It's a beautiful summer day in New York City and New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is all smiles. There are plenty of reasons for one of the sport's most marketable athletes to be happy. But there's one thing in particular that is making Lundqvist's grin a little wider.
The 2013-14 NHL season is almost here.
"It feels great to be back. Being up at the rink skating and preparing for a new season, I love that," said Lundqvist, whose team fired coach John Tortorella after a second-round exit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and replaced him with former Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. "With a new coach, I haven't met [Vigneault] yet, but I've heard a lot of great things. I'm looking forward to meeting him and to get going and see what we can do this year."
For the past two seasons, the Rangers have shown glimpses of a team that could be on the cusp of making a run to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since winning the championship in 1994.
In 2011-12, Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy for the first time, leading the Rangers to first place in the Eastern Conference and within two wins of advancing to the Cup Final. Last season's team got hot down the stretch before defeating the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs then succumbing to the Boston Bruins, who advanced to the Cup Final.
With a new coaching staff and a roster mostly unchanged from last season, the man known as "King Henrik" is ready to get going.
"Every time you go into a new season, you hope this is going to be the year. That this is going to be the special year. I really believe we can have a great year," Lundqvist said. "I look at the team and the players we have, I definitely think we have a great chance of doing something special. We do need everybody to play their absolute best. Hopefully we can continue building on the last two years."
The compressed 48-game 2012-13 season was a whirlwind, but this season could be just as frantic. With Madison Square Garden undergoing the final phase of a multimillion-dollar renovation, the Rangers will play 10 of their first 11 games on the road. With two outdoor games in January to be staged at Yankee Stadium, and a midseason hiatus when Lundqvist is expected to play goal for Sweden at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, this will be a season to remember.
A star on the Swedish team that won Olympic gold in 2006, Lundqvist's preparation for Sochi started this month when he attended team meetings in Sweden. It was the first step for a group that won't be reunited until the Games start in Sochi on Feb. 7.
"We had a great camp in Sweden a few weeks ago. There was no skating. It was just meetings and talking about different things," Lundqvist said. "The biggest thing is connecting with the guys. Some of the players on the team, I knew the names but I had never really seen their faces. That was a big part of the camp."
From the moment Lundqvist, 31, reports to Rangers training camp and gears up for his ninth season in New York, there will be one prominent story shadowing him and the Rangers. Entering the final season of a six-year contract worth $41.25 million, the status of his next contract will be a constant topic of conversation.
Though Lundqvist remains unsigned for next season, he has begun negotiations with the only NHL team he has played for. Lundqvist said he doesn't see himself wearing another team's jersey.
"I love it here. I think the biggest thing is we're talking right now. There's no pressure of getting this done now," Lundqvist said. "It would be ideal to know what's going to happen in the future, but the most important thing for me right now is to focus on the season, and camp starts in a few weeks."