By Allan Muir
When Henrik Lundqvist displayed a decided lack of enthusiasm after the subject of a contract extension was broached last May, Rangers fans could write it off as the result of the post-playoff blues.
It's a little tougher to explain away his latest take on the topic.
Asked by Marie Lehmann of Sweden's SVT Sport channel about the state of his contract talks, the heart and soul of the Broadway Blueshirts chose to play coy about his future with the franchise.
"There are more ways than one to go here," he said. "We'll see."
Now maybe he's just playing it cool. After all, Lundqvist said later in the same interview that, "After eight years in New York and all the support I received from the organization and the fans and how comfortable I feel, it's hard to see myself playing elsewhere."
That's good, right? Of course, if Daniel Alfredsson could leave the Senators . . .
Lundqvist has one year left on his current deal that will see him earn nearly $7 million to stop pucks in 2013-14 and look good doing it. That's not chump change, but the 2012 Vezina winner is looking for more -- a lot more -- on a deal that could take him through the end of his career.
And his timing couldn't be better. With the cap likely to enjoy a sizable increase after this season, it's easy to imagine the Rangers having the space, and the wherewithal, to goose his next deal to $9 million or even $10 million per season. And given his record of consistent excellence, he is the rare goalie who would justify that kind of outlay.
But it's not that simple.
Lundqvist wants to win, and that's going to require more than a few extra bucks every couple of weeks in his paycheck. He wants to see the Rangers commit to captain Ryan Callahan and top defenseman Dan Girardi, both of whom need new deals next summer as well, along with Derek Stepan, the RFA center who is still looking for a new contract with less than a month to go before the start of camp.
He'd probably like to get a sense of how things will run under new coach Alain Vigneault, too.
And he's not the only one with questions. Rangers GM Glen Sather has to ask himself how long he wants to commit to Lundqvist.
The 31-year-old is at the peak of his game now and will be for several more years. But seven or eight years from now, he's probably not going to provide top value for that kind of dough.
So Sather has two options. Either overload him with cash on a four of five-year-deal, lock him down for his remaining good years and take the risk that he finishes his career elsewhere, or simply bite the bullet, go the eight-year route and overpay him for the last couple seasons in order to have the greatest keeper in team history retire as a Ranger.
Odds are the two sides will get something done, but it probably won't happen any time soon.
"There is no requirement that it should be ready this summer or even when the season begins," Lundqvist said. "I knew early on that I did not want to put pressure on that it would be ready this summer.
"Regardless of what happens, I won't let it affect my game. There's no denying this contract is a very important part in my career, but I'll have a clear head when the season begins. I'll focus on the right things."