Darcy Kuemper is ready for the next chapter

HENDERSON, Nev. – For Darcy Kuemperhis championship celebrations with the Colorado Avalanche came to an end on his day with the Stanley Cup in his Saskatoon hometown on Aug. 5.

« You try to organize everything for the day because you want it to be perfect, » said the goaltender during the North American NHL Player Media Tour at Lifeguard Arena in Henderson, a suburb of Las. Vegas last week.

“Then you hand the Cup over at midnight and that’s kind of the last page of the chapter. Now you move on to the next one. »

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Kuemper’s next chapter will begin when the Washington Capitals begin training camp on Wednesday. The 32-year-old veteran agreed to a five-year, $26.5 million ($5.25 million annual average) contract with the Capitals on July 13 hoping the deal would benefit both parties.

Kuemper waited 10 NHL seasons before finally winning the Stanley Cup. He wants to repeat the experience and help Washington, which has not passed the first round of playoffs since winning the title in 2018, to find the way to victory in the playoffs.

« They still rely on a lot of the elements that were in place when they last won and they made some great acquisitions this summer, » Kuemper said. So we’re looking forward to the start of the season and we think we can achieve a lot of good things. »

Kuemper wants to be the established number one goaltender the Capitals were looking for following the seesaw performances of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek over the past two seasons. He was 37-12-4 with five shutouts, a 2.54 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage in 57 games last season. In the playoffs, he was 10-4 with a 2.57 GAA and .902 save percentage in 16 games.

Kuemper’s .921 save percentage in 197 games (102-61-22) over the past five seasons with the Avalanche, Arizona Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings ranks first in the NHL among goaltenders who have played at least 150 games. His average of 2.43 over that same period is good for second place behind Tuukka Rask (2.36).

« With the way he’s played in the last five or six years in the League and the fact that he just won the Stanley Cup – he’s now a Stanley Cup champion – I think his leadership and his presence in goal are going to appear,” said coach Peter Laviolette. Vitek and ‘Sammy’ did a great job and gave us the chance to win, but we had the opportunity to get our hands on an experienced guy who is now a winner. »

The Capitals decided not to submit a qualifying offer to Samsonov at the end of last season and he became an unrestricted free agent before accepting a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 13. Vanecek was traded to the New Jersey Devils on July 8.

washington hired Charlie Lindgren as a reserve goaltender by offering him a three-year contract worth $3.3 million (average $1.1 million) on July 13. Lindgren was 5-0-0 with a 1.22 GAA and .958 save percentage with the St. Louis Blues last season.

But it’s Kuemper who should have the biggest workload and he welcomes that responsibility with open arms.

« I want to be the man of confidence and make a difference every night, » he said. That’s what I’m being asked to do, so I just want the season to start so I can play the way I know how to. »

Laviolette and goaltending coach Scott Murray intend to work out a plan with Kuemper as to how many games he will play. How the season unfolds and a possible fight for a playoff berth near schedule season could obviously impact that plan.

Video: COL@WPG: Kuemper slides to his left and stops Wheeler

Kuemper played a career-high 57 games last season despite an upper-body injury and a stay on COVID-19 protocol that caused him to miss action.

« The more I play, the more I find my rhythm and the easier it is to feel comfortable, » Kuemper said. You really start to follow the tempo when you play and don’t think too much. »

Braden Holtby is the last Capitals goaltender to have 50+ starts in a season (58 in 2018-19). Holtby, who is an unrestricted free agent and likely won’t play this season due to a lower-body injury, served 72 games in 2014-15 and tied the NHL record with 48 wins. in 2015-16, when he had 66 starts and won the Vézina Trophy.

Having grown up battling Holtby, who hails from Lloydminster, Sask., Kuemper would love to be given as much responsibility as Holtby once had in Washington.

« I ran into him the other day and he was telling me how much he loved playing there and how great it would be for me, » Kuemper said.

Holtby helped the Capitals win the Cup in 2018. After learning what it took last season with the Avalanche, Kuemper believes that experience will help him and the Capitals in their quest for a new title.

« That’s really the goal, » he said. It’s what we dream of. That’s why we play hockey. Making your place in the League is one thing, then winning the Cup is another. This is the ultimate goal, the climax. Once you have achieved this goal, you have the confidence that you can do anything. »

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