The Washington Capitals struggled to get elite goaltending play from the duo of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek during the 2021-22 season. Then, the Caps got eliminated in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, marking their fourth consecutive first-round exit.
There's one way Washington could help fix both of those issues: sign a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender. And there just so happens to be one on the market.
Darcy Kuemper helped the Colorado Avalanche win the franchise's first Cup in 21 years last month, as he provided solid play throughout their playoff run. Kuemper started all six games of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he had one of his best performances in the title-clinching Game 6, in which he allowed only one goal and recorded 22 saves.
But Kuemper, now an unrestricted free agent, isn't going back to Colorado. On Sunday, the Avs inked a three-year extension with restricted free agent Alexandar Georgiev, whose negotiating rights they acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers last week. Georgiev is set to be Colorado's starting goaltender, ahead of backup Pavel Francouz.
According to The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun, Kuemper was "too expensive for the Avs to retain," which led to their decision to replace him with Georgiev.
The Caps should be willing to spend big to improve their goaltending situation, though. On Friday, they traded Vanecek to the New Jersey Devils for a pair of draft picks, leaving Samsonov as the only NHL-caliber netminder on their roster.
Even before Georgiev had agreed to terms with Colorado, there had already been rumors linking Kuemper to Washington. According to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, the Capitals have been interested in Kuemper for "quite a long time now."
"I’m not going to say Washington is going to get him," Friedman recently said on his 32 Thoughts podcast (h/t Ian Oland of Russian Machine Never Breaks). "But I do know Washington’s very interested in him and have been motivated by Kuemper for quite some time now."
Kuemper has played for four teams during his 10-year career, but he spent only one season with the Avalanche. It was a successful one, though, as he had a 2.54 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage in 57 games. He had a 2.57 GAA and a .902 save percentage in 16 postseason contests.
Samsonov flashed his potential in 45 games through his first two NHL seasons, so the Capitals were hoping he could carry that over into his first opportunity to play more than 26 games in a campaign. Instead, he had a 3.02 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage in 44 games last season.
So Kuemper should provide an upgrade over Samsonov and be more reliable, considering he has much more experience. Samsonov is only 25, so there's still time for him to improve. But letting him be the backup to the 32-year-old Kuemper for a year or two could prove beneficial in the long run.
If Washington misses out on Kuemper, there are other goaltenders it could target. Jack Campbell is an unrestricted free agent, as is Braden Holtby, who played for the Capitals from 2010-20.
But Kuemper likely has the highest ceiling among that group, and he's coming off a Stanley Cup-winning campaign. He would be a great fit for Washington as it tries to win a second Cup in six seasons.