By Joe Pantorno
The day many Rangers fans have dreaded for a few years now has officially come. Henrik Lundqvist has been bought out.
The Rangers announced the deal on Wednesday, bringing an end to the 38-year-old’s legendary 15-year career with the Blueshirts.
“Few players have been as important to the Rangers franchise as Henrik Lundqvist, and we are incredibly grateful for all he has done for our organization,” James Dolan, Executive Chairman of MSG Sports said. “Over his 15-year tenure, he not only established himself as one of the best goaltenders to ever play the game, he has also been one of hockey’s fiercest competitors and most effective ambassadors. He will always be a part of the Rangers family.”
“We would like to thank Henrik for his immeasurable contributions to the New York Rangers,” Rangers president John Davidson said. “From the time I met Henrik when he first came to New York in 2005, he has been the consummate professional. His tireless work ethic, passion for the game, and love of the Rangers and New York City enabled him to become one of the greatest goaltenders in hockey and one of the best players in the history of our franchise. We all wish Henrik and his family the best going forward.”
The epitome of a good soldier, Lundqvist is currently the sixth-winningest goaltender in NHL history with a Rangers franchise-leading 459 victories. He will also finish his Blueshirts career leading the organization with 64 shutouts and 61 postseason victories.
He made the postseason 12 times in his 15 years, backstopped the Rangers to three Eastern Conference Final appearances, and a trip to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, which they came up short in against the Los Angeles Kings.
The 2011-12 Vezina winner has won almost every accolade possible, though his trophy case is missing the most recognizable prize of all: The Stanley Cup.
Lundqvist and his sizable contract became expendable during the 2019-20 season after the Rangers brought up prized goaltending prospect Igor Shesterkin from the AHL after he made his way over from Russia.
The 24-year-old starred upon arrival, going 10-2-0 with a 2.52 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.
With Alexandar Georgiev as his logical backup for next season, getting Lundqvist’s contract off the books was vital to give the Rangers a little more wiggle room to help fuel their rebuild — which will receive another shot in the arm next week when they take the highly-touted Alexis Lafreniere with the No. 1 overall pick.
Regardless, it’s an unceremonious and — considering the amount he gave to the franchise — an unfair way to end his Rangers career as he is now a free agent to sign with any other team in the league.
Considering he made it known that he has “another few years” left in the tank over the summer, the initial expectation is that he will search for a new NHL home this offseason, preferably one that is a contender that can help deliver him that elusive championship.
The buyout eliminates the final season of Lundqvist’s seven-year, $59.5 million deal, which creates an additional $3 million of 2020-21 cap space. That gives them a projected $23 million to work with after they traded Marc Staal to the Detroit Red Wings last week.