And the Caps should absolutely try to sign him.
It may seem crazy to think that Lundqvist could wear the Caps’ red after so many years of tormenting them in Ranger blue — but it may just be the perfect fit for both team and player.
For starters, despite being 38 and finding himself pushed to the sidelines last year by the Rangers’ up-and-coming duo of rookie Igor Shesterkin and Alexander Georgiev, Lundqvist remains a very good goaltender. Is he still the Vezina-winning superhero who led his team to the Stanley Cup final back in 2014 (and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012 and 2015)? Of course not, and his numbers have slipped substantially in the last two seasons (although one could argue that the team in front of him wasn’t helping him out much).
But the Caps don’t need Henrik Lundqvist in his prime to succeed, and definitely wouldn’t be able to afford anyone comparable. What they do need is a veteran presence in net to back up, mentor and push Ilya Samsonov, and pick up the slack when the youngster stumbles or needs some time off. They need a goalie capable of coming in and playing 30-35 games (who believes he’s still capable of more), and giving the team their best chance to win in those games. Lundqvist is that guy. Lundqvist may still be more than that guy.
(On a sidenote, while it’s tempting to see what a dirt-cheap Vitek Vanecek can do in a tandem with Samsonov in a $1.6-million pairing, it’s hard to see the Caps - with an aging “win now” roster and a coach that’s actually making above minimum wage - putting all their eggs in a basket of 22 career NHL starts, so if it’s not Hank, expect them to hand-cuff another veteran to young Samsonov.)
What’s more, Lundqvist is likely to be a relative bargain once he hits the open market, partly because he’ll be coming off a buyout and partly because the goalie market is about to be flooded with younger players seeking big contracts (older ones, too... ahem). It won’t be about the money for Lundqvist, which could make him a great option for an eternally cap-strapped team like the Caps.
Which brings us to why Lundqvist might give the Caps a chance: finding his next team will probably not be about the money for him. In his long, storied career, one thing has been missing from his resume, and that’s a Stanley Cup — and the Caps right now are still a contender. They’re hopefully about to get a boost from a new coach who is known for getting strong defensive performances out of his team, and their veteran core will be hungry for another Cup. Add in the fact that he’d get to be part of a contending team without the pressure of being The Guy, and DC could tick a lot of boxes for the King.
There are some concerns, of course. As previously noted, his numbers have dipped in the last two seasons and he is nearing 40. He’s had some injuries that have kept him out for significant stretches of time (which is to be expected from an athletic goaltender nearing 40). And it’s not a guarantee, even with the buyout, that he’s going to be willing to take enough of a discount to fit under the Caps’ tight salary cap.
But there’s also the possibility that he finds new life in Washington and becomes a key piece of another long playoff run — and perhaps a Stanley Cup — and that possibility makes the rest worth it.