A heartbroken Lundqvist showed the human side of sports


For thirteen years, Henrik Lundqvist has given the Garden Faithful plenty of reasons to smile and cheer. The franchise leader in wins, shutouts and pretty much every key goalie category for the Rangers, has been here for plenty of good times. Now, he’s here for some tough times.

Seeing your closest friend and teammate traded away can leave you somber with few words. That was how an emotional Lundqvist was following Sunday’s 6-5 overtime defeat to the Capitals in the locker room. He was analytical when speaking about what went wrong on some of the goals he allowed. A unique trait the future Hall of Famer has. He’s very good at breaking down losses and taking responsibility.

When it comes to personal buddy Mats Zuccarello, he broke down literally after MSG broadcaster John Giannone asked him what Zuccarello meant to him. This was not even 24 hours later since the team traded the popular locker room leader to the Stars for conditional second and third round picks. The classy 36-year old netminder put up a very nice post thanking Zuccarello for his time here. It brought tears to many fans, who love what the pint sized Norwegian right wing with the big heart brought to the franchise for seven years.

It wasn’t startling that Lundqvist was basically left speechless while shedding some tears as he couldn’t continue the interview. For better or worse, sports are a business. Sometimes, it can become pretty cold when a team is broken up as the Rangers have been. They went from a Stanley Cup appearance and Eastern Conference Final a few years ago to only four players remaining. It is tough on players, coaches, executives and fans. Here was Lundqvist’s reaction:

This is the human side of sports. We are all a little heartbroken today. That’s how much Zuccarello meant. He wore his emotions on his sleeves, letting you know how he felt. For a while, the Zucc we all knew and loved wasn’t there. It took a face to face meeting with the Rangers hierarchy to settle him down. Afterwards, the fire was back. He finished his Blueshirt career with seven goals and 22 points over the final 16 games, playing the kind of hockey he was best known for.

It made me appreciate him more. For as long as it lasted, I cherished every shift. Not only the goals he scored or set up, but just the raw emotion he played with to make the first line coach David Quinn put together one to enjoy. Even if we knew that it would end for Zuccarello, it made us happy to see him combining with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider to dominate shifts at five-on-five. Listening to Zibanejad and Kreider, you can tell how much having Zuccarello around helped them as players. They’re better for it.

There are a zillion instances like what the Rangers organization faced. The Penguins had to trade Jaromir Jagr because they couldn’t afford him. Wayne Gretzky didn’t last in Edmonton for the same reason. He wound up an LA King, crying at a press his final conference with the Oilers in what is billed as the Trade Of The Century. If the Great One can get traded, anyone can. Or do you not remember a furious Patrick Roy vowing to never play another game for Montreal after dopey coach Mario Tremblay embarrassed him? Some of the younger audience might not. See YouTube.

Did any New Yorker alive think the Knicks should’ve traded Patrick Ewing? It was gut wrenching and set the franchise back a long time.

There are always reasons for trades. For the Blueshirts, Zuccarello didn’t fit into their long term plans. Not after asking for five years. Two too many than GM Jeff Gorton can realistically offer. When Kevin Hayes goes bye bye this afternoon, it’ll be for the same logic. He will command even more on the open market. A valuable commodity, who’s developed into a responsible two-way center, there are plenty of interested suitors. Much depends on what happens with Mark Stone.

The business of sports is one that makes me sick. But like Kreider pointed out, a salary cap forces teams into tough decisions. There’s been a lot of overreaction to the trade that sent Zuccarello to Dallas. Never become too attached to a player. They’re almost all expendable.

I was very happy to hear that Zuccarello scored his first goal and picked up an assist for the Stars in their 4-3 win over the Blackhawks. It’s too bad he suffered an arm injury due to blocking a shot. Of course, the gritty forward would sacrifice for his new team the same way he did on Broadway. If as he believes it is a broken arm that will at least sideline him a month, didn’t he do similar in 2012 wrecking his playoffs? Oh, the irony.

Hopefully, Zucc will get good news and be able to come back and help his new teammates, who already got to see why he’s such a good player. From the little I watched of the game, it was evident that the odd number 36 in green Stars colors can aid a low scoring team looking to get into the playoffs. We now won’t get to see him on March 5 when the Rangers visit Dallas. That’s too bad.

I’m sure there will be more craziness and zaniness later today. Don’t take it to heart.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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