This past summer, the Colorado Avalanche looked to be in a precarious position with their goaltending. Philipp Grubauer, their regular starter, hit free agency and opted to sign a major $5.9M AAV contract with the Seattle Kraken, leaving Colorado as a team with Stanley Cup aspirations but no goalie to backstop them to that point.
To solve the issue, Avalanche GM Joe Sakic made a deal with the Arizona Coyotes, a soon-to-be division rival, to acquire goaltender Darcy Kuemper for Conor Timmins and two draft picks, including a 2022 first-round pick. The trade allowed Colorado to acquire an accomplished goaltender to get out of their difficult situation, but the long-term implications of the trade were cloudy. Kuemper was acquired as a player with only one year left until free agency, meaning there was no guarantee that this trade would be anything but a one-year marriage. But with the current state of the Avalanche, it’s likely both parties would like to continue their partnership.
The Avalanche sit first in the NHL with a 49-14-6 record, and Kuemper’s play has been a large part of their success. In 48 games this season he has a 32-9-3 record, a .925 save percentage and a 2.37 goals against average. His save percentage ranks fourth in the league and this is all factoring in his difficult start to the season. Until Kuemper came back from a lower-body injury in early December his save percentage was mired in the low .900’s. As Peter Baugh of The Athletic notes, since that point when Kuemper returned from injury, he has cemented his place as one of the league’s top goaltenders and has a legitimate chance to finish the season as not only a Vezina Trophy contender but also a Stanley Cup champion.
It may seem like based on all those factors Kuemper is a lock to extend in Colorado, but the reality of his situation is not that simple. Sakic is a patient, calculated general manager who rarely makes deals he does not totally believe are in the best interests of his team. Kuemper is in line for a massive contract this offseason. Scoring is at a high point for this era of hockey, and fewer and fewer teams can truly be counted as having a “franchise” goaltender, meaning an offseason bidding war for Kuemper’s services could be a near-inevitability.
Despite his accomplishments, one has to wonder if the Avalanche are in the position to be able to outbid other suitors for Kuemper. The expiration of superstar Nathan MacKinnon’s $6.3M AAV deal after the 2022-23 season looms large on everything Colorado plans to do, and even with that in mind, the Avalanche have a tricky free agent situation this offseason.