It’s been something of a foregone conclusion thus far that the Minnesota Wild would re-sign goaltender Devan Dubnyk. They need a goaltender. Darcy Kuemper isn’t ready. Niklas Backstrom has probably played his last NHL game. Dubnyk has said repeatedly that he likes Minnesota and wants to work something out. General Manager Chuck Fletcher said at the end of the season that he’d like to work something out as well, which is saying a lot from a GM who does not complement players he’s about to start negotiations with.
It seems entirely likely that Dubnyk will return. He likes it in Minnesota. It’s a starting job. The heir apparent is a few years from being ready to be a full-time starter. The Wild defend well and tend to make goalies look good. (Something Fletcher said as well at his end-of-the-year press conference, positioning himself for negotiations.)
But if Dubnyk decides to go to test the market — his value has never been higher — what will the Wild do next season?
Solutions From WithinThat title is a misdirection, because there isn’t a good solution from within.
Kuemper showed last season that he still holds some promise, but isn’t ready for a starting job. His season resembled a Judd Apatow film in many ways: It started great, was a disaster in the middle bits, and ended fine, I guess, though I’d rather not see it again.
Backstrom was genuinely awful, at 88.6% he posted the worst 5-on-5 Sv% of any goaltender in the NHL who played at least nine games. He also had the worst high-danger Sv% (Sv%H) in the league at 73.1%.
If you start digging through the system, it gets worse. Johan Gustafsson was once thought to be ahead of Kuemper in the Wild’s system, but his first two seasons in North America were a disaster. It’s tough to sugarcoat it. He posted a 90.3% Sv% his first year in the AHL and a 89.3% this year. Gustafsson has already announced that he’ll be returning to the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) to play for Frolunda next season.
— Frölunda HC (@frolunda_hc) May 4, 2015
Then there’s John Curry, who is a free agent this summer. At 31-years old and out of the NHL for years, it’s surprising that he’s managed to play any games in the NHL over the last two seasons and while he did perform well, it’s a testament to the Wild’s goaltending issues that he got there at all. He’s not a part of the solution.
Josh Harding was a great story through the first half of the 2013-14 season, but multiple sclerosis has probably sidelined him permanently. He’s expected to announce his retirement this summer.
Brody Hoffman is going pro next year, an undrafted free agent signing out of the University of Vermont, and will play in Iowa. Harvard goaltender Steve Michalek is a Wild prospect, but isn’t going to the NHL. None of their other prospects — Alexandre Belanger and Kaapo Kahkonen — are likely to be playing pro hockey next season.
What Are the Other Options?
The two big names who were starting goaltenders last season are Dubnyk and the Sharks’ Antti Niemi. The short version: The Wild don’t have the cap space to spend what Niemi will cost.The only other free agent goaltender who was a starting goaltender for most of the season is Jhonas Enroth. Enroth isn’t a bad option. There are signs that he could handle a starting job on a competent team (something he hasn’t seen a lot of). But it will certainly give some GMs pause that his 90.3% all situation Sv% in Buffalo didn’t improve significantly when he moved to Dallas at the trade deadline. Dallas wasn’t exactly a great spot for a goaltender, allowing the 11th most high danger scoring chances against per 60 minutes of even strength play (HSCA/60). But Enroth’s 90.6% Sv% wasn’t enough of an improvement to convince anyone that any struggles he had were solely the result of playing for the Sabres.
There’s still a lot to like about Enroth’s game and he’s only 26. The issue here may be what Enroth is looking for. After playing six seasons in Buffalo, he may be looking for a team that can win and support him. The Wild gave up the fourth fewest HSCA/60 at 9.1 (NSH was tops at 8.8, DET and FLA tied for second with 9.0). But the Wild may not be willing to give the term he wants or the money he’ll probably get offered from another team.
That means the Wild would either need to make a trade or they’ll have to turn to a free agent goaltender who was not a starter last season.
The Next Tier
After those three, there’s a large group of guys he have been solid back-ups and are going to be UFAs. One of the top among them being Karri Ramo. Though, I would contend that he’s going to get overpaid based on his performance this season. He posted the best all situation Sv% of his career and played strong enough to steal seven playoff games from Jonas Hiller, the Flames’ starter. As you’ll see below, he doesn’t necessarily compare favorably to other options over a larger sample size.After him there’s Ray Emery, who will be 33 and posted a Sv% of 89.4% last season (91.3% when score adjusted at even strength). Or there’s Viktor Fasth, who will also be 33 and posted a score-adjusted even strength Sv% (SA-Sv%) of 88.6% last season and has a career SA-Sv% of 90.9%.
Then there’s Michal Neuvirth, Anders Lindback, Jonas Gustavsson, Thomas Greiss, and Dan Ellis. For performances reasons I’d cut Lindback out of consideration (despite an incredible end to his season), as well as Ellis. Gustavsson posted solid numbers last season in seven games, but that’s just seven games. He’ll be 31 at the start of the season and has a career SA-Sv% of 91.04%.
That leaves Neuvirth and Greiss. Both have had some good moments and are looking for a job with opportunities to prove themselves, however, with the Wild’s current goaltending situation, it’s not an exciting prospect to start the season with a tandem of Neuvirth/Kuemper or Greiss/Kuemper.
After that group there’s a batch of guys who are maybe of interest for the AHL, but aren’t NHL starters. That group includes Jason LaBarbera, Matt Hackett, David Leggio, Richard Bachmann, Curtis McElhinney, Mike McKenna, Joey MacDonald, Rob Zepp, and Scott Clemmensen.
Comparing The Options
Here are the numbers for the relevant goaltenders over the last three seasons. All save percentages are score-adjusted, even strength percentages. The column to the far right is score-adjusted save percentage on high-danger shots.
|Age on Nov 1, 2015||Game Played In||SA-Sv%||SA-Sv%H|
Here’s a look at the same group of goaltenders’ numbers since the 2005-06 season.
|Games||SA-Sv% Career (since 2005)||SA-Sv%H|
Dubnyk has the second highest Sv% and Sv%H over the last three years. He falls back a little if we’re looking at the numbers across the career of these players (since 2005-06 for any players who played prior to that season), but, importantly, he still has the second best Sv%H.
If There’s No Devan Dubnyk, Then…
The Wild are in rough shape. I’d say that Dubnyk is the best goaltender hitting free agency and that’s not just based on a remarkable performance this year. Greiss tends to finish at the top of most categories in this group, but he’s only played 51 games over the last three seasons. Someone should probably give him a shot at a starting job, but it makes the most sense for a team who is rebuilding to do that. (Buffalo? Edmonton? Calgary?)
The Wild are in a rough situation if their goaltender is not Dubnyk. Age makes Niemi a less appealing option. His high danger Sv% isn’t great comparatively, but the Wild have historically done a good job of limiting those opportunities, so Niemi could probably thrive in Minnesota, but he’s not a long-term solution and probably can’t work with their cap situation.
Enroth and Neuvirth are the next best options, but they may be hot commodities, which may place them outside of the Wild’s price range. They’re also a step down from Dubnyk.
The Wild need Dubnyk to sign. He’s the best option on the market, is in his prime, and should be a good goaltender for Kuemper to learn from with their similar build. This season was a great example of how important solid goaltending is and if they can’t get it from Dubnyk they may have to make a trade or take a risk on a less-tested netminder, which will greatly diminish their chances of making a run in the 2015-16 season.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.