The Minnesota Wild’s offseason has officially begun and already as anticipated there is a lot to talk about, to include a possible trade of goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher held a press conference yesterday where he addressed many of the team’s different needs and priorities heading into this offseason. Possible personnel changes were as expected among the most heavily discussed topics. Surprisingly Fletcher offered some very telling information of specific players and his plans for them going forward.
One of the most important comments made was in regards to goaltender Darcy Kuemper and his future with the club. Kuemper a talented, but at often times underachieving young back-up netminder is a RFA his offseason, a UFA next season, and is due a bump in pay in his current $1.25M per season contract. Fletcher recognizing Kuemper’s contract realities, decided to make it on the record that he will examine and perhaps pursue a trade for the 25-year-old backstop.
Fletcher says its way premature deciding if he buys out Vanek and admits he'll investigate trade value of Kuemper #mnwild
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) April 28, 2016
Kuemper’s trade value is huge. He has proven to be a quality back-up with enough potential to maybe fleet up to starter with a little more seasoning. With other positional priorities, Fletcher has decided to leverage Kuemper to try and retool the team elsewhere. Still with the news being fresh, one is left wondering if moving Kuemper is the right move for the Wild.
Cap Room is Tight
As mentioned previously Kuemper is an impending RFA this season with who will be looking for a bit of a bump in pay. Going into free agency the Wild will have about roughly $12M in cap space to sign players heading into the offseason. With other players like Dumba, Zucker, Carter, Porter, and Jones looking to re-sign with the club one has to wonder how far that projected $12 million will go and if Kuemper should eat into possibly up to $2M of it.
What’s Best for Darcy
In addition to money aspect of re-signing Kuemper, Fletcher spoke about the need to help Kuemper continue to develop further in his career. Michael Russo in the Star Tribune quoted Fletcher as saying “If there’s a deal that makes sense for us and allows him to get a better opportunity, I think that would be good for both of us.”
With Devan Dubnyk singing a 6-year contract last offseason many have already seen the writing on the wall that Kuemper will not have a chance to compete to be the Wild’s everyday number one starter. At the age of 25 he has plenty of time to catch on with another club and possibly become a starter. Fletcher later explains that “ from Darcy’s standpoint, he’s been patient, he was a great teammate this year, so if there’s something that allows him to get in an expanded role and we can get a good asset or a good player, then I’ll definitely consider that.”
Who Would be the Back-Up If Kuemper Leaves?
Right now beyond Dubnyk and Kuemper, the Wild find themselves a bit strapped for NHL caliber goaltending in the organization. In Iowa the Wild currently have Leland Irving and Steve Michalek on their goaltending depth chart.
Irving is a former first round pick (26th overall) by the Calgary Flames, but has struggled to live up to his first round pedigree as he has only played 13 NHL games with only three wins. Michalek, a product of Harvard, is considered to be an up and coming talent, but needs more time to mature as he has only played 14 AHL games and really not even close to being ready for semi-regular NHL action.
So with no real replacement the Wild should be cautious to trade Kuemper. If they do trade him they should look to get a NHL ready back-up somewhere in return, or seek to fill that hole in free agency. Fletcher does explain in his interview that “I also have no problem bringing him back. You probably are aware that we’ve had some goaltending difficulties the last few years with injuries and illnesses and crazy things. We definitely want to have two good goalies.”
Chance to Recapitalize Kuemper’s Salary
In the salary cap era it goes without saying that every penny counts. Kuemper’s current $1.25M cap hit really counts and could be used to ensure some players who might not be able to stay can, or that a new fresh infusion can be brought into the Wild’s locker room.
So substantial is Kuemper’s salary that it alone could be used to re-sign both Ryan Carter and Chris Porter, or perhaps cover the cost of re-signing either Jason Zucker or possibly Mathew Dumba. On the open market the Wild could easily use his salary to sign needed players like Patrick Eaves, Viktor Stalberg, or Matt Martin just to name a few.
Fletcher: "we have much more flexibility" than last summer to upgrade talent on roster #mnwild
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) April 28, 2016
At the end of the day trading Kuemper may not be the number one priority for the Wild, but it certainly is an easy change that can be made to make both parties happier this offseason. Chuck Fletcher certainly has made it clear though that he wants the right return for Kuemper or he won’t move him at all. Still what he’s accomplished by doing this is two huge things. First he’s shown the rest of the league that he’ll entertain offers for Kuemper, and second he’s sending the message to the fans, media, and ownership that he actually has a specific plan this offseason to make the team better.
That’s an important message for a GM needs results, despite any public endorsement by the owner. Afterall we saw how far a public endorsement got Mike Yeo.
Danny Lambert has been covering the Minnesota Wild for some time now, and is back again as contributor to THW staff. A native Minnesotan he’s always had his eye on the State of Hockey and is proud to write and represent such a great market and fans. Follow him on Twitter at @dannylambert17