The offseason is in full swing, and Wild fans are all pondering one question: What would GM Chuck Fletcher do to make the team better? Besides adding scoring depth, the Wild’s biggest concern was getting a better backup for Devan Dubnyk, allowing him to rest while still giving the team a chance to win.
Last season, the role belonged to Darcy Kuemper, but Alex Stalock was given a shot when Kuemper failed to meet expectations. Ultimately, both proved to be mediocre, and their performances left the Wild searching for someone more capable.
It hasn’t been easy to find the right fit. There were a lot of goaltenders available, but most were capable of taking on a starting role, something the Wild didn’t need, plus they would have commanded a lot of cash just to be a backup. They needed someone adequate and cheap who could post good numbers and play anywhere between 20-30 games, depending on how Dubnyk feels.
The market for backup goaltenders entering free agency was already thin, with many moves made prior to the opening. Solid backups like Mike Condon, Peter Budaj and Keith Kinkaid all signed extensions with their current teams. In addition, Eddie Lack was traded to the Calgary Flames while Chad Johnson returned to Buffalo on the opening day of free agency.
With all this in mind, the Wild went out and answered the backup question with emphasis last weekend. Minnesota let Darcy Kuemper walk, and he promptly signed a 1-year, $650,000 deal with the Los Angeles Kings. This solved the problem of which backup would earn the spot, leaving Stalock as the victor, albeit temporarily, because the Wild found their man a short while later.
As free agency opened, the team announced the signing of former Boston Bruins backup Niklas Svedberg on a 1-year, $700,000 contract. The Swedish goaltender most recently played for Salavet Yulaev Ufa of the KHL, which happens to be the former team of Wild stud prospect Kirill Kaprizov.
By The Numbers
Svedberg is the perfect candidate for the job. He boasts NHL experience, decent stats and a very cap-friendly contract. In his NHL career, Svedberg has posted an 8-5-1 record with a 2.31 GAA, a .920 SV% and two shutouts in 19 career NHL games.
Svedberg began his NHL career in 2012 when he was signed as a free agent out of Brynas of the Swedish Elite League by the Boston Bruins. He started with the AHL’s Providence Bruins, where he managed to play well in his 48 appearances, posting a record of 37-8-2 with a 2.17 GAA and a .925 save percentage.
He didn’t make his NHL debut for the Bruins until a year later in January 2013, when he played a home game against the Nashville Predators and earned a 3-2 victory. This was his only appearance that season, and he spent the rest of the year in Providence. In his second year, his stats dipped; he ended the year with a 25-15-4 record along with a 2.63 GAA and .910 save percentage.
In 2013-14 he played in 18 NHL games as Tuuka Rask’s backup, with a .918 save percentage and seven wins. His last two seasons were spent in the KHL, where his play was up and down. His first season was solid; he posted a 29-19-3 record with a 2.37 GAA, a .916 SV% and five shutouts in 53 games in 2015-16. Last season, however, wasn’t as great. He played 48 games in 2016-17, recording a 14-17-12 record with a 2.99 GAA, a .897 SV% and just one shutout.
Signing Svedberg is a great low-risk move for the Wild. They filled a need by getting a good goaltender on a cheap, two-way contract that helps solidify positional depth. Svedberg will most likely begin the season in Iowa, but he adds a much-needed third body to the goaltending lineup in the event that Alex Stalock struggles as Dubnyk’s backup.
Although Stalock has more experience than Svedberg (64 games played, 48 starts, 25-20-7, 2.34 GAA, .912 SV % and 4 shutouts), it’s important to remember that he’s still relatively unproven. It’s unknown how he’ll fare next season, but it can’t hurt the Wild to have Svedberg there just in case, especially on such a cheap contract.
The signing also works because he can push Stalock to be better. Now, Stalock knows he has to perform because there’s a competitor waiting in the wings. Bruce Boudreau could also temporarily roll with three goaltenders and give both of them a chance to earn the backup job.
Plus, if Svedberg struggles, it doesn’t hurt the Wild; the two-way nature of his contract means he can be easily sent down to Iowa and his cap hit is reduced. Svedberg may only have a small sample size if games played in the NHL, but his stats show he is a capable backup netminder and should be able to come in and give his team a chance to win. He also still has room for growth, and to become a pretty good netminder. This signing appears to be a win no matter from what angle you look at it.
Wild Are Winners
Besides the trade in which they acquired Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno from the Buffalo Sabres, this should be considered Minnesota’s most important deal. They desperately needed another goalie and they’ve decided to give Svedberg another shot in the NHL. At 27 years old, it’s likely his last chance to make his mark and solidify his future as an NHL netminder. Fletcher has given Svedberg that chance, and for the potential upside, this deal makes the Wild a winner.