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Sharks reportedly showing interest in goaltender Darcy Kuemper

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The 30-year-old would be an upgrade to either of San Jose’s netminders.

Goaltender Darcy Kuemper #35 of the Arizona Coyotes sorts his equipment before the first period of Game Four of the Western Conference First Round of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff between the Colorado Avalanche and the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Place on August 17, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

If the Sharks are going to make a turnaround quickly, it’s obvious that a change needs to happen in net. For the last few seasons, they’ve made it clear that Martin Jones is still their guy, but the 2020 season started to see that change in a post-Pete DeBoer (and perhaps most importantly, a post-Johan Hedberg) era Sharks goal-crease.

With more games under his belt, and the beloved Evgeni Nabokov taking over from Hedberg as the goaltending coach, Aaron Dell showed that there might still be a bit of fire in the man who was once the World’s Okay-est Goalie. But Jones’ contract — $5.75 million average annual value and a modified no-trade clause through 2024 — and frankly, the decline in his play, make him a harder asset to move, leaving the Sharks without a lot of good options moving forward.

A final wrench in the plan is what the organization intends to do with Nabokov in the future and whether there’s more value in him developing players or getting the best out of the team’s NHL goaltenders. As the Mercury News noted in March, promoting the Barracuda coaching staff midseason had an obvious effect for both teams, and that’s weighted in the goaltending conversation too.

Luckily, Doug Wilson is a known tire-kicker. In this week’s 31 Thoughts blog, Elliotte Friedman notes that San Jose was one of several teams asking about Arizona Coyotes goaltender, Darcy Kuemper. He also lists Calgary, Carolina, Chicago and Edmonton among the 30-year-old’s suitors.

I’ve personally been a long-time fan of Kuemper and thought he was underrated in his years with Minnesota. Even as someone who has kept an eye on him, I was a little shocked when I looked into just how much of an upgrade Kuemper would be in net for the Sharks.

To first illustrate the point, here’s a quick breakdown of a few key goaltending stats for all three goaltenders from the 2017-18 season through the 2019-20 regular seasons, at all strengths (data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick).

Goaltenders, 2017-2020

Player Games Played Save % Goals Against xGoals Against Goals Against Avg Goals Saved Above Average High Danger SV%
Player Games Played Save % Goals Against xGoals Against Goals Against Avg Goals Saved Above Average High Danger SV%
Aaron Dell 87 0.903 229 201.97 2.94 0.21 0.796
Martin Jones 163 0.903 439 398.73 2.82 -0.21 0.817
Darcy Kuemper 113 0.924 258 272.52 2.34 47.07 0.841
Data courtesy Natural Stat Trick

Now it’s worth noting that Kuemper’s career falls somewhere between both Dell and Jones. Jones has been the starter in San Jose over those three years of data, while Dell has been his back-up. Kuemper started this data set as a back-up with the Los Angeles Kings, before injuries forced him to a starting role with the Arizona Coyotes.

He has still consistently out-performed both Sharks netminders in that time.

The next thing I looked at was this visualization of the 2019-20 season by Micah Blake McCurdy that shows the shots all three goaltenders faced last season:

HockeyViz
HockeyViz
HockeyViz

(Quick programming note that these are behind a Patreon paywall — help support the work he does if you find these things useful when you read them. It’s totally worth the subscription.)

There isn’t a shot type where Kuemper isn’t an instant upgrade between the Sharks’ pipes. Most importantly, he regularly and consistently allows fewer goals than expected, something neither Sharks goaltender can say of their last season, much less their career.

It’s worth noting that the Kuemper discussion does come up amid a bit of an overhaul in Arizona. Friedman lays out a laundry list of financial problems the club has been dealing with, but new general manager Bill Armstrong at least says that he’s come in prepared.

He spent the last two seasons as the assistant GM and director of scouting for the St. Louis Blues, who haven’t traded with the Sharks since the 2007 NHL Entry Draft when they swapped picks to allow the Sharks to draft Logan Couture. All I’m saying is that Armstrong hasn’t been swindled by Wilson yet, so maybe there’s a chance?

Kuemper signed a two-year, $4.5 million AAV contract with the Coyotes in October 2019. Aaron Dell will become an unrestricted free agent in October. His last contract was two years at $1.9 million. Though the Sharks are estimated to have around $14 million in cap space, there are still a few pending free agents (namely, Kevin Labanc and Joe Thornton are the top of the list of “likely to return”) and upgrades needed in the front of the roster, as well.

Then comes the issue of what San Jose has to offer Arizona in exchange, which feels like very little. If nothing else, this might become something to keep an eye on at the draft, where surprise leverage can often be found.