It took less than five months for Tuukka Rask’s eight-year, $56 million contract to look like a bargain.
On Wednesday, the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist agreed to a seven-year, $59.5 million extension. Lundqvist’s annual average value will be $8.5 million, fifth-highest in the NHL after Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Corey Perry. Lundqvist will carry an annual cap hit $1.5 million richer than Rask and Pekka Rinne, now the second-highest-paid goalies in the league.
Rask will be 34 when his deal expires. There’s a good chance his current contract will not be his last. Lundqvist will be 39 in 2021, the final season of his new deal.
This will almost certainly be Lundqvist’s last contract. Given his age, Lundqvist might not even fulfill its term. Even so, the Rangers had no choice but to fatten Lundqvist’s bank account.
Lundqvist is an ace. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2012. He was one of three Vezina finalists last season. Lundqvist has been the Rangers’ MVP for seven straight years. He backstopped Sweden to the gold medal in the 2006 Olympics. Lundqvist and his teammates could claim gold again in Sochi.
Cam Talbot, Lundqvist’s understudy, is an undrafted 26-year-old who played three years at Alabama-Huntsville before turning pro. He has nine games of NHL experience.
It’s hard to project, however, whether Lundqvist can continue those achievements deep into his new contract. Lundqvist will spend more years of his extension on the wrong end of 35 than before that marker. So far, 2013-14 is not serving as a healthy indicator for Lundqvist’s later years.
Through 21 appearances, Lundqvist was 9-11-0 with a 2.43 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. They are not numbers of an elite puck-stopper.
Lundqvist has not passed the eye test, either. In the Bruins’ 3-2 win over the Rangers Nov. 29, Zdeno Chara beat Lundqvist with a no-traffic slap shot from the point. After the loss, Lundqvist acknowledged he misread the shot.
The following day, Lundqvist didn’t start against Vancouver. Nor did Lundqvist play in the next game against Winnipeg. The absence of an extension, Lundqvist acknowledged, may have played a part in his mediocre performance.
“When you play at this level, every little percent of your focus will matter in the end,” Lundqvist told New York reporters after signing his deal. “Maybe it has been a factor. It’s not like I’ve been thinking about it when preparing for a game. I’m locked into what I have to do. But playing this game, especially for a goalie, is blocking all distractions and things you can’t control. How you play as a team, how the referee is calling the game, how negotiations go — you just block it out. This is a very important thing to me. Maybe it’s been in the back of my mind a little bit.”
Lundqvist will improve this season. Alain Vigneault, Lundqvist’s coach, believes negotiations factored into his play. On Thursday, in his first start since the deal, Lundqvist turned back 27 pucks in New York’s 3-1 win over Buffalo.
“I think this was a relief for Hank to finally know for sure he’ll be a New York Ranger for the rest of his career,” Vigneault said.
The concern is how Lundqvist will play several years in the future. Martin Brodeur is the exception. So was Tim Thomas, prior to his one-year sabbatical.
Otherwise, time is not kind to goalies. Thomas, 39, has hurt his groin twice this season. Evgeni Nabokov, 38, is sidelined because of a groin injury. Tomas Vokoun, 37, hasn’t played this season because of a blood clot. Miikka Kiprusoff, 37, is retired. Jose Theodore, 37, might have played his last game. Nikolai Khabibulin (40) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere (36) are clear-cut backups behind Corey Crawford and Semyon Varlamov, respectively.
If Lundqvist slows, a dropoff shouldn’t take place until he has at least four more seasons in his rearview mirror. By then, based on projected revenues, the salary cap might approach $100 million. If a decline takes place, Lundqvist’s cap hit would be easier to accept. The Rangers, one of the NHL’s moneymakers, will not be concerned with his salary.
These are worries the Rangers had to accept. Lundqvist is the team’s star. Their identity, even during the transition from John Tortorella to Vigneault, remains goaltending and defense. Lundqvist doesn’t just enjoy playing and living in Manhattan, he thrives in an environment in which other goalies might crumble.
The post-lockout collective bargaining agreement has helped to frame what happens in free agency. Once go-to players reach the free market, they’re guaranteed seven-year contracts. Nathan Horton and David Clarkson, neither of whom can be considered difference-makers, both landed seven-year payouts.
Had the Rangers let Lundqvist walk, goalie-hungry teams such as the Islanders and Flames would have entered the market. Lundqvist would have gotten a seven-year contract. He might have even reached $9 million per season amid multiple bids.
Ideally, Lundqvist would have agreed to a five-year, big-bucks extension. But the market dictated otherwise. He had bargaining power on his side, even if a departure wasn’t his intention.
“To picture myself anywhere else was just wrong. It was never an option,” Lundqvist said. “I know there was speculation over the summer. But from my heart, it was never an option to leave this club.”
CHANGING ON THE FLY
Cohen has traded in skates for microphone
Next month, Colby Cohen will be in an unusual position. He will be a college student analyzing his peers’ on-ice work.
Cohen, a short-time Bruin after being acquired from the Avalanche for Matt Hunwick, has a temporary new career as a NESN college hockey analyst. Cohen is also returning to Boston University next semester to complete his degree in history. They are not opportunities usually granted to 24-year-old pro hockey players.
But Cohen is taking what he hopes is a short-term sabbatical. For the second time this year, he will require groin surgery. Cohen is exploring insurance options to set up the procedure.
“I’ll get it eventually,” Cohen said of the repair work. “I haven’t closed the book on my hockey career by any means. I want to have surgery and rehab it slow.”
Cohen appeared in 43 games for Providence last season. Cohen managed his condition with treatment and injections.
Cohen was a restricted free agent at season’s end, and the Bruins did not make him a qualifying offer. The former second-round pick signed with Assat Pori in Finland for 2013-14. Cohen played in five games, then returned stateside for a tryout with San Antonio, the Panthers’ AHL affiliate. Two games with the Rampage helped Cohen understand a shutdown was required.
“It almost felt worse than before the first surgery,” Cohen said.
Networking with NESN personnel led to Cohen’s current opportunity. He serves as an analyst alongside Don “Toot” Cahoon and Jim Connelly. Cohen will work the Frozen Fenway and Beanpot games. Cohen did not have any previous TV experience.
“The trickiest part is starting from scratch,” Cohen said. “I can’t remember the last time I straight-up started from scratch with anything. You’ve been playing hockey your whole life and going to school your whole life. You’re always trying to elevate your level, so it’s not like starting from scratch. But the people at NESN couldn’t be more helpful. They put you in a position to do well.”
If Cohen can undergo surgery and start the rehab process, he’s hoping he can play in 2014-15. Cohen would most likely have to accept a camp tryout because of his condition. Cohen’s age, however, works in his favor. Healthy right-shot defensemen are in greater demand than hockey analysts.
Bruins make good use of their funds
Rogers Communications’ 12-year, $5.2 billion (Canadian) television deal with the NHL ensures that hockey players, already rich, will become even wealthier. They will not be trading in their Range Rovers for hatchbacks.
Their salaries may be the stuff of fantasy. But how do millions in annual earnings touch their daily lives? Here are several Bruins’ answers to that question:
Patrice Bergeron ($6.5 million annual average value) — Bergeron is most proud of spending part of his salary on his Patrice’s Pals suite at TD Garden. Young patients from local hospitals attend each home game on Bergeron’s dime.
Johnny Boychuk ($3,366,667) — Boychuk has paid off the mortgage on his parents’ house. He is also happy that he doesn’t have to work during the summer, which he had to do in his AHL career. Boychuk doesn’t have to think twice about paying a trainer to help him stay in shape during the offseason.
Gregory Campbell ($1.6 million) — Campbell tries to buy mostly organic food, which drives up his grocery bill. But as a professional athlete, Campbell believes it’s worth the expense to keep his body in peak shape. When Campbell has children, he hopes his salary will pay for the best education possible.
Chris Kelly ($3 million) — Kelly can go on vacation with his wife and daughters and help out family members without worries.
Daniel Paille ($1.3 million) — Paille says he’s fortunate not to worry about his family’s bills.
It’s possible that veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas could be out the rest of the season because of a broken leg. Robidas was injured Nov. 29 after blocking a shot, losing his balance, and slamming his leg into the boards at American Airlines Center. Because of Robidas’s injury, the Stars promoted former Northeastern defenseman Jamie Oleksiak from the AHL. Dallas’s plan was to develop the 20-year-old Oleksiak slowly. But Robidas’s injury has accelerated Oleksiak’s development curve. In his first game, Oleksiak was paired with Brendan Dillon, another of Dallas’s promising young defensemen. Oleksiak logged 18:38 of ice time against the Oilers, but coughed up the puck — Ales Hemsky forced the turnover with a strong forecheck — that led to Andrew Ference’s tying goal. The Oilers won the game in a shootout, 3-2. Scouts have used Zdeno Chara as a comparable for Oleksiak, the 14th overall pick of the 2011 draft.
Ex-NHLer Warren Rychel, now the general manager of the Windsor Spitfires, didn’t just trade his captain to Guelph on Tuesday, he traded his son. Kerby Rychel, picked 19th overall in the 2013 draft by Columbus, was moved to the Storm along with Nick Ebert for Brody Milne and eight draft picks. It is the second time in less than four months an OHL GM has moved his son. In August, Kingston GM Doug Gilmour traded son Jake Gilmour to Niagara. GMs such as Rychel and Gilmour can talk all they want about receiving assets and improving their teams after such deals. But for a teenage hockey player, being traded is hard enough, and even harder when your old man is pulling the trigger.
Raise your stick proudly if you had Jaromir Jagr leading his team in points. The ex-Bruin, riding right wing alongside Dainius Zubrus and Travis Zajac, entered the weekend with 11 goals and 11 assists for New Jersey, while logging 18:52 of ice time per game. As poor of a fit as Jagr was in Boston, No. 68 has been a perfect match with the Devils. New Jersey started slowly, but with both Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider playing well in goal, the Devils will push for a playoff spot, with Jagr leading the offensive charge. Jagr is on a one-year deal, but he’s in line for an extension if he continues to play this way. Fitness will never be an issue with Jagr.
Craig Anderson is doing neither Ottawa nor his country any favors. Last season, Anderson went 12-9-2 with a 1.69 GAA and a .941 save percentage. He was expected to backstop Ottawa into the playoffs this season and contend for an Olympic job with Team USA. But entering Saturday Anderson was only 7-8-2 with a 3.42 GAA and .897 save percentage after 18 starts. The Senators are outside of the top eight in the Eastern Conference, and Anderson has played himself out of an Olympic appearance. Anderson has one year remaining on his deal, but he was not in Ottawa’s long-term plans. Robin Lehner, 22, is the team’s future ace. The Senators had hoped to wheel Anderson, much like they did with Ben Bishop last season when they acquired Cory Conacher from Tampa Bay. But Anderson’s trade value is diminishing.
On Nov. 29, Capitals video coach Brett Leonhardt had to ditch his suit and tie for a No. 35 jersey. Leonhardt was forced into service after Michal Neuvirth hurt his right leg during warm-ups after stepping on a puck. As Braden Holtby, the projected backup that night, started against Montreal, Leonhardt was the emergency No. 2 goalie. It was the second time Leonhardt dressed as the backup. In 2008, when he was Washington’s Web video producer, Leonhardt had to back up Brent Johnson because of an injury to Jose Theodore. Per league rules, an emergency goalie makes $500 per game and is allowed to keep his jersey. Leonhardt was a Division 3 goalie for SUNY-Oswego and Neumann College.
The Bruins would have multiple emergency options if one of their goalies was unavailable to dress for a game. Providence goalies Niklas Svedberg and Malcolm Subban are nearby. There are many local college goalies. As a last resort, goaltending coach Bob Essensa could be the emergency backup. Essensa practiced with the Bruins during the playoffs last season when Tuukka Rask was given a breather . . . The NHL’s visor rule has affected at least one Bruin. If it were his choice, Kevan Miller would not wear a shield. Miller, who occasionally drops the gloves in the AHL, would have wanted to fight visor-free. During a preseason fight with Aaron Volpatti, Miller and his opponent tried to remove each other’s helmets. Miller had not played in an NHL game before this season . . . Rogers Communications has claimed the naming rights for the Oilers’ new arena. The facility, which will be named Rogers Place, will open in 2016. Rogers already calls Vancouver’s rink its own. Spies recently spotted the NHL commissioner at New York’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Rogers Bettman has a nice sound to it.