Darcy Kuemper signed a five-year contract with the Washington Capitals as an unrestricted free agent in July to become the team’s number one goaltender. In a market starved for quality goaltending, Kuemper likely had a list of suitors ready to pay for his services.
So, why was Washington his first choice? The 32-year-old netminder revealed why on the first day of Training Camp.
“For me, it was after winning it last year, you want to do it again,” Kumeper said. “This is a group that’s won recently and still has that veteran group that knows how to win. That was the exciting draw for me. Coming to a place that I believe that I can come in and help a team that has already won it before, do it again.”
The Capitals are Kuemper’s fifth NHL team and his third in just three seasons. Normally a goaltender that moves around that frequently is doing something wrong, but that’s the exact opposite case in this scenario.
In 57 starts last season for the Western Conference-best Avalanche, he went 37-12-4 with a .921 save percentage, 2.54 goals-against average, and five shutouts. When the calendar flipped to 2022, the Saskatoon native played some of the best hockey of his career, ranking second only to Igor Shesterkin in save percentage and fourth in high-danger save percentage only to Shesterkin, Ilya Sorokin, and Jake Oettinger.
“The biggest challenge (when moving teams) is although most systems are similar, there’s little variations here and there,” Kuemper said. “Usually, that comes pretty quick, you learn to read off your new teammates pretty early. It just takes a game or two. Once you get to know their tendencies our reads as a goalie start to get a little bit easier and then it gets pretty comfortable in net.
“We’ve actually already started watching some video on it (new system),” Kuemper continued. “You get into practices and start with that and then you get a couple preseason games which helps as well. Get as close to 100 percent as you can for the start of the regular season.”
Kuemper isn’t the only new goaltender in town as the team chose to revamp both members of their tandem for the 2022-23 campaign. Charlie Lindgren, last of the St. Blues, was signed to a three-year deal worth $1.1 million per season to fill the backup role.
“Even before we met each other in person we were texting back and forth,” Kuemper said of his batterymate. “It’s been fun so far. He’s a great partner to have. We’re definitely looking forward to working together. What’s important for goalie partners is just kinda being that supportive force for each other because we’re the only two goalies on the team. No one fully knows what we go through or how to play the position. Having a good relationship with that guy, in this case Charlie, is going to be really important going forward and it’s been a great start so far.”
One of the most important relationships on an entire hockey team is the dynamic between goaltender and goaltending coach. The Capitals know that firsthand with the success Braden Holtby had under Mitch Korn. Kuemper will now look to build a similar rapport with Scott Murray.
“We did a few Zoom calls sporadically throughout the summer,” Kuemper said. “Just tried to start that relationship a little bit early, get a headstart on it. So far working together has been great. We’re definitely on the same page about how we have to play and what makes us successful. Really looking forward to growing that relationship.
As a new member of the Capitals in net, Kuemper will no longer have to worry about Alex Ovechkin’s one-timer during games. He is very much aware that means he’ll just see even more of it in a different setting though.
“I’ll have to face it every day in practice but that’s a little bit easier than doing it in a game,” Kuemper said. “If it goes in it doesn’t matter as much. It’ll be fun having a guy like him shoot on me every day. It’ll help my game and help me get better each and every day.”
Screenshot via Capitals