- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Washington Capitals have a new goalie.

Wait, actually, make that a double.

After getting rid of both Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov in the last week, the Capitals wasted no time once free agency began Wednesday, signing former Avalanche goalie Darcy Kuemper and ex-Blues netminder Charlie Lindgren. Kuemper, who won a Stanley Cup with Colorado last season, will be the starting goaltender, while Lindgren will remain a backup.

“Once I knew Washington was interested, this was a place that I could really see myself fitting in,” Kuemper said. “This is where I wanted to go, of all the options, and I’m really excited we were able to get something done.”

Kuemper’s contract is for five years and $26.25 million, while Lindgren’s is a three-year, $3.3 million deal. The Capitals announced both deals about two hours into free agency. 

Kuemper is an experienced veteran who fills the biggest hole on the ice for the Capitals, whose lackluster goaltending has held them back since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. The 32-year-old will join Washington as a recent Stanley Cup champion, as Kuemper helped lead the high-scoring Avalanche to the promised land in June. 

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,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We feel this signing will provide our team confidence and stability in net.”

The Capitals are hoping Kuemper, who has a career .918 save percentage, can give them the presence they need in net to make a Stanley Cup Playoff run of their own. Alex Ovechkin and company haven’t made it out of the first round of the postseason since hoisting the Cup, most recently losing to the Florida Panthers in six games. Ovechkin, who will turn 37 in November, and the rest of the Capitals’ core isn’t getting any younger, and the team’s new 6-foot-5, 215-pound goaltender could be a valuable piece to help the aging club make another championship run. 

“I just really liked the (Capitals) roster,” Kuemper said. “Obviously, it’s a team that’s won before, and it’s a veteran group that knows how to win. That’s what I was looking for, another chance to go win, and I think this is a place where we can go do that.”

Kuemper, a sixth-round pick by Minnesota in the 2009 NHL draft, debuted with the Wild in 2013. He spent the next four seasons as Minnesota’s No. 2 goalie before splitting his 2017-18 campaign between the Kings and Coyotes. He earned the starting job with Arizona in 2018-19 and had a breakout season, posting five shutouts in 55 starts and being voted as an All-Star for the first time in his career. Since becoming a No. 1 goalie, the Saskatchewan, Canada, native has a .922 save percentage and a 2.42 goals against average. 

Kuemper was selected as an All-Star again in 2019-20 and last season, his first with Colorado, where he went 37-12-4 with five shutouts. He dealt with an eye injury during the Avalanche’s playoff run, but still went 10-4 with a 2.57 goals-against average. 

“It’s definitely been a whirlwind,” Kuemper said. “You’re winning and celebrating it, and then you have a couple days to enjoy it and then you’re looking at your next team. But I’m excited for the new opportunity, and I can’t wait to get started.”

Lindgren, meanwhile, has only started 24 games in his six-year career. The 28-year-old Minnesota native spent his first five seasons in Montreal’s organization and this past year with St. Louis. He went 5-0 with the Blues with a .958 save percentage but spent most of the season with their AHL team.

Kuemper and Lindgren will slide in to replace Vanecek and Samsonov, the Capitals’ underwhelming goaltending duo since Braden Holtby left in 2020. Vanecek, 26, was traded to the Devils during the NHL draft in exchange for draft capital, and then the Capitals made the surprise move to not give a qualifying offer to Samsonov.

Vanecek, the Capitals’ second-round pick in 2014, has been slightly more consistent than Samsonov with a career .908 save percentage. Samsonov, who has shown more upside than Vanecek at times, has a mediocre .902 save percentage in 89 career games. Last season, the former first-round pick went 23-12-5 in 39 starts, but his .896 save percentage was a career low. 

Vanecek is expected to split time with MacKenzie Blackwood in New Jersey, while Samsonov signed a one-year, $1.8 million contract with the Maple Leafs on Wednesday. Samsonov will be the No. 2 netminder in Toronto — a team expected to compete for the Stanley Cup next season — behind the newly acquired Matt Murray.

“We wish them well,” Laviolette told NBC Sports Washington on Tuesday. “They were good Caps while they were here, and we’re moving in a different direction.”

In other free agency news Wednesday, Washington saw defenseman Justin Schultz leave for a two-year deal in Seattle. But the Capitals quickly replaced him by signing former Blackhawks blueliner Erik Gustafsson to a one-year, $800,000 contract. The team bolstered the forward position by trading a 2024 second-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for winger Connor Brown and re-signed Marcus Johansson to a one-year, $1.1 million deal.

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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