“Super excited for the new opportunity,” Kuemper said in a video conference on Wednesday. “This is a team that can win. It’s always fun to be there. I’m really looking forward to getting started. It’s going to be a short summer but I can’t wait to get down and meet the boys.”
Colorado could have made an effort to keep Kuemper but decided to take a different direction at the net, trading for former New York Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev last week. The Avalanche has also signed several free agents to lucrative deals to keep their core intact.
Kuemper did not disclose how many other teams expressed interest in him, but said as soon as he knew Washington was interested, he immediately introduced himself to the district.
“I wanted to exhaust all possibilities here and I’m very happy that we were able to achieve something,” said Kuemper.
Kuemper said several players in Washington texted him to welcome him. Part of the Capitals’ appeal was a still-intact core that has experience of winning the Stanley Cup.
“He’s had a lot of good years, a lot of good performances,” said Capital’s general manager Brian MacLellan. “Seems like a good person, good character, good team guy. I think it’s exactly what we need next year.”
Washington also finalized its goalie tandem on Wednesday, signing backup goalie Charlie Lindgren on a three-year, $3.3 million deal. Lindgren, 28, played in five NHL games with the St. Louis Blues last season and went 5-0-0 with 1.22 goals against average and a .958 save. He spent most of the season with the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League.
“We liked his performance last year,” said MacLellan. “I know it hasn’t been a lot of games but we think there are some advantages in goal so we gave them the three-year term because it was competitive for him and I think there were a lot of teams that did it were I looked at him and he came in with a good number and he had a good performance last year but limited games. We believe he can continue to play well.”
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The Capitals were looking for not one, but two goalies through a free hand. They traded Vitek Vanecek to New Jersey last week and opted not to extend a qualifying offer to Ilya Samsonov on Monday.
The Samsonov decision came as a bit of a surprise. MacLellan spoke to reporters last week and insisted Washington planned to make Samsonov a qualifying offer.
Instead, Samsonov, 25, went on the open market on Wednesday and signed a one-year, $1.8 million deal Deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he is likely to assist Matt Murray.
As a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, the Capitals believed Samsonov’s salary for 2022-23 could have potentially jumped into the $3 million to $3.5 million range had the team made a qualifying offer. That was more than Washington was willing to pay for Samsonov in a backup role.
Goaltender Pheonix Copley also transferred from the Capitals organization and signed a one-year, one-way contract with the Los Angeles Kings.
“I’m comfortable with what we have now,” MacLellan said. “I think we had two good goalkeepers [in Vanecek and Samsonov]. The young people were good. I think it’s a little frustrating that I wish one of them had taken first place. And it seemed like one or the other would, but then they never quite made it, and I don’t think we have time to wait for that.
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The goaltender market changed rapidly early Wednesday when Jack Campbell signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Edmonton Oilers. Campbell was seen as a possibility for the Capitals prior to Kuemper’s signing.
Washington also made a surprise trade late Wednesday, acquiring Ottawa winger Connor Brown for a 2024 second-round pick. The 28-year-old Brown had 10 goals and 29 assists in 64 games for the Senators last season. Brown, who has one year left on his three-year, $10.8 million contract, will become a full free agent next season. Brown is expected to be a right wing in Washington’s lineup who could see time in the top row.
The Capitals took some steps to strengthen their blue line, first signing defenseman Erik Gustafsson on a one-year, $800,000 contract. Gustafsson played 59 games for the Chicago Blackhawks last season, recording three goals and 15 assists.
Gustafsson, a left-footed defender, is expected to play in the third pairing with Trevor van Riemsdyk. Washington had to fill a void in the lineup after defenseman Justin Schultz, who became a full free agent on Wednesday, signed a two-year deal with the Seattle Kraken.
The Capitals have also signed a few players to two-way deals, meaning the player will receive a reduced salary in the AHL. Defenseman Matt Irwin, 34, re-signed a two-way, one-year deal with the team. Finland striker Henrik Borgstrom, 24, also signed a two-way, one-year deal. The Blackhawks on Tuesday bought the final year of Borgstrom’s contract, which included a $1 million contract. Borgstrom had seven points in 52 games with the Blackhawks last year.
MacLellan said Washington could still look for another forward in the offseason and confirmed the Capitals had been in talks about the return of unrestricted free agent Marcus Johansson. Washington signed Johansson at the close of business in March. Last season he had three goals and three assists in 18 games.