Couldn’t a cap-strapped team like the San Jose Sharks use a starting-caliber netminder for around the minimum?
That’s what I’m thinking Henrik Lundqvist can still offer an organization — if the New York Rangers buy out the last year of his contract, like The Athletic expects, and makes him a UFA. The buyout window is from September 25th to October 8th, or six days after the Stanley Cup Final if that’s a later date.
While there’s no doubt that there are more attractive goalies, at least in terms of performance or stamina, available on the UFA/trade market — Anton Khudobin, Thomas Greiss, Matt Murray, Marc-Andre Fleury, Braden Holtby, to name a handful — who would come cheaper than Lundqvist? Sign a Lundqvist, spend the money elsewhere to improve your team.
Of course, I’m making some big assumptions here: Chiefly, that the 38-year-old wants to continue his career and that he would take less money.
It’s also fair to ask: Is the Hall of Fame shoo-in still good? Over the last two years, per Natural Stat Trick, his 2.44 Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) ranks 26th in the NHL (of 39 goalies, 3000+ 5v5 minutes). Now that’s not as bad as current San Jose Sharks starter Martin Jones, who’s last in this category with a -55.83 GSAA, but a far cry from top-ranked Khudobin’s +31.03.
Safe to say, if you acquire Lundqvist, you’re not getting a five-time Vezina Trophy finalist anymore.
Nonetheless, it’s fun speculation — Lundqvist to the San Jose Sharks, joining his fellow Swede Erik Karlsson and legends Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau for one last playoff run.
With that in mind, I asked New York-based Per Bjurman, who’s covered Lundqvist since his rookie year for Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, his thoughts. But before we get to Bjurman, let’s set the table by examining the off-season goaltending market.
A Buyer’s Market?
This off-season’s goaltending market has been described as “a buyer’s market”.
And it’s true, a number of netminders have been confirmed or rumored to be available. UFAs include Craig Anderson, Laurent Brossoit, Corey Crawford, Aaron Dell, Brian Elliott, Greiss, Holtby, Jimmy Howard, Khudobin, Lundqvist (if bought out), Jacob Markstrom, Ryan Miller, and Cam Talbot. Almost-certain trade targets include Murray and Fleury. Rumored trade targets include Fredrik Andersen, Joonas Korpisalo, and Darcy Kuemper.
That’s 15-plus goaltenders who might be available.
By the same token, however, there will also be many teams looking for goalies.
By my estimation, 13 teams will certainly need a goalie:
Granted, teams like Calgary and Vancouver have already declared their intentions to re-sign UFAs Talbot and Markstrom.
On top of this baker’s dozen, these nine teams have two goalies under contract for 2020-21, but have either been rumored to be part of the off-season goaltending carousel or should look to improve:
Finally, these nine franchises appear to be set between the pipes next year — at least for now:
So that’s 20-plus teams that might be looking for a goaltending change.
So I’m not convinced it’ll be a buyer’s market, as the relative high price that Montreal paid to acquire Jake Allen from St. Louis possibly indicates. I’m not saying it’s a seller’s market either. Simply, there’s high supply — but there’s also high demand.
What Does Henrik Lundqvist Want?
According to The Athletic, Lundqvist “does not want to be a backup elsewhere next season, playing a limited number of games.” He also “wants to give it another try somewhere, most likely with a Cup contender in an effort to fill the one big hole on his resume.”
So essentially, the King wants to play — and he wants to win.
Lundqvist, I imagine, understands that he’s not going to a Tampa Bay and taking Andrei Vasilevskiy’s job. But on the flipside, he doesn’t sound like he wants to be a clear back-up. So this might eliminate winners with surer No. 1’s like Dallas, Philadelphia, and Vegas. Granted, Robin Lehner has never started 60-plus games in a season, while Ben Bishop hasn’t reached that mark in five years, so Lundqvist could conceivably play a lot next year in Vegas or Dallas.
But based on what The Athletic is saying, a clear 1B role should be more attractive to Lundqvist.
Bjurman added: “I don’t think he’d move to Canada. Henrik is used to living in New York City. He loves it here. I think he loves the big city environment.”
So this might eliminate stronger-than-San-Jose squads like Calgary, Carolina, Edmonton, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. Granted, Toronto and Vancouver are certainly “big city”, but if the Maple Leafs trade Andersen, Lundqvist isn’t an upgrade on him. Meanwhile, if the Canucks re-sign Markstrom, Thatcher Demko is entrenched as the 1B or back-up.
So where can Lundqvist find everything that he wants?
Lundqvist to San Jose?
Washington is probably a great fit for Lundqvist. Winning team, sophomore goaltender in Ilya Samsonov who hasn’t established himself as a clear No. 1 yet, big city. Bjurman also noted that Lundqvist and Carl Hagelin are close.
Up-and-coming Colorado should intrigue Lundqvist, but how much of an upgrade is he on already-signed Phillip Grubauer or Pavel Francouz as a 1B? They might want an elite No. 1 to bring them over the top.
Otherwise — looking over the list of teams that might need netminders and considering the teams we’ve scratched off — San Jose starts to look more appealing.
Of all the bad or mediocre teams, the Sharks at least have a recent track record of regular success. They also, to use Doug Wilson’s words, still have the bones of a strong team, from Karlsson to Tomas Hertl to Logan Couture to Brent Burns. You can see them winning next year, unlike say Detroit.
“Change of scenery. Silicon Valley is beautiful. It’s close to San Francisco,” Bjurman offered. “It’s thinkable.”
It also can’t hurt that Lundqvist and Karlsson are close.
For what it’s worth, Bjurman also noted that Lundqvist is also good friends with Mats Zuccarello, from their days in the Big Apple. Zuccarello skates for fringe playoff squad Minnesota, who has two goalies under contract, but could be looking for a change. Of course, Minneapolis-St. Paul might not offer as exciting an lifestyle.
Anyway, all this is admittedly pure speculation.
But if the King was interested in taking his talents to Silicon Valley — I think the San Jose Sharks have to think about it.
Would you rather have, say, Khudobin for $4-5 million per or Lundqvist and other players for the same money?
Sheng’s Travel Fund
Help fund Sheng's travel! Every dollar goes to the cost of getting to and from Sharks road games.