With the Rangers’ long-rumored buyout of Henrik Lundqvist now official, the natural question is: “Which team will sign Lundqvist?” This, of course, assumes that Lundqvist will continue his vaunted career. Just about any hockey fan should hope that the 38-year-old keeps chugging along.
Few know what Henrik Lundqvist wants (beyond Lundqvist)
Ultimately, we can only guess where Lundqvist may sign next. We don’t know his priorities, although it seems reasonable to assume that he would emphasize the chance to win that elusive Stanley Cup.
If Lundqvist followed in the footsteps of other veteran sports stars and took very little money to chase that late-career championship, it would be understandable. After all, Cap Friendly estimates Lundqvist’s career earnings at close to $100 million.
But Lundqvist might want the best chance to play, rather than a platoon or backup situation. Maybe he’d want to stay reasonably close to New York City, being that he played for the Rangers for 15 years?
What Henrik Lundqvist brings to the table at age 38
No doubt, Lundqvist is no longer at his peak, and oh what a peak it was:
Over that same span, Lundqvist saved 278 goals above expected during the regular season. The next goaltender is Jaro Halak at 96.
— Evolving-Hockey (@EvolvingHockey) September 30, 2020
By the numbers, it’s fair to wonder what sort of goalie teams would be getting in current-day Lundqvist.
In 2019-20, Lundqvist went 10-12-3 with a .905 save percentage. That marks the second straight season in that range, as he sank to .907 in 2018-19.
According to Hockey Reference’s version of Goals Saved Above Average, Lundqvist was on the negative side of the ledger (from -4.16 to -5.21) in three of the last four seasons.
While some of those stats attempt to correct for the quality of teams in front of goalies, it’s still worth wondering if Lundqvist might enjoy a renaissance in a different situation. To be frank, the Rangers have been abysmal defensively for some time now. And, for a veteran like Lundqvist, it might be tougher to find that fire on a rebuilding team.
If NYR really does buy out Lundqvist, I just hope the King is on board with it. He hasn't been a plus goaltender in a few years but he's been fine considering the team in front of him. I'd make excuses for him if he wanted to play until he was 60 y.o.https://t.co/bJGC49Qc9U pic.twitter.com/6eYW6ecmLV
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) September 29, 2020
If you’re a contender and Lundqvist isn’t asking for the moon, maybe you can picture another glory run? Goalies are unpredictable, and Anton Khudobin was no spring chicken (34) in leading the Dallas Stars to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.
So let’s consider the NHL teams who may at least consider signing Henrik Lundqvist after that Rangers buyout.
Contenders going through changes may target Henrik Lundqvist
Heading into what’s almost certain to be a turbulent off-season, Lundqvist, Khudobin, and other free agent goalies must contend with a flooded market. Teams might prefer a more established name at-or-near their prime ages (Robin Lehner, Braden Holtby) or someone with less name recognition who could deliver Khudobin-type gains (Thomas Greiss).
So, beyond knowing what Lundqvist wants, it’s up to the teams to decide if Lundqvist is their preference.
In the case of contenders, the most sensible situation would be for Lundqvist to provide insurance at a low price, while Lundqvist gets to chase that Stanley Cup. These teams stand out in that category:
- Capitals – How cool would it be for the Capitals to sign Lundqvist after facing him in, by my calculations, 5 bajillion playoff series?* With Holtby most likely to move on, the Capitals could provide Ilya Samsonov with a well-coiffed safety net. After all those barbs and battles, it would be a blast to watch Alex Ovechkin and Lundqvist team up.
- Penguins – A fairly similar situation. Matt Murray is a UFA who struggled badly in recent times. Like with Pheonix Copley, the Penguins might have a logjam in that scenario, as Casey DeSmith is under contract. But pairing Lundqvist with Tristan Jarry could be appealing.
- Flyers – Carter Hart could use a backup upgrade over Brian Elliott. There would be so, so many “Lundqvist mentoring Hart” stories.
- Maple Leafs – If Toronto moved on from Frederik Andersen, could they roll with Lundqvist and Jack Campbell? Hmm.
- Stars – In the event that Khudobin priced himself out of Dallas, picture a very old goalie duo in Lundqvist and Ben Bishop. Lundqvist might not know what to do with himself during games when the Stars really put the defensive clamps down, honestly.
- Blues – After employing Martin Brodeur for a few unthinkable games, maybe the Blues land Lundqvist? They traded away Jake Allen, even after Allen quietly (vastly) outplayed Jordan Binnington in 2019-20.
- Jets – Winnipeg asked a lot of Connor Hellebuyck last season. It might be wise to find someone to ease that burden in 2020-21.
- Golden Knights – If they trade Marc-Andre Fleury and sign Lehner, they might need a backup. This would be weird … and fun?
* – Five series.
Hopefuls who might offer more starts?
If Lundqvist wants to thread the needle between having a chance to win a Stanley Cup — but maybe a lower chance — and also maybe getting in a platoon/1B/or even starting situation, there are some scenarios.
- Flames – Calgary’s been searching for goalie help and that extra push for some time. If it weren’t for David Rittich, the Flames could’ve pulled off the amusing scenario where maybe Lundqvist would be the backup to his former backup, Cam Talbot. But Lundqvist on the Flames would be fascinating.
- Oilers – Another year, another situation where the Oilers face comparable goalie uncertainty to their Alberta rivals. Imagine the star power of Lundqvist on a team with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Imagine the angst if that all goes bust again.
- Canucks – Thatcher Demko + Lundqvist rather than breaking the already-broken bank to bring back Jacob Markstrom?
- Wild – Minnesota’s been one of the best defensive teams in the NHL. They’ve also made a ton of moves already. What if they found someone who’d actually make some stops?
- Coyotes – If they moved on from Darcy Kuemper, maybe Lundqvist could sustain them if they play low-event hockey? Lundqvist could at least enjoy the weather, depending upon how the 2020-21 season might play out.
- Sharks – Hey, they want to get out of the cellar, and their goaltending can only get better. Right?
Max money, minimum wins?
Let’s throw bad teams with a lot of money in this category. One could picture scenarios where the Senators, Red Wings, and other rebuilding franchises might value Lundqvist’s presence and name recognition. Lundqvist, meanwhile, might get more money and start more games.
The most devilish scenario would be if the New Jersey Devils snatched Lundqvist from their local rivals.
Marinating on that almost troll-like situation seems like a good way to close this off. Which teams would be best served to sign Lundqvist, and which destinations make the most sense for him? Do tell.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.