Rangers build depth at goalie with new Igor Shesterkin backups

After granting Alexandar Georgiev a fresh start with a trade to Colorado and losing Keith Kinkaid to free agency, the Rangers’ goaltending landscape is about to look much different than in recent years.

The Rangers, with star goalie Igor Shesterkin naturally a lock for the starting job, moved on from their No. 2 and No. 3 netminders, Georgiev and Kinkaid. But president and general manager Chris Drury had to replace Georgiev and Kinkaid with NHL-caliber goaltenders, considering the remaining ones drafted by the organization have zero NHL experience.

So when the free-agent market opened Wednesday, Drury first signed Jaroslav Halak to a one-year deal with an average annual value of $1.55 million and then picked up Louis Domingue and signed the former Penguins goalie to a two-year deal that carries a cap hit of $775,000.

Halak likely will back up Shesterkin and Domingue will be sent to AHL Hartford. Domingue, who played well against the Rangers after two goalie injuries thrust him in net during the Penguins’ first-round series, will require waivers to be assigned to the AHL.

Jaroslav Halak and Louis Domingue
Jaroslav Halak and Louis Domingue
AP (2)

The 37-year-old Halak is a solid veteran netminder who has 17 seasons of NHL experience, a career .916 save percentage and playoff career .919 save percentage. In 39 postseason contests, Halak is 17-20 with a 2.48 goals-against average, but his last playoff action was back in 2019-20 with the Bruins. The Rangers are the sixth NHL club that Halak will play for.

He is said to play with a lot of heart. Who could forget how he smashed his stick and kicked a nearby chair after the Bruins blew two leads against the Devils in a 4-3 overtime loss in the 2020-21 regular-season finale? He is a straight-shot competitor who is still chasing his first Stanley Cup.

The Rangers need a backup who is content with being a backup. Georgiev always saw himself as a starter, but Halak has been both a No. 1 and a No. 2 in his career. With Shesterkin coming off his first 82-game campaign, in which he won the Vezina Trophy, it’s safe to say Halak understands what he’s signing up for.

“I certainly heard a lot about all his Ranger-killer moments,” Drury said of Halak — who is 24-9-1 with a .927 save percentage, a 2.33 goals-against average and five shutouts in his career against the Rangers. “Excited to have him on our side in the Garden. We did spend a lot of time scouting different goalies to get to this point. Certainly leaned on Benoit Allaire [director of goaltending] a lot on goalies, as we always do. It just seemed like a good fit all around, his age, his experience, the contract and certainly he had some good moments at the Garden.”

According to CapFriendly, Halak’s contract comes with $250,000 in performance bonuses for save percentage and win total. He also has a no-move clause.

The additions of Halak and Domingue slid the top two Rangers-drafted netminders down the depth chart.

Dylan Garand, the Rangers’ fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft, is coming off a stellar season in the Western Hockey League with the Kamloops Blazers. After finishing toward the top of most goaltending categories — such as goals against average (2.16, second place), save percentage (.925, second place), wins (34, tied for first) and shutouts (four, tied for fourth) — Garand was named the Canadian Hockey League’s Goaltender of the Year and the WHL’s Goaltender of the Year.

The Rangers’ 39th-overall selection in 2018, Olof Lindbom, was able to put together a full season in 2021-22 after dealing with injuries in previous years.

“He hasn’t been able to stay healthy,” Jed Ortmeyer, the Rangers’ director of player development, said of Lindbom, who left the team’s scrimmage Friday with an injury. “Unfortunately, he’s gotten dinged up a little bit the last few years.”

Lindbom, who finished with a .900 save percentage and a 3.22 GAA in 27 games last season in second-highest Swedish hockey league, noted he had to have a tightrope put in his ankle two years ago. He also got COVID-19 at one point during the pandemic, which he said held him back a couple of weeks as well. Despite the injuries, Lindbom said he has worked on footwork, getting faster in the crease and reading the puck better.

Neither Drury nor Ortmeyer would make any commitments as to where each goalie would play this upcoming season. Both said the staff will make those decisions after training camp.

“We’ll see at training camp,” Ortmeyer said. “Obviously, we got some guys we like and Benny likes. We’ll leave that up to Benny. We want guys to have competition and compete against each other, and I think we have that.”

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