Thanks to Josh Harding’s broken foot, Darcy Kuemper got his one-way contract.
On the eve of players taking the ice for the first time, the Wild conceded in its standoff with its young goalie by signing Kuemper to a two-year, $2.5 million contract.
“I’m super excited to continue this journey with the Wild and can’t wait to see and get back on the ice with my teammates,” Kuemper said in a text message.
The move comes a day after veteran Ilya Bryzgalov agreed to a tryout and hours after General Manager Chuck Fletcher met with Harding to try to establish how he got injured in an off-ice incident Sunday involving an altercation with a teammate.
Soon after the meeting, Fletcher made the decision to suspend Harding. During the time he recovers, Harding won’t be paid a prorated portion of his $2.1 million salary and he won’t count against the Wild’s salary cap. The paperwork was filed and all parties were notified late Thursday.
In the meantime, Fletcher said Thursday night that Kuemper’s signing won’t affect Bryzgalov’s tryout. If Kuemper’s not one of the top-2 goalies in training camp, the Wild can sign Bryzgalov and assign Kuemper to Iowa of the American Hockey League without waivers.
If that happened, Kuemper would be paid his $1 million salary there. Bryzgalov also gives the Wild insurance if veteran Niklas Backstrom were to get hurt.
Kuemper, 24, who went 12-8-4 with a 2.43 goals-against average and .915 save percentage last season, arrives in the Twin Cities on Friday morning. Both Kuemper and Bryzgalov are expected on the ice for the first day of camp.
Bryzgalov, who went 7-1-3 down the stretch last season for the Wild, wanted to return to the Wild all summer. Finally, Harding’s injury forced the Wild to offer him a tryout.
“He did a great job for us last year,” coach Mike Yeo said of Bryzgalov. “I spoke to Bryz [Wednesday] night and he’s really excited to be coming back to our team. I know he really enjoyed this group and playing here. He’s motivated and he’s excited.”
Bryzgalov, 34, may be quirky, but he’s as smart as they come. He was well aware he could be just biding time for the Wild to sign Kuemper.
Fletcher made no promises and Bryzgalov still accepted the tryout. He wants to keep his NHL career alive. Yeo wouldn’t promise Bryzgalov, who has 220 career wins, how many exhibition games he may play, “but he will get an opportunity.”
A day before, Yeo also said Harding’s injury presented an “unbelievable opportunity” for Kuemper to prove he can be a fulltime NHL goalie.
One thing that is uncertain is how much Bryzgalov has skated this summer considering he was unable to land a job.
“I didn’t get too much into that with him, but if he comes in the first couple days of camp and he’s not at his best, we’re not going to panic because we know what he’s capable of,” Yeo said. “We’ll just have to see how long we think it can take him to get back to his level. That fact that we have a good understanding of him already and what he can do, that certainly helps him.”
Walking with the aid of crutches and a boot on his right foot, Harding arrived Thursday for his meeting with management. Fletcher said Wednesday it was important to get to the bottom of how Harding busted up his foot Sunday.
The injury, one that will sideline Harding for a minimum of two months, threw the Wild’s goaltending depth into a state of flux.
Harding’s only worry is getting his foot better. He declined to comment further, while Fletcher wouldn’t comment on the Harding meeting and subsequent suspension.