ARLINGTON, Va. — The champagne had barely stopped flowing from the Colorado Avalanche’s Stanley Cup celebration when they traded for a new goaltender, signaling that Darcy Kuemper would not be back.
Kuemper tried not to think too much about where he would be going. When the goalie musical chairs stopped Wednesday on the first day of NHL free agency, the Cup winner had landed with the Washington Capitals while the Edmonton Oilers had added Jack Campbell.
Since the Cup Final ended in late June, 19 goaltenders who played in the NHL last season are with different teams.
“It changed quite a bit,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “A lot of people [were] jockeying for limited amount of guys and seemed like seats filled up and then there was a pause and there was only a certain amount left and teams went from there.”
The Capitals signed Kuemper to a five-year, $26.25 million contract less than three weeks after he backstopped Colorado to its first title since 2001. The 32-year-old Kuemper will carry the load for a perennial playoff team that also signed Charlie Lindgren as a backup.
Kuemper knew he was leaving the Avalanche when they traded for and signed Alexandar Georgiev to replace him.
“You never know where you’re going to end up,” Kuemper said. “Everything happens for a reason and it worked out and ended up with a great organization, a great team and super excited for it.”
Edmonton signed Campbell, the former Toronto Maple Leafs goalie, to a five-year, $25 million deal. Campbell has yet to win a playoff series but put up impressive numbers during the first round last year and will now be counted on to try to help Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl win a championship after Mike Smith was inconsistent in goal this postseason.
“Obviously it’s such an important position [when you’re trying] to win,” Edmonton general manager Ken Holland said. “Certainly probably as much movement this year as there was in a long, long time.”
Now four years removed from hoisting the Cup, the Capitals made moves to get into the goalie market, totally remaking their situation in net just as general manager Brian MacLellan promised. They traded Vitek Vanecek to New Jersey, let Ilya Samsonov leave rather than qualify him as a restricted free agent and added Lindgren on a three-year deal worth $3.3 million.
Samsonov, once considered a top prospect, signed a budget contract with the Maple Leafs: $1.8 million for next season, or roughly half of what the Capitals expected the 25-year-old Russian to get in arbitration.
Toronto is pairing Samsonov with Matt Murray, acquired from Ottawa just days earlier. The Senators added Cam Talbot in a trade with Minnesota after the Wild re-signed Marc-Andre Fleury.
Murray will count slightly less against the cap in Toronto than Campbell in Edmonton. Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said the difference was the two years left on Murray’s contract compared with Campbell wanting five.
Edmonton was more than happy to oblige on that front, especially with Smith not expected to play next season because of injury.
“[Campbell] looks to me from afar like a guy [who’s] getting better all the time,” Holland said. “He’s competitive. He’s comfortable. And I think he’s 30 years of age, and from a goaltender standpoint that’s a good age. I think with Stu Skinner we’ll have a good tandem.”