Henrik Lundqvist is 35 years old now, will turn 36 next March, and he’s gone 12 seasons without the Stanley Cup he so badly covets.
As the years go by, it becomes that much more realistic that Lundqvist might not reach the summit, but that is a possibility the goaltender isn’t thinking about.
“I take it year by year. You have to,” Lundqvist said Thursday when the Rangers went through their exit interviews. “You can’t look too far ahead of yourself. That’s my dream. It’s my goal to win, but right now in this moment you kind of just reflect on what happened and you learn from it and you move on.”
Moving on may become a theme for this Rangers offseason, the core and the dynamic of the team potentially being altered in an effort to attain a championship, and that wasn’t lost on any of the players who offered their thoughts in the locker room.
Ryan McDonagh said it’s hard not to think about whether this latest playoff exit was the current core’s last go-around.
“We have been together for a handful of years and have come close, but this is a results-oriented business,” the captain said. “You’ve got to get results and you want to get that ultimate prize. You know the team is gonna do whatever it can to put a team on the ice that they think can win.”
Less than 48 hours removed from their second-round exit at the hands of the Senators, there was still a sense of regret from the Rangers. Alain Vigneault went as far to say as he’s “shocked we’re not playing hockey right now,” this after the blown leads late in Games 2 and 5.
And that is why the players are realistic about what Jeff Gorton and Rangers brass might do this offseason to get this club to break through after years of being good, sometimes very good, but not quite good enough.
“You always think about that,” Rick Nash said. “It’s been a good core group, but if you don’t provide a championship in that amount of years, obviously there’s gonna be changes, and that’s when the business side takes over.”
Nash has one year left on his contract with a $ 7.8 million cap hit. He was asked how different the locker room might look come September, and with a slight smile said, “I hope I’m here to see it.” His plan is to be here.
“If you worried about that all summer, you’d drive yourself crazy,” Nash said. “I love being a Ranger. New York is my home now.”
Lundqvist just had the most difficult regular season of his career, too many nights where his game dipped to a below-average level. He rebounded with a dominant first-round series against Montreal and then had his share of peaks and valleys against Ottawa.
Vigneault says he believes Lundqvist is still one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. He’s shown he still has his classic ‘A’ game in him, but numbers like a 2.74 goals against average and .910 save percentage in the regular season reveal that he is not invincible, and it brings that championship window into focus.
Lundqvist pointed out that there was talk of the window closing last year and the Rangers came back and came close to another conference final, one they probably should be preparing for right now but aren’t because they let the opportunity slip away.
Change will be in the air this summer. It has to if the Rangers want to win while Lundqvist still has his ‘A’ level left in him.
“I think we always expect changes,” Lundqvist said. “That’s just part of the business. But what changes? We’ll just have to wait and see.”