There have been rumors swirling about the Carolina Hurricanes’ interest in acquiring Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who was top-10 in the NHL in both save percentage and GAA this past season.
Bringing in Kuemper would be a huge step for the Canes, who would undoubtedly be getting an upgrade between the pipes with the 30-year old who has spent the last two and a half season with the Coyotes.
So, would a trade for Kuemper make sense? In short, absolutely. Here’s why:
How good is Kuemper?
Before diving into why this trade makes sense and how it would work, let’s first take a look at Kuemper on the ice.
Kuemper’s career numbers are pretty fantastic, and he’s really blossomed in the past two seasons with the Coyotes. He’s got a .918 save percentage over his eight-year NHL career, which would actually have him at 14th in NHL history if he qualified for those leaderboards (he hasn’t met the games played requirements, yet).
Along with his stellar save percentage, Kuemper has a GAA of 2.46, which would have him in the top-30 in NHL history if he qualified. Those numbers have been even better since he joined the Coyotes, where his save percentage is .923 and his GAA is 2.39 in 94 games played.
Kuemper finished fifth in Vezina Trophy voting in 2018-19, and then he turned around and had an even better year in 2019-20. His playoff performance this year also showed he has the ability to compete and perform at that level, something he hadn’t done since 2015 before he got to the Edmonton bubble.
In Arizona’s qualifying-round win over the Nashville Predators, Kuemper showed up big time. In four games against the Predators, Keumper put together a .933 save percentage and a GAA of 2.75, an impressive mark considering he faced over 40 shots per game.
His numbers dropped in Arizona’s five-game loss to the Colorado Avalanche, though putting much of that blame on Kuemper seems harsh with the way the Avalanche completely outplayed Arizona across the board. Kuemper was absolutely fantastic in Arizona’s one win in that series, a 49-save effort in game three.
Petr Mrazek and James Reimer have by no means been bad for the Hurricanes, but there really isn’t any argument to be made that Kuemper isn’t a much better goaltender than both of them. Bringing in Kuemper makes all the sense in the world on the ice.
How does the trade work?
The good news for the Hurricanes is that this trade, off the ice, actually makes a lot of sense for Carolina. Money is the big reason that the Coyotes are shopping Kuemper at all, and it’ll play a huge role in any potential trade Arizona will make to send away a really good goaltender with two years left on his contract.
The bottom line for Arizona is that the team doesn’t have much money, with reports coming in that the Coyotes are behind on payments to their arena manager. The money has always been tight for a team like Arizona, and this year certainly didn’t help that out. Kuemper’s a fairly expensive contract for a team to have to pay out, as he’s due $4.5 million each of the next two seasons.
Enter the Hurricanes, who have maybe one of the best value pieces in the league to trade away in James Reimer. Reimer has a cap hit of $3.4 million for next year (a little over a million less than Kuemper’s $4.5), but he’s already been paid most of that contract. He’s owed just $850,000 next season, so he would present a great opportunity for Arizona to cut some internal expenses.
Being able to send away Reimer in a deal for Kuemper is a must for the Canes, who have to get rid of either Reimer or Mrazek to clear cap space if they want to bring in another goalie. There’s some free agent goaltenders on the market the Canes could pursue instead, but they’d still have to deal one of the two goalies under contract on the team to make that work.
Swapping Reimer and Kuemper makes a lot of sense for both teams in this regard. The Hurricanes would get a much better goaltender to help them compete next season, while the Coyotes would save a significant chunk of money while bringing in a competent goaltender to fill the void of Kuemper. The Coyotes do also still have Antti Raanta, so it’s not like they would be left high and dry without a starting-caliber goaltender.
While saving money would be a big plus for the Coyotes, just Reimer obviously wouldn’t be enough to get Kuemper. Good news for the Canes again is that Carolina has another thing the Coyotes don’t: draft picks.
Arizona has been completely depleted of its high draft picks in the coming years. The Coyotes traded away this year’s first-round pick for Taylor Hall, and also traded this year’s third-round pick for Carl Soderberg.
The Coyotes lost even more picks after sanctions came in following Arizona violating combine scouting rules, which took away this year’s second-round pick and 2021’s first-round pick from the Coyotes. If a trade isn’t made, the Coyotes won’t pick until the fourth round in the upcoming draft and also won’t have a first-round pick next year.
The Canes could package a draft pick or two with Reimer to send to Arizona for Kuemper, helping the Coyotes take even a small step towards being able to build for the future. The Hurricanes have the 13th-overall pick in 2020, as well as two second-round selections.
Reimer and the first-round pick, or Reimer and a package of multiple later picks, could potentially be enough to get Kuemper to Raleigh.
As with any deal, there’s downsides to look at for Carolina. First and foremost is the fact that goaltending is as unpredictable as anything in hockey, and there’s no guarantee that Kuemper would have success in Raleigh. There’s no need to remind Hurricanes’ fans of how poorly trading for goaltenders can go.
Kuemper has been great throughout his career, but goaltending really is such a fickle thing. There’s also some injury issues that are concerning with Kuemper, though nothing that would sound too many alarms.
The much bigger downside to consider is having to part ways with draft picks, particularly if it means giving away this year’s 13th-overall pick. Russian goaltending prospect Yaroslav Askarov has been the choice for Carolina on most mock drafts, and trading away a 2020 first-round pick would be trading away a potential future with Askarov, who by all accounts will be a successful NHL goalie.
Kuemper’s contract is up in two years, while getting a guy like Askarov into the mix could set up the Hurricanes between the pipes for years to come. In an ideal world, the Canes could try to get Arizona to make the deal with a pair of second-round picks instead of the first-round selection, setting up a situation where Carolina could get two years out of Kuemper before moving onto Askarov.
There’s obviously also no guarantee that Askarov will be available for the Canes at 13, which is something else entirely to consider.
The Canes are ready to compete for a Stanley Cup. There’s no questioning that. A big missing piece is a surefire starter in the net, and Kuemper would fill that need right away.
Carolina can afford to take Kuemper’s contract on, and trading away Reimer is a non-issue if it means bringing in a better goalie. The loss of draft picks would sting, but at the end of the day Kuemper would make the Canes a legitimate championship contender.
Again, in an ideal world the Canes could convince the Coyotes to send Kuemper to Raleigh in exchange for Reimer and a package of later picks (or even 2021’s first-round selection), which would let the Hurricanes go get Askarov as well.
But, even if the deal is Reimer and this year’s 13th-overall pick for Kuemper, it’s one that the Canes should take. The money, the pieces, everything makes sense for this one.