GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes are eager to see Darcy Kuemper in goal for them for the first time because after all, they think he’s the kind of player they can build around for the future.
“He’s at that age where, at 27, where is he going to go with this?” coach Rick Tocchet said in advance of Kuemper’s start against the Vancouver Canucks at Gila River Arena on Sunday night. “I think he’s a great goalie, from what I’ve seen of him this year.”
The question, too, is where does starting goaltender Antti Raanta go now that the Coyotes have added Kuemper in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings? Does Raanta go back to being the Coyotes’ starter next season or — as a free agent — does he find a second new NHL home in as many seasons?
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Coyotes general manager John Chayka said the team will try to re-sign Raanta, who has had several stretches of extended strong play this season despite having a succession of early season injuries that helped doom the Coyotes (18-33-10) to a terrible start.
Raanta was acquired from the New York Rangers last year after longtime starting goaltender Mike Smith was dealt to Calgary.
Now, the final quarter of the season may give the Coyotes an idea of what direction they’ll want to go in net next season. Kuemper already has signed a two-year contract extension worth about $1.4 million per season, meaning the Coyotes must commit considerable salary cap dollars to a single position if they want to bring back Raanta.
“I’m very happy because (they’re) showing a lot of commitment to me and a lot of confidence in me,” said Kuemper, who was 10-1-3 with a 2.10 goals-against average with Los Angeles. “I’m glad to be here and glad to be here for a couple of more years. I’m excited to contribute to this up-and-coming team.”
After beating the Anaheim Ducks 2-0 on Saturday night, Raanta (13-15-6) has two shutouts in his last three starts and five wins in his last six decisions. His 26-save performance was a strong bounce back from a 5-2 loss to Calgary on Thursday night.
“Good goalies after a tough start want to get back in there,” Tocchet said. “Obviously, he shut the door. He played great.”
Vancouver (23-31-7), which is ahead of only the Coyotes in the Pacific Division, has lost four of five and eight of 10 following a 6-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday.
The Canucks’ lack of consistency is beginning to frustrate coach Travis Green, who saw his team play two solid periods in Vegas — the first and third — only to unravel as the Golden Knights scored all three goals of the second period.
“It’s definitely frustrating. I’m not happy with the loss,” Green said. “With our team speed, we have to make sure we’re pushing the pace all the time. We looked fast for two periods, but for one period we didn’t.”
Still, left wing Daniel Sedin is seeing improvement as the NHL season begins to wind down — one that almost assuredly won’t include the Canucks in the playoffs.
“It’s one thing now (that goes wrong), not three or four,” Sedin said. “It’s easier to pinpoint and fix.”
Remarkably, the Canucks and Coyotes compete in the same division, yet they haven’t played all season. That’s about to change, with four meetings in the final 21 games, including March 7 in Vancouver.
Kuemper is expected to face Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom (16-20-0, 2.76 goals-against average).
Vancouver, which is 13-8-0-5 at Gila River Arena, is led in scoring by forwards Brock Boeser (27 goals, 51 points) and Thomas Vanek (17 goals, 41 points).
Rookie center Clayton Keller (17 goals, 44 points) remains the only Coyotes player with more than 40 points. Defenseman Kevin Connauton has five goals in his last 11 games.