The Henrik Lundqvist era in The Big Apple officially ended Wednesday when the New York Rangers bought out the final year of the star goalie’s contract.
The 38-year-old Swedish star has been associated with the Rangers organization for the past 20 years after being selected by the team in the seventh round of the 2000 draft.
Lundqvist finished top-six in Vezina Trophy voting in each of his first 10 NHL seasons, however his goals-against average has increased in each of the past six seasons so his $8.5-million annual salary cap hit became a burden for a Rangers team about to begin a new chapter in its history.
The Rangers -- the team that won the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery and now hold the No. 1 overall pick -- will roll with their two young Russian puck-stoppers, Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev, starting in 2020-21. As for Lundqvist, it’s unclear what his future holds, at least in terms of his playing days.
Will Lundqvist consider retirement? If not, will he want to earn a starter’s role in a new city? Could he thrive as part of a tandem? Might he be an ideal backup on a team with a young starter he could mentor?
Or, could the veteran struggle to find the right fit altogether? This off-season, after all, boasts a fairly crowded goalie market and with the salary cap not increasing it puts some teams in a budget bind.
With all that in mind, here are five teams that could be interesting fits for the decorated netminder.
The Avalanche were looking like a legitimate threat to emerge from the Western Conference before Philipp Grubauer went down with an injury. Backups Pavel Francouz and Michael Hutchinson struggled and Colorado was eliminated by Dallas. Adding some insurance in the form of a possible future Hall of Famer could contribute to Colorado reaching that next level.
GM Joe Sakic has plenty of cap space with which to work and Lundvist will prefer going to a team with realistic championship aspirations. Grubauer and Francouz are both under contract next season, with a combined cap hit of $5.33 million, which could complicate things slightly.
The Canucks have something potentially special cooking in B.C. They were the only Canadian team to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs this summer. A huge reason for that was the play of Jacob Markstrom, who is expected to be the most sought-after goalie available in free agency – it’s either him or countryman Robin Lehner.
If Markstrom does leave, Vancouver will need to fill that void and who better to mentor Thatcher Demko than someone like Lundqvist? If he isn’t interested in playing second fiddle to a 24-year-old, though, then Vancouver might not be the right fit. Lundqvist could join former Team Sweden teammates Alex Edler and Loui Eriksson, plus star forward Elias Pettersson and Calder Trophy runner-up Quinn Hughes, on a growing team that would benefit from his experience and leadership.
With Braden Holtby hitting the open market, Lundqvist would make sense as a replacement. The Capitals will be handing the keys to the crease to 22-year-old Ilya Samsonov. Lundqvist could provide the Russian some valuable support. Lundqvist might’ve struggled in 2019-20 but his .905 save percentage was better than Holtby’s .897.
Did Anton Khudobin price himself out of town after his playoff heroics that fell a couple wins shy of a Stanley Cup championship?
Khudobin is a pending UFA and if he leaves town the Stars will be left with Ben Bishop. The Stars should be contenders again next season. If they don’t think 2017 first-rounder Jake Oettinger is ready to be a full-time NHL backup next season and/or they don’t fully trust Bishop to stay healthy and perform at a high level consistently, then why not take a look at Lunqvist?
Henrik’s twin brother, Joel Lundvist, spent three seasons with the Stars from 2006-2009.
This would be a wild jump from one Original Six franchise to another.
Chicago needs an upgrade in net with Corey Crawford a pending UFA and both Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia unproven as starters. Lundqvist wouldn’t be their first choice, but if they miss out on their top handful of targets then Lunqvist could be an excellent contingency plan.
Chicago has plenty of proven winners on their roster and they upset the Oilers in the qualifying round. As mentioned above, Lundqvist will want to go to a place where he can actually start some games. If he thinks the Blackhawks will be a playoff-calibre team next season, then who knows?