We’re back with a new edition of the THN Hot Seat, a continuing series of THN.com columns where we nominate one member of every NHL franchise who faces an enormous degree of pressure in the upcoming season.
The hot seat nominee can be an NHL player, head coach, GM, or team owner. In today’s file, we’re examining the New York Rangers.
RANGERS HOT SEAT: IGOR SHESTERKIN, GOALTENDER
WHY: The Rangers were the second-best team in the Metropolitan Division last season, and the main reason why was the play of superstar goalie Igor Shesterkin. The 26-year-old Russian won the first of what is likely to be many Vezina Trophies as the game’s top netminder, and he put together a sterling 36-13-4 record. That’s 18 more games than his previous career-best (in 2020-21) and in that season, he lost 14 games in regulation time. That, and his phenomenal .935 Save Percentage, as well as his 2.02 Goals-Against Average, should tell you all you need to know about his value to the Blueshirts, and his dominance of the league in general.
There is a case to be made that star forward Artemi Panarin should be on the hot seat. After all, he’s the Rangers’ top-paid player at $11.6 million per season, and his goal production dropped off, from 32 goals in 69 games in 2019-20, to 22 goals in 75 games last year. But Panarin did set a new personal-high in assists (74) and points (96) in 2021-22, and he had six goals and 16 points in 20 playoff games. There’s going to be pressure on him this year, and he knows it. He has to be the straw that stirs the drink for the Blueshirts’ offense, and the Rangers can’t afford to have his goal totals continue trending downward.
That said, the reality is the Rangers are more dependent on Shesterkin’s play than they are on Panarin’s offense. Although the Rangers’ top-four defensemen are above average, Shesterkin will once again have to do the heavy lifting night-in and night-out to keep them at or near the top of the Metro. This is why Rangers GM Chris Drury said goodbye to backup Alexandar Georgiev, and instead invested in veteran netminder Jaroslav Halak; the Rangers are the 37-year-old Halak’s fourth team in the past six seasons, but he’s still capable of coming in and giving his team a chance to win. The only issue will be how many games he’s capable of playing, as he’s appeared in only a combined 36 games in the past two seasons. Ideally, Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant would like to see Halak play at least 30 games; that would mean Shesterkin plays about the same
Nevertheless, the Rangers have a bona fide leviathan between the pipes – and a cheap one at that: Shesterkin is under contract until the summer of 2025, at a relatively insane average annual value of $5.6 million. His next contract probably will be double that amount, so the Blueshirts need to take advantage of his high-value current deal. The Rangers still need to see star-level output from Panarin, as well as growth from young forwards Kaapo Kaako and Alexis Lafreniere, but they’ll be going nowhere fast if, for whatever reason, Shesterkin doesn’t play up to the level he’s established he can perform at.
That doesn’t seem likely, though. What does is Shesterkin getting more help as young defenders Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller improve. And that should frighten the Rangers’ Metro division rivals. Most GMs would give their best friend in return for a talent like Shesterkin’s. But the Rangers have him, and they won’t be letting him go.