Mike Richter has had a privileged view of a fellow New York Rangers legend. But it’s something other than the statistics of Lundqvist, who on Friday announced his retirement from the NHL following 15 seasons with the Rangers, that most stands out to Richter.
“Hank’s compete level was through the roof,” said Richter, who played his entire 14-season NHL career with the Rangers from 1989-2003, winning the Stanley Cup in 1994. “He came prepared as professionally as possible — year in, year out, game in, game out — and that maximized his huge potential.
“He read the play incredibly well, to see and get in front of shots. He was always a great competitor and that just means that over time he’s going to end up like a [Martin] Brodeur (the NHL wins leader with 691). You’ll rack up wins and important milestones when you have his level of talent married with consistency and a really dedicated approach to the game.”
Lundqvist had the final season of his contract bought out by the Rangers on Sept. 30, 2020, and signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Washington Capitals nine days later. He did not play last season because of a heart issue and had valve replacement surgery in January.
He began light workouts in July in hopes of playing this season, but after having some health issues in those workouts decided to retire.
Lundqvist, who played all 887 of his regular-season and all 130 of his playoff games for the Rangers, ranks sixth in NHL history in victories (459), seventh in saves (23,509), eighth in games played (887), ninth in starts (871), ninth in time on ice (51,816:51) and 17th in shutouts (64). He played his whole NHL career with the shootout and without tie games.
The 39-year-old from Are, Sweden, was 459-310-96 with a 2.43 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. The 2011-12 Vezina Trophy winner voted as the best goalie in the NHL, Lundqvist was 61-67 with a 2.30 GAA, .921 save percentage and 10 shutouts in the playoffs.
The Rangers announced that Lundqvist’s No. 30 will be retired at Madison Square Garden this season. He will be their 11th player and third goalie so honored; Ed Giacomin’s No. 1 was retired on March 15, 1989, and Richter’s No. 35 was raised to the rafters on Feb. 4, 2004.
“I have a great deal of respect for Hank’s accomplishments but even greater respect for his approach to the game, for why he was so good,” Richter said. “The man worked hard and was serious about his craft. It showed every night. He exploded onto the scene in New York (in 2005-06), adjusting to the North American style of hockey better and more quickly than anyone anticipated. The coaching staff and scouts had a lot of faith in this guy or they wouldn’t have brought him over from Sweden.
“But as impressive as he was from the start, his hallmark has been his consistency. Talk about any great player, particularly a goaltender, and it’s the consistency and the ability to play at a high level every night. The expectations were high in New York, which would have been the case no matter where Hank played.
“But I will say that there’s a different level of intensity in New York. … Some can work within that reality and some can’t, but Hank was certainly one who wanted to be on that large stage and he really thrived on it. It takes a special person to do it.”
Gerry Cheevers, the Boston Bruins legend of the 1970s, understands the pressures of a passionate hockey market, the 1970 and 1972 Stanley Cup winner saying that Lundqvist shone in the hot spotlight of New York.
“Henrik certainly brought stability to the Rangers,” Cheevers said. “No matter how good or bad they were, he was always there. With him, they were mostly going to be good. I liked the way Henrik played, he seemed to be very much in charge. To me, he was a very solid goalie and he made the Rangers a competitive team.”
Philadelphia Flyers icon Bernie Parent, who won the Stanley Cup with Philadelphia in 1974 and 1975, when he also was voted the Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, lauded Lundqvist for what he brought to the Rangers both on and off the ice.
“The Rangers and New York had to be very proud and grateful to have had him,” Parent said. “The leadership he brought was incredible. That’s where you see the difference in great goalies like him. The kind of leadership he brings is huge. It’s all about confidence at that level of sports. Once you have it, you perform well. That’s what this guy provided.”
ESPN hockey analyst Kevin Weekes was a teammate of Lundqvist for the first two seasons of the latter’s NHL career.
“Right from Day One, it was such an elite level of greatness and ultimate high performance and consistency all the way through,” Weekes said of Lundqvist. “I saw him in training camp and I was like ‘Holy, this guy is freaking crazy.’ I remember hearing about him from buddies of mine that played in Sweden during that ’04 (NHL) work stoppage.
“(Goalie) Jose Theodore was over there in Sweden too, and Jose a couple years prior was League MVP (in 2001-02). Jose had an excellent career and he and I go back a long time. And players were telling me, ‘This guy is even the next level, this Lundqvist guy.’ I saw it in training camp right away, so I wasn’t surprised. He took the League by storm. He took the Garden by storm. He took our position by storm.
“One of the best things about [Lundqvist] is the fact that everybody always looks at the hair and the goatee and the suits and the cars. Was that a part of the package? Sure. Is that a part of the way he presents himself? Of course. But the driver was about blood, sweat, tears, courage, practice, compete. As he tells me all the time, he loves competing. And never any complacency, either. That drive and that quest was always there for him and it never wavered.”
Martin Biron, now a Buffalo Sabres studio analyst, played his final four NHL seasons as Lundqvist’s teammate from 2010-14.
“Hank was perfect for New York and New York was perfect for him,” Biron said. “I can’t think of any player who was more perfect for a team and better embodied that team than he did.
“People look at Hank and they say, ‘He’s good-looking, he dresses so well, he plays guitar in a band, he’s got the perfect family, he’s a really good goaltender.’ But they also should know that he worked harder than anybody else I’ve ever played with.
“The time that Hank spent on the ice and off the ice was incredible — doing video, redesigning his equipment to make sure he was always moving forward with that and with his technique. He was a competitor and a leader and all of that, but what I saw behind the scenes, how hard he worked, that doesn’t come easy. Yes, he had talent, but he always worked extremely hard at every aspect of the game, the physical, mental and technical. He was always the best at all of it.”
It seems quite likely that Lundqvist is headed for induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame for his body of work in the NHL and for Sweden, having win a gold medal at the 2006 Olympics and won the 2017 IIHF World Championship.
“I’d say he goes in on the first ballot,” Biron said of Lundqvist, who will be eligible in 2024. “I know Hank’s numbers and his longevity are right there. The international success he had with Sweden definitely has to be part of it.”
Richter said that Lundqvist’s approach, body of work and high level of professionalism “need to be recognized, acknowledged and rewarded. Hank won the Vezina Trophy, but he was always more about winning as a team than any individual accomplishment.”
NHL.com staff writer Tom Gulitti contributed to this report
Photos: Hockey Hall of Fame; Getty Images (Lundqvist and Biron; Lundqvist, Richter and Giacomin; Weekes)