Henrik Lundqvist won’t be wearing the Blueshirt anymore, but the former Rangers icon will still be wearing red, white and blue.
Lundqvist, the face of the Rangers for most of the last 15 years before they bought out the final year of his contract 10 days ago, signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract as a free agent with the rival Washington Capitals Friday.
He will be the goalie partner to 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov as the Capitals moved on from Braden Holtby, who signed with the Vancouver Canucks.
"Henrik is one of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history, and we are pleased to have him join our organization," Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said in a press release. "Henrik has the competitive drive and the ability to help our team compete for a championship. We feel he will be an excellent fit for our team and provide leadership to our organization and our young goaltenders.’’
In a Zoom call with reporters Friday afternoon, Lundqvist said he had time in the second half of the 2019-20 season to come to grips with the reality that his time with the Rangers was up. He was "in a good place’’ when the club decided to buy him out on Sept. 30 and said when he was trying to figure out the best place for him Washington "checked every box.’’
He called the Capitals, who won the Stanley Cup in 2018, "a team that understands winning.’’ And, he said, they offered "an opportunity to play some games.’’
"There’s so many things that go into this decision for me,’’ he said. "But starting with a chance to win. I think at this point in my career, that’s the most important thing. I want to have a chance to win.’’
Lundqvist, 38, won 459 career games with the Rangers, sixth all time and second among active goalies (behind Marc-Andre Fleury). But, of course, he never won a Stanley Cup.
He won the Vezina Trophy in 2012, and helped the Rangers reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014 and win the President’s Trophy (as the team with the best record in the regular season) in 2015.
But he lost his status as the Blueshirts’ No. 1 goaltender this season, as he was surpassed by a pair of 24-year-old Russians, Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. He finished with a record of 10-12-3, with a 3.16 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.
He did start the Rangers’ first two qualifying round games, after Shesterkin was out with an injury when the NHL season restarted Aug. 1. He was asked what his role will be in Washington.
"I'm just going to work as hard as I can, and whatever my role will be, you know, that's up to the coaches,’’ he said. "I have an opportunity to play if I do really well, but I also understand Washington has a really young goalie in Samsonov, [who] played really well last year. So I embrace the whole thing, coming there and try to help and support him… whatever the role will be, you know, I'm ready for it.’’