Goaltending is Wild’s biggest question heading into offseason
There are few certainties when it comes to the goaltending position for the Wild heading into the offseason.
Minnesota, at least, has experience in maneuvering the game’s vital position.
The latest transition led the Wild to Devan Dubnyk in January and the 6-foot-6, former first-round draft pick helped Minnesota to the playoffs. One known aspect is Dubnyk and the Wild hope to reunite on a long-term contract. Meanwhile, Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom are also under contract for next season.
"We’ll have to go through all that now and sit down and talk to all of them," Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "Get a sense once we get into the talks with Devan’s agent what the reality of the situation is and then we can go from there."
The Wild went through the second half of the season with three goaltenders, but going forward with two goaltenders on the roster would ease any kind of roster crunch at the other positions.
Dubnyk, 29, shined for Minnesota, becoming a finalist for the Vezina Trophy given to the league’s top goaltender. After the fateful Jan. 14 trade from Arizona, Dubnyk started a franchise-record 38 straight games for the Wild at one point and went 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and five shutouts.
Dubnyk, an unrestricted free agent, enjoyed his time and saw the perfect scenario of team and goaltender come together after a tumultuous 2013-14 season had him traded twice.
"I think there’s no hiding that this has been a great place for me and I’d certainly like to be here," Dubnyk said at the end of the season. "This is the first time I’ve been through this situation, so I’ll relax and let the other people do the work. But as I’ve said many times, there’s no reason why I wouldn’t want to be here, it’s been a lot of fun for me and definitely the most fun I’ve had in my career."
In the playoffs, Dubnyk went 4-6 with a 2.53 goals-against average and .908 save percentage, but Minnesota wouldn’t have been in the postseason without his work down the stretch.
"I think he knows what we have here," Fletcher said. "We were a good fit for him, and I think he was obviously a good fit for us. Usually these things take care of themselves, but ultimately he’ll have the final say, and we’ll do what we can within the parameters of the salary cap to keep him here."
Kuemper and Backstrom alternated as backups, sitting on the bench each game as Dubnyk went on his remarkable second-half run. Kuemper started in the second-to-last game of the season, providing the only break for Dubnyk after the Wild had clinched a playoff spot.
But Kuemper, 25, started the season as the team’s top goaltender after his own strong second half the previous season. He posted a shutout in three of his first four games and looked to finally settle a position that has underdone plenty of transition over the years.
Kuemper eventually struggled and finished with a 14-12-2 record, 2.60 goals-against average and .905 save percentage. He stopped 32 of 34 shots in a win at Nashville in his final start. Kuemper has one more season before the original sixth-round draft pick in 2009 becomes a restricted free agent.
"We don’t even know what our goaltenders will be at this point, so I don’t have any concerns right now because we have to see where he’ll fit and who will be around and how training camp goes," Fletcher said of Kuemper. "Things happen so quickly. Whatever you think our situation will be next year, from what I’ve seen the last five or six years, it always changes. So we’ll make decisions and come back with the tandem, or trio, as the case may be, that gives us the best chance."
Kuemper likely is seen as the complement if Dubnyk returns, which leaves Backstrom’s status up in the air.
Backstrom, 37, was limited to 19 games this past season. He was 5-7-3 with career-worsts of a 3.04 goals-against average and .887 save percentage. Backstrom, who last played on Jan. 13, has one more season remaining on his contract at $4 million.
"I’ll sit down and talk to him at the end here," Fletcher said. "We don’t have a lot of goalies signed for next year, but he’s one of them, so we’ll sit down and take a look at the overall picture and see what makes sense."
Josh Harding, who missed all of last season and is dealing with multiple sclerosis, is a free agent and is expected to retire.
Asked if one goaltender will need to go before next season, Fletcher wasn’t ready to make any decisions.
"We’ll just take it one step at a time and anything could happen now," Fletcher said. "Some scenarios might be more likely than others, but anything can happen now at this point. We’ll have to go down and have some conversations and let a few days go by, let everything subside, some of the emotion, and we can go from there."
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