ARLINGTON, V.A. — The first 45 minutes of NHL Free AGency seemed quiet on the Washington Capitals front. As big names came off the board, there was not much going on beyond the 3-on-3 scrimmages at MedStar Capitals Iceplex.
That was far from the case, as general manager Brian MacLellan was working behind the scenes. And finally, almost an hour in, the floodgates opened for the District.
It kicked off with the Capitals signing a No. 1 goaltender, bringing in Stanley Cup champion Darcy Kuemper on a five-year deal that carries an AAV of $5.25 million. Then, minutes later, they announced his backup, bringing in Charlie Lindgren on a three-year, $3.3 million deal.
“He just won a Stanley Cup, he’s had a lot of good years, a lot of good performances. Seems like a good person, good character, a good team guy. I think it’s exactly what we needed going into next year,” MacLellan said of Kuemper.
He then added of Lindgren, “We liked his performance last year. I know it wasn’t a lot of games, but we think there is some upside in there… we gave him the three-year term because it was competitive for him and I think there was a lot of teams that were looking at him. And he was coming in at a good number, and he had a good performance last year, but limited games. We think he can continue to play well.”
Since 2017-18, Kuemper’s save percentage of .921 leads all NHL netminders with at least 150GP. He’s a consistent, experienced veteran who brings size and skill to the table. While he’s not always flashy, he can come up with highlight-reel stops and ultimately, makes all the saves he’s supposed to. Plus, he knows how to win.
Lindgren has shown a lot of growth, and at 28, he still has a lot of upside. He can learn a lot from Kuemper and provide stability as a backup. In five games with the St. Louis Blues in 2021-22, he went 5-0-0 with a .958 SV% and 1.22 GAA, and his .925 SV% with the Springfield Thunderbirds ranked second in the AHL.
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After addressing the situation between the pipes, Washington turned its attention to defense. Justin Schultz departed for the Seattle Kraken, and to fill that void, the team brought in a LHD. The Capitals signed 30-year-old Erik Gustafsson to a one-year, $800,000 deal. MacLellan expects him to play on the third pairing alongside Trevor van Riemsdyk, who will switch back to his natural right side. Washington also re-signed Matt Irwin to a one-year, two-way deal to serve as a No. 7.
“I’ve seen him play a lot from his time in Chicago and different places. I feel like he can really just add to our defensive depth,” head coach Laviolette said of Gustafsson. “He skates well, he moves the puck extremely well. He makes a good pass coming out of the defensive zone, he adds to the offense when he can. A smart player.”
After that, the Capitals addressed their forward situation. Nicklas Backstrom is out long-term after undergoing hip resurfacing surgery, and Tom Wilson will be out until at least December as he recovers from ACL surgery. Meanwhile, Carl Hagelin‘s future is still in flux as he recovers from a ruptured choroid that took away some of his vision and depth perception.
To fill those vacancies, Washington reportedly signed Finnish center Henrik Borgstrom, who was recently bought out by Chicago, to a one-year contract. The 6-3, 199-pound forward is a versatile player who still has a lot of upside at 24 years old. He was a standout and provided a lot of offense back with the University of Denver, but had just seven points in 52 games last season. Borgstrom also has just 26 points in 110 NHL games, but perhaps a change in scenery will help.
Then came a bigger move: the team acquired top-6 right wing Connor Brown for a 2024 second-rounder. It was a steal for MacLellan, as Brown brings a lot to the table. He can score goals and also make great plays on the fly, and he has two 20-goal seasons under his belt. Not only that, but he can help on the power play and also kill penalties.
To close out the day, the Capitals re-signed Marcus Johansson to a one-year, $1.1 million deal. The 31-year-old met expectations when he came over to the District at the deadline, primarily playing the role of a defensive forward.
Here’s what the opening night lineup could look like:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Connor Brown
Marcus Johansson-Connor McMichael-T.J. Oshie
Anthony Mantha-Lars Eller-Conor Sheary
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway
Henrik Borgstrom/Joe Snively
Martin Fehervary-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Nick Jensen
Erik Gustafsson-Trevor van Riemsdyk
Matt Irwin/Lucas Johansen
All in all, Washington got a lot done and looking at the day as a whole, it should be considered a win. The team secured a proven starter and solid backup for much-needed stability in goal. On top of that, the Capitals got a full-time LHD and a couple of strong forward options.