ratios.
The 2014-15 campaign was a rarity for Lundqvist, as he spent time on injured reserve for the first time in his career, playing in just 46 games -- his fewest total in a non-lockout-shortened season. The extra rest didn't help the King and his Blueshirts bring home the Stanley Cup last year, as they suffered another bitterly disappointing playoff defeat. But they'll be back as one of the premier teams in the league this year, and as usual, they'll owe much of that to the heroics of Lundqvist, who's posted a save percentage of .920 or better in six consecutive seasons. There are no absolute guarantees in sports, but 30-plus wins and a sparkling save percentage have been matters of course for Lundqvist throughout his career.
One of hockey’s most trustworthy goaltenders, Lundqvist is coming off a roller coaster of a campaign. Despite going 12-15-2 through the first three months of last season, the organization locked in King Henrik for the long haul in early December, inking the netminder to a seven-year, $59.5 million extension. With the weight of contract negotiations off his mind, Lundqvist turned over a new leaf with the new calendar year. The 32-year-old went on to lead Team Sweden to the silver medal in the 2014 Winter Olympics and posted a 21-9-3 record (1.96 GAA) in the final three months of the regular season en route to his first Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Despite an increase in GAA (2.35) and a slight dip in save percentage (.920) as well as shutouts (five) last season, it’s fair to say Lundqvist’s status as one of game’s top-tier goalies remains highly secure.
Season after season, Lundqvist solidifies his place with some of the best goalies in NHL history, much less Rangers history. In fact, on April 3 of last season, he surpassed Eddie Giacomin and statistically became the second best goalie in Rangers history with 268 wins. Overall, King Henrik posted another terrific season last campaign, posting a 2.05 GAA and 24-16-3 record in the regular season, placing him in the middle of talks for a Vezina -- yet again. So complete was his season that he was even named to Vanity Fair's Best Dressed list. While his record in the post season (5-7) was nothing to write home about, a glance at his 2.14 GAA suggests the guys in front of him need to step it up offensively. At 31-years-old, Lundqvist doesn't appear to have lost a step and in the final year of his contract, he is likely to go into overdrive. BUY, BUY, BUY in any and ALL FORMATS.
There aren't enough superlatives in the dictionary to throw at King Henrik as he comes off arguably his best season ever in 2011-12. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner and Hart Trophy finalist posted career-bests in wins (39), save percentage (.930), and goals against average (1.97) last year and shouldn't see much of a dropoff in 2012-13 with one of the league's top defenses in front of him. It will likely require a first-round pick for fantasy owners to enlist Lundqvist's services for this year, but it will be a pick well-spent as he's all but guaranteed to finish the season as one of the league's top netminders.
Last season was arguably King Lundqvist's best as he racked up 36 wins - 11 shutouts - to go along with a .923 save percentage and 2.28 goals-against average. He performed extremely well down the stretch and became the only NHL goalie to begin his career with six straight 30-win seasons. Clearly, this has helped him stake out a spot as one of the top goalies in the league. With a young supporting cast working in front of him, Lundqvist will need to be brilliant more often than not in 2011-12. Moreover, Martin Biron's presence as the backup enables Lundqvist to play a more reasonable 65 games instead of the 70-plus that he had been accustomed to the last few seasons. Any way you slice it, Lundqvist will be among the first five twine tenders taken in fantasy drafts, so plan accordingly.
Lundqvist delivered yet another solid season for the Rangers last year. The three-time Vezina Trophy nominee put up a very respectable 2.38 goals-against average and .921 save percentage, both of which ranked eighth in the NHL, while also chipping in four shutouts. However, King Henrik was again slowed down by the team in front of him – the Rangers ranked 16th in the league with just 2.67 goals per game. Lundqvist was also a victim of a bit of bad luck, taking 10 losses in either overtime or a shootout. Yes, he notched 35 wins, but he also started 72 games between the pipes, second only to New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur. This offseason the Rangers brought in veteran Martin Biron, who is expected to get closer to 20 starts in goal. This will enable Lundqvist to be at his best in every game he’s called upon. Another thing that should help Hank out is a more experienced defensive core– youngsters Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto should all improve defensively as they gain experience each season. If the Rangers are able to score more goals and Lundqvist is able to put up his usual stellar GAA and SV%, the King has the chance to be an elite netminder.
Lundqvist ranked 11th in the NHL during the 2008-09 campaign with a 2.43 GAA and was one of the main reasons the Rangers were in a position to advance to the second round of the playoffs last season. Lundqvist was the victim of poor goal support and at the time, a porous defense. He also managed three shutouts last season, plus another in the postseason. The Rangers defense figures to be improved this year and King Henrik should continue to be one of the elite netminders in the NHL. If the Rangers can improve their offense and give Lundqvist a few extra wins, the Swede could be a top-5 goalie this year.
Lundqvist will remain a top notch goalie this season. Definitely someone you will want to draft if possible. The Eastern Conference is wide open and the Rangers are one of the better teams. Lundqvist started slow in 07-08 because of his father's illness, now that his father is doing better, Lundqvist's numbers may improve as well.
Many of us are still Lundqvist non-believers, but the numbers don't lie – this Swedish import is a franchise goalie you can build around. Consider his statistics: In the past two seasons -- Lundqvist has won 67 games, compiled a microscopic 2.29 average and has recorded seven shutouts. Those are incredible numbers, and his ability to play well under pressure has solidified himself as a legitimate backstop – fantasy or otherwise. Entering his third season in the league, Lundqvist will be even better – the third year mark is the magic number for most players, and Lundqvist should end the regular season as one of the top five goaltenders when it’s all said and done. He'll also be playing for a new long term contract -- so if you want King Henrik, you'd have to target him in the early rounds.
This netminder is young, talented and plays on what’s become a playoff caliber Rangers’ team. While many would speculate on whether he can repeat his performance from last season (30-12-9, 2.23 GAA), we believe you should target him high in your drafts – we need to remind you that he won the gold for Team Sweden in the Olympics, and can only get better as he progresses in his NHL career.
Primed and ready for NHL-level competition, Lundqvist enters the year as the backup to Kevin Weekes. For years, he has spent time toiling around in the Swedish Elite League, but the organization has seen enough of him to feel comfortable elevating his role on this year’s Ranger team. We don’t expect much of an impact this year from the talented sweed, but if Weekes struggles out of the gate, Lundqvist may get the call.