“After many weeks of tests and conversations with specialists around the country it’s been decided that a heart condition will prevent me from taking the ice,” Lundqvist said in a statement. “Together, we have decided that the risk of playing before remedying my condition is too high, so I will spend the coming months figuring out the best course of action.”
Lundqvist had been preparing for the season, but after receiving test results this week, he decided playing was not best for his health. He will seek further treatment as he pauses his career.
“The Washington Capitals are supportive of Henrik’s decision to step away from hockey at this time due to his heart condition,” the Capitals said in a statement. “Our players’ health is of the utmost importance, and we stand behind Henrik’s decision. We want to wish him and his family all the best moving forward.”
The Capitals declined further comment.
“100 percent health is most important Hank!” Ovechkin wrote. “My family wish the best for you and hope to see you soon!!!”
“We’re with you man,” Wilson wrote. “All the best moving forward with your health and I hope we can share the ice again at some point.”
Lundqvist was set to compete for the starting goaltender position against second-year netminder Ilya Samsonov. Now Samsonov looks to be Washington’s No. 1 netminder for the first time.
Before Lundqvist’s arrival, the Capitals had a steady goaltending presence for years with Braden Holtby at the helm — he signed a two-year, $8.6 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks in the offseason. With Holtby’s departure and Lundqvist’s health-related exit, they will have to reevaluate their options.
The NHL is still finalizing a start date for next season, so the Capitals still have time to plot a course of action. But few options remain on the goaltender unrestricted free agent market at this point, and that could leave Washington turning to one of its younger prospects.
Vitek Vanecek would be the next internal candidate for the job, which appears to be the most likely route. Vanecek was pegged as the backup to Holtby during the 2020 postseason in Toronto, jumping ahead of Pheonix Copley on the depth chart when Samsonov was hurt in an off-ice accident in Russia and did not travel with the team. Samsonov is now the only goaltender on the Capitals’ roster who played in the NHL last season.
Samsonov and Vanecek have played as a goaltending duo before, making up their own tandem during the 2018-19 season with the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa. The duo alternated every start and flourished, competing with each other in a healthy back-and-forth dynamic.
The Capitals will explore their options regarding Lundqvist’s contract over the next few days.
But for now, the attention is focused on Lundqvist’s health. He had been in the D.C. area in recent weeks, traveling back and forth from his home in New York to the Washington area to participate in optional skates with his new teammates.
“While we are all saddened as hockey fans that we will not be able to watch Henrik tend goal for the Capitals this season, we are also thankful that he will be getting the necessary medical care to deal with his heart condition,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “Henrik is a beloved player across the NHL and throughout his native Sweden and a wonderful ambassador for the game. We wish him and his family well.”
Lundqvist, a five-time all-star, has played his entire NHL career with the Rangers and is 459-310-96 with a 2.43 goals against average and a .918 save percentage in 887 games. He is the franchise’s career leader in wins, save percentage and shutouts. He won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender in 2012 and was a finalist four other times.
Lundqvist and the Rangers reached the Stanley Cup finals in 2014, losing to the Los Angeles Kings. This season with the Capitals, he said he was excited for a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in his distinguished career. Now that will have to wait.
“Today is a pretty tough and emotional day for me,” Lundqvist said in a video posted to social media. “. . . It’s kind of shocking, to be honest. But with the experts involved, I know this is the only way of action.”