Josh Harding is hurt. Again. Wow. What a shocker. Some sources say he has a broken ankle, others say it’s a foot, either way a goalie with a bad wheel and MS isn’t exactly a guy you can lean on. Harding didn’t even break the foot at camp, because camp hasn’t started yet. He didn’t break it during conditioning for the coming season, either. He broke it during an “altercation with another teammate,” Uh. Yikes. If by “altercation with another teammate” they mean he kicked the wall afterwards and broke his foot, then yeah, I suppose that counts. TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted that Harding’s injury is “significant” that he’s likely out for “months, not weeks” and is currently rocking “a boot and crutches.” Even for Harding, a guy with a long history of injuries I didn’t really expect to make more than 40 starts this season, this is really a boneheaded move. How many games Harding gets into this season is so up in the air I’m not even going to try and project it, suffice it to say he’s not worth drafting right now. If you already drafted and had the bad luck of picking Harding go ahead and stash him on IR, but do so expecting that he won’t do much for you this season. At any rate, all this begs the question, who tends net for the Wild in 2015?
Currently just one man, Niklas Backstrom. Given his own injury history and his age (36) you can expect that Backstrom isn’t going to stay healthy for a full season either. Honestly, I think the Wild would be foolish to roll him out there for 60 games even if he could survive the work load. Ah but there’s light at the end of the tunnel in the form of Darcy Kuemper, your new hot goaltending commodity, right? RIGHT?! Wrong. Here’s where it gets sticky for Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher. Kuemper wants playing time and behind Harding and Backstrom he wasn’t going to get it (problem solved!). The Wild are painfully aware how important goalie depth is, so they offered Kuemper a two-year, two-way deal that would allow the Wild to send him down to the AHL without passing through waivers so long he has played fewer than 14 games to that point in the season. You can see the recipe Fletcher and the Wild were trying to cook up; Split time between Harding and Backstrom to keep them both healthy and stash Darcy in the minors just in case. Well, that doesn’t jive well with Kuemper’s desire to play, so he’s threatening to sign with the KHL who would be happy to throw both tons o’ cash and tons o’ TOI at the kid. Everyone know’s the KHL is mostly bunk, though, and the real show is the NHL. With Harding down the leverage for Kuemper just shot through the roof, but who knows what the Wild will do? Martin Brodeur, Tim Thomas, Tomas Vokoun and Ilya Bryzgalov are all options on the market for Fletcher to consider and apparently he’s already been in contact with Breezy who has agreed to a tryout and arrived in St. Paul today, so he would seem like the leading candidate to get signed if Fletch can’t ink Darcy.
For now the best thing you can do is avoid this situation all together. Don’t draft Harding, draft Backstrom as your third or fourth goalie in deep leagues at best, and keep a close eye on Kuemper’s contract dispute as it may resolve itself in short order now that Fletcher is basically over a barrel and Kuemper isn’t asking for the moon. Of all the options Fletch has to consider, Kuemper is definitely the best for the Wild this season and moving forward. The moment he signs he’s going to be the man for the Wild one way or the other, and if he gets a decent amount of starts, he’s in for a stellar season. More updates as the situation develops, y’all! UPDATE: Fletch Flinches, Signs Darcy Kuemper To Two-Year Deal