The Colorado Avalanche kicked off the 2022 NHL Draft trade chaos with the New York Rangers, dealing away this year’s third and fifth-round picks in exchange for goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. Following that deal, Kuemper is expected to hit the free-agent market on July 13. Could this mean a new No. 1 for the Washington Capitals?
General manager Brian MacLellan shared more on the Capitals goaltending situation on Wednesday, saying that they will explore free agency and the trade market for a starting goaltender. At the same time, they will extend qualifying offers to Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek and go from there.
The 6-5 veteran has been linked to Washington, with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman saying that the club makes sense as a potential landing spot.
Kuemper hitting the market provides another top option for the Capitals. The 32-year-old put up strong numbers in 2021-22, going 37-12-4 with a .921 save percentage and 2.54 GAA through 57 games. He then posted a .902 save percentage in 18 games en route to a Stanley Cup.
Over the course of his 10-year career, Kuemper has developed into a consistent, proven starter. He has a .918 SV% through 299 games, and now has playoff experience under his belt. He has only posted a save percentage of below .915 just four times in his career, and just once over the last four seasons. That one season was with the last-place Arizona Coyotes in 2020-21, in which he played just 27 games.
Of course, the price would have to be right, and that could impact the possibility of him coming to the District. Per TSN’s Darren Dreger, the Avalanche didn’t have the cap space to hold onto Kuemper, meaning he could be in for a big pay raise. Per Dreger, that pay raise could be around $5.9 to $6 million. Not terrible, but still, Washington needs to be careful with its money.
READ MORE ON WHN: GM MacLellan Shares More On Capitals Goaltending Plan & Situation
MacLellan stressed that the Capitals can’t go out and spend a lot on one player. Nicklas Backstrom still intends to return for the 2022-23 season after hip resurfacing surgery. And while the surgery has ended the career of some, MacLellan is still working under the belief No. 19 will play again, and is, in turn, still factoring in his $9.25 million cap hit.
“It’s not like we can go out and sign a $9 million player,” he explained.
With a No. 1 coming it, it would seem unlikely that Washington would hold onto both Samsonov and Vanecek. Both have had two years of NHL experience under their belt and still want to show they can be a No. 1 — though they haven’t been able to accomplish that over the last two seasons — so being a healthy scratch or even going back to Hershey isn’t an option if they can get more playing time elsewhere.
In the end, Kuemper seems like an ideal fit. However, the Capitals can’t afford an expensive AAV, and how much they’re comfortable spending is up to MacLellan. Kuemper knows how to win and can steal games while making big saves. He has been consistent over time, and now has a Stanley Cup to his resume. Plus, he can be a role model to either Vanecek or Samsonov.
Washington has also been linked to Marc-Andre Fleury. If the Minnesota Wild can’t get a deal done with No. 29, the Capitals reportedly are a “possibility” for him. However, this seems a bit unlikely, given Fleury didn’t want to come to D.C. at the deadline.