Even low expectations surrounding the New York Rangers contained a sliver of hope.
The rebuilding team is in the midst of a rebuild where youth is being stressed. It’s a big reason why head coach David Quinn behind the bench at Madison Square Garden. He’s responsible for developing the plethora of youngsters within the Rangers’ roster — a skill he showed while coaching at Boston University.
Quinn’s youngsters have predictably gotten off to a slow start this year with inconsistencies reigning supreme.
There are nights they look like a playoff team; beating the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators.
Then there are nights like Monday when they are smacked by an Ottawa Senators team that’s expected to be one of the worst in the NHL this season.
Those are some of the growing pains that come with a roster filled to the brim with inexperience.
The Rangers currently have seven skaters who are age 21 or younger — including 18-year-old Kaapo Kakko — and an additional six aged 23-to-25.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will a contender, even with the addition of Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, and Adam Fox over the summer.
But the Rangers are faced with a conundrum in goal.
Henrik Lundqvist is a franchise legend who has been the backbone of the organization for the past 15 years.
On his day, he’s still one of the better goalies in the game, but he’s 37 years old playing behind a defense that constantly lets him out to dry.
The numbers reflect that — and his own struggles — through six starts as he’s 2-3-0 with a .906 save percentage and 3.58 goals-against average.
That’s miles off his career averages of .918 and 2.42.
Splitting time with Lundqvist is 23-year-old Alexandar Georgiev, who has shown flashes of developing into the Rangers’ future No. 1 goalie.
His numbers are far better than Lundqvist’s in seven starts with a .913 SV% and 2.87 GAA.
Not only has he given the Rangers a better chance to win on most nights — even though he was in goal on Monday night in a 6-2 loss to Ottawa, his third-straight start — Georgiev also fits the youthful mold of this rebuild.
So for the nth time in the last two years, the question has to be asked again: Are the Rangers preparing to move on from Henrik Lundqvist?
He has a no-movement clause in his contract, which means the only way he’s leaving New York is if he OK’s a deal. He’s never suggested such an idea, though.
The Rangers could deal Lundqvist to a contending team in need of goaltending help where his numbers could surge back to top-tier status behind a reliable defense.
That way the veteran netminder could get a chance at obtaining that all-elusive Stanley Cup title that’s been missing from his trophy cabinet.
A more likely scenario is that Quinn is simply riding the hotter hand in Georgiev while Lundqvist could help the youngster develop into a bona fide starting goalie in the NHL as a reserve.
It remains to be seen if Lundqvist would be too proud to accept such a role and remain there throughout the remainder of his contract, which expires at the end of next season. But it’s something to keep an eye on throughout the first half of this year.