The first was 2009-10 when they finished ninth in the East and fell just one point short. The second was 2017-18 when they were 20 points shy and, memorably, the front office sent a message to their fans just ahead of the trade deadline to indicate they wouldn’t be buyers and to brace for a rebuild with prospects and draft picks.
The third missed playoff appearance came last season as the Rangers finished 32-36-14 and again were 20 points out of it. For the second season in a row they were trade deadline sellers, notably moving out Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello, and from the trade deadline through the end of the season the Rangers managed just five wins.
Lundqvist turned 37 a few days after the deadline and, for a goalie used to sustained success, 2018-19 presented one of the biggest challenges of his illustrious career.
“I’m going to be honest, last year was probably my toughest year in my career and I count my four or five years in Sweden as a pro so almost 20 years,” Lundqvist told the 31 Thoughts podcast at NHL Media Day. “Just to try to be mentally in the right place, what type of expectations can you have and what type of pressure can you put on yourself because in the end you want to win games.”
At this stage, it’s reasonable to wonder what’s still ahead for Lundqvist the NHLer and how a rebuilding Rangers team impacts his plans with just two years left on his contract. Prior to last season Lundqvist said he wanted to only play for the Rangers and even after a difficult 82 games he recommitted to that desire.
And now, suddenly, things are looking very rosy in the Big Apple. It was an exciting summer for the team, signing the biggest free agent forward available in Artemi Panarin, trading for top-pair blueliner Jacob Trouba and drafting Kaapo Kakko second-overall. They also acquired highly touted prospect defenceman Adam Fox and signed their 2018 first-rounder Vitali Kravtsov. That’s on top of first-rounders Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil and those still developing outside of pro hockey.
“I think this summer was an important summer for the organization,” Lundqvist said. “The signings we made, the draft picks, it’s all looking good. I feel like we’re coming back into the new season with some momentum here.
“I want to be here when things turn around and we’re back on track. We had so many good years we’re a relevant team and we’re in the mix every year and that’s where I want to be again with the Rangers. My biggest dream is still to try to win the Cup with the Rangers and I think we’re on the right track here with this summer and it’s up to us now to prove we’re turning the page, we’re improving as a group and as a team and to get back that excitement. That’s critical.”
We know that Lundqvist is eventually bound for the Hockey Hall of Fame, but he’s not yet finished writing that story. He’ll head into the 2019-20 season with 449 career wins, sixth on the all-time list and just five back of Curtis Joseph. If the Rangers return as a playoff team next April, he may even chase down Ed Belfour, who is 35 wins away.
But above all else, he’s still chasing the Stanley Cup. And what a story that’d be if he could bring it back to New York and the Rangers.
“The love and the respect I have for the organization is so big that I wanted to stay through this,” he said. “I want to compete, I want to battle, I want to do what I can and obviously the goal is to still be around when we start seeing the light in the tunnel here and start turning the page.
“New York is such a fun place to play when you feel that excitement and it’s up to us the players now to bring it back to the Garden, to the fans. It’s a big step this summer, but now it’s just continue to build what the organization started here a couple years ago.”
Listen to the full interview in an upcoming episode of 31 Thoughts: The Podcast