Does goalie Darcy Kuemper make sense for the Capitals?

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Does goalie Darcy Kuemper make sense for the Capitals? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Capitals and general manager Brian MacLellan will likely turn over every stone this summer in the search for a No. 1 netminder.

But could that goalie be hiding in plain sight on hockey’s biggest stage for the next two weeks?

The Avalanche are set to face the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final, and they could do so — pending health — with starting goalie Darcy Kuemper between the pipes. The issue for Colorado to solve in the next month is that Kuemper is a pending free agent.

In Kuemper’s 10-year career, with four different teams, he’s proven he’s capable of being a team’s No. 1 option in net which certainly makes him attractive to a team like the Capitals.

He’s posted a .918 with a 2.48 goals against average through his career, and in four of the last five seasons, he’s posted save percentages of: .920, .925, .928, .907 and .921. With the high-flying Avalanche this season, he’s posted an impressive 25.1 goals saved above average, per hockey reference.

So how would he reach free agency? Rather simply, actually.

Pavel Francouz is locked up for two more seasons in Colorado at $2 million and the Avalanche appear confident in him, to at least some degree. But more importantly, they’re facing a cap crunch.

They have just seven forwards under contract for next season and appear set to lose center Nazem Kadri off a career year. They’ll have to get cheaper, and drastically so, this offseason. Then in the summer of 2023, forwards Nathan MacKinnon and J.T. Compher and defenseman Bowen Byran are set to be free agents, too. So the Avalanche have to factor in at least two big deals not just this summer, but next summer too.

Which leads back to Kuemper, who is very likely the best free agent option the Capitals could pursue.

The Capitals appear keen on keeping at least one of their restricted free agent netminders, Vitek Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov, and paired with Kuemper, that could make for a nice one-two punch come next season.

Kuemper is 32 years old and has some injury concerns, which could lead to more of a shared split of the net with the younger Vanecek or Samsonov.

But with his $4.5 million contract expiring, this will likely be Kuemper’s last time in his NHL career to truly cash in. Will there be a bump in pay if he returns to the net and the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup? And will the Capitals be willing to commit likely multiple years and significant salary cap space to that goalie?

The answer will likely come over the next two weeks in Denver and Tampa Bay.