The Wild has been one of the busiest NHL teams in reworking its roster, and it’s not done yet.
After trading three-time All-Star goalie Devan Dubnyk at the beginning of the week, the team is looking for his replacement when free agency opens for business at 11 a.m. Friday.
“There are definitely a lot of options out there,” General Manager Bill Guerin said.
While the Wild could fill its hole in net with a trade, dipping into a deep free-agent pool might be more feasible.
A long list of available goalies makes it a buyers’ market, a situation that could help keep the price tag manageable. And the Wild would be able to negotiate a term that lines up with its vision for the position.
Guerin has yet to specify whether he’s looking for a stopgap until budding prospect Kaapo Kahkonen might be able to take over full-time or if he’s eyeing a more permanent solution for the foreseeable future.
But the range in this class of free-agent goalies could satisfy either criteria.
There is a subset that includes proven starters, such as Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver), Braden Holtby (Washington) and Corey Crawford (Chicago).
Markstrom is the headliner likely to command the largest contract, while 30-somethings Holtby and Crawford have reasons to be motivated. Holtby is coming off a down season with the Capitals, and Crawford made it clear he wants to play consistently even before the Blackhawks announced Thursday he would not return.
If the Wild would like a platoon, a handful of goalies are used to that system — including a few on the heels of standout showings in the playoffs.
Thomas Greiss (New York Islanders), Cam Talbot (Calgary) and Anton Khudobin (Dallas) were never crowned their respective teams’ undisputed No. 1, but each played key minutes last season. Khudobin, in particular, took advantage by helping the Stars reach the Stanley Cup Final after being in a backup role most of the season. Perhaps Khudobin returns to being a No. 2, but Talbot has expressed a preference to become a true starter again.
Still, finding someone to share the crease could benefit the Wild. The scenario would enable team brass to get a better read on Kahkonen’s potential if he gets sporadic starts; it could also reward current backup Alex Stalock for the career year he had last season and give him a chance to build on that success.
Also, if the schedule is condensed next season with a later-than-normal start, splitting games could be vital. Mike Smith (Edmonton) is another goalie who rotated last season.
Trade targets could include Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas), Darcy Kuemper (Arizona) and Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins (Columbus). Fleury and Guerin were previously in Pittsburgh at the same time, but Fleury carries a hefty $7 million cap hit the next two seasons that might require a creative transaction to lower that number for the team that acquires him. Kuemper played for the Wild from 2013 to 2017.
Unlike previous years, teams weren’t allowed to interview free agents. The Wild has $8.5 million in cap space, according to capfriendly.com, before adding a goalie and signing restricted free agents Jordan Greenway, Kahkonen and minor league defenseman Louie Belpedio.
Next offseason, though, the team is facing much more flexibility since Guerin’s maneuvering so far has brought in players with only one season remaining on their contracts; veteran center Nick Bonino is the most recent example. Bonino, who was added in a trade with Nashville on Thursday that sent Luke Kunin to the Predators, is finishing a four-year, $16.4 million contract that carries a $4.1 million cap hit for its final season.
These types of short-term deals could set the Wild up with quite a bit of cap space after next season (which is when Seattle’s expansion draft takes place), and that could help Guerin further implement his plans for the franchise. Or he could be wanting to gauge whether these new players fit together before making a longer commitment.
“It’s an opportunity for everybody,” Guerin said. “It’s an opportunity for us to give these guys a better opportunity than where they’ve been. It’s an opportunity to put their best foot forward in a contract year. This is a great place to play. It’s a great place to live, and I know players love it here. So, if you want to stay here, here’s your opportunity. If not, we’ll find something else that works.
“But I like the moves that we’ve made. I think our team is better now, and we’ll wait for the season to start.”