Thursday, October 06, 2022

Washington Capitals 2022-2023 Previews -- Goaltenders: Darcy Kuemper

Darcy Kuemper

“Twice and thrice over, as they say, good is it to repeat and review what is good.”
-- Plato

Let us get this out of the way right up front.  NHL teams have competed for the Stanley Cup for 102 seasons.  Not once has a goaltender won consecutive Stanley Cups with different teams.  Darcy Kuemper is the latest candidate to try to break that string, having won the Cup with the Colorado Avalanche last season and then signing a five-year/$26.25 million contract with the Washington Capitals last July.

Kuemper, who is perhaps not as well known as other goalies, was no fluke in 2021-2022.  He did backstop a team loaded on offense, which did not hurt when it came to his finishing tied for fourth in the league in wins (37, with Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom) and doing it in just 57 games played.  But among 48 goalies with at least 1,500 minutes played, Kuemper finished 11th in goals against average (2.54), fifth in save percentage (.921), and tied for fourth in shutouts (five).  Of 44 goalies appearing in at least 30 games, Kuemper ranked third in even strength save percentage (.928), and he was one of ten goalies to allow one or no shorthanded goals (he allowed one).

Kuemper suffered an eye injury in Game 3 of Colorado’s opening round of last year’s playoffs, courtesy of an accidentally ill-placed stick blade by Nashville’s Ryan Johansen.  It could have been a disaster for Kuemper and the Avalanche.  To that point in the series he stopped 57 of 61 shots (.934 save percentage, which was third-best in the postseason to that point).  He missed only one game, but his game might have suffered lingering effects.  He returned for Game 1 of the second round series against St. Louis and stopped 23 of 25 shots in a 3-2 win, but he played in only 13 of the Avs last 16 playoff games, posting an 8-4 record (one no-decision) with a 2.76 goals against average and a .895 save percentage with one shutout.  He did finish the postseason strong, though.  That shutout (a 16-save effort in a 7-0 win over Tampa Bay in Game 2 of the Cup final) stated a finishing run over which he stopped 118 of 129 shots (.915 save percentage).

Odd Kuemper Fact… Kuemper had an odd sweet spot when it came to shots faced in 2021-2022.  In 21 games in which he faced 29-35 shots, he was 19-0-2, 2.41, .923, with one shutout.

Fearless’ Take… Kuemper has to be included on any list of underrated goalies in the NHL.  For instance, did you know that his career 2.48 goals against average is better than that of Andrej Vasilevskiy (2.50).  That his .918 career save percentage since he entered the league in 2012-2013 is better than those of Sergei Bobrovsky (.917), Carey Price (.917), Marc-Andre Fleury (.916), and Henrik Lundqvist (.916) over the same span?  That his 25 shutouts in 282 starts over that span are more than Lundqvist (21 in 409 starts) or Ryan Miller (16 in 319 starts).  His .923 save percentage at even strength among goalies appearing in at least 200 games over that span is better than Fleury (.922), and his .880 save percentage against opponents’ power plays is better than Bobrovsky (.878), Vasilevskiy (.878), and Price (.870).

Cheerless’ Take… How is it that an “underrated” goalie like Darcy Kuemper started more than 30 games only twice in ten seasons in the NHL and only twice had more than 20 wins?  Okay, some of the teams he played on were not that good, and he did struggle a bit with injuries earlier in his career, but he didn’t play himself into a consistent starter’s role, either.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2022-2023

  • 300 career games (he has 299)
  • 10,000 career shots faced (8,485)
  • 20,000 career minutes (16,859)

The Big Question… Will Darcy Kuemper be “The Man” in goal for the Capitals?

When a goalie signs a five-year contract for an amount north of $25 million, he is expected to shoulder the load, to be the guy who night in and night out is backstopping his club effectively.  That is the expectation for Darcy Kuemper, who arrives in Washington as the first clear number one goalie since Braden Holtby left after the 2019-2020 season. 

The problem with this thinking is that he never had more than the 57 starts he had last season and only twice in his career had more than 30. These are not the days of a Glenn Hall, who holds the NHL record for goalies with 502 consecutive games (set 60 years ago), but five goalies started more than 60 games last season.  Whatever his potential, Charlie Lindgren, who will serve as Kuemper’s backup, has only 28 starts in his six-year career, so Kuemper would appear in line to set a new personal record for games started in a single season. 

Kuemper did not wilt at the end of the regular season for the Avalanche last year, a good sign.  Over his last 16 games he was 10-4-2, 2.55, .927, with two shutouts.  He did well with heavy shot volumes, too.  In 11 games in which he faced 40 or more shots, he was 7-4-0, 2.54, .942, with one shutout.

In the end…

For better or for worse, Darcy Kuemper is the unquestioned number one goalie for the Capitals.  He had almost the textbook sort of progress a player needs to earn a large payday. Even though he played for a team that was deep and talented among the skaters last season, he had a solid season in goal for the Colorado Avalanche in the walk year of a two-year deal that paid him $4.5 million a season.  But perhaps even here, his performance was underrated relative to his new level of compensation (%.25 million per year).  His cap hit ranks only 13th among all goalies going into the 2022-2023 season, behind Elvis Merzlikins ($5.4 million with Columbus), Philipp Grubauer ($5.9 million with Seattle), Matt Murray ($6.25 million with Toronto), and John Gibson ($6.4 million with Anaheim), among others.

And now Kuemper, who appears to have hit his prime later than most players at age 32, has a unique opportunity to do something no goaltender has done in the history of the NHL – to win consecutive Stanley Cups with different teams.  For the Caps, a Cup is a longshot, but if Kuemper is truly “the man” in Washington, they stand a chance for Kuemper to be a first.

Projection: 62 games, 35-19-4, 2.58, .920, 3 shutouts


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