Henrik Lundqvist is truly is a legend of the game. Not only is he one of the most talented goalies in the history of the NHL, but also one of the most unanimously well liked and respected players in the league’s history.
He has never donned a jersey outside of the Rangers’ red, white, and blue.
Following New York’s decision to buy out the final year of his seven year – $59.5 million dollar contract signed back in 2013, the question simply becomes; will he?
The Rise of King Henrik
The man they call “King” earned his name from the moment he took the ice back in 2005.
He had to do some work in order to get there though.
Having been drafted by the Rangers back in 2000 in just the 7th round – at 205th over all – Lundqvist would have to climb the ranks elsewhere before getting a chance in the NHL.
From the years 2000-2005 he served as the starting goaltender for Frölunda HC, one of the 14 teams in the Elitserien, which is the highest level Swedish Professional Hockey League.
While there, he would grow and mature very quickly. At just the age of 21 he received the Honken Trophy, which is the Swedish version of the NHL’s Vezina trophy, awarded to the leagues finest goaltender that year.
Lundqvist would win the trophy three consecutive years, as well as earning the highest possible honors in Swedish hockey, being the Golden Puck, and Golden Helmet.
Transition to the NHL
By the summer of 2004, the Rangers had seen enough, and decided it was time to take all that talent and use it for themselves.
He was actually put into the back up position to start the season, but plans changed immediately when starting goaltender Kevin Weekes went down with an injury in just the second game of the season.
Lundqvist was a natural, and fell into place immediately with the Rangers.
He earned himself a 4-1 victory in his first ever home start at Madison Square Garden, and would post his first career shutout just about a week later in only his fifth NHL game.
The famous nickname came very early on in his career, and is attributed to Rangers beat writer Larry Brooks who would say this on October 16, 2005 following an incredible performance by the young goaltender against the Atlanta Thrashers;
“When it was over, when the Rangers had sewn up the 5-1 victory over the Thrashers that earned the team a succession of standing ovations from a Garden crowd that’s fallen hard for its hard-hat team, the noise reached a crescendo when Henrik Lundqvist took his bows after being announced as the No. 1 star for the second straight game. Fast becoming a Broadway folk hero, King Henrik of Sweden took an abbreviated victory lap around the ice while raising his stick and glove in a return salute to the fans who alternately chanted, “Henrik” and “Lundqvist” throughout the match in which the goaltender made several nifty stops among his 28 saves.”
Appropriately, the aforementioned first shutout came the night after Brooks’s statement.
Henrik hit the ground running and did not look back for years.
He only played in 53 games during his rookie season, but would play no less than 70 in each of the next four seasons, followed by 68 games the next season.
You just don’t typically see goalies enduring that much ice time anymore.
He was great during that stretch as well, and far beyond it. He is the only goalie in NHL history to post at least 30 victories during 11 of his first 12 seasons.
He has only played less than 50 games a measly three times over his 15-year tenure, and maybe most impressively has never finished a season with less than a .905 save %.
He owns over 50 franchise records, which you will have to look up on your own if you would like to know them all.
Most notable of the 50 though, include all-time wins (459 – which is 6th in NHL history), shutouts (64 – which is 16th in NHL history), save percentage (.918 – which is 12th in NHL history), playoff wins (61 – which is 15th in NHL history) and playoff shutouts (10 – which is tied for 12th in NHL history)
He managed to lead his team to the playoffs in 12 of his 15 NHL seasons, reaching the conference final three of those times, and the Stanley Cup Final one time.
He was a five time all-star, as recently as 2019, and was nominated for the Vezina Trophy three times, ultimately winning it once in 2012 by posting a season stat line of 39-18-5 accompanied by a .930 save % (the highest of his career) with a 1.97 GAA (the lowest of his career)
He was also the most vital part of the 2006 Swedish Olympic Hockey Team, who would win the Gold Medal that year. Something not many hockey players outside of Canada or the United States have been able to experience since 1980.
Where Might the King Continue His Reign?
Lundqvist’s greatness and status can never be questioned, but it is fair to wonder if the 38 year old still has a spot in the league.
The NHL as a whole has started to look toward younger goaltenders, often playing a tandem of them throughout the season.
Is Henrik still good enough to be a back-up in the NHL? I would say most certainly. The problem is that there are many other goalies who are just starting their careers who can offer you the same skill set, at a cheaper price, with potential to blossom into a long term starting level goaltender down the line.
Would a team be willing to take the Mark Sanchez NFL route and sign Lundqvist with zero intention of ever playing him, but instead to simply have his knowledge and leadership in the locker room, and have him around their young netminders to bounce things off of?
The least likely scenario is seeing Henrik between the pipes as a bonafied starter again.
If he decides to stick around awhile longer, and finds a situation which suits him, he may end up seeing a decent amount of playing time again, but would almost certainly be splitting time with an up and coming tendy who, realistically, could take over the position of top guy in a heartbeat.
The one thing no one wants to see is Henrik try and lace em up for another season, and just not look anything like his old self. We have seen this out of the league’s top goalies in the past.
Martin Brodeur is widely accepted as one of the best goalies of all time, and for my money is undoubtably the greatest in NHL history. He is also the prime example of what may happen if Lundqvist continues on with another franchise.
In 2014, after 21 amazing years with the New Jersey Devils, Brodeur decided that even if the franchise no longer wanted him, he still had more left in the tank.
Ultimately, he signed with the St. Louis Blues, but only ended up starting 6 games, going 3-3 between them.
Brodeur was a few years older than Lundqvist when faced with the decision to retire or move on, but outside of that, and Brodeur’s level of personal and team success, the situations are a mirror image of each other.
I cannot tell you who exactly I think might be willing to take a flier on King Henrik, but here are some possibilities I’ve heard being mulled over.
San Jose Sharks: This is a team who has been very average since parting ways with their former captain, and their goaltending numbers have been towards the bottom of the league. Lundqvist could be a gap filling goalie, or used for his knowledge as this team rebuilds.
Washington Capitals: The Caps have a lot to figure out this off season after a disappointing exit from the bubble. I don’t believe Holtby will be back next season, so the Caps may look to an old reliable type of goaltender as they navigate their way through the upcoming season.
Vancouver Canucks: Vancouver is loaded with talent between the pipes. Markstrom was good for them throughout the entire season, while Demko shined in the playoffs. If there are no other offers on the table, I could see Lundqvist going there to work with one of the best young goalie pairs in the NHL.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes do not have a solid back up goalie right now. All three of their back ups from this year were ranked 55 or lower in GAA this season. They have also been plagued by injury, having to use an emergency goaltender at one point this year. They have the cap space to work with, and may be interested in bringing in Lundqvist and keeping him around for a pinch.
Ultimately, I would like to see King Henrik retire as a New York Ranger.
I have never been one to try and push guys out of the league or tell someone that their career is over when they feel they can still play. However, he is 38 years old and will likely not find success of sustenance anywhere he goes.
He will likely be on a very average team and put up average numbers for the remainder of his career.
If that’s how he wants to play out his time, I say go ahead and do it. We all know how difficult it can be to let go of the thing you love most, and the thing that has given you an identity since you were a child.
No matter what happens in the near future, Henrik Lundqvisk is a unanimous Hall of Famer.
I wish all the best for the King.
Lundqvist posted a thread of 7 tweets saying goodbye to New York and its fans. Full thread can be found on Twitter @HLundqvist30
THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING!
15 years ago, I played my first game for @NYRangers I came here with high hopes and big dreams but in my wildest imagination, I could never have pictured the amazing ride that lay ahead.. pic.twitter.com/uo0HJMZnCj
— Henrik Lundqvist (@HLundqvist30) September 30, 2020