The Wild somehow made it to the second round despite using five starting goalies, none of whom appeared in more than 29 regular-season games.
Backstrom is coming off his second consecutive season-ending abdominal surgery. He has two more years left on his contract at nearly $3.5 million annually.
The Wild cannot use its final compliance buyout on Backstrom because he was re-signed under the new collective bargaining agreement, not the pre-lockout one. It cannot use a regular buyout on him because injured players cannot be bought out.
If he chose to retire, the Wild would be on the hook for his full cap hit. The Wild likely will try to trade him and be willing to eat part of the contract, but that won’t be easy considering he’s an aging goalie, one who has had myriad injuries the past five years, with a modified no-trade clause.
Harding, who was 18-7-3 in the first half with a league-leading 1.65 goals-against average and .933 save percentage, did not play after Dec. 31 because multiple sclerosis sidelined him long-term for the second consecutive season. He has one more year left on his contract at $1.9 million.
Last summer, Fletcher sat down with Harding for a heart-to-heart talk. That will have to happen again. As delicate a situation as this is because of Harding’s real-life medical issue, it’s extremely difficult for Fletcher to proceed with business as usual with Harding’s situation being so unstable.
Last month, Harding made clear that retirement had not entered his thinking.
Kuemper, who helped save the Wild’s season in the second half, is a restricted free agent who likely will command a one-way contract.
As of now, that’s three goalies on one-way contracts, meaning until Fletcher figures out this conundrum, he cannot simply re-sign Bryzgalov or sign another goalie.
Ironing out the roster
Thomas Vanek this, Thomas Vanek that. As free agency approaches July 1, #vanekwatch will be in high gear as many expect the Wild will sign another veteran with Minnesota ties.
Vanek, traded from Buffalo to the Islanders to Montreal this year, is a former Gophers star who lives in Stillwater. He’s a bona fide goal scorer. But he’s also 30, so Fletcher must analyze whether it’s worth signing another thirtysomething to a long-term deal (whether it be Vanek or somebody else) when Parise, Koivu and Jason Pominville are already veterans secured long-term.
Koivu, who had ankle surgery this year, was one of the highest-scoring NHLers down the stretch, but he wasn’t productive for a second consecutive postseason and is clearly slowing down. Because of that, and because of the emergence of Granlund and Haula, some question whether Fletcher would even consider trading Koivu, who has four years left on his deal at $6.75 million per. Koivu has a no-trade clause. Pominville, the Wild’s top goal scorer in the regular season, scored twice in the postseason and particularly struggled in the second round.
Salary cap issues
Fletcher must also make sure in the salary-cap world that he can afford his kids. Niederreiter, Kuemper, Justin Fontaine and Jason Zucker are all due to be re-signed this summer, while Granlund, Coyle, Haula, Brodin and Scandella also are set to be restricted free agents next summer.
But, the Wild ranked 24th offensively during the regular season and likely would be playing a Game 7 Thursday had it not demonstrated yet again in Game 5 and 6 that it has trouble finishing.
It’ll be hard for Fletcher to weigh.