What had been anticipated for months, ever since he lost claim to the job as the Rangers’ No. 1 goaltender back in January, finally happened on Wednesday, when the Rangers announced they had bought out the final year of Henrik Lundqvist’s contract, ending his 15-year career with the Blueshirts and making the 38-year-old goaltender a free agent.
"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.’’
"Representing this organization has been the biggest source of pride and joy in my life,’’ Lundqvist said via Twitter. "I’m so grateful for the opportunity, for the friendships and for all the great memories created wearing the red, white and blue. I will always cherish my time as a Ranger.
"From the bottom of my heart, thank you.’’
A native of Are, Sweden, Lundqvist – who came to be known as The King during his time in New York – leaves as the Rangers’ 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. He backstopped Sweden to the Olympic Gold Medal in 2006, won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender in 2011-12, and played in five NHL All-Star games. He is the winningest NHL goaltender born outside of North America.
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. Further, he also fell behind another 24-year-old Russian, Alexandar Georgiev, to No. 3 on the goaltending depth chart. Lundqvist started just four games after Shesterkin was called up from the minor leagues in early January, and started one of the team’s final 19 games before the league paused due to the coronavirus on March 12.
When the league restarted in Toronto in August, an injury to Shesterkin allowed Lundqvist to start the first two games of the Rangers’ qualifying series against the Carolina Hurricanes. However, the Rangers lost both of those games and were swept out of the series in three games, with a healthy Shesterkin playing in the final game.
After the season ended, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton said the Rangers would not proceed with three goaltenders in 2020-21, and team president John Davidson revealed he had a conversation with Lundqvist when the team plane arrived back in New York following the Carolina series. With Shesterkin now the clear No. 1 goaltender for the Rangers, and Georgiev needing to be re-signed as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, keeping Lundqvist – at a salary cap hit of $8.5 million for 2020-21 – seemed impossible. By buying him out, the team will save $3 million on the salary cap for the upcoming season. It will carry $5.5 million of Lundqvist’s cap hit as dead money this season, and $1.5 million in 2021-22. The buyout, combined with the surprise trade of veteran defenseman Marc Staal Saturday to Detroit, now leaves the Rangers more than $23 million under the $81.5 million salary cap, plenty of room to re-sign restricted free agents Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome, Georgiev, Brendan Lemieux and unrestricted free agent Jesper Fast.
And Lundqvist is free to sign a contract with another team and chase the Stanley Cup. That’s how it worked for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who was bought out by the Rangers last summer and signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who beat the Dallas Stars in Game 6 Monday to win the Cup.