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Monday, December 2, 2013
Goalie controversy in New York?

By Katie Strang

Cam Talbot and Henrik Lundqvist
Is Talbot for real, or is he just a pretender to Lundqvist's throne?
NEW YORK -- What we have here is not quite a full-blown goaltending controversy.

Not yet, at least.

But the decision to start Cam Talbot over incumbent Henrik Lundqvist was a big one, a bold one for new New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, and it will surely cause some ripples in the days ahead.

Vigneault, who so expertly left tongues wagging over the weekend after declining to reveal Monday’s starter, sufficiently doused the flames when he came out and endorsed Lundqvist as the team’s go-to guy -- declaring the former Vezina Trophy winner as “definitely” the team’s No. 1 goaltender -- but it would be na´ve not to think that this might change things for “The King.”

Because here is the elephant in the room: While Lundqvist’s play has dipped and Talbot has emerged as a steady and reliable presence on the ice, there is a potentially contentious situation brewing.

That is, of course, Lundqvist’s contract.

The 31-year-old Lundqvist, the team’s undisputed MVP in recent years and one of the best goaltenders in the league, is on the last year of a six-year, $41.25 million contract. He’s seeking a significant pay raise from the $6.875 million he makes annually, and it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t deserved it.

Yet, preliminary discussions between the Rangers and Lundqvist’s camp have yielded little. How might this recent development change the landscape for negotiations moving forward?

The Rangers seemed to take a hard line in negotiations -- a somewhat surprising stance considering Lundqvist has often been considered their most valuable asset -- but in doing so, may have acquired some leverage. Lundqvist is not performing on par with previous seasons and Talbot is giving the club something to think about. Lundqvist is 31, which may make a max eight-year contract prohibitive. Meanwhile, Talbot is burgeoning into a bona fide NHL goaltender worthy of consideration.

That said, Lundqvist’s past performance is not something that should be discounted by any means. Few goaltenders have been as steady, consistent, and durable as Lundqvist has been over the last eight years for the Rangers. Keeping in mind an ill-advised preseason schedule, a grueling nine-game road trip to start the year, and a lingering injury that kept him out for a pair of games in the first month, Lundqvist’s brief decline should, in relation to his entire body of work, probably be viewed as an anomaly.

This is a franchise goaltender who has carried the team on his back for many years. Do you risk shattering his confidence, undermining his stake with the team over a rookie who has had a phenomenal, but brief, seven-game debut?

These will be important questions the Rangers must address as the season progresses and contract discussions loom. It seems inconceivable that Lundqvist would ever be traded, but who knows what can happen if a club chooses to play hardball with a guy as fiercely competitive and proud as Lundqvist.

It is premature to call Monday’s decision a turning point, for the franchise or Lundqvist’s future with the club, but it is fair to consider it a precursor for a developing situation that has the potential to mushroom into something much bigger.