Capitals sign Kuemper; make a series of moves on day one of free agency

TAMPA, FLORIDA - JUNE 26: Darcy Kuemper #35 of the Colorado Avalanche carries the Stanley Cup following the series winning victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 26, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Washington Capitals made numerous moves on day one of the NHL free agency period. The Caps began the day by locking in their starting goalie for the future, signing Darcy Kuemper to a five-year contract.

Washington entered free agency needing to address the biggest issue over the last two seasons, inconsistent goaltending. General Manager Brain MacLellan did just that by inking Kuemper to a deal worth more than $26 million.

Kuemper is a proven veteran, spending his 10-year career playing for four different teams, including last season with the Colorado Avalanche. Kuemper amassed a career high 37 wins and helped Colorado win their 3rd Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Despite never being a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, Kuemper’s career numbers are a clear improvement from the tandem the Capitals used the last two seasons. Compare the stats between Kuemper and the Sammy/Vanny duo experiment:

2020-2022Darcy KuemperIlya SamsonovVitek Vanecek
Wins473641
GAA2.552.922.68
Save %.917.898.908
Shutouts756
Stats comparing Darcy Kuemper, Ilya Samsonov, and Vitek Vanecek from the 2020-2021 to the 2021-2022 seasons.

Since the departure of Braden Holtby, Washington has struggled to find consistent goaltending, and MacLellan views Kuemper as the solution.

The cap hit for the first three seasons sits at $6 million and then decreases the final two seasons to $4.5 million and $3.75 million, respectively.

Along with Kuemper, the Capitals signed Charlie Lindgren to a three-year deal. Lindgren made significant strides in brief appearances for the St. Louis Blues last season. Lindgren posted a 5-0-0 record with a 1.22 GAA and .958 save percentage and is viewed as the long-term plan at backup goalie.

The commitment to a clear starting goalie is a welcome change from the back-and-forth battle we saw between Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek the last two seasons. Vanecek was dealt to the New Jersey Devils on draft day and Samsonov signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The next move of the day was focused on a smaller, but still important problem, defensive depth. Needing a left-handed shot on the third pairing, Washington signed Erik Gustafsson to a one-year $800K contract.

Gustafsson has averaged roughly 19 minutes of ice time in his six-year career, proving he has the legs to be a top-pairing defenseman, let alone the third pair. Those legs will come in handy if the Capitals have more injury problems during the 2022-23 season.

Still needing a veteran forward, Washington turned to the surprisingly active Ottawa Senators for a trade. The Capitals sent a 2024 2nd-round pick to Ottawa in exchange for Connor Brown.

A physical winger, Brown will surely be used on the penalty kill while also being a second-line winger. The Caps will be without two of their more reliable penalty killers for a bulk of the new season. 

Tom Wilson isn’t expected back until December with a torn ACL and Carl Hagelin may miss the entire season recovering from an eye injury.

The final notable move of the day for Washington was resigning Marcus Johansson to a one-year contract, worth $1.1 million. Johansson was acquired at the trade deadline last season for his second stint in D.C. He should fill a role in the bottom six lines.

Regardless of your opinion towards these moves, you can’t say that the Caps sat on their hands. MacLellan has stressed time and time again that the team’s goal is to keep pushing for another Cup while Alex Ovechkin is under contract.

It’ll be interesting to see the salary cap gymnastics the front office pulls off as we get closer to the preseason.

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Author

  • I have been a Washington Capitals fan my entire life as I am a DMV native. My Favorite player is Alex Ovechkin (of course) and my favorite hockey moment is Troy Brouwer’s game winner in the 2015 Winter Classic.

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