Josh Harding Injured Already: Out Months

Training camp is set to open Thursday, with players taking the ice for the first time on Friday, and the Minnesota Wild are already down a goaltender. Josh Harding has been sidelined with an ankle injury, according to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune.

General manager Chuck Fletcher said in the summer that he was optimistic about the goaltending situation with both Harding and Niklas Backstrom entering camp healthy. How quickly things change. Harding has been playing at captain’s practice recently and performing well recently, but has been absent the last two practices.

Russo reports that today the team was “totally caught off guard…when Harding limped into the trainer’s room.” There’s no report yet as to the severity of the injury or how long Harding will be out, but Russo reports that “it’s expected to be awhile.”

Fletcher is on his way back to St. Paul with the Wild concluding their time at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament today. Wild brass are expected to meet with Harding and possibly make a statement regarding Harding’s health following Fletcher’s return.

We were getting ready to post about Darcy Kuemper‘s ongoing contract negotiations and yesterday’s news on that story when this news broke. This certainly has large implications on Kuemper’s negotiations.

Many reports early on in the negotiating process stated that Kuemper and his agent were asking for big money. It then came out that the schism was largely over the fact that Kuemper’s agent wanted a one-year, one-way deal and the Wild were offering a two-year contract that was two-way in the first year and one-way in the second. One can assume that the Wild’s offer was based on having both Harding and Backstrom under contract this season, with Harding’s coming up at the end of the year, making a one-way deal for Kuemper more plausible.

However, yesterday TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that while the term and length disagreement was correct, Keumper’s agent is only asking for $850,000, a pretty reasonable price for a goaltender with Kuemper’s potential.

It’s a reasonable price for a NHL goaltender like Kuemper, but if he were to spend the season in the AHL, that’s a lot of money for an AHL netminder on a one-year deal.

It’s also frequently noted that Kuemper does not have to clear waivers if he’s sent from the NHL to the minors. It’s worth noting, from the Wild’s end, that if they do need Kuemper and he plays 14 games, that waiver exemption disappears and he would need to clear waivers in order to be sent back down to the minors. So, even if he signs on a two-way, if he earns the starting job he’s only 14 games from a de facto one-way contract.

Though if Kuemper is going miss the start of camp and the two parties can’t come together (or if Kuemper decides to head to the KHL) there’s always Ilya Bryzgalov, who has expressed interest in returning to Minnesota. Tomas Vokoun (said to be healthy again), Tim Thomas, Martin Brodeur, and for Stars minor leaguer Christopher Nilstorp are also still free agents.

While speculation about Bryzgalov and others may start to run wild the next few days, it would seem that the obvious answer is to just lock in Darcy Kuemper. The discussion of Bryzgalov is fun, but the team has a RFA goaltender that they want to give a chance and hope to keep as a part of the team for the long time. Why would they sign anyone whose name isn’t Darcy Kuemper?

There are few teams that are able to create the goaltending drama that has plagued the Wild in recent seasons. The loss of Harding is a huge blow before the start of the season, with Harding coming off a great performance through a career-high 29 games last season. He was thought of as many as the tender who would come out of camp as the starter.

There are some good quotes in the Star Tribune article from a recent interview with Harding as well.

Update: 09/17/14 12:34pm
Russo has posted a lengthy update on the situation with some angry quotes from Mike Yeo and the revelation that “there was apparently some kind of incident or altercation with a teammate” that was the cause of Harding’s injury.

Here are a couple of choice quotes from that article.
Yeo:
“We’ve gone from talking about three goalies to sitting here talking about one (Backstrom). I put on the cool face last year pretending we weren’t frustrated about [our goaltending issues], but we’re not even Day One into camp and we’re already talking about it.”

“I think Backy deserves our full attention right now. Things could change obviously as early as today, but right now he’s the guy who’s here, he’s the guy who’s putting in the work. He’s the guy who put in the work over the summer, but again, things could change, but he’s looked good and he’s the guy who is here.”

Yeo on Kuemper:
“I’m very frustrated about that to be honest with you. We’re doing what we can here. I understand that there’s both sides to this, but I’m looking at it from our team standpoint, and there’s a very good opportunity there for someone like Kuemps to come in and really prove that he can be a fulltime NHL goalie.”

Niklas Backstrom and John Curry were the goaltenders at captain’s practice today.

Update: September 17, 3:47pm

TSN’s Bob McKenzie is reporting that Harding is likely to be out for months, not weeks.

Update: September 17, 4:39pm
Russo is reporting that a Bryzgalov tryout is in the works.

Updated: September 17, 5:25pm
The Minnesota Wild have posted a very verbose press release on the Harding situation. I would summarize it, but it’s only 35 words, so you can have it all:

The Minnesota Wild announced today that goaltender Josh Harding suffered a fractured right foot in an off-ice incident on Sept. 14, 2014. He will not need surgery to repair the fracture and is out indefinitely.