Minnesota’s goaltending is in shambles with Josh Harding’s foot broken and Darcy Kuemper’s contract talks going nowhere. Minnesota has reached out to Ilya Bryzgalov. Why not Martin Brodeur?
It’s a tough time to play goalie for the Minnesota Wild. Josh Harding, fresh off an outstanding season in which he led the league in goals-against average and save percentage, already had a major hurdle to climb two days ago. Multiple sclerosis would limit his ability to handle a full starter’s workload. Things went from bad to worse for Harding Wednesday when he broke his foot. The details remain foggy, but so far we know Harding kicked a wall after an off-ice altercation with a teammate. He’s out indefinitely.
Next up is Darcy Kuemper, 24, who was good but not great in chunks of starting duty last season. In theory, he could step right into Harding’s role, but he’s a restricted free agent and contract talks have not gone well. Wild coach Mike Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher publicly expressed their frustration about the process. Kuemper has even threatened to bolt for the Kontinental League. Kuemper wants a one-way deal, but the Wild prefer a two-way. Kuemper apparently hasn’t quite played well enough to win the organization’s confidence.
That leaves Niklas Backstrom as the “sure thing.” The Finn is 36 and fresh off core muscle surgery. He looked like a shell of his old self when he did play last season. He’s supposedly healthy now, but he’s only healthy relative to his 2013-14 self.
Minnesota’s net situation is dire enough that GM Chuck Fletcher invited Ilya Bryzgalov back for a training camp tryout. Bryzgalov accepted. Maybe Fletcher simply wants to up the heat on Kuemper’s camp. Or maybe the Wild believe they can get by with a Backstrom/Bryzgalov tandem. Bryz was brilliant at times for Minnesota down the stretch last spring after coming over at the trade deadline, going 7-1-3 with a 2.12 GAA and .911 SP. He left a lot to be desired in the playoffs, however, losing six of nine starts with a yucky .885 SP. That’s the problem with Bryzgalov. You never know when he might Bryzgalov things up.
And that’s where I see an opportunity in Minnesota. Martin Brodeur, this is your cue.
We know Brodeur has had a difficult time finding work after he and the New Jersey Devils parted ways. He’s a legend, but he has a stink on him as a free agent. Bringing in Brodeur is a surefire distraction and even a vote of non-confidence for any team’s existing starter. There’s also the matter of Brodeur not playing very well last season. His .901 SP placed him 45th among 51 qualified netminders. He doesn’t stop the puck enough to start for an NHL team anymore.
Unless that team is Winnipeg. Or unless that team has so many personnel problems it needs a reliable veteran who won’t kill its chances of winning every night. Isn’t Minnesota, then, the perfect opportunity for Brodeur?
The Wild are a contending team, getting better by the year. They have an enviable stable of forwards, featuring Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula. Their defense is undersized, but any Wild goalie has the luxury of staring at Ryan Suter’s behind for 30 minutes a night. Brodeur wouldn’t have to do oodles of heavy lifting on a Minnesota team that allowed the fifth fewest shots last season.
Then again, the Devils allowed the fewest, and it’s fair to argue New Jersey would’ve made the playoffs had it let Cory Schneider play more. Brodeur doesn’t need to be the man in Minnesota, however. He’d have a better team in front of him than he did last year in New Jersey, and he could simply spell a creaky Backstrom.
If Kuemper signs, the need for Brodeur isn’t as great. Then again, Backstrom will likely break down. So if I’m Chuck Fletcher and I’ve already dialed Bryzgalov’s number, why not place one more call to Brodeur and see what happens?
And it’s a two-way street. Marty, get on the horn to Minnesota. Carpe diem.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin