Wild puts Barker on waivers; will buyout be next?

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 28, 2011 - 10:14 PM

The defenseman was key to the Nick Leddy trade but has struggled in Minnesota.

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Wild defenseman Cam Barker (right)

Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast, Associated Press

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The Wild might be close to cutting the cord on Cam Barker, the player who was supposed to make Wild fans forget about former Minnesota Mr. Hockey Nick Leddy.

With the 20-year-old former Wild first-round draft pick already playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, the Wild placed Barker, the player for whom Leddy was traded, on waivers Tuesday.

With speculation all month that the Wild was thinking about buying out Barker's contract if it couldn't trade the 25-year-old defenseman, this might be the first step toward that end.

If Barker clears waivers at 11 a.m. Wednesday, the Wild could immediately place him on unconditional waivers.

If he passes through that unclaimed, the Wild could cut ties with him by Thursday's buyout deadline. That would make Barker an unrestricted free agent Friday. With a number of teams below the $48.3 million salary-cap floor, the Wild clearly is hoping somebody puts in a claim.

General Manager Chuck Fletcher declined to comment Tuesday, other than to say this doesn't necessarily mean he's buying Barker out. Out of sensitivity for Barker, Fletcher recently has declined to discuss the February 2010 trade of Leddy and Kim Johnsson for Barker, other than to routinely praise Leddy, an Eden Prairie native and former Gophers defenseman.

At the time of the trade, the Wild was trying to push for a playoff spot and Fletcher was searching for a young defenseman who could contribute right away.

Barker is five years older than Leddy, had scored 40 points the year before and was the third overall pick in the 2004 draft. "He hopefully can be a part of our group for a long time," Fletcher said then.

But Barker has struggled in parts of two seasons with Minnesota. He has been erratic defensively with costly turnovers and poor footwork. He began to play better during last year's second half until a back injury caused him to miss 21 of the final 22 games. In 71 games with the Wild, Barker has two goals and 10 assists, has taken only 75 shots and has a minus-12 rating. Leddy played 46 games with the Blackhawks last season.

If Barker goes unclaimed twice through waivers, the Wild could buy out Barker at one-third of his $3.25 million salary as opposed to two-thirds because he's younger than 26 years old. That would cost the Wild $1.083 million and it also would decrease his salary-cap hit from $3.083 million to $375,000 next season and $541,667 in 2012-13.

Barker's agent, J.P. Barry, met with Fletcher last weekend in a hope of persuading the GM to give Barker one final chance. Barry could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

With Brent Burns traded to San Jose and Barker potentially gone, the Wild's back end might be young next year. Veterans Marek Zidlicky, Nick Schultz and Greg Zanon could be joined by Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner and likely Marco Scandella.

Nate Prosser and Justin Falk also will vie for spots, while the Wild might look for at least one NHL defenseman via free agency or trade.

Brunette's travels

Think Andrew Brunette is stressing out heading into Friday's free agency?

Brunette and his wife flew to London on Tuesday to meet up with Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom and his girlfriend for a vacation.

The couples have tickets for Wimbledon on Thursday through Sunday.

"I can't wait until Friday," said Brunette, talking about the men's semifinal -- not free agency. "I want to see [Roger] Federer. A Federer-[Rafael] Nadal final would be great."

As of now, Brunette figures his second stint with the Wild is over. "I'm guessing so because I haven't heard anything, so it feels like it anyway," Brunette said.

Brunette, 37, has scored 256 goals and 706 points in 1,032 games, playing all 82 games in seven of the past eight seasons.

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