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2022 NHL Free Agency

It’s Darcy: Capitals Sign Kuemper To Five-Year Deal, Establish New No. 1

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Could the Capitals pursue Darcy Kuemper?

ARLINGTON, V.A. — The Washington Capitals have found their new starting goaltender, and it’s Darcy Kuemper.

The Capitals have signed Kuemper to a five-year, $26.25 million contract that carries an AAV of $5.25 million, general manager Brian MacLellan announced on Wednesday.

“Darcy is an established starting netminder who proved that he can win on the game’s biggest stage, and we are excited to welcome him to Washington,” MacLellan said. “We feel this signing will provide our team confidence and stability in net.”

Kuemper is coming off a strong year with the Colorado Avalanche, where he went 37-12-4 with a .921 save percentage and 2.54 GAA through 57 games. His SV% dropped to a .902 in the postseason, but he was dealing with a brutal eye injury and still came up big to lead his team to the Stanley Cup.

Through 299 career games, the 32-year-old has a .918 SV%. He 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.

With Kuemper, the Capitals not only get an experienced goaltender but a stable option in net. Kuemper knows how to make highlight-reel saves and has come in clutch time and time again. And, most importantly, he knows how to win.

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After Henrik Lundqvist’s early retirement due to a heart condition, Washington ran with the young tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek for two years. While both would have strong outings and even string together a few good games, neither could steal the starting job or maintain consistency over an extended period of time. Vanecek ultimately finished with the better numbers in the regular season. However, Samsonov had to take over just two games into the playoffs after a rough go-of-it in Game 2.

So, going into the offseason, general manager Brian MacLellan decided that it was time for a new direction. And ultimately, he chose to part way with the RFA goalies. He traded Vanecek to the New Jersey Devils for draft picks. On Monday, MacLellan elected not to qualify Samsonov. Per the team, the Russian’s projected deal would pay $3-3.5 million, which is too expensive for a backup. Going into Wednesday, the team didn’t have a goaltender on the active roster, and Pheonix Copley also hit free agency.

With Samsonov, Vanecek and Copley gone, the backup spot is up for grabs. Some potential free agents include Thomas Greiss, Malcolm Subban and Eric Comrie. Beyond the market, Zach Fucale could also compete for that No. 2 spot. Washington’s goalie pipeline runs deep, and Fucale making the NHL jump likely wouldn’t lead to too many inconveniences.

In the end, the Capitals got exactly what they wanted: a proven, stable No. 1 option in net. And, it couldn’t come at a better time, as the goalie market has been dwindling with Marc-Andre Fleury staying in Minnesota, Ville Husso signing with the Detroit Red Wings and Braden Holtby reportedly not taking calls as he ponders retirement amid injury problems.

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