The decision was made with clear eyes and a full heart. That is very much why Henrik Lundqvist believes he can’t lose by moving to Washington following 15 glorious years in New York.
“In the springtime, it was a pretty tough time for me. I kind of saw where this was going a little bit, so I had time to reflect [during the pause] and think about a lot of different things and I reached a level of so much gratitude towards the Rangers,” Lundqvist said via Zoom after signing a one-year free agent contract with the Capitals worth $1.5 million. “And honestly, I feel like gratitude is the best feeling you can ever have and I appreciate everything they’ve done for me over the 15 years I’ve been there.
“They were ready to make a few moves and take the next step in their rebuild and moving on, and I had my time to deal with that and that was a big thing. I’m not going to lie, it was a really big thing for me to, you know, say goodbye because it was such a long relationship.”
The buyout that had been projected for months finally was made official on Sept. 30. Lundqvist was showered with adulation on social media after the official parting of the ways, which The King had known was coming since he spoke with Rangers president John Davidson when the team’s charter touched down following the flight home from Toronto, where the team had been eliminated by the Hurricanes in the qualifying round.
“When this happened last week, I was in a really good place because I had time to work on that,” Lundqvist said. “It also made it easier for me to really take in all the love and support I felt last week. I was kind of blown away by all the support I felt.
“And I was also ready for the next step because I realized how much I love the game, how much I love to compete. Then looking at the different options I had and how excited I got thinking about going to Washington, obviously it’s been an emotional week but there are exciting times ahead here.”
Lundqvist faced the Capitals in five different playoff series from 2009 through 2015. Washington took the first two. The Blueshirts won the final three matchups in 2012, 2013 and 2015, all in seven games. There is familiarity there. There is proximity to New York. There is a reasonable opportunity to win the Stanley Cup.
“For a few weeks now I’ve been doing my homework on all different options and scenarios for me and I have to say the Capitals check every box when it comes to a team that understands winning, great coaching staff and an opportunity to play some games were the main factors for me,” he said. “There are so many things that go into this decision, starting with the chance to win.
“At this point in my career, I want to have the chance to win.”
With the Capitals choosing to move on from their veteran Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Braden Holtby, who signed as a free agent with Vancouver, 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov is the putative No. 1. Lundqvist said he is prepared for whatever role he is assigned by incoming head coach Peter Laviolette.
“I’m just going to work as hard as I can and whatever my role will be, that’s up to the coaches,” the 38-year-old Swede said. “I know I have an opportunity to play if I do really well, but I also understand that Washington has a really young goalie in Samsonov, great goalie and played really well last year. I’m embracing the whole thing, coming there and trying to help and support him but obviously also to perform really well.
“Whatever my role will be, I’m ready for it.”
Lundqvist will be reunited with former Rangers mate Carl Hagelin and Team Sweden chum Niclas Backstrom. He will of course join forces with Alex Ovechkin, by whom he was beaten for 24 goals over his career, tied with Sidney Crosby for the most by an opponent. Now, Ovechkin will only get to score on him in practice, though Lundqvist said he told him by phone the other day, “No one-time drills.”
So the cord has been cut. Lundqvist is a Capital. Life goes on. It could even include a game in the wrong uniform at the Garden.
“Moving forward, I have not thought about that one game back,” he said. “It’s more [about] preparing for Chapter Two. It’s been a long Chapter One in New York that I will never forget and I am forever grateful for that.”
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