Darcy Kuemper is excited & motivated to return to “a team that I loved playing for so much”

One typically takes a shower to clean themselves.

For Darcy Kuemper, it also happened to turn into a clean start.

The trade came quickly on Wednesday, with the Kings and Capitals turning talks that began a couple of weeks prior into a 1-for-1 swap that took over the hockey news cycle in between Games 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. For Kuemper, he was taking what he thought was a routine shower when his wife came in to let him know he had been traded to the Kings.

“It was a very strange way to find out,” he said with a smile. “It was a lot to process, but we’re both really excited for the move. We’ve got some logistical stuff to figure out, but for the hockey stuff, we’re super excited.”

The logistical side, the business side of the job is never easy.

You don’t sign a five-year contract expecting to leave after two, as was ultimately the case for Kuemper in Washington.

A strong season in 2022-23 and what he described as a “tough” season in 2023-24. Then, a logical fit was determined with the Kings, who were looking to move on from forward Pierre-Luc Dubois and needed a goaltender to complement David Rittich. A swap seemed to make sense for both sides but the quickness of the execution creates those types of logistical issues to sort out for players. Thankfully for Kuemper, he’s coming back to a place from where he has fond memories, from his short stint in Los Angeles back in the 2017-18 season. That makes it easier than with most moves.

“It’s definitely a lot easier just knowing the area and most importantly just knowing the team, knowing a lot of the staff members makes it a lot easier, just feeling at home right away,” Kuemper described during his first media availability back with the Kings earlier today. “It’s tough going to a new team where you’re trying to get to know the area, get to know everyone and work all at the same time, so, this will be an easy transition and we’re really excited.”

While Kuemper broke into the NHL with the Minnesota, it was his partial season in Los Angeles that saw him really emerge as a starting option in the NHL.

Unfortunately for him, that opportunity wasn’t available at the time with the Kings, as Jonathan Quick was in the midst of one of the strongest seasons of his career. There was Kuemper, though, with a .932 save percentage as he lost just once in regulation in his 19 appearances with Los Angeles. He ultimately found his chance to start in Arizona and became the goaltender he knew he could be there. There was a part of Kuemper that wished it could have been with the Kings.

Perhaps now it can be.

“I loved my time there, it was only for one season, it was hard to move on, but that was just the reality of the situation,” Kuemper said. “I wanted to be able to play a bigger role that wasn’t available at the time with LA. Things have gone really well since then and now I’m excited that I get the opportunity to come back and fill that role for a team that I loved playing for so much.”

Kuemper understands that his assignment in Los Angeles isn’t guaranteed to be that of a defined starter. He understands that the game is trending away from that throughout the regular season and more into a tandem situations in most places, considering the physical demands that 82 games bring to a goaltender.

“I think it’s a lot tougher for guys to go out there and play 60-plus games a year,” he said.

He will likely partner David Rittich in a tandem this season with the Kings. Rittich is not a young guy by any stretch but Kuemper is the more-experienced of the two. He won the Stanley Cup in Colorado two seasons ago as the lead guy and he brings that winning pedigree with him to the Kings now. He’s looking to bring his experience and his game to Southern California and do his best to help the Kings achieve their goals of winning and progressing forward as a franchise.

“I believe that I can come in and be a stabilizing force in the net and provide the goaltending that the team needs,” he said. “Obviously I have that experience from winning a cup just a few years ago and once you get a taste of that, you want to do it again. I believe that I’m getting an opportunity to join a team that’s capable of winning a cup. I just want to come in and provide stable goaltending and do my part to help them achieve that.”

I’d almost break that experience into two buckets.

Part one is that this guy has been through it before, in the playoffs, and come out the other side with a ring. Not eveyone has what it takes to climb the mountain but Kuemper is someone who has done it.

“You learn so much about yourself and what it takes as a team to achieve that goal,” Kuemper said of the 2022 cup run. “Obviously there’s so many good teams every year and only one gets to win and it truly takes something special. You just learn what it takes to have that kind of success, whether it’s within you or with the team build. It truly is one of the greatest moments of your life. I’m so blessed that I had the chance to go through those and I learned a lot about myself, learned a lot about the guys that I was playing with. That’s an experience that’s really invaluable and I just want to be able to do it again.”

The other part of leaning on that experience will be drawing from his performance last year and coming back stronger here this year. Kuemper posted his worst numbers, statistically speaking, since he entered the NHL. He wound up working through a couple of injuries and ultimately lost the starting job in Washington.

He didn’t shy away from a challenging season. In fact, he actually seemed pretty motivated to make last season the one-off, not the norm. His body of work for several seasons going in was at a high level. He was a professional through the changes in Washington but he’s fired up and ready to deliver with the Kings this season.

“Hockey wise, it was really tough, it was really frustrating at times,” Kuemper said. “I just kept working through it and although I didn’t get to play a lot, I came to work every day, worked on my game and I’m looking forward to the fresh start next year and just getting back to the playing how I like to play, proving that last year was just a one off and getting a bunch of wins and helping the team.”

Loved the phrase “proving that last year was just a one off.”

Talk is cheap, until it’s put into practice, so time will tell, but it’s certainly a positive to get getting a guy who is excited to return to Los Angeles, values playing here and is determined and motivated to have a bounceback season. Here’s to hoping that, banking on those elements of his character, as Rob Blake mentioned on Wednesday, that the Kings made the right choice in rounding out their goaltending tandem.

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