Something that has been missing from the New York Ranger organization is a constant. Players come and go but with every team there has been a constant that has not been disturbed and is the identity of the team. Names like Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, and Adam Graves were the constants for the team for many years. Since they have left there has not been a constant...until now.
The success that the Rangers will have this year and for the foreseeable future comes down to how well Henrik Lundqvist plays every season. All the changes that have been made within the last six months will create a different looking team in 2009-2010, but Henrik Lundqvist will be the deciding factor in how this team finishes.
This past season the King had 38 wins to go with a 2.43 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. It was the first year that Lundqvist was not in the running for the Vezina trophy as the NHL's top goaltender but he continued his streak of 30+ wins. Henrik is the only goalie to start his first four NHL seasons with 30 wins or more each season. At this point it is expected that #30 will put up 30 wins every year for the rest of his career.
However, one thing that Lundqvist does need to improve on is being consistent over the entire season. He always starts off hot and then cools down in December, January, and early February before turning it back up and being amazing down the stretch. The Rangers need him to have a whole season where he plays at peak performance. This season will make Ranger fans especially nervous because of the Olympics, where Henrik will no doubt retain the starting goaltender position for Sweden, who he led to a gold medal back in 2006. When Lundqvist came back he faltered and fell apart. As expected, the Rangers did as well.
Coach John Tortorella has made it known that he wants Henrik to be fresh and ready all season, especially when it comes down to the big games at the end and playoffs. To do this, he may have to cut back on the amount of starts King Henrik will have, putting Steve Valiquette in the crease. Vally has shown he can be a capable goalie and is a great teammate. However confidence in him was some what lost by the fans after the debacle against Dallas. I don't think I need to remind everyone about that one.
Of course if the Rangers can provide more offense, they won't have to rely on the tandem of Lundqvist and Valiquette to stop every shot every night. But while the kinks in the Tortorella system get worked out Henrik Lundqvist will have to continue to be the rock solid foundation that the Rangers have relied on since the end of the 2004-2005 NHL Lockout.
In the NHL the goaltender can be your make or break position. It is the reason that the Flyers, who have had some good teams in recent memory, have been unable to win it all. Who knows where Devils would be with Martin Brodeur or where Vancouver would end up without Roberto Luongo. The Rangers have a bonafide goaltender in their cage and they will rely on him for years to come. The seasons of players like Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury, Ryan Callahan, and other will matter but it all comes down to one man...one King. Just ask Dan Carcillo how good Lundqvist is. He knows.
Lundqvist will need to continue that kind of play if the Stanley Cup hopes of the Rangers will become reality.