The vacancy at No. 1 center isn’t the only hole in the Wild’s lineup.
Another one popped up in net Monday after the team traded longtime starter Devan Dubnyk and a 2022 seventh-round draft pick to San Jose for a 2022 fifth-rounder, giving the Wild openings at two premium positions that are usually strong indicators of a club’s success.
But the pursuit of a new goalie might not be as difficult as the search for a high-profile center because this NHL offseason is headlined by a deep class of available goaltenders.
“It’s a bit unusual having the goalie market the way it is,” General Manager Bill Guerin said. “I guess it did allow us to be more aggressive in making this [trade]. We’ll see what comes of it in the next few days, but it’s an unusually large goalie market.”
When the free-agent signing period opens Friday, goalies might be a popular commodity because of how populous the pool is compared to other years.
Among the possibilities are established No. 1s such as Henrik Lundqvist, Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford and recent playoff standouts Thomas Greiss and Cam Talbot.
In the trade market, teams could find the likes of three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury, former Wild netminder Darcy Kuemper and two-time champ Matt Murray.
Guerin said he’s open to exploring both avenues. With more veteran names in free agency, the Wild could seek out a short-term fix to bridge the gap until Kaapo Kahkonen is ready for prime-time action. A trade, meanwhile, could pave the way for a more permanent solution — although a trade could still fetch a goalie for only the next few seasons.
Either way, the Wild will need to get a read on Kahkonen, the reigning American Hockey League goalie of the year, to figure out its future, and that assessment comes with him playing in the NHL.
“We got a small sample size last year,” Guerin said, referring to the five games Kahkonen played with the Wild — a 3-1-1 run that included his first NHL win and the franchise record for saves in a game by a rookie. “But he definitely needs to get in more games so he’s not an unknown entity. We know what we’ll be getting. Our job is [to] try to mix him in every once in a while. He’s earned it. He had a great year in the American Hockey League, and we’ll see how this year shakes out. But, yeah, we’ll have to get him more games.”
It’s unclear, though, if Kahkonen will be elevated to a full-time No. 2 role or the Wild will continue to rely on Alex Stalock, who’s coming off a career year and is under contract for another two seasons.
“This is a competition,” Guerin said. “It’s always a competition. That’s the business that we’re in, and you have to be prepared coming into camp and you have to try to win your spot and that’s just the way this life is. It’s constant competition, and no matter who you are, somebody’s gunning for your job. So, we’re open.”
Regardless, the Wild’s tandem will look different next season — a reality that will only become clearer once the Wild identifies Dubnyk’s successor.
“There are definitely a lot of options out there,” Guerin said, “but we’ll see what transpires.
“We’re going to try to address it as soon as we can. We still have a few more days to free agency. We’re doing what we can homework-wise and learning all the possibilities. But, yeah, it’s a very important position, and it’s something we’re definitely looking to add to.”