While there remains a large disparity between what Devan Dubnyk hopes to be paid and what the Wild is willing to pay, General Manager Chuck Fletcher made clear Friday his hope is to re-sign the goaltender next week.
In fact, not only will Fletcher meet with Dubnyk on Tuesday in Las Vegas before the general managers’ meeting, Fletcher likely will cut his trip short and not attend the NHL Awards Show (Dubnyk is up for the Vezina and Masterton trophies). Instead, he might fly to Fort Lauderdale early for next weekend’s NHL draft so he can meet with Dubnyk’s agent, Mike Liut, on Wednesday.
“Mike’s not going to be in Vegas. So if Mike’s going to be in Florida, my sense is I should get to Florida,” Fletcher said. “We need to resolve our goaltending situation. We haven’t made any secret of the fact that we would like Devan to be the guy who comes back.
“Like any pending unrestricted free agent, Devan controls the process completely. We can offer what we can offer, but ultimately he’ll decide what he wants to do. We respect that. He’s earned that right.”
Dubnyk can become a free agent July 1 and begin talking to other teams Thursday as part of the NHL’s free-agent interview period. The Wild also can talk to pending free agents such as San Jose’s Antti Niemi and Calgary’s Karri Ramo. If Dubnyk is unsigned by the draft Friday, Fletcher also could swing a trade for a goalie.
“Our intention is to have two goaltenders next year,” Fletcher said, sarcastically. “The longer it goes you don’t have a deal, the more aggressively you have to look at options. There are free agents, and at the draft, lots of trades transpire.
“But I don’t want to get into all these what-ifs. Our focus right now is trying to get a deal done with Devan. Our top preference is to keep him here. We’d love to stabilize that position, and we’re confident he’s the guy that can do that for us.”
Dubnyk, 29, is looking for north of $5 million per season on a long-term deal. The Wild is likely willing to go to the $4 million range, but not too much higher.
“We can only do what we feel is right, what’s best for us,” Fletcher said. “We like our team. That’s the key word in all of this. We have a good group of players. We feel that one of our strengths is our depth. But with the cap not going up at the growth expected and our [contract commitments], there’s a certain place we probably need to be [with our No. 1 goaltender] to continue to make this work — pricewise and termwise.
“Things change so quickly that we have to make sure we have flexibility to continue to address needs and try to upgrade.”
Fletcher said the reason the Wild is buying out Matt Cooke (he cleared waivers Friday) is to free an extra $2 million so it can re-sign Dubnyk and restricted free agents Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula and Christian Folin. Fletcher will meet with Granlund’s agent next week: “We’re not far off.”
Fletcher said he’s happy having goalie Darcy Kuemper “as part of the equation, and from there, we’d like the other part to be Devan. But we’ll have to see.”
As for veteran Niklas Backstrom, as of now, he cannot be bought out because of offseason elbow surgery. Fletcher again said a buyout would provide no cap benefit anyway because he was signed at older than 35.
“He’s rehabbing. He’s getting healthier, and at this point he’s under contract for next year,” Fletcher said. “We’ll just have to continue to work with his agent to find a solution.”
His agent, Jeff Kowall, has permission to talk to other teams. If he can find Backstrom a contract for next season, perhaps Backstrom would consent to allowing Fletcher to buy him out for two-thirds his $4 million salary.
As for a third goalie if Backstrom departs, Fletcher will look to sign a goaltender to play in Iowa and be a call-up option. The Wild also signed the University of Vermont’s Brody Hoffman in March and is working on signing Harvard goalie Stephen Michalek, a 2011 sixth-round pick. Michalek led the Crimson to an ECAC tournament championship and NCAA tournament berth by winning 21 games and setting a school record with 1,029 saves.