The last couple of years have by no means been easy for former Washington Capitals blueliner Michal Kempny, who suffered three significant left leg injuries that ultimately led to him going from a top-4 blueliner to a regular scratch.
Kempny, who was pivotal in helping the Capitals to the Stanley Cup in 2018, ultimately didn’t re-sign with Washington following the end of his four-year contract and hit the market as a UFA.
“It was quite slow,” Kempny said in an interview with idnez.cz regarding the start of free agency (translated via Google Translate). “When the market opened, I didn’t expect to be [taken] for the first two days. Much bigger plays than me were waiting for a contract. But as the days passed, the nervousness increased.”
The Czech blueliner’s success at the NHL level took a turn in March 2019, when a hit from Cedric Paquette led to a torn hamstring. Then, in offseason training in 2020, adversity struck again as he tore his Achilles tendon. He had recovered in time to play toward the end of the 2020-21 campaign, but during his conditioning stint with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, a freak collision with an ice shoveler led to a Grade-2 MCL sprain.
After returning from his injuries for training camp in 2021, Kempny couldn’t get back to full speed and ended up starting the season with Hershey in order to get back to the level of play he was at. Though he got ice time in the minors, Kempny didn’t get to play much after coming back up, with all the vacancies on the blue line filled. However, he did see a bright spot, as he helped lead Czechia to bronze in the IIHF World Championships after the 2021-22 campaign wrapped up in D.C.
As time passed in free agency, Kempny started to consider all of his options, which included going back to Europe to play if he couldn’t secure a deal in North America. He wanted a one-way contract as opposed to a two-way deal to avoid a return to the minors.
The 31-year-old said there were a few options, but there wasn’t too much interest. Finally, on July 24, the Seattle Kraken inked the 31-year-old to a one-year, $750,000 deal.
“It was more like a relief. In my head, I wasn’t ready to go back to Europe,” Kempny noted. “I didn’t want to leave the NHL after the season I had. That would gnaw at me for a long time. I am very happy to have been given such a chance, and I am grateful for it… I worked up an appetite after a difficult year.
“It’s my last chance in the NHL,” he added.
Going to Seattle, Kempny knows that there will be a lot of competition for a full-time spot in the lineup. His plan is to come to camp in shape and, most importantly, stay healthy.
“It’s a new challenge, a new organization, a new environment. It’s a change after less than five years. I’m looking forward to a new [opportunity], and I’m very happy that it worked out,” he said, adding, “Competition is everywhere, you can’t take it that way. I take it as a new and, at the same time, probably last chance. It’s all up to me, and I have nothing to lose. I signed a contract saying I wanted an NHL spot. And I want to go there with this; it’s a challenge for me.”