After Philipp Grubauer, a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2020-21, set sail for Seattle and signed with the Kraken in free agency, the Colorado Avalanche were left with a sizable hole in the crease. Darcy Kuemper was procured from the Arizona Coyotes in a subsequent trade, and anointed the starting goaltender ahead of the 2021-22 campaign. His Avalanche tenure got off to a rocky start, but he has sparkled in recent months, eliminating the one potential weakness of this otherwise loaded roster. Even while backstopping the Stanley Cup favourites, Kuemper’s play this season is worthy of Vezina Trophy buzz, and he should be named one of the three finalists come awards time. Let’s dig in.
Kuemper Posting Impressive Numbers as Avalanche Starter
For those who vote on the NHL awards, the traditional box score numbers often serve as the primary evidence for a goaltender’s Vezina case. Luckily for Kuemper, his results rank among the league’s best at his position, bolstered by the Avalanche’s explosive attack and dominant defensive group.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Kuemper though, as he navigated through a turbulent adjustment period after being transplanted into the Avalanche’s high-flying system. Even though the former Coyotes netminder won 13 of his 19 starts up until Jan. 1, his save percentage (SV%) sat at a paltry .907, 38th among goalies with at least five games played during that time. It wasn’t until the team rattled off an NHL record for wins in a single month due to a weak January schedule that Kuemper found his game.
Since the calendar turned to 2022, the 31-year-old veteran has looked much more like the goaltender who often stood on his head behind a wobbly Arizona squad in recent seasons. He’s posted a .937 SV% (second since Jan. 1) in 31 games all the while facing the fourth-most shots during that time. He’s a big reason why the organization is on the verge of consecutive Presidents’ Trophy wins, even if his job is made a little easier than most of his positional contemporaries.
Surprisingly, the 6-foot-5 behemoth has often been peppered in games this season, despite Colorado’s overwhelming collection of talent in front of him. He’s made 40-or-more saves in a single game on six occasions, tied for second among all goaltenders. He is also tied for the league lead in terms of 40-save games where he’s allowed two goals or less (four), no stranger to stonewalling the opposition when he’s called upon.
For his efforts, Kuemper has climbed to sixth on the franchise’s single-season wins list, with his 34 victories seven behind the record of 41 from Semyon Varlamov in the 2013-14 season. Whether or not he sets a new record depends on how imperative the team sees claiming another Presidents’ Trophy. The Avalanche still have 10 games remaining on the season, and sit 13 points ahead of the second-place Calgary Flames in the Western Conference, but only two points ahead of the Florida Panthers in the league-wide race.