As expected, the Capitals have signed Colorado netminder Darcy Kuemper to be their new starting goalie. So what can the Caps and their fans expect from Kuemper? Let’s dive in...
Let’s be clear: Darcy Kuemper is a huge get for the Capitals, who sent both of their goalies from last season, Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, packing over the last five days. Grabbing the reigning Cup-winning goalie and best available free agent ‘tender has to feel good for the front office that hasn’t had a reliable goalie since their own Cup year.
At first glance, you can tell why the Capitals were so intent on getting Kuemper to Washington - he’s been nothing but steady and reliable for most of his career. In the 299 games he’s played since entering the league, he’s posted a .918 sv% with a +52.3 GSAA (goals saved above average), which is incredibly strong. And if you don’t take into account his first years with the Minnesota Wild, who were bad during that time, it looks even better: over his last 197 games he’s posted a .921sv% and a +70.4GSAA. That’s top tier.
Focusing on this past season, Kuemper was fifth in GSAA with a +21 and was sixth in GSAA/60 with 0.387. And if you remove October when Kuemper had a rough start, his stats jumped up a bit and he cemented himself in the top four in both GSAA and GSAA/60. Those are really strong numbers that the Capitals are obviously hoping Kuemper can keep up going forward... especially the winning the Stanley Cup part.
But no player is perfect and they all have their flaws. So what are Kuemper’s weaknesses?
The most obvious concern is his age. Kuemper just turned 32 at the beginning of May, so his time with the Caps will take him through 36, essentially. It’s no secret that goalies, like most players, tend to quickly decline at the age of 30. Kuemper is certainly worth his contract if he can keep up his level of play, but there’s a very real chance he might decline over the next _ years.
This doesn’t mean he will just automatically see a dramatic dropoff. In fact, over the last five seasons there have been multiple goalies in the top-10 in GSAA that were over 32. In 2017-18, Pekka Rinne was first in that department at the age of 35, with Marc-Andre Fleury (33) not too far behind in fifth, Robert Luongo (38) in sixth, Jonathan Quick (32) in eighth and Carter Hutton (32), tenth. In the four seasons since, there have been at least three goalies over 32 in the top-10 three times, with two last season (32-year-olds Jacob Markstrom and Frederik Andersen).
So out of the 50 goalies in the top 10 over the last five seasons, 15 of them - 30% - were at least 32 years old, which is a positive sign that just crossing that 30-year-old mark isn’t something that dooms a goalie to poor performance - and it’s worth noting that in four of the last five seasons, a player aged 32 or older ranked first in GSAA.
But it’s not just age itself that could be a cause for concern. Another potential issue with Kuemper is a recent and rather long list of injuries. Since November of 2018, he has had nine different injuries: five lower-body, two upper-body, one undisclosed, and most recently in the playoffs, an eye injury. Having him being an older player already has it concerns, but mix in injury potential and it could get dicey - so the Caps will need to bring in a backup who can step up in case Kuemper runs into another streak of bad health.
At the end of the day, signing any goalie in free agency is a huge risk. If you are going to gamble, though, and GM Brian MacLellan himself admitted they were just jumping into the fire, then Kuemper is a pretty good bet. He has years of being a steady goalie, even behind the worst of teams (Minnesota and Arizona), and a recent history of winning it all with the best of teams.
Age is always a concern, as well as injury issues, but if the Capitals can bring in a reliable backup to be a Plan B than this signing could work out great for the Caps, who have a sturdy defensive scheme to help a reliable goalie thrive.