With only two restricted free agents left to sign — Darcy Kuemper and Nino Niederreiter — it appears as though Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher may have his work cut out for him making at least one of the deals happen before training camp opens.
Talks with goaltender Darcy Kuemper’s agent have stalled, according to the Star Tribune. Talks have been slow and since Kuemper did not file for arbitration in July — as the Wild presumed he would — the threat of a hold out appears to be on the table.
Kuemper’s agent has repeatedly been reported as a difficult negotiator — Michael Russo refers to his last contract negotiation for an entry-level deal as a “chore” — and with the threat of a hold out from camp, it looks as if he hasn’t gotten any easier to negotiate with. Though that’s not to say that he’s a bad person or worthy of scorn, his job is in fact to get the best deal he can for his client. Kuemper’s three-year entry-level deal had an AAV of $900,000 with a $776,667 cap hit if Kuemper played in the NHL. The deal started at $690,000 in the first year, $740,000 in the second, and $900,000 last season, according to Cap Geek. His AHL salary was $67,500 each year.
Kuemper and his agent may have Minnesota against the ropes. It’s clear that the Wild are in a tough spot with the aging and injured Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, who has health concerns of his own, on one-way contracts. Despite Harding being brilliant between the pipes last season, both goaltenders missed significant time, requiring the team to also suit up Kuemper, Ilya Bryzgalov, John Curry, and two others who didn’t see game action. From a quick glance, the team’s only hope for stability is to bring Kuemper back and plan on carrying three goaltenders for at least part of the season, as Fletcher has previously stated he’s willing to do.
In an interview with the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo on KFAN, GM Chuck Fletcher said, per the Star Tribune article, “We haven’t had as much time on Kuemper’s file I think in part because we thought he may have filed for arbitration and then he didn’t so we thought that would be a scenario where we would prepare to go to arbitration and have a chance to have several conversations over a short period of time and when that didn’t come to pass, it sort of slowed down a little bit. We will see.” So that explains the amount of time it’s taken to get the Kuemper deal done, to some extent.
Kuemper bailed the team out in January when Harding went out for the season after an adjustment to his medication to treat MS and Backstrom was in and out with “core” injuries until the team shut him down after acquiring Bryzgalov at the trade deadline. Kuemper went 12-8-4 with a 2.43 GAA and .915 save percentage, though he missed time twice for concussion issues.
Despite those solid stats, Fletcher clearly doesn’t feel that Kuemper has had the sample size to assert that he’s a starting goalie worthy of a big contract. He told Russo, “Darcy certainly has great potential and played very well in stretches for us this season, but at the end of the day I think he’s played around 30 games in the NHL. Usually this isn’t the time to fight for the big contract. We feel Darcy right now is trying to establish himself in the league and once he does that it’ll be a little simpler to come up with terms.”
The Wild will likely start the season, pending the health of Backstrom and Harding, with the two veterans in net, but it’s anyone’s guess how the goaltending carousel in Minnesota will work this season, but one thing is for sure: the instability in net is one of the major hurdles to be cleared before the Wild can truly be said to be a Stanley Cup contender.