The Wild has indeed added goalie insurance, but it wasn’t Jaroslav Halak or Martin Brodeur.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher pulled the trigger on Ilya Bryzgalov this afternoon, sending the 2014 fourth-round pick he received in the Jason Pominville trade last year from Buffalo to the Edmonton Oilers. Fletcher had been talking to Buffalo about Halak, but the price would have been a prospect and/or draft pick. Also, Bryzgalov is much cheaper, so theoretically, this gives Fletcher the opportunity to make more moves by Wednesday's 2 p.m. trade deadline if he so wants. The Wild can add roughly $3 million in players without giving up salary.
Fletcher acknowledged that was a big part of it. He called Bryzgalov's cap hit and salary "manageable," that the Wild wasn't willing to trade young players or higher picks in this type of situation and this allows him to maybe be more active later today or Wednesday.
The urgency to add a goaltender is because Niklas Backstrom is being shut down because of a recurring abdominal injury that likely needs to be repaired, Fletcher said. Fletcher said the assumption is Backstrom will likely be sidelined until next season. for the remainder of the season.
"I give Nik a lot of credit," Fletcher saud. "I think a lot of goaltenders probably would have shut down a month or two ago and he’s battled through it all year. I’m not quite sure he’s ever been healthy this season. ... Our goal for Nik is to get him healthy for next year."
Fletcher said Backstrom was quite emotional today and to say something about his character, he even practiced again today. "That's him," Fletcher said.
It was obvious Backstrom had something serious wrong. He said Jan. 8 that he thought it was related to his offseason sports hernia surgery and he saw his surgeon during the Olympic break. He said they figured out what was wrong but it was up to the team to disclose.
This is premature, but to answer the question I'm being asked a ton on Twitter, if it's true Backstrom is considered sidelined until next season, I'd think the Wild wouldn't be able to buy him out. You can't buy out an injured player. Also, because Backstrom was over 35 when he signed, the Wild would be charged with his cap for the remaining two years if he was bought out. Also, he is not eligible for a compliance buyout because he was signed under the new collective bargaining agreement.
Bryzgalov will wear No. 30 and may make his Wild debut Sunday against St. Louis at home.
"It's a new challenge and great opportunity," Bryzgalov said during a conference call with us today. Below is his Edmonton presser. He's a character. Edmonton writers say he was very accomodating, great to deal with and very good in net since Ben Scrivens' acquisition. He had a cool goalie mask there, too, his boy and girl, who live in New Jersey, did the colorings, I believe. He also wore 80 in Edmonton because it was the year he was born and in his one year in the KHL, he had eight shutouts ("eight and zero, get it?")
Bryzgalov, 33, known as an enigmatic goalie and true character as was documented in HBO’s 24/7 a few years ago (see YouTube), has been a No. 1 in Phoenix and Philadelphia. He's a big butterfly goalie that relies on positioning but has athleticism. With structure in front of him, he's had success in the league.
In an NHL career that has taken him from Anaheim to Phoenix to Philadelphia to Edmonton, Bryzgalov, a native of Russia, is 213-157-50 with a 2.57 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
Philly bought Bryzgalov out of the last seven years of his contract last summer. He’ll receive $1.643 million a year through 2027-28.
"Ilya’s a good guy. He’s colorful. He’s known to have a few good sound bites now and again," Fletcher said. "At the bottom of it, there was a lot of pressure there in Philly. He played very well for them at times and there were situations that did not go as well. He played well in Phoenix, ... Anaheim, ... Cincinnati. He’s played in three Olympics, was second-team All-Star one year, he’s won over 200 games in the NHL, so to add a goaltender of that caliber for what we felt was a very manageable price made a lot of sense to us."
Earlier this season when Niklas Backstrom sustained a knee injury, Fletcher inquired about signing Bryzgalov. He was bought out last summer by the Flyers. As I reported Sunday, Fletcher spent the entire second intermission of last Thursday's game with Oilers GM Craig MacTavish, the Wild was offered Bryzgalov and the price would likely be cheap (probably a mid-round pick). The Wild still owns its fourth-round pick this year even by this trade and nine picks in the draft, including one in every round (three sixths).
I think we’re going to find out soon that Backstrom is going to be shut down with an abdominal injury. Just a hunch because Backstrom declined comment today and it’s been abundantly clear he’s been laboring through something.
I asked coach Mike Yeo if Darcy Kuemper would continue to be the No. 1. He has started 15 in a row. Since assuming the Wild’s No. 1 job Jan. 7, Kuemper is 11-2-2 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. He has won five in a row, allowing six goals in that span.
“We’ve said all along with Kuemps, we’re going to take it day-to-day. He’s a young kid,” Yeo said. “With that said, there’s no question that he’s done enough that we’re going to keep giving him opportunity to get out there and show what he’s done. So, yeah, … we’re in large part where we are right now because of the job that he’s done, and we’re aware of that. We love his potential, but more than that, we love the way that he’s playing right now.”
We will see if the Wild does anymore today or tomorrow. It's been a busy day in the NHL with Anaheim gearing up for something big by unloading Dustin Penner (Thomas Vanek? Matt Moulson? Ryan Callahan?; Ryan Kesler?), with Roberto Luongo getting dealt to Florida, Andrew MacDonald to Philly, etc.
It's been reported by very respected TVA Sports' reporter Renaud Lavoie, who broke the Luongo trade, that Torrey Mitchell has asked to be traded. Mitchell and his agent Kent Hughes deny it, although I have sources who say Renaud's report is accurate.
It would make sense. Mitchell, signed to a three-year deal two summers ago, has been saddled as a fourth-liner for most his two seasons so far.
Kyle Brodziak's having a down year. Dany Heatley's in the last year of his deal, as are Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser.
My gut says the Wild makes another to try to get better. I do hear the Wild has had ongoing discussions with Buffalo about Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville's former teammate and Zach Parise's teammate from Shattuck-St. Mary's and North Dakota.
The Wild is 9-2-2 in its past 13 and has won five in a row, so there’s also always the risk of messing with chemistry of a good “team” around the trade deadline if you do too much and add or delete players.
Yeo said, “We like our group. We believe we can win with this group.” But obviously, the Wild will weigh the chemistry its team has gained these past two months with the need to maybe get better.
Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Matt Cooke had the day off from today's skills practice. Nate Prosser also wasn’t out there. As I mentioned the other day, his wife is due with their second child any moment.
The Wild has placed Jake Dowell on waivers as a gesture to help him find a job. It gives 29 teams a chance to claim Dowell off waivers. If he clears, he’ll stay in Iowa.
Also, with Mikko Koivu back, Stephane Veilleux was reassigned. Also, for the second time in three days, the Wild signed an undrafted junior free agent. Saturday, it was Calgary Hitmen leading scorer Brady Brassart. Today, it was the Guelph Storm’s Zack Mitchell. The 21-year-old forward ranks fourth on the Storm and 18th in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with 77 points (29-48=77), including nine power-play goals and six game-winning goals, in 62 games this season.
“Zack is an intelligent, two-way winger who is having a tremendous season for the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League,” said Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr. “We’re excited to add another quality young forward to the Minnesota Wild organization.”