Josh Harding, who many expected to be the Wild's No. 1 goalie prior to the season, has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Iowa.
Until Monday, Harding was on non-roster injury status due to a broken foot sustained the Sunday before training camp. Medically cleared Sunday, Harding's suspension was lifted Monday and he was placed on waivers.
Statistically the NHL's best goalie until he had his treatment of multiple sclerosis adjusted in mid-December 2013, one assumes the fact he hasn't played since Dec. 31 and/or or the uncertainty with his condition scared teams off. That's because financially, Harding wasn't that big a gamble.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher explained Monday that he understood making Harding available to 29 other teams was a risk, but he felt a two-week conditioning stint made no sense.
“The reality is Josh hasn’t played in a game since Dec. 31,” Fletcher said Monday. “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.”
Drafted 38th overall in 2002, Harding made his NHL debut in 2005-06. The 30-year-old is 60-59-11 in 151 career games with a 2.45 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and 10 shutouts.
His career has been largely hindered by injury and illness, from hip and knee surgeries to being diagnosed with MS in the fall of 2012.
Harding missed most of the 2013 season with complications from MS but played five playoffs games after Niklas Backstrom was injured in warmups prior to Game 1 against Chicago.
Last season, Harding reeled off 18 wins and had a league-best 1.65 goals-against average and .933 save percentage, but he couldn’t play after Dec. 31.
Harding is owed $1.65 million the rest of the season (prorated from $2.1 million). When Harding is in Iowa, the Wild will have to pay his NHL salary there but will be charged a cap hit of $760,000 (not his $1.9 million cap hit) or roughly $5,200 per day.
This is not necessarily the end of the line for Harding. If and when the Wild needs him or his game his ready, he can be recalled. But Darcy Kuemper can't be sent to the minors without waivers anymore and Niklas Backstrom can't be sent to the minors because of a no-move clause.
Fletcher said Monday, “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. 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.”
The Wild has the day off and will practice Wednesday in St. Paul before flying to Philadelphia to begin a three-game road trip.