Henrik Lundqvist appears to be at peace.
Sitting in front of a computer for a late-morning Zoom interview, the future Hockey Hall of Famer is wearing a Nike track suit and a Crown Collection cap from his merchandise line.
He answers questions with his typical thoughtfulness and laughs easily.
Eventually, the question is asked: Have you found joy?
“Absolutely,” Lundqvist told Newsday during a wide-ranging discussion about his documentary, Open Heart, which will debut at the Tribeca Festival on Thursday at OKX Theater at BMCC TPAC.
“Even before heart surgery and the couple setbacks that happened, I was in a very good place,” Lundqvist said. “By that time I [had] already shifted a little bit. Throughout my career [there] was so much focus on performance and trying to win and it was so important and a lot of my time went to that. But I knew I was getting closer and closer to the end of my career and I wanted to set myself up for [the] next chapter and how I wanted to live that life, right? So being happy was the most important thing to me.”
The 75-minute film, directed by Jonathan Hock, chronicles the goaltender’s life. It specifically focuses on the period of time between Dec. 17, 2020 — when the announcement was made that he would not play for the Washington Capitals in the COVID-shortened 2021 season because of an aortic valve, aortic root and ascending aortic replacement that required open heart surgery — and Jan. 28, 2022, when the Rangers retired his No. 30 in a pregame ceremony at Madison Square Garden.
After the 2020 season, due in part to the ascension of Igor Shesterkin, the Rangers bought out the final year of the seven-year, $59.5 million contract Lundqvist signed in 2013. The then-38-year-old Lundqvist signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million with Washington for the 2021 season but never played for the Capitals as team doctors initially learned about the condition during a physical and follow-up testing.
Lundqvist underwent a five-hour surgical procedure in early January 2021 at the Cleveland Clinic and recovered to the point that he began to skate on his own. However, a subsequent checkup revealed inflammation around the heart. That halted a potential comeback and led him to announce his retirement in August 2021.
“It is a pretty honest film,” said Lundqvist, whose personal videos, photos and audio were used along with original and archival footage to tell his story.
According to Hock, the decision to use the deeply personal footage was made consciously to allow the filmgoer to experience Lundqvist’s journey.
“As a filmmaker, your goal is to put the audience in the moment with the character — with your main character — and to have this actual in-the-moment footage and audio was really essential to the way we told the story,” Hock said. “Because to talk about it in an interview — everything in retrospect — it can be emotional in a particular kind of way, but to actually bring the audience back there with you, to that exact moment where things went down that were very private and intimate, is the kind of thing that takes a story on film from ordinary to extraordinary. That’s what Henrik gave us.”
It underscored the editorial decisions made by Lundqvist and Hock. The two were interested in telling the story of a man moving on to the next stage of life.
“The good films, the good sports documentaries are never about sports,” Hock said. “They’re always about the character . . . the athlete.”
This story reveals a man who has gone from being the preeminent goaltender of his generation to embracing life’s various pathways. They have brought him back to Madison Square Garden, where he works for the Garden in business operations and serves as a studio analyst for MSG Network with Steve Valiquette and John Giannone. Lundqvist also is part of the NHL on TNT’s studio show and hosts a podcast (Club 30).
It should surprise exactly no one that one of the most accessible and insightful athletes of his era has transitioned seamlessly into the media realm.
But as Giannone stressed, happiness is Lundqvist’s lodestar.
“I don’t know that I necessarily thought this is the way he would go,” Giannone said. “I still don’t know long term if this is the way he’s [going to] go.
“I think when he says what he says, he truly believes it. He wants to do things that are going to make him happy, and signing the deal with Madison Square Garden to be around the Garden as much as possible to be in the organization — whether it’s the Rangers or anything else the Garden does, because it’s been his second home and his second family for almost two decades now — I really think that’s his guiding force at this point.
“He wants to continue to do things that make him happy, and as long as we continue to do that, I think he’ll continue to do it.”