NHL free agency has been busy for the Washington Capitals as the team made splashy moves, but also some very practical signings. Of course, some were out of necessity. Needless to say, the roster is now better than it was at this time last week.
Darcy Kuemper was the sexy name on the market and the Capitals got their goalie, but some other signings, such as Dylan Strome, were just as important. However, the team’s re-signings are being somewhat overlooked as they are just as valuable concerning the team’s necessities.
Capitals Made Right Moves in Free Agency
The Capitals needed a goaltender after parting ways with both their young netminders and landed the best one on the market in Kuemper. They also needed a top-six forward and hopefully found one in Strome. Lastly, they needed someone – anybody would do honestly – to play on the blue line, as going into free agency the team only had five defensemen on the NHL roster, and Erik Gustaffson filled that void.
The Capitals have had a solid free agency if viewed as an entire body of work. They signed good players to positions they were in dire need of help, but when combined with the re-signings of Marcus Johansson and Matt Irwin, they are in a better spot than expected heading into 2022-23, because, well, they have to be no matter how the signings are analyzed.
Kuemper is an Upgrade
The Capitals signed Kuemper to a five-year, $26.25 million contract. The 32-year-old netminder is fresh off a Stanley Cup championship with the Colorado Avalanche and due to the talent skating in front of him last season, he may be tested more in Washington as any flaws could be exposed behind a weaker team.
Numbers don’t lie, however, as Kuemper finished the 2021-22 regular season with a 37-12-4 record along with a .921 save percentage (SV%) and 2.54 goals-against average (GAA). While last season’s tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek went 43-24-11 for the Capitals, averaging a .902 SV% and 2.84 GAA between them.
The team also signed a viable backup in Charlie Lindgren, who went 5-0-0 with a .958 SV% and 1.22 GAA last season for the St. Louis Blues. Add Zach Fucale to the mix, and the Capitals appear to be in a better position in the crease than they were last year.
Early Opportunity for Strome
With surgeries to Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson putting the Capitals in a tough offensive hole for the first couple months of the season, they needed to sign an impact forward in free agency. Strome, 25, recorded career-bests in goals (22), assists (26), and points (48) last season while a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. Most importantly, the center can slide into the top six right away.
The Capitals also traded for Connor Brown, and it’s anticipated that both he and Strome will share a line with Anthony Mantha to start the season. Strome thrives when playing with solid linemates, so head coach Peter Laviolette may need to tinker with the offensive groupings as the season progresses, but expect him to produce either way.
Also, the one-year, $3.5 million contract is a low-risk deal for both the center and the Capitals. It didn’t truly affect their cap situation moving forward, especially when Wilson and Backstrom return, but it also gives Strome an opportunity to showcase his abilities early and often, perhaps eventually earning an extension or a big contract next summer in free agency.
Gustafsson helps fill the roster on the blue line, but the Capitals also bringing back Irwin for support was smart. He only skated in 17 games last season, but the 34-year-old knows the system and can help be a solid body on the ice while they wait for Alex Alexeyev to recover from shoulder surgery and for Lucas Johansen to develop. Next summer, all focus will be on the defense, so they need to see what they already have in the system. At $750,000 for only one year, the Irwin signing was smart.
Another practical move by general manager Brian MacLellan was to bring back Johansson, also on a one-year deal. The winger will only be a $1.1 million cap hit, but is also a skater who knows the system, knows the organization, and has camaraderie with the roster.
|Player||Position||Age||Contract Years||Contract Value|
|Darcy Kuemper||Goalie||32||5||$26.25 million|
|Connor Brown (trade with Ottawa)||Forward||28||1||$3.6 million|
|Dylan Strome||Forward||25||1||$3.5 million|
|Charlie Lindgren||Goalie||28||3||$3.3 million|
|Marcus Johansson (re-signed)||Forward||31||1||$1.1 million|
|Matt Irwin (re-signed)||Defence||34||1||$750,000|
After returning to Washington at the trade deadline in 2021-22, Johansson had six points in 18 games played. Expect his scoring pace to be well-above that early on this upcoming season, as he will be another player who must produce in the absence of Wilson and Backstrom.
A Solid Free Agency
MacLellan did an excellent job this past week because he balanced the signings. The team had a lot of needs, and he was able to not only land big names, but also fill holes on the roster practically and at a good price.
The first two months for the Capitals will be very important, as the Eastern Conference will be loaded again this season. Even though there was little parity between the top-eight and the rest of the conference, the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils are going to be better in the Metropolitan Division, and the Detroit Red Wings seem to be all in and will be vying for a playoff spot. On paper, the summer has been good for the Capitals. Hopefully that will be proven on the ice come October as well.
Carl Knauf is an author and master journalist (so the degree says). He specializes in sports–primarily hockey–music, and the publishing industry. His sports writing has been featured on The Hockey Writers, Last Word On Sports, and local newspapers in his home state of New Mexico. Carl covers the Washington Capitals with accurate reporting and detailed analysis to help readers answer basic and burning questions such as, “Why did the Capitals not win the Stanley Cup (again)?”
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