Lundqvist noncommittal on long-term deal

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Less than 48 hours after the Rangers made their exit from the playoffs -- bounced after a 3-1 loss in Game 5 to the Bruins on Saturday -- the Rangers were saddled with the familiar emotions that come with the end of a disappointing season.

Frustration, regret, and bewilderment, all directed at a summer that has arrived far too soon.

Even goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, long considered the backbone of the team, seemed hesitant to look ahead just yet. Still processing the gnawing pangs of defeat, Lundqvist didn’t exactly vow his commitment to the team long term.

The reigning Vezina Trophy winner, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, offered little more than a tepid "we’ll see" when asked about a potential contract extension.

"I’m going to talk to my agent and we’ll see," Lundqvist said. "I had such a great time here in New York. From day one, they treated me really well and [have] given me an opportunity to play a lot of hockey, so it’s been a lot of fun. I have one more year on the contract, but I’m just focused right now on trying to get over this year."

The Rangers can’t officially sign Lundqvist to a contract extension until July, but locking him up to a long-term deal has to be one of the team's most pressing priorities.

"We’ll see," Lundqvist said. "I’ll talk to my agent and we’ll take it from there."

If there is a greater concern for the Rangers than the team’s underwhelming 2012-13 season, it should be Lundqvist’s lukewarm response to his future with the organization. The Rangers will surely be willing to pay him, fittingly, a king’s ransom. But more important than money, they must also show a willingness to build a great team around him.

Signing key restricted free agents such as Ryan McDonagh, Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan is a must (the first two have arbitration rights, the latter does not). But it will take more than that.

If Lundqvist has concerns over the leadership and direction of the team, that input must be heeded as well, because he has done more than his part in bolstering the team with his stellar play. This season was a sobering reminder that he also needs support.

Some of his teammates were honest about their own shortcomings -- Brian Boyle said plainly: "I sucked" -- while others were not.

If Rangers forward Rick Nash truly thinks his postseason play was "good," as he said when asked to assess his playoff performance, than Lundqvist’s concern may be legitimate.

The team’s top players didn’t rise to the occasion when necessary, and that includes Nash, Brad Richards and even captain Ryan Callahan at times.

Nash and Richards were limited to one goal each in the postseason, and Richards was benched for the last two games. Callahan, who is believed to have been battling through injury, tried to set a physical tone but didn’t match the production needed.

"We set [a] goal at the beginning of the season to try to win the Stanley Cup and we underachieved," Callahan said.

One factor was the crushing expectations that came after a trip to the conference finals last spring, and another factor was an underperforming group of star players.

Some of it, coach John Tortorella admitted, was the team’s mentality, particularly in the second round against the Bruins.

"I don’t think our mindset was ready for another series, to the level you need to be at," Tortorella said. "That’s what I struggle with now. I didn’t do a good enough job in correcting and getting their mindset back."

Tortorella said he doesn’t agree with the overall negativity surrounding the team’s season -- "I don’t buy it and I won't," he said -- but Lundqvist seemed to differ.

The 31-year-old, a true heart-and-soul leader of the team, has earned the right to speak his mind without any fear of overstepping the line.

And he was honest.

"It is a step back," he said. "We were in the conference finals last year; we had high expectations on ourselves this year. It didn’t go our way, so yeah, it is a step back. It’s tough to make it. You can’t just expect it to happen."

Faced with a painfully long offseason ahead, the Rangers will have almost four months to let that sink in.

"I don’t think it was good enough," Lundqvist said. "I was hoping for more."