Less than 24 hours after Josh Harding lost an epic battle with a wall after getting into tizzy with one of his teammates the Minnesota Wild ended a brief contract dispute with sophomore netminder Darcy Kuemper signing him to the two-year, one-way deal worth $2.5 million ($1.25 AAV) he originally asked for. I’m still reading mixed reports on whether it’s Harding’s ankle or his foot that he broke, but what is being consistently reported is it that Harding is out for months and, to make matters worse for Josh, he was suspended by the team yesterday for injuring himself in a non-hockey related activity. Apparently kicking walls is a non-hockey related activity? Who knew? Frankly I think wall kickin’ should replace the shootout. Everyone lines up and kicks the wall and whichever team has fewer broken feet (or ankles!) wins! Now that’s what I call action! At any rate, there’s no word on how long Harding be suspended, or whether the suspension will kick in immediately or when he’s healthy, but one can assume that if and when Harding does get healthy again it’s in the Wild’s best interests to get him out there as soon as possible. In the meantime, there’s upside here for fantasy owners errywheres, because Kuemper is now locked in as backup to Niklas Backstrom to start the season, but that may change quickly enough as the season gets underway.
When news broke of Harding’s, uh, tough break, I told you to avoid this situation because it was pretty murky, but the waters are clearing quickly now. Barring some miraculous start to the season by Backstrom It’s only a matter of time before this situation evolves into a 1A/1B committee and, when Backstom inevitably falls to injury, the starting job will fall to Kuemps. Harding will come back eventually, but not before Kuemper gets a chance to shine. I don’t expect Kuemper to evolve this quickly into a premier starter but he’s going to be one of the better mid-tier options so long as he gets the starts. Last season Kuemps posted a season line of 12-8-4, 2.43 GAA, .915 SV%, 1 SHO over 25 starts battling Ilya Bryzgalov for starts down the stretch. He was a tiny bit shaky at times in the post season but battled to post a line 3-1-0, 2.03 GAA, .913 SV% in four starts. The sample size is small but the lanky 6’5” Canadian should post solid numbers with a slight increase in starts this season. I’d happily draft him as a third goalie with upside. 2015 Predictions: 24-13-5, 2.40 GAA, .915 SV%, 3 SHO in 42 GP
Oh, and as for Breezy, there’s no word on what this does to his pro tryout. With Harding out indefinitely I assume the Wild will go through with the tryout and if he looks good he’ll be signed to a two-way deal and eventually be called up to back up Kuemper when Backstrom gets hurt. In any case, he’s is not worth drafting in any leagues for now.