On December 28, 2020, Washington Capitals goaltender Henrik Lundqvist announced to the world on his Instagram page that he would undergo open-heart surgery. 

The surgery will consist of an aortic valve replacement, aortic root and ascending aortic replacement. While the date of the surgery has not been made public yet, it will be keeping Lundqvist out for the upcoming 2020-21 NHL season.

Lundqvist was brief in his post but told fans that the, “Last 3 weeks my focus has shifted from training camp and the upcoming season to my health and what I can and can’t do…We all have our mountains to climb. Staying positive here and set on the road to recovery.” 

A Move To D.C. After a Career in New York

Lundqvist, 38, made his NHL debut in 2005 after initially being a backup goaltender for the Rangers. It did not take him long to earn the nickname “The King” from New York Post journalist Larry Brooks after the Rangers beat the Atlanta Thrashers, saying that, “Fast becoming a Broadway folk hero, King Henrik of Sweden took an abbreviated victory lap around the ice while raising his stick and glove in a return salute to the fans.”

After goaltending for the Rangers for 15 years, Lundqvist signed a one-year contract with the Washington Capitals. In a series of Instagram posts, Lundqvist thanked the franchise, his teammates, the Rangers staff, his family, and his fans for his time in New York. 

Lundqvist made the move back in October and was followed in December by longtime Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who signed a one-year contract with the Capitals.

Hockey fans may now be left with the “what if?” of what could have been for the Capitals with having All Star Alexander Ovechkin, Chara, and Lundqvist playing on the same roster. 

Lundqvist Has Been Living With The Condition

While his condition has not been life-threatening, team doctors felt it was needed to further look into what was going on in a case of “better safe than sorry”.

During a talk with reporters, the general manager of the Capitals Brian MacLellan told them about the process of medical exams for Lundqvist, 

“He’s had a — I’m not going to get into the whole situation with his health — but he’s had a heart issue all along that he’s managed that’s been fine. We anticipated it would be the same as it’s been for all of his career. A routine physical – an early physical – turned into ‘we need to explore further what’s going on with you.’ Following along, our trainer Jason Serbus did an unbelievable job. Our doctors. The cardiologists. The specialists. It kept getting deeper and deeper. As we went that far, we got a lot more knowledge about what his situation is and where it’s going, and what his risk levels were…And then I think we started further exploring where he’s at physically, his risk level is not acceptable for him to continue to play.”

New York Post journalist Brooks returned to write about “The King” but in a less-celebratory fashion after Lundqvist’s announcement, concluding that,

“Our understanding is that Lundqvist’s condition is not life-threatening. It is also our understanding that this is not related to COVID-19. But he won’t be able to play this year. Chances are, because he will turn 39 in March, this will mark the end of his career.”

The End of His Career?

Back on November 21, 2005, Detroit Red Wings player Jiri Fischer suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed on the bench during the first period of a game against the Nashville Predators. Players and coaches on the bench screamed and banged their sticks against the boards to get the play on the ice to stop and get medical attention. Fisher was unconscious for a total of six minutes and had to be resuscitated through CPR and an AED on the bench. 

About a week later, he suffered from a “brief, abnormal cardiac rhythm” that was concerning enough to put him back into the hospital for a couple of days. Knowing that he would never be medically cleared to play in the full-contact sport again, Fischer was forced to retire from the NHL but he continues to work with the Red Wings in their office of player development and still plays in minimal-contact charity games. 

On February 12, 2020, before the shutdown of sports due to covid-19, Jay Bouwmeester of the St. Louis Blues collapsed on the ice during play due to a cardiac episode. 

Bouwmeester needed a defib implant in his chest which, since then, has ended his career on the ice. The general manager for the Blues Doug Armstrong appeared on the Cam and Stick podcast and said that he would love to, “get [Bouwmeester] into some scouting for us in the future.” Bouwmeester spent 17 years in the league and was with the Blues when they won their Stanley Cup Championship in 2019. 

The open-heart surgery is keeping Lundqvist out for the 2020-21 season, at least, but could the future Hall of Famer have already played his last game? 

We wish Lundqvist the best and are sending him positive thoughts as he moves forward with surgery and recovery.