The most recent NHL offseason featured a litany of starting goaltenders that were on the move to playing for new teams. The most exciting news may have been the departure of Braden Holtby and the subsequent replacement with Henrik Lundqvist by the Washington Capitals. The veteran goaltender parted ways with the New York Rangers after 15 seasons and signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Capitals to pursue a Stanley Cup Championship. Unfortunately, Lundqvist’s championship aspirations for this season ended before they started with an announcement made on December 17th, 2020. Lundqvist stated he would be unable to play for the Capitals this season due to a heart condition.
Henrik Lundqvist Had an Impressive Career but Never Won a Stanley Cup
Lundqvist was selected by the Rangers in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL draft. He had been the heart of the Rangers for 15 seasons where he amassed an impressive resume that included a Vezina Trophy, 459 wins, only two seasons with a goals-against-average greater than 3.00, and not a single season with a save percentage below 90%. It seemed clear to many fans that King Henrik’s time presiding over Rangers fans was coming to an end. Declining performance and perceived frustration with the lack of the team’s success, evident by him citing his desire to win a Stanley Cup as the reason he signed with the Capitals, were signs that the 38-year-old may be moving on from his Madison Square Garden kingdom.
Lundqvist entered the offseason with the Capitals rejuvenated and excited about the opportunity to play with a team that hoisted the Cup three seasons ago in 2018. His season was over before it started when he had to undergo open-heart surgery which included an aortic valve replacement, and the replacement of his aortic root and ascending aorta. Any of these three conditions on their own is a critical situation, let alone all three at once. The diagnosis, risks, surgery, and rehabilitation all contributed to Lundqvist’s decision to remove himself from the team and concentrate on his health.
After a successful surgery, Lundqvist was discharged on January 14th, 2021 from Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, a medical center that is world-renowned for its advanced cardiac care. Sporting a Team Sweden jacket, he arrived home was greeted by his wife and two children holding handmade signs to welcome him back. From there, Lundqvist will undergo rehab in New York and focus on getting well while enjoying the time with his family.
The most difficult challenge may remain ahead of Lundqvist. A successful rehab from an extensive operation is no small feat, and even with a successful recovery, he will still have to be cleared to play at hockey’s highest level. Performing at a level Lundqvist is accustomed to would still exceed expectations, cardiac surgery excluded, as will be turning 39 years old on March second.
If Lundqvist were to return, he would join an elite group of goaltenders which includes Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, and Curtis Joseph to play over the age of 37. It’s uncertain what role Lundqvist would take on with a new team, but he may be the perfect fit for a club with a developing goaltender that would benefit from working with the veteran netminder. He could even land in Seattle and contribute to the Seattle Kraken’s inaugural season, similar to Marc-Andre Fleury’s presence when the Vegas Golden Knights formed. There has been no word from Lundqvist regarding that decision as of yet.
Many fans were excited to see the King play for a new team with a shot to win it all. Just as many were saddened by this news, but we are grateful that his condition was identified early enough to receive the care he needed. All eyes will be on Lundqvist as he continues to move forward and strive to, once again, wear his crown.
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