NEW YORK -- For locked-out NHL players, the doors now have opened to Sweden's premier league, the Elitserien, but New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is still weighing whether to play in his native country.
The 30-year-old Vezina Trophy winner will head back to Sweden regardless -- wife Therese gave birth to their firstborn, a daughter, in July, and they want to spend time with friends and family back home -- but Lundqvist will wait a little longer before deciding whether to rejoin his hometown team, Frolunda, in Gothenburg, Sweden.
"With the decision made, obviously, I might play there, but I still have to think it through," he said when reached by phone Friday evening. "My approach is, I want to be ready. That's my focus. That's why I don't want to rush into anything. That's why I want do what's best."
The Swedish Elite League was previously closed to locked-out players, but that policy has since been struck down because of a recent antitrust ruling made by the Swedish Competition Authority.
Droves of players already have packed their bags and headed overseas -- the top destinations have been Russia's Kontinental Hockey League and the Swiss-A league -- but now the SEL adds another enticing option. The Elitserien is generally regarded as one of the top, if not the best, professional leagues in Europe because of the local talent and high level of play.
Lundqvist's twin brother, Joel, plays for Frolunda, and he'd have plenty of other familiar faces around as well. Before playing for the Rangers, the former seventh-round draft pick spent five seasons (2001-05) with Frolunda. He also played against his old team last October during the Rangers' preseason European tour.
"Obviously, it's a great option to play with old teammates and my brother," he said. "But again, I don't want to rush into anything."
Plenty of his NHL counterparts, including stars like Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Joe Thornton and new Rangers teammate Rick Nash, have already joined up with European clubs, but Lundqvist said he plans to stick around New York for a bit to better assess how long the lockout might last.
Lundqvist, who finished the 2011-12 regular season with a dazzling
.930 save percentage and a 1.97 goals-against average, said he is less optimistic than he was before the lockout began of a deal getting done.
"Up until last week, I was optimistic even though things didn't look too great," he said. "But now, I don't know."
The NHL and NHL Players' Association have not met since Sept. 12, when the two sides exchanged proposals in the days leading up to the lockout. And although deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr have remained in communication, formal discussions have yet to resume.
"I hope that the league is ready to come to work and negotiate in the next week," Lundqvist said. "I don't see a reason why we should wait until we meet. I think we should meet every day until we get it done, but I guess it's part of their strategy."