Avalanche goalie options: Does Kuemper re-sign? If not, who’s available in UFA or trade?

Darcy Kuemper stood on the ice, the grin he often wears wider than usual. He’d just played the biggest game of his life, a 2-1 Avalanche win in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals to win the game, and was still trying to grasp the magnitude of his accomplishment.

“It’s starting to feel real,” he said.

The Avalanche goaltender had a volatile postseason, struggling with an eye issue stemming from Game 3 of Round 1 when Ryan Johansen’s bat caught in his mask. And there were moments in the cup final when he didn’t inspire confidence, like being pulled after conceding five goals in Game 3.

But when Colorado needed him most, he stepped up, making 37 saves in a crucial away win in Game 4. Then he stopped 22 pucks in Game 6 to outlast the mighty Andrei Vasilevskiy. And in the elated moments of victory, with family members around him, he’d answered the question that had plagued him all postseason: Was he good enough for the Avalanche to win the Stanley Cup? yes he was

However, new questions keep popping up, especially in the world of NHL free agency. Kuemper is the focus of one of Colorado’s biggest tournaments this offseason. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent, and General Manager Joe Sakic and the front office have a decision to make. You want to bring Kümper back, but you also have to walk a tightrope when it comes to the upper salary limit. With a bevy of other free agents looking to re-sign them, they must decide how much they are willing to pay for their Cup-winning goalkeeper.

Here’s a look at their options online, with a look at potential pros and cons:

keep Kuemper

Avalanche and Kümper’s camp have held talks, but the team has yet to make a formal offer by Monday morning, according to sources the athleteis Pierre LeBrun. “I heard there’s a good chance he’s staying,” Elliotte Friedman said Tuesday on his 32 Thoughts: The Podcast. “I think they’re working on taking down Kuemper and (Valeri) Nichushkin.”

Kuemper had a strong regular season for Colorado, posting a .921 save rate and a 37-12-4 record. His advanced metrics shone as he saved 15.77 more goals than expected, according to Evolving Hockey. That ranked sixth in the NHL.

His numbers also suggested he was comfortable in Colorado’s system throughout the year. In 42 games after returning from an upper-body injury on December 8, he held 22.42 more than expected goals, second only to Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin in that span, and he had one Rescue rate of 0.926.

Colorado paid a heavy price to acquire Kuemper last summer, trading with its 2022 first-round pick, a 2024 third-round pick and promising young defenseman Conor Timmins. Such was the cost of the deal after the goalkeeping carousel ground to a halt: the Avalanche felt Philipp Grubauer was too expensive to keep and watched other free-agent goalies sign deals with other clubs.

If the Avalanche lets Kuemper go now, they run the risk of overpaying again, either in a trade or in free agency. They’re in a cup window and need a legitimate No. 1. Yes, Pavel Francouz is a reliable tandem goalie, but he’s never shown the ability to be a full-time starter. He’s never played more than 34 games in a season, and of his 18 starts in 2021-22, only three came against teams that ultimately made the playoffs.

Kuemper’s postseason is one reason Colorado might be reluctant to overpay to bring him back. According to Evolving Hockey, he conceded 7.29 goals more than expected and looked particularly shaky in the team’s second round against St. Louis. He finished the course of Colorado’s run with a .902 save rate, the lowest by a Cup-winning goalie since 1988.

Some of his fights were probably related to his eye injury. After the playoffs, coach Jared Bednar told Altitude Sports that Kuemper needed daily visits to an optometrist to retrain his eye. Hopefully that won’t be an issue next season. And letting the goalkeeper go comes with a major concern: who is available to replace him?

Free Agents

Marc Andre Fleury is the hottest name in the free-agent goalie market, and LeBrun wrote in his recent Rumbling column that Colorado would be “a good fit” if the Avalanche weren’t able to bring Kuemper back. But Fleury comes up with his own questions. He will turn 38 next season and had a 2021-22 pedestrian campaign with the Blackhawks and Wild. According to Evolving-Hockey, he had a .908 save rate and saved 1.28 fewer than expected. The Wild eventually benched him before Game 6 of their playoff series in favor of Cam Talbot. It was the third straight season that a healthy Fleury was on the bench when his team retired. (Vegas had Robin Lehner in the net when it was eliminated in 2020 and 2021.)

However, Fleury won the Vezina Trophy in 2021, and Colorado knows how dominant he can be in his game. He was a big reason the Golden Knights eliminated the Avalanche in 2021. If Sakic thinks Fleury can return to that level, he could make sense if the team doesn’t work out a deal with Kuemper.

Jack Campell from Toronto and Ville Huso are the other notable outstanding UFA goalkeepers. Husso had a strong season at St. Louis, posting a .919 save rate, but does Sakic want to hand the net to someone with just 57 regular-season games of his career? Campbell is excellent when on, but his inconsistency makes him difficult to rely on.

The trade market

Might try the Avalanche for someone like a big swing John Gibson? Sure, but he wouldn’t come cheap, and Colorado’s potential pool is suddenly thin after the team traded Justin Barron and Drew Helleson on deadline. Bowen Byram could be a star so I don’t see the Avalanche moving him and Alex Newhook is one of their key forwards. Both players feel almost untouchable.

And other than Gibson, probably no one would move the needle for Colorado in trade rumors. Netminder of the islanders Semyon Varlamov According to Friedman, it probably won’t move, and someone like San Jose Jacob Reimer probably as No. 1 on a team hoping to go back-to-back it wouldn’t make sense.

Other little things

• The Avalanche re-signed Deadline supplement Andrew Cogliano on a one-year, $1.25 million contract, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Cogliano was a key member of Colorado’s bottom six and penalty shootout en route to the Stanley Cup, and he also emerged as a team leader despite only being with the team a few months. He helped lead a team meeting the night before the deciding Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

• Should not keep Colorado Nazem Kadriwith a huge payday ahead, I would expect them to look for another forward capable of playing in the top six.

• For those who ask Eric Johnson doesn’t plan to retire. I asked him during the playoffs if he was considering it and he said, “I want to play a lot longer. No plans for that.”

• The avalanche may approach Nathan MacKinnon‘s Camp with renewal offers beginning July 13, and every step the team takes in the coming weeks will target how that might impact flexibility on Star Center’s next contract. He has top priority.

(Top photo by Pavel Francouz and Darcy Kuemper: Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today)

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