After 15 seasons with the New York Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist is headed to Washington. He has been one of the top netminders in the NHL during his time in the league and, while he looks like a perfect candidate to mentor the Capitals' young netminder Ilya Samsonov, chances are he has his eyes set on competing for the No. 1 job. Can he actually challenge for it and what happens if he doesn't get it? Lundqvist looked like a perfect match for what the Caps were looking for in the offseason, but what if his role does not turn out to be what he originally hoped?
This situation would be a disaster in the making for some players, but not for Lundqvist, says NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen.
As he explained in an appearance on the Capitals Talk podcast, Rosen is convinced Lundqvist is coming with the intention of competing for and taking the No. 1 job in Washington. Having said that, he doesn't know if Lundqvist has enough left in the tank to actually earn it.
"I don't think he has enough to be a No. 1 on a full-time basis," Rosen said. "But I think if you split starts, you give at best a 50/50 if not a 55/45 in terms of percentages the other way to Samsonov not to Lundqvist. I think you'll get the best out of Henrik Lundqvist. His days of being a 60-start guy in a full 82-game season are long gone. His days of being a 55 to 50 start guy in a full NHL season are probably gone too, but he can still play in the league."
Here's the key question: Does Lundqvist know that?
Professional athletes are ultra competitors so of course Lundqvist wants to come to Washington and earn a No. 1 role. But after a season in which Lundqvist earned career lows in both save percentage (.905) and GAA (3.16), the odds that a 38-year-old goalie is going to bounce back from that to such a degree that he can convince a team he should be starting over a 23-year old first-round draft pick is pretty slim. If he can still be useful in a limited role, that's exactly what the Caps need...as long as he can accept that role.
Being ultra competitors, sometimes athletes don't know when to accept that they aren't the player they used to be anymore. That can cause tension within a team when there's a player who feels he is not getting a large enough role and he makes sure everyone knows it.
But that's not the kind of person Lundqvist is.
"This is not a guy who's going to come in and rattle," Rosen said. "He's not going to do those things. He's not the me, me, me guy. He's not at all. He's a team guy. He knows if he's playing well he'll deserve to play. He knows if he is not playing as well as he thinks he's capable of playing well and Samsonov is, then Samsonov gets the net. It's that simple."
When the Rangers sent out the now infamous letter to the fanbase declaring the team was entering a rebuild, that spelled the end of Lundqvist's chances of earning a Cup in New York. And yet, there was never a moment when Lundqvist was not publicly on board with the team, nor was there any moment in which he caused any tension within the locker room. A veteran goalie chasing a Cup has very different priorities than a rebuilding team. But he stuck with it until the Rangers had two young goalies ready for larger roles and no more room for Lundqvist on the roster.
Lundqvist may want to compete for a No. 1 job, but he also won't be heading into Washington blind, unaware of who Samsonov is and who he is projected to be for the Capitals in the long run. The difference is that in Washington, Lundqvist believes he could still win a Cup which is not something that was going to be possible in New York for some time. If he has to do it as a backup, he will.
"Henrik Lundqvist just spent the past two seasons being a good soldier," Rosen said. "From the moment that the Rangers announced that they were rebuilding, he was on board. Publicly, privately, he was on board. He wanted to help the team go through it and come out on the other end and frankly, he did. He did his job.
He would have liked to last one more year, but time just ran out on him and the depth chart ran out on him basically in New York, but he has spent the last two years being a good soldier and that's what he would be in Washington. That's what he will be in Washington."