The goalie carousel of free agency has been spinning wildly this off-season and nobody is safe, especially not longtime Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby. Over the past ten years, Holtby has been a dominant force in net for Washington, winning the Vezina Trophy in 2016, the Jennings Trophy in 2017 and leading the franchise to its only Stanley Cup win in 2018. Washington’s decision to let 31-year-old Holtby enter free agency at the end of the season brings about the need to fill a vacancy in net, one only fit for a king.
Just one week after the New York Rangers bought out the last year of his contract, all-star goalie Henrik “The King” Lundqvist signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with Washington. The 38-year-old Swedish goalie will serve as a backup to Ilya Samsonov, whom Washington drafted in the first round in 2015. This will be Samsonov’s first time as a starting goalie in the NHL.
Washington Senior Vice President and General Manager Brian MacLellan commented on the acquisition of Lundqvist in a statement released by the team Oct. 9. “Henrik is one of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history, and we are pleased to have him join our organization,” MacLellan said.
Lundqvist comes to Washington after an impressive 15-year career with New York, the only team he has ever goaltended for during his tenure in the league. Lundqvist led New York to deep playoff runs in 2012, 2014 and 2015, just losing his chance to lift the Cup in 2014 after a double-overtime loss in Game seven to the Los Angeles Kings. Winning the gold medal with Team Sweden in the 2006 Winter Olympics, as well as the prestigious Vezina Trophy in 2012, Lundqvist is only missing a Stanley Cup Championship.
While Holtby’s absence will be felt within the roster, Lundqvist certainly fits the vision the team has to achieve success in the future. Washington has all the tools to succeed. The team has the talent, cohesion and drive, but proper guidance is needed to make all of these qualities gel together successfully. While a new coaching staff will definitely help bring success, the leadership Lundqvist offers in goal certainly will help as well, especially considering this will be Samsonov’s first time as starting goalie.
Lundqvist’s acquisition to the team will allow Washington to develop a solid starting goalie in Samsonov. This is only Samsonov’s second season playing in the NHL, which means he has a lot to learn before the start of the new season. With an older, experienced goalie in Lundqvist as Samsonov’s guide, there is no doubt Samsonov will be able to perform at the high level of play Washington demands of him.
While this might mean less playing time for Lundqvist, I think he has come to terms with the fact that he will be passed up for younger players at this point in his career. The 38-year-old Lundqvist had his golden years in New York and now it is time for him to pass the torch. This is not to say Lundqvist is washed up at all; he is still widely considered to be one of the best goalies in the league. But his time playing hockey will soon come to an end and someone will have to replace him, and who better to replace Lundqvist than someone he mentored?
In addition to what Lundqvist can do for Washington, there is a lot Washington can do for him. For one thing, Washington will give him a better chance of winning the Cup. At this point in his career, all Lundqvist really wants to do is win, which is hard to do when he is a part of a team that has not had a true chance of winning the Cup in years. With Washington ranked number three in the Metropolitan Division, he has a better chance of accomplishing his goal of winning a Stanley Cup than he would by playing one more year for the seventh-ranked New York team.
While rankings do not mean everything, they do account for the stark difference in success and competitive play we saw this past postseason between Washington and New York. While true that Washington was eliminated in the first round, they came into the bubble as the third seed. In contrast to this mediocre play is New York, who lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 in preliminary games, disqualifying them from participating in the first round of the playoffs.
For Lundqvist, being picked up as a free agent is probably the best thing to happen to his career right now, even if only for one year. He gets to keep doing what he loves with a team that actually has a chance of rewarding him for all of his hard work in an NHL goal over the past 15 years. I think it is safe to say Lundqvist deserves a Cup more than any other player in the league right now, and with a nickname like “The King”, it is only fitting for him to win one in the nation’s capital.