The Minnesota Wild head into the summer with a lot of questions to answer, as they reached the playoff but made an early exit despite making some big offseason deals and an important trade deadline acquisition. One of the biggest concerns is goaltending, and starting with starter Niklas Backstrom there are decisions to be made. Backstrom is a free agent, and while the Wild likely re-sign him they must be at least a little wary of a long-term deal given his injury history. When it comes to who backs up Backstrom, that’s where things really get interesting.
Josh Harding may have been a feel good story this season as he battled back from multiple sclerosis to return for the playoffs. It seems harsh to say, but since the Wild need to be most concerned with winning games, how long can they wait to see if Harding can still handle a full-time NHL workload? He played in only five regular season games, and after a shutout to start the season was less than impressive. It may not be the easiest choice, but the time to let Harding go may have arrived. With the team dealing Matt Hackett to the Buffalo Sabres in the trade that netted them Jason Pominville, that leaves Darcy Kuemper as the heir apparent for Harding’s job.
Kuemper appeared in six regular season games, and was 1-2-0 with a 2.08 goals-against average. He was thrown back into action in the playoffs, and while he might not have won a game he did have to face the Chicago Blackhawks on short notice. Kuemper was 13-8 with the Houston Aeros of the AHL, and if he doesn’t return to the Wild he could easily be one of the top goaltenders in the AHL next season while waiting for his next shot.