Thursday, October 06, 2022

Washington Capitals 2022-2023 Previews -- Goaltenders: Charlie Lindgren

Charlie Lindgren

“Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.”
-- Mike Singletary

Undrafted, signed as a free agent in March 2016 by the Montreal Canadiens, five very forgettable seasons bounding between the AHL and the NHL, signed by St. Louis as a free agent in July 2021, another season of AHL/NHL back and forth, a total of 29 NHL games in six NHL seasons.  It is not exactly a conventional path to a three-year/$3.3 million contract, but the Washington Capitals signed Charlie Lindgren to such a deal last July to be the backup goalie.

There was something that the Caps saw in Lindgren, even in his thin body of work, to inspire signing him to such a contract.  Perhaps it was in that lone season with the Blues last year.  He played in only five games, starting four of them, but he won all of them, going 5-0-0, with a 1.22 goals against average and a .958 save percentage.  He also had an excellent season with the Blues’ AHL affiliate in Springfield, going 24-7-1, 2.21, .925, with three shutouts for the Thunderbirds.  He took the Thunderbirds to the Calder Cup final before losing in five games to the Chicago Wolves.

Odd Lindgren Fact… While Lindgren does not have a lot of experience in the NHL, it has been balanced in one respect.  He does not have a losing record against any of the four NHL divisions (as a matter of standings points earned versus standings points available).

Fearless’ Take… There is just so little to go on based on his NHL resume to date for the casual fan to have a lot of comfort in Lindgren taking on the role of the backup, but that season with the Blues was tantalizing.  In five games he did not have a game save percentage under .935, and four times it was over .950 (yes, one of those was in just 6:25 of work against Florida in which he stopped all three shots he faced).

Cheerless’ Take… Yeah, that resume is really thin.  Six seasons and only once did he dress for ten or more games (he was 4-8-2, 3.03, .908, with two shutouts with Montreal in 2017-2018).  Even within the context of only 29 NHL games played, he has been inconsistent on a month-to-month basis.  His career save percentages for October and November are over .920, as are those for February and April.  But his is under .900 in January and March games.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2022-2023

  • 2,000 career minutes played (he has 1,687)
  • 1,000 career shots faced (889)
  • 1,000 career saves (812)

The Big Question… Even as a backup, can Charlie Lindgren shoulder the load he is likely to get effectively?

It is entirely possible – likely, perhaps – that Charlie Lindgren will match or surpass his total of games played in his career (29) this season.  His NHL numbers are not impressive, but the Capitals saw something to suggest that a 28-year old goalie (he will turn 29 in December) was worth a three-year contract.  And, he is backing up a goalie who has not shouldered particularly heavy workloads as a starter in the NHL, a hint that he could get more work than most backups might get.

In the end…

That the Capitals would dip their line into the free agency water and catch Charlie Lindgren seems a bit odd in the context of this statement: “If the Blues turn their eyes to the open market [for a backup goaltender], they’re doing so not because Lindgren’s too pricy, or because he hasn’t shown he can deliver when the pressure’s on him - it’s because without [Ville] Husso, they need a consistent and reliable goaltender to back up Jordan Binnington.” 

Now what is odd about that statement?  The Blues are a playoff contender, if not on the short list of top-end Cup contenders.  So are the Capitals.  The Blues are salary cap-challenged (currently $3,974,167 over the cap), as are the Caps (currently $6,321,666, according to  The Blues allowed Lindgren to walk to sign Thomas Greiss to a one-year/$1.25 million contract.  Greiss is much more experienced (not to mention eight years older than Lindgren), while the Caps have taken on a goalie with a very thin resume who has not, to this point, demonstrated consistency or reliability.  The Caps have taken a gamble, but for Charlie Lindgren it might be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Projection: 27 games, 11-9-3, 2.81, .911


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