Now that the Washington Capitals season is over we can take a look at some of the things we talked about during the season. A lot of the time I will ask questions that cannot be answered until a final result to the season has been set. One question I asked was about the Caps goaltending and Darcy Kuemper.
The question, at the start of February was, has the big Darcy Kuemper signing been worth it for the Capitals?
That question was a very simple one. The Capitals goaltending had somewhat struggled in years past with the young duo of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek. The Caps decide to move on from both of those guys and instead chose to go with an older, more expensive Kuemper. Was that the right move?
Well, as time has told us, Kuemper and his Capitals have been sitting at home for a couple of weeks now having missed the playoffs altogether. On the other hand, the Capitals two former goalies have found some success in their new homes. Samsonov has helped the Maple Leafs win their first playoff round since 2004. Vanecek is currently on a Devils team who, as I write this, just won a game 7 vs the arch rival Rangers. To be fair, Vanecek started that series and has since been benched after not having a very good first two games of that series.
Time will also never change one thing. Kuemper is older. He is currently 32-years-old, he will be celebrating a birthday in just a few days turning 33. Samsonov is 26, and Vanecek is 27.
I think you also need to point out the contracts for these three guys to decide who has the best deal. Kuemper has a five year deal which carries a cap hit of $5.250m a year. Vanecek has a three year deal which has an annual cap hit of $3.4m. Samsonov is currently the cheapest of the three, having a cap hit of just $1.8m, but that being just a one year “prove it” deal. You would expect him to get a raise this coming off-season.
Finally, we can look at stats. When looking at the individual stats Kuemper clearly had the worst season of the three. This year he was 22-26-7, with a goals against average of 2.87 and a .909 save percentage.
Samsonov had a goals against average of 2.33 and a save percentage of .919 while going 27-10-5 while in net.
Vanecek was 33-11-4 this season and he had a GAA of 2.45 with a save percentage of .911.
Kuemper led the way in shutouts having 5, Samsonov was a part of 4 shutouts, and Vanecek blanked his opponents 3 times.
We can dive into this a little more too. All of these goalies played a lot of hockey this year. Kuemper led the way with 57 games played, Vanecek played in 56 games, while Samsonov played in 42 games. Only twenty-three goalies played the amount of time Samsonov did this year, with Kuemper and Vanecek obviously being two of the twenty-three.
Samsonov had the sixth best save percentage, Vanecek had the 11th best and Kuemper had the 13th best.
These next few stats are very interesting when talking about goalies. These stats will tell you who had better individual seasons, at least in my opinion.
Goals Saved Above Average or GSAA. Samsonov was 9th best among the 24 eligible goalies at 17.39. Vanecek was 11th best at 8.66, while Kuemper was 6.41 and was 13th best.
The next stat is high danger save percentage. This is a stat that is easy to understand. It is the job of a team and defense to not allow high danger shots. If you don’t allow high danger shots the goalies job should be an easier one. The job of a goalie is to stop the easy shots and be there when the team in front of him breaks down. Save as many tough shots as possible. How many tough stops did these guys stop?
Samsonov was the very best in this stat this season, at least among the twenty-four guys we are counting. His HDSV% was .882%.
This time Kuemper leap-frogs Vanecek, his high danger save percentage was .811 while the Devils keeper was at .802%.
Samsonov’s HDSV% was exceptional. The next highest guy was at .859, that was Linus Ullmark of Boston, who will likely win this years Vezina award. After that, everyone was kind of close. Just to point out how close things were, without giving the names, the numbers were .852, then .850, then .848 and it gradually falls. That just shows how far ahead Samsonov was this season.
The final individual stat will be HDGSAA, or high danger goals saved above average. Samsonov once again led this category by a wide margin. He led the way at 19.55. Unfortunately, both Kuemper and Vanecek were in the negatives in this stats this season. Kuemper was 17th of 24 in this stat at -4.82, and Vanecek was 18th at -6.69.
I also want to look at team stats. Team stats, in all situations, for every goalie they played. This should give us a good look at what the team did as a whole. How many shots did they allow and what kind of danger did those shots give their goalies.
Both the Devils and Leafs were a lot better than the Capitals in the shots against category. The Devils allowed the fifth fewest shots against and the Leafs allowed the 7th fewest. The Devils allowed 2,315 and the Leafs gave up 2,420 shots. The Caps gave up 2,549 shots which was 16th.
The Devils also gave up 2,255 scoring chances this season, that was 4th among in the NHL this year. The Leafs gave up 2,361 chances which was 9th best. The Capitals surrendered 2,445 chances and that was 15th best.
Finally, the Devils are once again led these three teams in high danger attempts against, this year they let up 908 high danger attempts, that was the best in the entire NHL as well. The Leafs gave up 997 high danger attempts, 11th best, the Caps gave up 1,045 which was 17th.
These stats just point out the obvious. The Capitals were the worst of these three teams defensively.
And that is where the next question needs to be asked. Should the Capitals have gone out and signed a big time goaltender, like they did in Darcy Kuemper, or should they have tried to fix their team overall? The defense in particular.
Both Samsonov and Vanecek proved this season they could perform well behind good teams. You have to go back to one of the first things we talked about here. Both are younger, and both would have been cheaper.
Samsonov was clearly the best this season. He is 26-years-old, his contract would have been just over $2 million if the Capitals qualified him last off-season. Instead the Caps decided to go the way of more expensive and older, signing Kuemper at 32 with a cap hit of over $5 million a year and that going into his late thirties.
Hindsight is 20/20, we all know that. It’s easy for us to say, “Well this is obviously what they should have done.” but it’s a lot trickier at the time.
We all knew the Capitals needed to do something in net. The goaltending for a couple of seasons just was not getting the job done. We all knew something needed to change and I think we all knew it was going to change.
Was the Kuemper signing worth it? Well, it wasn’t in the first year of the deal. Thankfully there are still four years left in the deal, he is not that old and still has good hockey in front of him. There is still time for this deal to work out.
Kuemper was not bad this season, but he was not as good as Samsonov who played behind a good team. You could debate if he was better than Vanecek who played behind a much better defensive team than the Caps. If Kuemper played on the Devils I think he would have had a fantastic year.
That I think is the biggest argument here. Should the Capitals have stuck with one of the two young guys, probably Samsonov, and tried to put a better team in front of him? It would have been cheaper, and he is six and a half years younger than the guy you have now.
Was the Kuemper signing worth it? It wasn’t this season. We’ll see if they can put a good team in front of him in the next four years. If they can’t, it probably will not have been worth it.