Avalanche’s Darcy Kuemper Trade Full of Risk and Reward

On a day where moving parts shot around the NHL, the Colorado Avalanche remained mostly stagnant. Captain Gabriel Landeskog and star defenseman Cale Makar were already secured by general manager Joe Sakic, leaving only one position in flux: goaltending.

Many expected the Avs’ No. 1 goalie for the last three seasons, Philipp Grubauer, to remain in burgundy and blue after three solid seasons with the team. He had earned a raise, but how significant of one was still being determined by the player and the organization.

But another organization decided to enter the conversation, doing so in style. The Seattle Kraken signed Grubauer to a six-year deal worth $5.9 million annually that exceeded what the Avs felt comfortable in offering. Just like that, the German netminder and 2021 Vezina Trophy finalist was gone.

As other free agent goalies left the market, it became clear Colorado was going to have to be creative to fill their new void in net. One name that kept rumbling around the rumor mill was Darcy Kuemper, a quality starter on an Arizona Coyotes team that doesn’t appear to want to win games for the near future. 

Arizona Coyotes Darcy Kuemper Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Former Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper celebrates his shutout with Oliver Ekman-Larsson (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

It took a while, popping up on the news cycle hours after TSN’s Free Agent Frenzy came to a close. But sure enough, Kuemper was the latest member of the Avalanche, and one that will hold a heavy burden in trying to lead the team to new heights.

Officially, Kuemper was traded to the Avalanche for a 2022 first-round draft pick as well as prospect defenseman Conor Timmins and a conditional third-round pick (only given if the Avs win the Stanley Cup and Kuemper starts a majority of the games). Sakic paid a high price to fill the gap for his team, one that has the potential to be a boom or a bust for the club next season. Kuemper can be and has been an excellent NHL goaltender, but carries plenty of health concerns along with his immense talent.

What Colorado Gave Arizona

Value-wise, what the Avs gave up is far from insignificant. Timmins was expected to play big minutes for the club this season, per Sakic only hours before the trade. The young blueliner could fit as a second or third-pair player for the Coyotes, who are beginning to develop a solid defensive corps (from ‘Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun Building Reputation, Future NHL Trophy Consideration,’ AZ Central, 5/19/2021) to complement their organizational reset. The first-round pick will likely be towards the end of the round, depending on how next season shakes out for Colorado, but comes in a deep draft with plenty of opportunity to add talent to the future roster in Arizona.

Conor Timmins Team Canada Getty
Conor Timmins, Team Canada, 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, December 26, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

Kuemper, on the other hand, will only be guaranteed to be on Colorado’s roster for one season, with a current cap hit of $4.5 million (of which the Avs will obtain $3.5 million, with the Coyotes retaining $1 million). The goaltender’s career exploded once he arrived in the desert, going from solid to fantastic in the blink of an eye. However, he’s had few stretches during his tenure where he was a full-time starter, warding off injuries (including a lot of last year) and sharing the cage with others. 

What Kuemper Gives Colorado

But as far as talent goes, Kuemper has it. Avs fans saw just what he could do two seasons ago in the bubble, when he turned into a brick wall against the Nashville Predators and for a majority of the first-round matchup against Colorado. He kept game one deadlocked until the dying minutes, and stole Game 3. Games 4 and 5 were far from his fault, even as goals continued to stack up for the unrelenting Avalanche. Now playing behind that potent squad, he has a chance to be the critical factor in a run for the Stanley Cup.

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The fact the Avs didn’t or couldn’t sign Grubauer is disappointing, and them losing valuable assets to replace him is far from ideal. Kuemper is a risky addition for Sakic, who has largely stayed away from risks for the last few offseasons. This move felt a bit more reactionary and less calculated than some of the previous trades he’s pulled off. But it could be the one that leaves the most impact, if the new netminder can live up to his potential with the team, and perhaps re-sign at this time next year (or we could just go through this process all over again).

Not everything is going to go the way you want when you’re the GM of an NHL team. I doubt that the Avs wanted this exact circumstance to transpire when free agency began, but they did what they could to right the ship and point back towards their ultimate objective: hoisting the Stanley Cup. 

The roster doesn’t feel as airtight as it did last year, admittedly, and more additions could still be on the way. But the best way to win a Cup is to give yourself a chance every year. Just ask the Tampa Bay Lightning, St. Louis Blues, or Washington Capitals. All a good team needs are chances to win and a lot of luck. 

Kuemper gives the Avalanche a chance, and we’ll have to wait and see how everything else shakes out.

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