It’s no secret that the New York Rangers‘ franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is having the worst season of his career. As each bad-to-mediocre game passes, criticism by the media and fans grows louder. Money is no longer an issue for Lundqvist, as he was given his well-deserved, long-term extension weeks ago.
So, what’s the problem? It’s not just the soft goals, poor positioning, or slow glove hand. Those three are key factors, but there’s a theory no one is talking about, Lundqvist simply wants to stay healthy and save his energy for the Sochi Olympics.
We all know Lundqvist will be the starting goaltender for Team Sweden in Russia this February, and the Swedish National Hockey Team is a major source of national pride in his homeland. There’s no disputing that Lundqvist wants to win a Stanley Cup, but as one of the fiercest competitors in hockey, you know he really wants a gold medal, too.
Lundqvist is a couple of years away from the end of his prime, and there are no guarantees that NHL players will play in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Therefore, this may be his last chance to win an Olympic medal. He already led Sweden to gold in the 2006 Winter Olympics, so imagine what a second would do for his legacy back home.
Lundqvist was having a great rookie season for the Rangers prior to the 2006 Olympics, then played exhausted following his gold medal. The last time the Rangers missed the playoffs was the 2009-10 season in, you guessed it, an Olympic year. Perhaps Lundqvist is saving his energy for both the Olympics and for the stretch run for the Rangers?
Obviously, this is an excuse that Rangers fans don’t want to hear. They would rather their franchise goalie gun for a Cup as opposed to a medal, and especially focus his energy on his professional team. This is the inherent problem that lies with interrupting an NHL season. The league’s best players may not give 100 percent for the first four months of the regular season, because they want to be healthy enough to represent their countries for the Olympics. Therefore, it creates a situation where a team’s best players sacrifice quality of play for their own personal big picture.
Right now though, if saving energy is truly Lundqvist’s mindset, it is destroying the Rangers. Perhaps he should ask coach Alain Vigneault to bench him for Cam Talbot until the Olympics. Lundqvist may care about his country, and there is also no question he cares about the Rangers, too. But for the next month or so, he needs to start playing like he cares more about his employer than his country, especially before the Rangers’ season spirals farther out of control.