Lundqvist to Caps, goalie carousel spins in NHL free agency
Nets around the NHL will look very different next season after a flurry of musical goaltenders in free agency.
Henrik Lundqvist is joining a team he tormented in the playoffs for years, Braden Holtby is leaving the franchise he led to the Stanley Cup, Jacob Markstrom got big bucks to join the Battle of Alberta and Anton Khudobin is staying home, after all.
Beyond Khudobin, who stayed with the Dallas Stars after carrying them to the Cup Final, a handful of the top goalies in an overflowing market traded places Friday and most of the best options got new contracts.
“You saw the goalie carousel take place,” said San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, who traded for goalie Devan Dubnyk this week. “You knew that there was a lot of goalies in play: different categories, different ages, certain skillsets, guys coming off good years, maybe down years.”
Lundqvist will continue his pursuit of the Cup with the Washington Capitals after signing a $1.5 million, one-year deal with one of the New York Rangers’ top rivals. The 38-year-old Swede was bought out by the New York Rangers after 15 seasons and will now play with Alex Ovechkin and help Washington try to win it all again.
“The Capitals, they checked every box,” Lundqvist said. “A team that understands winning, a great coaching staff and an opportunity to play some games were the main factors for me. But there’s so many things that goes into this decision for me, starting with a chance to win. I think at this point in my career, that’s the most important thing: I want to have a chance to win.”
The longtime face of the Rangers will split duties in net with 23-year-old goalie of the future Ilya Samsonov. Washington added Lundqvist to replace 2016 Vezina Trophy and 2018 Stanley Cup winner Braden Holtby, who left to sign an $8.6 million, two-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks.
Holtby had to take a pay cut, but in a flooded goalie market, the 30-year-old is glad he found a good fit with Vancouver.
“As it got down to it, you realize there are a lot of really good goalies out there and we all came up at the same time,” said Holtby, who will count $4.3 million against the salary cap the next two seasons and could be a top option for the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 expansion draft because Vancouver has Thatcher Demko. “It was a lot of uncertainty but really thankful that that is in the past now and worked out perfectly.”
Things really worked out perfectly for Markstrom, who left the Canucks to sign a $36 million, six-year contract with the Calgary Flames. It was the richest free-agent contract signed by mid-Friday afternoon with an annual cap hit just below the $6.25 million two-time Cup-winning goalie Matt Murray got from Ottawa after his trade there.
“They really wanted me, and I really wanted to go somewhere where they believe in me,” Markstrom said. “They really did that. They gave me a great contract and I can’t wait to go out there and play for the Flames and prove to them and everybody else that I’m a good goalie and I’m only going to get better.”
Khudobin, who famously yelled in the Stars locker room after winning the Western Conference, “We’re not going home!” signed for three years and $10 million to stay with Dallas.
The 34-year-old goaltender had an NHL-best .930 save percentage during the regular season and carried the banged-up Stars to the Cup Final in the Edmonton bubble with a .917 and 2.69 goals-against average playoffs.
“Our goaltending has been as good as anybody in the league,” Stars GM Jim Nill said of Khudbon and Ben Bishop. “We’ve had a lot of success. They play for each other. We’re fortunate to have two No. 1 goalies.”
After trading Dubnyk to San Jose, the Minnesota Wild signed former Flames goalie Cam Talbot to an $11 million, three-year deal. Talbot goes from a No. 1A job with Calgary to Minnesota’s undisputed starter.
“Extremely nerve-wracking to be honest,” Talbot said after winding up with a multiyear contract. “There might be guys left without a seat. We knew there was going to be some shuffling.”
Two-time Cup-winner Corey Crawford left Chicago to sign a two-year, $7.8 million deal with New Jersey.
Thomas Greiss and Craig Anderson are among those still looking for a landing spot.
Lundqvist didn’t last long as a free agent. The veteran of 887 NHL regular-season and 130 playoff games over his career is still trying to win the Cup for the first time.
He took the Rangers to the Cup Final in 2014, a rare year he didn’t face the Capitals in the playoffs. After losing series to them in 2009 and 2011, Lundqvist eliminated the Capitals three times: 2012, 2013 and 2015.
While Washington won it all with Holtby in 2018, Lundqvist endured a Rangers rebuild that saw him rotated in a three-goalie carousel with Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. He hadn’t played in the playoffs since 2017 until two games in the qualifying round of the expanded, 24-team playoffs this past summer.
“Coming back in the summer my mindset was, ‘If this is it, let’s enjoy it,’” said Lundqvist, who was told months ago by president John Davidson the Rangers were planning to move on. “I had such a long time to prepare for that. I was at peace with it and grateful. When you feel gratitude toward something, it gives a lot back to you. So I was happy, feeling that gratitude toward the Rangers. And again it made it easier for me to take this next step.”
AP Hockey Writers Larry Lage and John Wawrow and freelance writer Denis Gorman contributed to this report.
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