The former New York Rangers goalie was the picture of relaxation in lower Manhattan on Wednesday, at ease and stress-free a month and a half into the new chapter in his life:
“I feel good,” Lundqvist said. “Off to a really good start back in New York with the kids back in school. I’m pretty active. Playing a little tennis, moving around. I can’t push it 100 percent and that will take some time before I can do that, but overall I feel really good with where I’m at right now. It was a hard decision to walk away, but at the same time I knew it was the right decision.”
Lundqvist announced his retirement from the NHL on Aug. 20. The decision came after a long battle to try to come back and play after undergoing open-heart surgery in early January.
A heart ailment prevented Lundqvist from playing for the Washington Capitals last season after he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with them Oct. 9, 2020, after playing all 15 of his NHL seasons with New York. He was an unrestricted free agent because the Rangers bought out the final season of his seven-year contract.
“Ever since my surgery I was coming back, that was my mindset, that was the goal,” Lundqvist said. “Then, I had a big setback in March when I had the inflammation and that turned out to be a little trickier than the surgery almost, but I still was convinced that I was coming back. But then this summer it was realizing that it’s going to take time before it’s 100 percent and there’s so much unknown and risks in trying. If I can’t push close to 100 percent without feeling 100 percent, I realized the best decision right now is to walk away from it. And I’m at peace with that.”
In addition to explaining his decision to retire, Lundqvist, who is sixth on the NHL wins list (459) and won the Vezina Trophy voted as the NHL’s best goalie in the 2011-12 season, discussed his plans for life after hockey, the honor of having his No. 30 set to be retired by the Rangers and more in a Q&A with NHL.com:
Why is the decision to retire something you have come to peace with at this point?
“It’s life. It happens. It’s the same thing with the surgery. Things happen and you just have to be very grateful for the things you do have and your experience. It’s not like I’m 30. I’m 39. Yeah, if I had the chance to play a couple more years I would have for sure. I still love the game. I love going to the rink. Last fall, I was on the ice every day going to the rink with two shooters because I loved it and I wanted to come back and I felt really good. I felt better than I felt in years, honestly, so that excited me as well. But things happen and you just have to react to that. You might have a plan, but things change. It was just too much risk to try and go for it. The way I felt too, it was not a good feeling in March, April, that pain. I didn’t want to be in that position again.”
Describe the pain.
“I was on the ice every day and I felt great, and then one day it was just massive pain in my chest. It’s a little bad luck that it happened, but it did. I went from working out every day to not doing anything for three months.”
Did it feel like you were having a heart attack?
“No, but it was just constant. It felt like you had something going through your chest into your back. I felt sick. I had that a few times. But then I started to feel a lot better and it’s moving in the right direction now. That’s important for life. That was the big thing with the decision. As an athlete it was hard. As a human I knew this was the right decision. Now I’m trying to look forward to new things, a new chapter in my life, doing new things. Yeah, I’m in a good place.”
Do you want to be involved in the game?
“I still love the game. I think I’ll be involved, but we’ll see in what ways because I want to do other things too. There are other things that interest me as well.”
“It’s business. I have I think a creative side that I want to explore a little bit. I have a couple projects in Sweden, investment stuff and different opportunities. But also over here with all the people I met through the years there’s a lot of opportunities. I think it comes down to not only what I want to do but how much do I want to do because now you have the freedom you have never had as an athlete to plan things and go away, trips. You do that in the summertime, but not in the fall, winter or spring. I’ve been around a lot now for 14 months because I was home all last year. I was training and trying to get back, so it was a little different because my mindset was on trying to come back, but now I know for sure it’s done.”
Your No. 30 will be retired at Madison Square Garden (on Jan. 28). Is there a way to encapsulate your feelings on it and what that means to you?
“I don’t know, it’s hard to explain it, but I can say this, because [of] everything that happened with COVID and not really having a moment to thank everyone and kind of say goodbye in a way, this will be my opportunity. I look forward to that a lot, to let everybody know how much I appreciated everything for so many years. To have my closest friends and family there, really it’s hard to take in, but it’s a great feeling for sure. Obviously, over the last year, especially with what I’ve been through, I have been thinking a lot and reflecting a lot, and I feel so much gratitude for my entire experience here in New York and the Rangers and the organization, the city, the fans. I did while I was playing, but sometimes when you really take a big step back and look at everything, where you are in life and what you’re going through, you might be smiling a little bit more when you think back of all the different moments, the memories, the friendships. I never thought I could feel that type of loyalty to another team. I grew up (in Sweden) being a Frolunda fan and then I came here, and the loyalty I feel to this organization and the love I feel for this organization, you can’t see that coming. It’s a great feeling, it really is.”
Did that feeling of loyalty, of love for the Rangers ever wane at the end of your time here? Did your feelings toward the Rangers ever get sour?
“No. I had a certain, I’m not going to say plan, but of course I wanted it to end a certain way, and when things started to go different it was hard mentally. Things change so fast. But then I really started thinking about what I was feeling and then COVID hit, so that was an opportunity for me to work it through. Where are we? Where is this going? And all I could feel was gratitude, and that really made me so happy. So when things happened in August, when we walked our different ways, I had already done all the work. I was at peace, super grateful and happy. I could really take in that moment when it ended. I was in such a good place mentally that it was a beautiful week for me.”
When was the last time you were on the ice?
“Aug. 16. It was four days before I retired. My last skate I knew it was my last skate because I had already made up my mind. It was more just to get reassurance that it’s not going to work, just the way I felt and the effects of pushing it hard.”