The Minnesota Wild haven’t had any issues finding the back of the net this season, proven by their 214 goals for (fourth-best in the NHL). Having said that, goaltending has been an issue for the team for a decent portion of the 2021-22 season. Even though the offense is flowing, shaky goaltending isn’t something that any team wants as the playoffs quickly approach.
Both Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen have struggled in recent weeks. Talbot is 3-4-0 in his last eight appearances, positing a 3.84 goals-against average (GAA) and .870 save percentage (SV%) over that stretch. To make matters worse, he’s allowed at least four goals in six of those games. Meanwhile, Kahkonen hasn’t been much better. The Finnish netminder is 2-4-1 in his last seven starts, resulting in a 3.72 GAA and .886 SV%.
Needless to say, some goaltending improvements are absolutely necessary if the Wild hope to go on a deep playoff run. Fortunately, there are a handful of solid options that should be available ahead of the March 21 NHL Trade Deadline.
1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks have failed to meet expectations this season, leading to Marc-Andre Fleury becoming one of the more sought-after trade deadline targets. After all, the 37-year-old is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and the reigning Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s top goaltender. Anyone with a resumé like that is bound to get their fair share of attention.
Having said that, Fleury has been rocky this season. He’s 18-20-4 in 42 starts with the Blackhawks, recording a 2.92 GAA, .908 SV% and four shutouts along the way. The underwhelming stats aren’t all his fault, though. Of the 1,090 shots he’s faced so far this season, 625 of them (57.3 percent) have been good scoring chances against, according to Hockey Reference. That’s a significant difference from when he was a member of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2020-21, where only 30.1 percent of the shots he faced were good scoring chances.
Fleury is also an attractive upgrade over Talbot and Kahkonen because of his lengthy playoff experience. He ranks third when it comes to the all-time playoff games played by a goalie at 162, boasting a 62-51 record. Although his three championships came as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Fleury played his best game during his four seasons with the Vegas Golden Knights, where he posted a .920 SV% and 2.25 GAA, along with six shutouts in 47 games played.
Related: Wild 2022 Trade Targets From the Ottawa Senators
It’s safe to say that, when healthy, the Wild have a better defensive core than the Blackhawks, which should help Fleury find his footing again. Playing for a team whose goal is to make a deep playoff run could also help motivate him down the stretch. Sometimes that’s all a player needs to get their head back into things and get their performances back on track. After all, Fleury only has a few more years to continue padding his career resumé and he has a solid chance to do that with the Wild.
The good news is that it also wouldn’t cost the Wild too much to acquire the Sorel, Quebec, native. He’s in the final year of his three-year, $21 million contract and is pretty much the definition of a rental. General manager Bill Guerin could likely get him with a few draft picks or maybe even by adding a mid-tier prospect. They could even send back Kahkonen, who’s a restricted free agent (RFA) at the end of the season. The Blackhawks are heading towards a rebuild in the coming seasons and it only makes sense for them to stock up the cupboard as much as possible.
2. Braden Holtby, Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars signed Braden Holtby to a one-year, $2 million contract this past offseason to help solidify the crease. Even though he began the season with a chance to be the starting goaltender, it’s been Jake Oettinger who’s run away with the role lately. Now, Holtby has become expendable ahead of the trade deadline, making him a logical target for the Wild.
Sure, he’s no longer a Vezina Trophy candidate, but Holtby has put up some respectable numbers this season. Although his 10-10-1 record in 24 games played isn’t mind-blowing, his .913 SV% and 2.78 GAA are at the best they’ve been in the last five years. He’s also only had three starts with an SV% below .850, which is his lowest total since the 2011-12 campaign. All in all, Holtby has been solid in net throughout the season and it’s hard not to like him (at his current level) manning a crease alongside Talbot.
Holtby’s all-time resumé should also be enough to entice the Wild. He’s a former Stanley Cup champion and Vezina Trophy winner, just like Fleury. He also has 97 games of playoff experience under his belt, which is something teams typically value in goaltenders once the postseason arrives. He’s gone 50-47 in those games, playing to a .926 SV% and 2.13 GAA along with seven shutouts. Needless to say, Holtby comes to play more often than not once the regular season is over.
Yes, trades with divisional rivals was frowned upon in the past, but that isn’t the case anymore. The cost to acquire Holtby also shouldn’t deter the Wild too much since he’s also a rental player on a relatively cheap contract. The Stars barely have any cap space left, so a mid-round draft pick or two may be enough to get a trade done. If the cost for someone of his caliber is that affordable, Guerin should be all over it.
3. Anton Forsberg, Ottawa Senators
Despite the Ottawa Senators being one of the worst teams in the NHL this season, Anton Forsberg has been remarkably solid in net. He’s 13-10-2 in 28 games played, racking up a 2.70 GAA and a respectable .921 SV% with a shutout. Although that may not be enough to sway some fans, he’s 7-2-1 in his last 10 games played with a .939 SV% and 2.17 GAA.
Forsberg’s recent play should be enough to impress the Wild. He may not be a battle-proven starting goalie, but he can at least provide the team with some necessary depth at the position. A deep playoff run usually comes down to whether or not a team’s goaltender can get hot at the right time. Few netminders are as hot as the 29-year-old is of late, making him an option worth exploring for Minnesota.
Forsberg can be hot and cold at times, so it’s understandable if some view him more as a high-end backup than a potential starter. That certainly makes sense from the Wild’s perspective, especially with Talbot having more playoff experience. Still, injuries are always a possibility as the season’s intensity ramps up and the team needs some sort of solution if Talbot and Kahkonen can’t start stringing together consistent performances.
Meanwhile, Forsberg is extremely affordable on a $900,000 contract that’s set to expire at the end of the season. The Senators are hoping to compete in the near future, so they probably want more for him than just a draft pick. A trade could allow Minnesota to unload Victor Rask, who has six points in six games in the American Hockey League since the Wild sent him to Iowa. A combination of him and a later draft pick might be enough to pry Forsberg away. Besides, the Senators have more than enough cap space to absorb Rask’s contract, while moving him opens up space for Guerin to pull off a bigger deadline deal.
At the end of the day, the Wild are fortunate enough that there are several goaltending options on the trade market. It’s entirely possible that the team stays quiet and rolls with Talbot and Kahkonen, but idle hands don’t lead to the Stanley Cup. It’s going to be tougher to build a championship-caliber roster once Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s buyouts kick in next season, making this one of the last chances for a while that the Wild can go all-in at the deadline. With that being the case, it’s a no-brainer for the organization to explore its goaltending trade options.