As an addition to the previous blog (which can be read here) on unsigned goalie Darcy Kuemper’s contract stalemate with the Wild, I subsequently spoke by phone with Kuemper’s agent, Jeff Helperl, about his negotiations with General Manager Chuck Fletcher.
“Basically, Chuck and I are stuck,” said Helperl, who confirmed he has spoken to teams in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League about signing Kuemper if he is unable to get a contract done with the Wild.
Helperl said he is asking the Wild for a one-year, one-way contract (not big term at big money, as previously reported), meaning he would be paid his NHL salary whether he plays in Minnesota or at American Hockey League Iowa.
Helperl said the Wild is offering Kuemper a two-year deal. The first year would be a two-way deal (meaning Kuemper is paid a lower salary if/when he plays in the AHL and a higher salary if/when he plays in the NHL) and the second year would be a one-way deal (NHL salary in either place). Jason Zucker signed a similarly-designed contract earlier this offseason.
Kuemper doesn’t require waivers to get to Iowa, which Helperl knows means Kuemper could be destined with Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom both under contract.
“It comes down to Darcy has to play somewhere this year,” Helperl said. “Minnesota, they’re stuck on giving Darcy a two-way deal and I think Darcy deserves more. I’ve basically told Chuck, ‘we’re looking at a one-way deal on a one-year contract.' They want to do a two-year contract. I just kind of told him where things are at. By no means are we shooting for the moon at all. I just want to get a one-way contract and get Darcy playing more games, and wherever that’s going to be, it’s going to be.”
Helperl said last weekend, there was a two-day window where KHL teams were able to discard players. He said, “I had [KHL] teams contact me, so that’s where it all started from.”
Asked if that means Kuemper will sign with the KHL if the Wild doesn’t offer him a one-way contract, Helperl said, “Well, he’s going to play somewhere, so it could happen.”
From the Wild’s standpoint though, Kuemper does have a chance to play “somewhere” even on a two-way contract. If he doesn’t make Minnesota out of camp, he would start in Iowa. If he proves in camp that he’s the Wild’s best goalie, the two-way is insignificant because he would make his NHL salary with the big club anyway.
This sounds more like Helperl is just trying to design the contract to give Kuemper the best chance to play games in the NHL as opposed to the AHL. In other words, if Kuemper's on a one-way, the theory is the less likely the Wild would be to send him to Iowa because the team would have to pay him his NHL salary there.
I asked Helperl if Kuemper really would prefer to play in Russia over potentially playing in Iowa: “He needs to get going. He needs to get playing. He needs to try to figure out where things are at [in his career],” Helperl said. “I’ve never seen him more confident as a player and how hard he’s worked this summer. Basically, Chuck and I are stuck, so that’s where it’s at. It’s easy as it can be.”
Wild players officially report for training camp next Thursday with players taking the ice for the first time next Friday. Is there a deadline as to when Kuemper will decide on the KHL?
“The days are coming where camp is going to get started. We’ll see when camp starts and see where we’re at,” Helperl said. “It’s an ongoing, moving target all the time. I last spoke to Chuck I think last week and I don’t think we moved very far ahead. It’s pretty simple. We’re looking for a one-year, one-way deal.”
In the meantime, Harding and Backstrom are skating daily and are ready for training camp. Helperl said, “Chuck keeps reminding me over and over again how healthy they are and how good they’re looking right now, so what am I supposed to do from that?”
Most KHL deals have NHL out-clauses. If Kuemper chooses the KHL, I asked Helperl if his contract would have an out-clause that would allow Kuemper to return to the Wild if the team gets into a goaltending pickle like last year. Helperl said, “I don’t know that. I don’t know how the contract’s going to be worded. I don’t know that.”
Fletcher declined to comment on Kuemper.
Wild players are skating together daily until training camp. Helperl said he’s not sure yet if Kuemper will take part in that. “We’ll see how talks go from now to then.”
Unsigned Nino Niederreiter told me he arrives back in Minnesota on Wednesday. He is expected to take part in these captain’s practices. As I mentioned on the previous blog, the hope is that a contract is agreed upon in the next week so he reports to camp on time.