Shortly after the opening of the NHL's shopping season for unrestricted free agents, the Capitals kicked off the process of tinkering with their roster with a significant announcement on Friday afternoon. The Caps have agreed to terms on a one-year contract for $1.5 million with veteran goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, whose previous contract was bought out by the New York Rangers last week. The announcement comes a day after the 15th anniversary of Lundqvist's NHL debut with the Rangers, on Oct. 8, 2005 against the Devils in New Jersey.
"For me at this point - [after] 15 years in New York - it's a big decision for me," says Lundqvist. "There's a lot of things you put into consideration when you try to pick a spot. And I just felt that Washington checked every box that was important to me, and obviously it starts with a winning team. At this point in my career, I want to go somewhere where it's a good chance. I just want to have another opportunity to be part of that, and I'm very grateful for this opportunity."
Video: One-on-One | Henrik Lundqvist
Until last week, the 38-year-old Lundqvist had spent the entirety of his illustrious NHL career on Broadway, but the emergence of young netminders Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin led to the Rangers' buyout of the final year of Lundqvist's deal, a pact that carried an annual salary cap hit of $8.5 million.
A seventh-round (205th overall) choice for the Rangers in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Lundqvist began his NHL journey in 2005-06, when he won 30 games and was a Vezina Trophy finalist as a rookie. He also finished fourth in Calder Trophy balloting behind Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf that season. It was the first of three straight seasons in which Lundqvist was a Vezina finalist; he won the award in 2011-12, winning a career high 39 games and reaching 30 wins for the seventh straight season at the outset of his career.
Lundqvist won 30 or more games in 11 of his first 12 seasons, missing that mark only in the lockout-abbreviated 2012-13 season when he led the NHL with 24 victories and was the Vezina runner-up. Throughout the course of his NHL career, Lundqvist has been an elite NHL netminder, and he is virtually certain to be a first-ballot inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame whenever his career concludes.
With 459 career NHL victories, Lundqvist ranks sixth on the NHL's all-time list, and he is second among all active goaltenders, trailing only Marc-Andre Fleury (466) of the Vegas Golden Knights.
The only major accolade that has eluded Lundqvist over the course of his career is a Stanley Cup championship. He reached the Cup Final with the Rangers in 2014, but New York bowed to the Los Angeles Kings in five games in that series. On his Twitter account on Sunday, Lundqvist indicated that his competitive fires are still burning in the wake of last week's buyout. "I still love to compete. I still love the game and I still want to WIN!," Lundqvist tweeted.
At this stage of his career, winning a Stanley Cup is his primary motivation.
"I have two kids, they're in school in New York," says Lundqvist. "I think we just have to play by ear a little bit now, when we know the season starts. But that's more of a practical thing.
"I think in this decision, it was most important a hockey decision obviously and all the other things will work itself out. We spent our last 15 years here [in New York]. Really enjoyed it, but we really look forward as a family - and me as a player -- for a new chapter, a new opportunity, a new challenge. I know some of the guys on the team, great guys and I really look forward to getting to know the rest of the team. I also had an opportunity to talk to coach Peter [Laviolette]. Just overall this is a great feeling right now, and I'm full of excitement."
With Washington, Lundqvist won't be expected to carry the lion's share of the netminding chores. That responsibility is expected to go to sophomore goaltender Ilya Samsonov, and the Caps hope that their young Russian netminder will benefit from working in a tandem with Lundqvist, whose workload of 30 games (26 starts) last season was the lightest of his 15-year NHL career to date.
The Caps' announcement that they've agreed to terms with Lundqvist marks a bittersweet day in Washington's franchise history, because it comes on the same day they part ways with Braden Holtby, arguably the best goaltender ever to play for the Capitals.
Drafted in the fourth round (93rd overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Holtby won 282 games over his decade in the District, fashioning a splendid 282-122-46 record to go along with a .916 save pct., a 2.53 GAA and 35 shutouts, tied with Olie Kolzig for the all-time franchise lead. Among all goaltenders in franchise history, only Kolzig (301) won more games than Holtby.
Holtby helped lead the Caps to the first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history in 2018 and won a Vezina of his own in 2016, becoming the third goalie in club history to achieve that honor. Holtby won 40 or more games in three straight seasons starting in 2014-15, matching Martin Brodeur's all-time single season League standard of 48 victories in 2015-16, the year he won the Vezina.
Holtby burst onto the scene here in D.C. just under a decade ago, winning his first NHL game against Boston on Nov. 5, 2010. He went 14-4-3 in the NHL while splitting his first two seasons between D.C. and AHL Hershey, and his brilliant 2012 Stanley Cup playoff performance made him a fixture here for the remainder of the decade. Holtby posted a sparkling 1.95 GAA and .935 save pct. in backstopping the Caps to within a game of the Eastern Conference Final that season before falling 2-1 in Game 7 of the semifinals to Lundqvist and the Rangers.
As good as he was between the pipes for the Capitals, Holtby was equally as important to the organization off the ice and in the greater DMV community throughout his tenure here in Washington. He and his wife Brandi were regulars at the DC Pride Parade, and they were always strong advocates for equality for all. In June of this year, the Holtbys conducted a "Get Off The Bench For Racial Equality" auction, an initiative that raised $39,400. That sum was split between Black Lives Matter DC and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.