COULD THIS BE HIS END?

NEWS

Things can certainly change, but it’s difficult to imagine that we haven’t seen the last of Henrik Lundqvist as an NHL player. Assuming Zdeno Chara does indeed play this season, ‘King Henrik’ would have already been the fourth-oldest player in the league and the oldest NHL goalie in 2020-21. It’s hard to fathom that someone even of Lundqvist’s mettle could endure recovering from a heart condition and missing a full season of hockey, then coming back to the best league in the world at the age of 39.

So it may very well be that our last memory of Lundqvist will have been a 4-1 loss in the qualifying round of the bubble playoffs in which Lundqvist stopped 30 of 34 shots back on Aug. 3. If that’s the case, Lundqvist is, of course, a no-brainer Hall of Famer in 2023. After Lundqvist announced Thursday that he will have to sit out the season due to a heart condition, we do know for sure that we will not get to see him chase the elusive Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals. Lundqvist did not definitively close the book on his career when he made his announcement, but it’s very likely the book has been closed for him.

So we’ll have to be content with remembering Lundqvist as one of the game’s all-time greats and add him to the inauspicious list of the greatest players in NHL history to not win a Stanley Cup, where he’ll be joined by Marcel Dionne, Joe Thornton (probably), Eric Lindros, Pavel Bure, Cam Neely, Adam Oates, Brad Park, Gilbert Perreault, Darryl Sittler, Peter Stastny and Mats Sundin. (As well as fellow former Ranger goalie Eddie Giacomin, who is right there – along with Mike Richter – in the discussion of the Rangers’ all-time greatest goaltenders.)

And of course it’s not all on Lundqvist that he failed to bring a Stanley Cup to a franchise that has delivered less to its fans than any other in NHL history. And we’re including the Toronto Maple Leafs. For all the individual star players they’ve had and the resources they’ve had at their disposal, it’s actually remarkable to consider how historically putrid the Rangers have been at hockey.

When top players have surrounded Lundqvist on the international stage, he has delivered the goods. He backstopped Sweden to an Olympic gold medal in 2006 and a World Championship in 2017. He also won two Swedish League titles with Vastra Frolunda, where he was named the league’s top goalie three times and the top player once. In New York, Lundqvist and the Rangers were not bereft of opportunities, particularly in 2014 when they made it to the Stanley Cup final and were overwhelmed by the Los Angeles Kings and the next year when they finished first overall in the NHL, but lost in the Eastern Conference final in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The one that probably stings the most was in 2012 when Lundqvist won the Vezina and the Rangers were the best team in the Eastern Conference, only to lose in the conference final to the New Jersey Devils in six games. The Rangers had five very good seasons in the middle of Lundqvist’s career, but for the first five and the final five, they were basically either a bad team or an average one that was in no danger of being a serious Stanley Cup contender.

If Lundqvist doesn’t play another game in the NHL, he’ll likely be sitting sixth on the league’s all-time wins list with 459 for some time. That’s because the active goalie with the next-highest number of wins is 40-year-old Ryan Miller, who has 387, and Miller has yet to be signed for this season. Next after that is 38-year-old Pekka Rinne with 359. In fact, the only active goalie with a real shot of catching Lundqvist at the moment is Carey Price, who is 111 victories in arrears. And Lundqvist’s career save percentage of .918 puts him tied for 10th all-time in that category.

And that’s even before you consider that whenever Lundqvist does leave the game for good, he’ll go down as one of the most respected players of his generation. Guys from Sweden are, generally speaking, some of the most humble and low maintenance hockey players you’re ever going to meet and in that respect, Lundqvist was no exception. And he loved playing the game. Perhaps that’s what is most disappointing, that it looks as though Lundqvist won’t be able to leave the game to which he has given so much on his own terms.