Henrik Lundqvist's career with the New York Rangers officially came to an end on Wednesday as the team continues to transition into a new era in New York. The Rangers are buying out the final year of the veteran goaltender's contract, which would have carried a $8.5 million cap hit in 2020-2021.
Lundqvist spent the last 15 seasons in New York playing for the team that drafted him in 2000, and the Rangers are the only team he's known since entering the league. Now, suddenly he's an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career and will have an opportunity to pick his next club -- if he chooses to continue playing.
It's believed that the 38-year-old netminder will likely prefer to join a contender as he looks to win his first Stanley Cup. Lundqvist hasn't played at an elite level in a few years, but there will likely still be a good amount of interest in his services, especially on a short-term, relatively short money deal. So, where could he end up? Let's take a look at some destinations that make sense.
This might be the most obvious fit for Lundqvist straight out of the gate. The Capitals will likely lose Braden Holtby to free agency this offseason as they hand the starting reins to the young Ilya Samsonov, who is still largely unproven and missed the Caps' playoff run due to injury. The Caps may value the chance to bring in Lundqvist not only to provide some veteran guidance for Samsonov, but also some insurance in the crease.
The Hurricanes have been beefing up their team over the past couple of years and could be poised to make a serious run at the Cup in the next couple of years if they continue to fill out the roster. Lundqvist got a front-row seat to just how dangerous and fun they can be in this year's playoffs, as the Canes simply crushed the Rangers in the qualifying round. The biggest question mark surrounding Carolina is (and has been) their goaltending. Petr Mrazek and James Reimer are both entering the final year of their current contracts but the Canes may elect to move one of them in favor of Lundqvist.
There's a stink of desperation in Edmonton as the Oilers look to capitalize on prime years of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, so they might be as hungry for a Cup run as Lundqvist is at this point. They got back to the postseason this year but were quickly bounced by the Chicago Blackhawks in the qualifying round, and it's clear that this team still has a lot of needs. One of those needs is between the pipes, as Mike Smith didn't really work out in his one year with the club. With his contract expiring, Edmonton could elect to try again with another aging vet in Lundqvist, who could split duties with Mikko Koskinen.
The Canucks' goaltending situation is an interesting one heading into this offseason. Jacob Markstrom has been quite good for them but he's 30 and due for a new contract. The Canucks may not want to hand out big money to keep him, especially after what they saw from young Thatcher Demko during this postseason. If they elect to go with Demko, who's only making $1.05 million on the cap next season, they may be interested in having Lundqvist as a veteran backup and added insurance -- and they can probably afford to pay him a little bit more than most other contenders.
The Sharks were a total mess this year but they still have a good amount of talent on the roster and could be in line for a bounce-back campaign in 2021, especially if they can get solid goaltending -- something that has been hard to come by over the past few years. With Aaron Dell's contract expiring, Lundqvist might be a decent option to pair with Martin Jones if the Sharks are looking to get back into the hunt immediately. Plus, Hank in California seems like a natural fit.
You know who loves taking short-term chances on veteran netminders? The Calgary Flames. Mike Smith flamed out, no pun intended. Cam Talbot had a solid first year in Calgary but his contract is expiring and it's unknown if he's going to stick around. If he doesn't and the Flames want to go back to the well, Lundqvist would be a suitable option for a team that's capable of contending right now.