When the October Madness officially began yesterday, Henrik Lundqvist found a new home. As had been reported by Rick Carpiniello of The Athletic in a translation of a story from a Swedish publication, Lundqvist made it official by joining the division rival Capitals on Friday.
He signed with Washington for one year, $1.5 million. After getting bought out by the Rangers, who have moved on from the Lundqvist Era to the young 24-year old Russian tandem of Igor Shesterkin and Alex Georgiev, the 38-year old veteran goalie will likely be the backup for the Caps behind another young Russian netminder in Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov is 23 and coming off a good rookie campaign.
It took a while for Lundqvist to let go of the only NHL team he’s ever known. The all-time Rangers franchise leader in wins (459) and shutouts (64) knew his time was up once he was relegated to third string duty behind Shesterkin and Georgiev. Even if they gave him two final starts with Shesterkin hurt in the Play In Series versus the Hurricanes, by that point he realized it was over.
A prideful and passionate man who loved living in the big city and all that comes with being a Ranger under the spotlight, Lundqvist enjoyed his time here. He loved the way the fans supported him from the very beginning. Who knew that a seventh round pick in the 2000 NHL Draft would become such a star for an Original Six franchise? Give the European scouts credit.
It’s ironic that he’s going to join former adversary Alex Ovechkin in DC. A electrifying superstar who beat Lundqvist 24 times, tying Sidney Crosby for the most goals against him. A great goalie who after losing to Ovechkin twice in the playoffs, led his team to three straight wins over those Caps in 2012, 2013 and 2015. The final one being the most memorable.
Even more ironic, this is Ovechkin’s final year of that long-term contract he signed over a decade ago. He will earn $9.54 million at age 35 as he continues his chase of Wayne Gretzky’s 894 goals. The Great Eight will enter 2021 with 706 career goals. A nine-time Rocket Richard winner with three Harts and a Stanley Cup, Ovechkin still has the desire to win another championship. Something Lundqvist alluded to when discussing why he chose the Caps. His drive to win a Cup continues. Only it’ll be in those red and navy blue colors with stars representing the nation’s capital.
He won’t wear the familiar number 30. Instead, he’ll be rocking the red with a new number 35. How many fans will buy the new Lundqvist jersey? When Martin Brodeur left the Devils and signed with the Blues, his number 30 sold plenty in St. Louis. You have to think the same will be the case for King Henrik. He’s always been very popular with hockey fans, who love his intensity. He truly wants to win and feels it can happen playing on a still talented team of Caps that features Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Jakub Vrana, Lars Eller, old friend Carl Hagelin and newest Capital Justin Schultz.
I hold no ill will against Lundqvist. Even if it’s a hated division rival, he’s doing what’s best for him. That’s how divorces work. Undoubtedly, he will be very motivated to prove he still has something left. Especially with how the last two seasons went in the Big Apple. The team he’ll play for is better, deeper and more proven. They’ll also be coached by former Stanley Cup winner Peter Laviolette. That in itself will be strange to get used to.
The question for the Caps is how much of a window do they have left. After finally winning the Cup in ’17-18 under the guidance of current Islanders coach Barry Trotz, they’ve been eliminated in consecutive first rounds by the Hurricanes and Islanders. Similar to Lundqvist, they should have something to prove. Are they still a serious contender or have teams like the Flyers, Islanders and Hurricanes passed them by?
What about Lundqvist possibly returning to Madison Square Garden as an opponent in an arena he once owned? How will it feel if by that point, there are fans allowed in the building? You have to know he’ll get a tremendous reception from his former team, who does things with class. They never forget recent former Rangers. If only they recognized Frank Boucher.
With the addition of the older Lundqvist, who can help Samsonov develop, the Caps said goodbye to former Cup winning goalie Braden Holtby, who signed with the Canucks to replace Jacob Markstrom. He will have a similar role in Vancouver due to Thatcher Demko. They paid tribute to Holtby. A former Vezina winner like Lundqvist, who went save for save with him in the 2015 second round series.
Sadly, that’s the nature of the salary cap. Where good players on championship teams are let go due to teams being forced to cut costs. If it were a softer cap, you wouldn’t see as many players switching jerseys.
It’ll be different seeing Henrik Lundqvist in a Caps jersey. Plus he’ll be wearing a different number. No. 35 with Lundqvist on the back will take some getting used to. However, he’s at peace with the decision and grateful to the Rangers organization for how well treated he was. For 15 years, fans chanted, “Hen-rik, Hen-rik, Hen-rik!” Now, they’ll chant “Ig-or, Ig-or, Ig-or!”, and “Geor-gie, Geor-gie, Geor-gie!”
The “Hen-rik”, chants will come from Capital fans. How weird that will be. Maybe it’s the whole strange year of 2020. Even if hockey isn’t expected to return until the following calendar year, it’ll take some getting used to.
For the disappointed crowd who are upset he chose a rival, get over it. You root for the logo on the front. That includes if Lundqvist is in net versus the Rangers. It’s the players who represent the team. Lundqvist did it proudly for 15 years.
Like a classic song from Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A Changin’.”