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Rangers buy out Henrik Lundqvist's contract

Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers waves to the

Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers waves to the crowd during a ceremony honoring him prior to a game at Madison Square Garden on Monday, March 24, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Henrik Lundqvist’s reign as King of New York is over.

The Rangers announced Wednesday they have bought out the final year of the 38-year-old goaltender’s contract, making him a free agent. News of the pending buyout first was reported Tuesday night.

"Few players have been as important to the Rangers franchise as Henrik Lundqvist, and we are incredibly grateful for all he has done for our organization,” Madison Square Garden Executive Chairman James Dolan said in a news release. “Over his 15-year tenure, he not only established himself as one of the best goaltenders to ever play the game, he has also been one of hockey’s fiercest competitors and most effective ambassadors. He will always be a part of the Rangers family.”

 

A native of Are, Sweden, Lundqvist played 15 seasons with the Rangers, during which he came to be known as The King. He leaves as the club’s all-time leader in goaltending wins (459), starts (871), games played (887), and shutouts (64). He is the club leader in playoff appearances, with 130, and playoff wins, with 61, and he is currently sixth on the NHL’s all-time list for goaltending wins, and second among active goaltenders, behind Marc-Andre Fleury, of the Vegas Golden Knights.

But Lundqvist never won a Stanley Cup with the Rangers, and in 2019-20, he lost his position as the team’s No. 1 goaltender to 24-year-old Russian Igor Shesterkin. With a salary cap hit of $8.5 million for 2020-21, it would have been difficult for the Rangers to carry Lundqvist as a backup to Shesterkin. Alexandar Georgiev, another 24-year-old Russian, who is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, will be much cost effective for the team to keep. In buying Lundqvist out, the team will save $3 million on the salary cap for the upcoming season. It will carry $5.5 million of dead money this season, and $1.5 million of dead money in 2021-22.

"We would like to thank Henrik for his immeasurable contributions to the New York Rangers,” Rangers president and alternate governor John Davidson said. “From the time I met Henrik when he first came to New York in 2005, he has been the consummate professional. His tireless work ethic, passion for the game, and love of the Rangers and New York City enabled him to become one of the greatest goaltenders in hockey and one of the best players in the history of our franchise. We all wish Henrik and his family the best going forward.”

 

Lundqvist now must decide whether he still wants to play in the NHL. He could sign as a free agent with another team in the league, and perhaps try to chase a Stanley Cup ring. Or, he could retire from hockey altogether, or return home to Sweden and play for his old team, Frolunda, where his identical twin brother, Joel, is the team captain.

Lundqvist was the backbone of the Rangers team that returned to the playoffs in 2006 after an eight-season absence, and then went on to be one of the league’s best teams, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014 and winning the President’s Trophy, for the best record in the regular season, in 2014-15. Lundqvist’s buyout comes days after the Rangers on Saturday night traded defenseman Marc Staal, the second-oldest and second-longest-tenured Blueshirt, to Detroit. The trade of Staal and the buyout of Lundqvist opens up significant amount of space under the salary cap.

After the Rangers announced in February of 2018 that the organization would go into a rebuilding period, Lundqvist’s numbers began to decline, and he endured the first three losing seasons of his career as the team missed the playoffs in 2018 and 2019, before making the NHL’s 24-team qualifying round this summer. Shesterkin, who was drafted in 2014 to be Lundqvist’s heir apparent, came over from Russia at the start of the season, then came up from the minor leagues in midseason and went 10-2, with a 2.52 goals-against average, in helping the Rangers fight their way back into the playoff race.

Lundqvist, who slipped to No. 3 in the pecking order, behind Shesterkin and Georgiev, finished 10-12-3, with a 3.16 GAA in the regular season. He did start the first two games of the Rangers’ qualifying round series against the Carolina, when Shesterkin picked up an injury and was unfit to play. Shesterkin played in Game 3, as the Rangers were swept by the Hurricanes in the best-of-five series.

Lundqvist’s Rangers career ends with a record of 459-310-96, with a 2.43 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. He won the Vezina Trophy, as the NHL’s best goaltender, in 2011-12, and played in five NHL All-Star Games. And he led Sweden to the Gold Medal in the 2006 Olympics. But never winning the Stanley Cup remains the big hole on his resume.

"If you would have asked me 10 years ago, ‘What do you think about the goaltender’s impact and value to a team in winning a Stanley Cup?’ I would say it’s extremely high, and I can’t live in a world where (Montreal’s) Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist don’t someday win a Stanley Cup,’’ said MSG Television analyst Steve Valiquette, a one-time backup goaltender behind Lundqvist. "That’s where I’m at, right now. I just can’t believe it, to be honest.’’

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