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Top Shelf: Lundqvist extension a no-brainer for Rangers

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Updated: 12/04/2013 1:37 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Apologies to everyone who thought their team had a chance to sign Henrik Lundqvist away from the New York Rangers this summer.

In a move that shouldn't surprise anyone who's been watching Lundqvist man the crease for the Blueshirts over the past several seasons, the Rangers locked up their star goaltender months before he could ever hit the open market.

Lundqvist ended speculation about his desire to stay in New York on Wednesday, agreeing to a seven-year deal worth a reported $59.5 million.

It's a contract that should make the 31-year-old Swede a Ranger for life, a scary proposition for the rest of the Metropolitan Division.

Lundqvist, a five-time Vezina Trophy finalist and one-time winner, boasts a lifetime record of 137-72-20 and a 2.32 goals against average against his current divisional foes. All told, he is 284-182-57 with a 2.26 GAA and .920 save percentage during his career and has been the starter in 524 of his 531 games at the NHL level.

No offense to current Rangers backup goaltender Cam Talbot, but it's pretty clear Lundqvist is the past, present and future when it comes to New York's goaltending situation. Wednesday's contract news only strengthened the reign of "King Henrik."

Despite being a seventh-round pick by New York in 2000, Lundqvist has become the face of the franchise by being the model of consistency during his eight- plus seasons in the Big Apple. Not counting the lockout-shortened campaign of 2012-13, he's started in 50 or more games every season and recorded at least 30 wins in each of those years.

"Since his arrival in New York in 2005, Henrik has consistently been one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL," Rangers general manager Glen Sather said in a statement announcing the long-term extension. "He is a proud representative of the tradition and class of this organization and we are excited to have him remain as a cornerstone of the franchise."

While there is little doubt Lundqvist earned his hefty payday by being a rock for the Rangers for close to a decade, there still is something noticeably absent from his career resume. That, of course, is the all-important (and often times elusive) Stanley Cup title.

In essence, all Lundqvist needs to do to justify his lucrative extension is win one title over the lifetime of the new contract. Of course, winning a Cup this upcoming spring in the final days of his current deal would satisfy that obligation just as well.

If Hank can lead the Rangers to a championship or two over the next several seasons, then nobody in New York will care when the team is paying a 39-year- old goaltender $8.5 million a year. If Lundqvist is still without a title when the 2020-21 season rolls around, then giving him the largest payday ever for an NHL goaltender will probably seem like a mistake in retrospect. Either way, with bona fide star goalies hard to come by, it's a gamble the Rangers were wise to make.

The problem is Lundqvist needs help to get New York to the top of the hockey mountain, and he hasn't always received it in the postseason. Lundqvist has turned in an excellent 2.28 GAA and .920 save percentage over 67 career playoff games, but has only a 30-37 record to show for it.

He's also recorded five of his eight career postseason shutouts over the last two playoffs, but New York only managed to make it to the Eastern Conference finals in 2012 before bowing out in the second round last spring.

Lundqvist almost single-handedly willed the Rangers to an opening-round win over Washington last season, posting consecutive shutouts in Games 6 and 7 to shut the door against the Capitals. However, New York only managed to score 10 times in the next round against Boston, losing the conference semifinal series in five games.

There is little doubt Lundqvist has the ability to hold up his end of the bargain during a championship run. He showed that back at the 2006 Winter Olympics, when he anchored Team Sweden to a Gold Medal in Turin, Italy. If New York's relatively young core can manage to grow up around Lundqvist, perhaps similar results could be achieved in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

When it comes to thinking about the future contracts of other Rangers there is some concern about the annual $8.5 million cap hit that comes with Lundqvist's extension, but the deal shouldn't prevent New York from successfully building around its franchise goaltender. The pay increase amounts to roughly $1.625 million more a year in the salary cap department than Lundqvist's current deal, a modest raise to cover for a team that was already paying a premium for its goaltending.

After all, the salary cap ceiling is projected to raise along with NHL revenues, leaving big-market franchise like the Rangers to spend as freely as they normally do.

Sather and the Rangers front office did the only thing that made sense when they backed up the money truck and dumped it on Lundqvist's doorstep. Then again, if the other option is to let one of the best goaltenders of his generation walk away from the only NHL team he's ever known, there really isn't much to think about.

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