Just minutes before the second round of the 2022 NHL Draft kicked off on Friday, the Washington Capitals made it clear they would be going after a No. 1 netminder in free agency.
General manager Brian MacLellan traded Vitek Vanecek to the New Jersey Devils for picks, leaving Ilya Samsonov as the only goalie on the roster and the Capitals free to find a replacement.
Darcy Kuemper is currently the top name on the market, as Ville Husso signed with the Detroit Red Wings following a trade and Marc-Andre Fleury chose to re-up with the Minnesota Wild. Braden Holtby, meanwhile, is reportedly unlikely to return and could see his career end after a lower-body injury landed him on the LTIR to close out 2021-22. There is also pending UFA and Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell.
Per The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, MacLellan is ready to go after a netminder, he believes the “fit there potentially is Kuemper.” However, he did add that “there’s no guarantee of that.” And, if Kuemper to D.C. does happen, the Leafs and Edmonton Oilers would then battle it out for Campbell.
eREAD MORE ON WHN: Why Did Capitals Keep Samsonov Over Vanecek?
MacLellan said on Friday that trading Vanecek was a “first step” toward making a change in net, and the team would explore “all avenues,” including free agency and the trade market when it came to finding another goaltender to work alongside Samsonov.
MacLellan also knows that the price for a starter will likely be high. However, he said the team can make a substantial deal work when asked about cap space.
“I think if you line it up and you look and kind of pay attention to what teams are thinking, it’s a little chaotic and scrambly,” MacLellan said of the goaltending market. “You’ve got to be constantly monitoring it and seeing what’s happening.”
Kuemper has been able to prove himself as a consistent No. 1 performer. He knows how to win and can make big saves while stealing games and going on hot streaks. The 32-year-old is coming off a strong season with the Colorado Avalanche, where he went 37-12-4 with a .921 save percentage and 2.54 GAA through 57 games. He then posted a .902 SV% in 18 games to help lead Avalanche to their first Stanley Cup since 2001.
In 299 career games, he has a .918 SV% and has only posted a save percentage of under .915 just four times in his 10-year career, and just once over the last four seasons. That season was in 2020-21 when he played just 27 games for the last-place Arizona Coyotes.