Since Josh Harding hasn’t played in almost 11 months, a two-week conditioning stint in Iowa made little sense to the Wild. The team would prefer to get the longtime goaltender to its American Hockey League affiliate on a long-term basis.
Medically cleared to return from a broken foot, Harding was placed on waivers Monday. If he clears at 11 a.m. Tuesday, he will be assigned to Iowa. If he is claimed by one of 29 NHL teams, Harding’s Wild career is over 12 years after being drafted.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher understands the risk of waivers as opposed to a conditioning assignment, but said: “The reality is Josh hasn’t played in a game since Dec. 31. He missed training camp and the first month-and-a-half of the season, and that’s a lot of time for any player to miss. Our main goal now is to help him successfully regain his form of last season, and assuming he clears waivers, we felt this move would best help facilitate that.
“There’s really no sense in putting a timetable on how long it’ll take him to get ready. This move allows us to just give him the time that he needs to get his game back. He needs to play games.”
Harding, who broke his right foot in an off-ice incident on the eve of training camp, declined to comment through a team spokesman. Fletcher said he met with Harding on Sunday night.
It’ll be interesting to see if a team with goalie issues take a gamble. Harding missed large chunks of the past two seasons because of multiple sclerosis, including the entire second half last season. His medical situation always is an uncertainty, and Harding, 30, indicated before this season that he had a relapse last year.
Harding was statistically the best goaltender in the NHL until having his treatment adjusted in mid-December. He reeled off 18 wins and had a league-best 1.65 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.
It wouldn’t be a big financial risk for any team to take him. He is only owed $1.65 million the rest of the season (prorated from $2.1 million) with a $1.48 million salary-cap hit (prorated from $1.9 million). If he clears waivers and is assigned to Iowa, the Wild would have to pay his NHL salary. If he’s in Iowa, the Wild, which has plenty of cap space, would assume a cap charge of $760,000 or roughly $5,200 per day.
Goalie Darcy Kuemper now requires waivers to get to Iowa because he has played 14 games; there’s no chance he would slide through waivers. Backup Niklas Backstrom cannot be sent to Iowa because he has a no-move clause.
“We didn’t have interest in carrying three goalies on a 23-man roster, particularly with the mumps or whatever the heck it is ripping through us,” Fletcher said. “We’ve had two situations now with [Christian] Folin and [Marco] Scandella where they haven’t had to go on IR, so roster flexibility played a part in this.”
If Harding is claimed, the Wild’s only pro goalies beyond Kuemper and Backstrom are John Curry and Johan Gustafsson. That could force Fletcher to once again summon veteran Ilya Bryzgalov to see if he would be willing to sign some kind of creative AHL contract or two-way contract.
The Wild held practice Monday without center Erik Haula, who has a leg contusion, and defenseman Jonas Brodin, who is ill. Coach Mike Yeo hopes both players are ready for the team’s next game, Thursday in Philadelphia.