The Wild has activated goalie Josh Harding off non-roster injury status and suspension today and placed him on waivers for the purposes of getting to AHL Iowa.
Harding hasn't played since Dec. 31 (multiple sclerosis last season, then broken foot sustained in an off-ice incident days before training camp), so assistant GM Brent Flahr said a conditioning stint didn't make sense because Harding is going to need a lot of time to practice and play -- more than the maximum on a stint.
I reported a few days ago that GM Chuck Fletcher told me he was considering the waiver route.
Keeping three goalies on a 23-man roster wasn't an option, Flahr said.
Frankly, that wasn't a healthy scenario either, in my opinion. The last thing the Wild needs is Darcy Kuemper looking over his shoulder at Harding, who isn't close to returning. When Harding's game is ready, the Wild will assess its goalie situation then, so this is not necessarily the end of the line for Harding in Minnesota.
I cannot imagine Harding is claimed off waivers. Not only is his health an uncertainty and not only hasn't he played in almost 11 months, the other 29 teams don't have the experience of how to deal with his MS.
I obviously could be wrong, but Harding's treatment and the protocols in place behind the scenes is something the Wild has a firm grasp of but other teams don't. In other words, this is not a normal circumstance where a team just simply picks up an injured player. There needs to be a little expertise on how to deal with him, but we'll see.
Harding is in the final year of a contract worth $2.1 million. If he clears, a prorated portion of $975,000 ($1.9 million cap hit minus $925,000) would count against the cap, but the Wild has plenty of space. Harding would be paid a prorated portion of his $2.1 million in the minors if he clears.
Harding, the NHL's Masterton winner two seasons ago and the Wild's Masterton nominee last season, was leading the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage at the time of his medication alteration last winter.
Days before breaking his foot, Harding sat down with the Star Tribune for an interview at his home. In the story, Harding discussed how great he felt on and off the ice and how he was looking forward to this season.
“It’s one of those summers where everything clicked and I feel even better than I did last summer and feel like I’m in better shape,” said Harding at the time. “With the year of knowledge of what I’m dealing with, with a different mind-set and different mentality about what I did this offseason, I think it’s definitely going to help out tremendously.
“I just feel … great. Physically, mentally, knowing everything that’s been working for me, I believe I’m going to show I’m capable of playing a full season. I just feel … great.”
Last year, Harding was in the midst of a sensational season, reeling off 18 victories by Dec. 17 before missing a road trip for what even doctors felt would be a minor adjustment to his treatment.
That season, one in which Harding had a 1.65 goals-against average and .933 save percentage, would be stopped in its tracks. He returned to start two games, including one where he clearly wasn’t right and the Wild blew a three-goal lead to the Islanders. He didn’t play again after Jan. 1 – the second season in a row he missed significant time due to the debilitating illness.
It’s clear Harding had a relapse.
“Without going into big details, one plus one equals two. The changing of the medication, the changing of the treatment over the Christmas break, things happened and things happened quick,” Harding said in September.
But Harding had been feeling great since the springtime and came close to returning in the playoffs. Conditioning was the only reason why he couldn’t. Even Harding has said the only thing that has kept him from being an everyday No. 1 is health. Even before being diagnosed with MS, Harding was often derailed by injuries, whether it being to his knee or hip.
Asked what his biggest objective was this season, Harding didn’t hesitate: “To stay healthy the entire season and be available for every game and give the team whatever they need from me and try my best and have fun while I do it.”
That changed a few days later when he broke his foot.