There was a combination of fierce pride and unyielding confidence in Alexandar Georgiev, which represented the essence of the netminder 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 visitors’ locker room in Edmonton in the aftermath of his first NHL victory, a 3-2 win in what was his third start, on March 3, 2018. I’ll always remember how he brimmed with self-belief he had expressed, coming out of Bulgaria by way of Russia as a free agent after being snubbed in the draft despite being ranked 10th among European goaltenders by Central Scouting.
How he glowed.
“It might sound unreal, but I always believed I could play in the NHL,” Georgiev said that night. “I was 6 or 7 years old when I started being a goalie, and I was probably 10 years old when I knew I could do it.
“I always wanted to be the best goalie in Russia for my age and get to play in the NHL. I didn’t have doubts [because I went undrafted]. I think that pushed me even more to prove I could do it.
“Look at [Sergei] Bobrovsky. He wasn’t drafted, either, and he is a great goalie.”
But pride goeth before a fall, too. Georgiev showed flashes while backing up Henrik Lundqvist’s last two years in New York, but he could never wrest the top job away from the King when given the opportunity. He was not consistent enough. Georgiev never was going to be Lundqvist’s successor. Igor Shesterkin was always going to be in the way.
That ate away at Georgiev. He became much less reliable in net. He left the impression that he believed he had been done wrong by management after Shesterkin joined the club the first week of January 2020, even though Georgiev had started 10 of the final 19 games while the Blueshirts kept three goalies on the roster. He fumed when Lundqvist was awarded the start in the first two games of the 2020 qualifier against Carolina after Shesterkin had been sidelined with a groin injury.
Georgiev asked out. He posted a shutout in his first start of 2020-21 and imploded thereafter. He tussled in the tunnel with Tony DeAngelo. He fell to the third rung on the ladder for a time, behind Keith Kinkaid. He asked out again.
Last year wasn’t all that much better, save for a midseason spell in which he elevated his game during Shesterkin’s midseason absence because of injury. The fact is, Georgiev recorded a save percentage below .900 in 25 of his 46 starts over his final two seasons on Broadway.
He didn’t feel he was a backup. He didn’t think he deserved to be a backup. And as of Thursday afternoon, he is no longer a backup. He is no longer a Ranger, either. Instead, Georgiev is at least the temporary No. 1 for the Stanley Cup champion Avalanche.
Talk about falling up.
Chris Drury pulled it off. 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 track to become an unrestricted free agent on July 13 given the Rangers’ inability to afford the $2.65 million qualifying offer.
Indeed, Drury did as well with Georgiev as then-GM Glen Sather did on a return for Cam Talbot in 2015. Talbot, the backup who had stepped in to go 16-4-3 during Lundqvist’s extended absence after he’d been struck in the throat by a shot, was traded to Calgary (with a seventh) for a second, a third and a seventh.
Indeed, Drury was able to create something out of seemingly nothing while it went in the opposite direction seven years ago. That isn’t nothing, especially in being able to add a couple of picks this year to a draft in which the Blueshirts owned only four selections before this trade.
Georgiev went 58-48-11 during his Rangers tenure with a .908 save percentage and 2.94 goals-against average. The Blueshirts will be seeking a backup out of a free-agent pool that will include Martin Jones, in whom they had serious interest before he signed with the Flyers last year; Thomas Greiss; Jaro Halak; Braden Holtby; and Charlie Lindgren. The Rangers ideally would like to spend in the $1.25 million-$1.5 million range on the position. That could be challenging.
The hunt for a second-line center is the priority, with Drury investigating all possibilities. The Blueshirts were believed to be interested in joining the queue for the right to draft center Shane Wright if he were to become available during the first round Thursday.
But this move represented the start of the offseason for the Eastern finalists. It was a good one for all involved. Georgiev and Drury should both have been smiling.