There was a combination of fierce pride and unyielding confidence in Alexandar Georgiev, who embodied the essence of the goaltender when he arrived in New York as a 22-year-old just days before the Rangers’ 2018 trade deadline reconstruction.
I will always remember talking to him in the Edmonton visitors’ locker room after his first NHL win, a 3-2 win in his third start on March 3, 2018. I will always remember how brimming with confidence he had expressed coming as a free agent from Bulgaria via Russia after being snubbed in the draft, despite being ranked 10th among European goalkeepers by Central Scouting was classified.
How he shone.
“It may sound unreal, but I always believed that I could play in the NHL,” Georgiev said that evening. “I was 6 or 7 when I started being a goalkeeper and I was probably 10 when I knew I could do it.
“I always wanted to be the best goalie in Russia for my age and play in the NHL. I had no doubts [because I went undrafted]. I think that pushed me even more to prove that I can do it.
“Look at [Sergei] Bobrowski. He wasn’t drafted either and is a great goalkeeper.”
But pride also comes before a fall. Georgiev showed lightning when supporting Henrik Lundqvist’s last two years in New York, but he was never able to snatch the top job from the king when the opportunity arose. He wasn’t consistent enough. Georgiev would never have succeeded Lundqvist. Igor Shesterkin would always get in the way.
That took a toll on Georgiev. He became much less reliable on the web. He left the impression that he believed management had done it wrong after Shesterkin joined the club in the first week of January 2020, despite Georgiev having started in 10 of their last 19 games while the Blueshirts kept three goalkeepers on the squad. He was furious when Lundqvist was given the starting spot in the first two games of the 2020 qualifier against Carolina after Shesterkin was sidelined with a groin injury.
asked Georgiev. On its first launch in 2020-21, it recorded a shutout and then imploded. He was fighting in the tunnel with Tony DeAngelo. He fell to the third rung of the ladder for a while, behind Keith Kinkaid. He asked again.
Last year wasn’t much better apart from a midseason spell where he improved his game during Shesterkin’s midseason absence through injury. The fact of the matter is that Georgiev recorded a sub-.900 save percentage in 25 of his 46 starts in his last two seasons on Broadway.
He didn’t feel like a backup. He didn’t think he deserved to be a backup. And as of Thursday afternoon, he’s no longer a backup. He’s also no longer a ranger. Instead, Georgiev is at least the temporary No. 1 for the Stanley Cup champion Avalanche.
Talk about falling.
Chris Drury did it. The Rangers general manager was able to create enough leverage in a low-leverage environment to get a 2022 third-rounder, a 2023 third-rounder and a 2022 fifth-rounder from Colorado in exchange for Georgiev, who was on the way to become an unrestricted free agent on July 13 amid Rangers’ inability to afford the qualifying $2.65 million offer.
In fact, Drury has done just as well with Georgiev as then-GM Glen Sather did in a return for Cam Talbot in 2015. Talbot, the stand-in who stepped in at 16-4-3 during Lundqvist’s extended absence after coming on the throat by one shot, was traded to Calgary (with a seventh) for a second, third and seventh.
In fact, Drury was able to create something out of seemingly nothing, whereas seven years ago it went in the opposite direction. That’s not nothing, especially since this year you can add a few picks to a draft where the blueshirts only had four picks prior to this trade.
Georgiev recorded a 58-48-11 with a .908 save percentage and 2.94 goals against average during his tenure with Rangers. The Blueshirts will seek reinforcements from a free-agent pool that will include Martin Jones, whom they had a serious interest in before he signed with the Flyers last year; Thomas Greiss; Jaro Halak; Braden Holtby; and Charlie Lindgren. The Rangers would ideally be happy to shell out between $1.25 million and $1.5 million for the position. That could be a challenge.
Rounds 2-7 of the draft will be conducted on Friday. Rangers have a six-pack of choices on the agenda. But Drury’s main focus will be acquiring a second-line center and filling a top-six that is on the verge of losing Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano to free agency.
But that move marked the start of the off-season for the eastern finalists. It was a good thing for everyone involved. Georgiev and Drury both should have smiled.