Analysis: Lundqvist signing key for the future of the Rangers

For those who believe goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s about-to-be-unveiled contract extension with the New York Rangers represents a significant overpayment to a player who hasn’t really won all that much in his short NHL career, consider this: he could’ve got more.

When you’re talking about the Blueshirts, paying Lundqvist $6.875 million for the next six seasons is actually a bargain. All due respect to $7.3-million-a-year Ranger Scott Gomez and $7.1-million-a-year Chris Drury, but that franchise will thrive or dive in the standings based on their goaltender’s play.

As presently constituted, the Rangers patchwork defense corps certainly won’t be a positive difference-maker anytime soon. And once their nine unrestricted free agents – including Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka and Sean Avery – hit the market on July 1, the organization will have even fewer dependable veterans on which to lean.

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So yeah, maybe Lundqvist’s regular-season numbers won’t look as sweet as his 2006-07 stats did. He is somewhat to blame for that, but no more so than the inconsistent group that’s playing in front of him this year.

More importantly, he’s not yet 26 years old, and thus a ways off from entering the prime of his playing career. Considering Lundqvist already has two Vezina Trophy nominations to his credit, that could be some prime, er, prime.

So in this season of underachieving Rangers, their fans should be thankful GM Glen Sather was able to prevent his No. 1 netminder from becoming a restricted free agent this summer. There’s little doubt the offers Lundqvist would’ve received from rival teams would’ve been anything less than what he wound up signing for.