For fifteen seasons, Henrik Lundqvist was a benchmark of stability on Broadway. His presence between the pipes for the Rangers defined success and, in many cases, dominance. Lundqvist’s body of work in New York bred the nickname “King Henrik.” But the king will abdicate his throne this offseason after the Rangers announced they will buy out the final year of his seven-year, $59 million contract signed in 2014.
Shortly after the news became official, Lundqvist expressed his gratitude and appreciation to the Rangers organization in a tweet where he reflected upon his career.
To put Lundqvist’s legacy into perspective, consider where the Rangers stood before his arrival. The franchise meandered through a decade of unfulfilled expectations with an aging roster in the years following their 1994 Stanley Cup title.
The Rangers missed the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons between 1997 and 2004. Goaltender Mike Richter retired during the playoff drought following a series of injuries, including a concussion. The Rangers struggled to find a suitable replacement for Richter, hoping that Mike Dunham or Dan Blackburn could fill his void.
The 2004-05 lockout not only instituted a salary cap, but it forced the Rangers to reassess their roster and give more credence to player development. Lundqvist, in particular, was a seventh round selection in 2000 that earned his way onto the Blueshirts roster as the backup to veteran Kevin Weekes.
His first start at Madison Square Garden came in October against the New Jersey Devils where he earned 20 saves in a victory in place of the ailing Weekes. Lundqvist continued to show promise in successive starts to the point where he eventually earned the starting role and finished the season third in the voting for the Vezina Trophy while leading the Rangers to their first playoff appearance in eight years.
Beginning with his rookie season, Lundqvist recorded at least 30 wins in every non-strike year through the 2016-17 season. His consistency served the Rangers well in seasons where goals came at a premium. His presence alone helped turn the club into a perennial contender, to the extent that they were on the verge of reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 before falling to the Devils in Game 7 on an Adam Henrique goal in overtime. Lundqvist recorded a 1.82 GAA with three shutouts during the Rangers’ playoff run and asserted himself as a viable postseason goaltender.
Before the Rangers embarked on a pursuit of the Eastern Conference title, Lundqvist posted a 2011-12 season where he earned the lone Vezina Trophy of his career with a 39-18-5 mark and a .930 save percentage. Two years later, the Rangers reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in two decades behind the efforts of Lundqvist, who collected 13 wins across four playoff rounds and 16 quality starts. Despite his strong play throughout the postseason, the Rangers could not win a Stanley Cup for their goaltender, losing in the fifth game to the Los Angeles Kings on an Alec Martinez overtime goal in Game 5.
The Rangers and Lundqvist remained productive in the years following the trip to the Stanley Cup, reaching the playoffs in each of the next three seasons. Lundqvist would garner a third place vote for the Hart Trophy in 2015-16 and finished in the top five for the Vezina Trophy the year prior. The Rangers themselves had three consecutive 100 point seasons, but did not return to the Stanley Cup Final despite their regular season success.
The organization would soon enter a transition period by the 2017-18 season, and it became apparent that Lundqvist could no longer carry the team the way he once did in his prime, with years of heavy workloads beginning to take a toll on his body. Head coach Alain Vigneault would give way to David Quinn and the Rangers opted to rebuild with the outside chance of getting Lundqvist to a playoff appearance by the end of his contract.
The decline of Lundqvist and the rebuilding effort by the Rangers resembled the end of Eli Manning’s career with the New York Giants. Like Lundqvist, the two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback could not mask the deficiencies of his club at the end of his career and faced the intense scrutiny of the fans and media.
Quinn would bench Lundqvist by the 2019-20 season in favour of more youthful netminders such as Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin. Unlike Manning, Lundqvist reached the playoffs in his final season in New York when he started the first two games of the Stanley Cup qualifiers in Toronto against the Carolina Hurricanes in place of Shesterkin to cap off a fifteen-year career and a prosperous era of Blueshirts history.
Lundqvist finished his Rangers career as the most successful goaltender in the annals of the organization, holding franchise records in wins (459), shutouts (64) and playoff wins (61). His dependability and steady presence in goal created a lasting impact where he became the face of an organization and a symbol for their triumphs.
While Lundqvist could not match Richter with a Stanley Cup of his own, he put his team in a spot to pursue the elusive goal with his quality play and leadership attributes. He leaves the franchise with lasting memories and a legacy that places him among the greats in New York hockey.