What Should New York Rangers Offer Henrik Lundqvist in Contract Negotiations?

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistSeptember 9, 2013

BOSTON, MA - MAY 25:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers looks on following a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 25, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

It is the great question facing the New York Rangers this season: what to do with Henrik Lundqvist? Obviously, New York wants to hang on to a player who is one of, if not the, best goalie in the NHL. Just as obvious, the Rangers don’t want to get into a situation where Lundqvist’s contract is an obstacle rather than an advantage.

The trouble is that signing Lundqvist isn’t a one or two-year decisionas the New York Post’s Larry Brooks put itthe question comes down to whether Lundqvist signs “for seven years or the maximum eight.” This will be a lengthy marriage, and Lundqvist will turn 32 before the start of his next deal, so what will certainly be Lundqvist’s biggest contract in terms of dollars is also likely to be the last one he plays under in the NHL.

What is Lundqvist worth today?

One way to answer that question is to compare Lundqvist to other goalies. Corey Crawford recently signed a six-year extension with an average annual value of $6 million with Chicago, but his career 0.913 save percentage doesn’t even put him in the same range as Lundqvist. Three other goalies (considered in the table) are likely more comparable.

(Because Luongo’s 12-year contract is no longer legal under the new collective bargaining agreement, only his average annual value for the first eight years of the deal is shown.)

Tuukka Rask leads the way in save percentage, but has a shorter track record than Lundqvist; Rinne was also less proven than Lundqvist when he signed his new extension. Roberto Luongo is the closest comparable here in terms of age and performance, but the salary cap has climbed since his deal was signed and will probably keep climbing.

Looking at those numbers, something in the $7.5 to $8 million range looks right, though, intuitively that feels low.

Another way to answer questions about Lundqvist’s value is a method Tyler Dellow of mc79hockey.com used to evaluate the Crawford extension: points above replacement value. Plugging in Lundqvist’s numbers (an average of 1,973 shots faced per season, a 0.920 save percentage) we find that he’s worth approximately 8.55 standings points. Using Dellow’s system, that equates to a worth of roughly $8.60 million per season, which intuitively feels about right.

However, what Lundqvist is worth today isn’t what he will be worth in the future. Two factors will heavily alter that: Lundqvist’s decline in both games played and save percentage as he ages, and a rising salary cap, which will increase the value of a starting goalie.

Both of those factors are extremely difficult to forecast.

Various studies have shown that the typical goalie declines as he ages, but Lundqvist is a decidedly atypical goalie, one of the best in the league.

When Patrick Roy retired at the age of 37, he was coming off a season where he posted a 0.920 save percentagea number that ranked second among goalies with at least 60 games played. Martin Brodeur had a 0.916 save percentage at age 37, Ed Belfour was a 0.918 save percentage goalie at age 38 and Dominik Hasek managed a 0.925 save percentage in the year he turned 41.

There is no definitive answer to what Lundqvist will be worth long term; any projection is as much art as science.

One smart decision would be to limit the term length to seven (or, ideally, six) yearseven some exceptional goalies have started dropping off sharply at the age of 37 or 38, so even signing for one year less than the maximum helps limit the risk.

As for dollars, an $8 million cap hit would be $1 million more than the next closest goalie and rank Lundqvist seventh among all active players, but the Rangers could probably be comfortable going all the way up to that $8.6 million figure discussed earlier.

Combine those two suggestions, and a six-year, $50 million contract ($8.33 million average annual value) would be an exceptional signing for the Rangers. Given Lundqvist's value to the team, his representatives might insist on more term or money; in that case, a seven-year, $60 million contract (with an $8.57 million average annual value) wouldn't be as good but should be seen as tolerable for New York.