When Josh Harding went down in heap of pain and his blocker glove went flying, Wild fans everywhere were immediately subjected to two realities. One was obvious, one was not. The first was that the Wild were going to need a new back-up goaltender. The second reality, while much more subtle, and much more painful for fans, is the speculation on who that back-up goaltender will be.
Anton Khudobin was slated as the Wild's number three goaltender, poised to have Backstrom's back should Josh Harding get traded either in the off-season, or during the early part of the season. The logical course of action would be to not panic, and allow the depth chart to work the way it was planned to work.
Was it in the plans that if Harding was traded that the Wild would sign a new back-up? No. As far as the organization was saying, Khudobin was the back-up heir apparent. Now, with reality number one in place, reality number two has taken hold.
Make the jump for a look at who has been rumored to be coming to the Wild.
The first name that popped up was Jose Theodore. A 30-7-7 record last season was never enough to win him the confidence vote in Washington. Upstart Semyon Varlamov pushed Theodore for starts, but Jose seemed to take control toward the end of the year, and claimed the role as his own. Still, no one seemed surprised when Theodore went unsigned through the off season, as his $4.5 million salary was steep, and teams were going a completely different direction on goaltending: cheap.
Where it sits: Theodore's agent says he spoke to the Wild. Russo reported that, saying that the word used was "intrigued." Theodore would be "intrigued" by Minnesota. Indeed, Theodore would likely be "intrigued" by anyone offering a paycheck at this point. After a few days, we learned that Theodore and Harding share the same agent, and the call was likely started as a head's up to the agent that his client was injured, and the agent said, "Oh, by the way, I have this other client looking for work..."
Is he coming here? He certainly seems to be the odds on favorite at this point, if the Wild make a move. That still seems to be a big if. If he is willing take a haircut with his salary, Theodore would be a welcome addition to the fold. Anyone who can go 30-7-7 in the NHL deserves a chance to show he still has it. After all, he does come with his own stalker.
Ah, Vesa Toskala. Traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Anaheim Ducks, and then to the Calgary Flames in what could only be described as a "senior moment" for Darryl Sutter, Toskala remains unsigned, mostly due to his delusion that he is a number one quality goalie, and his ridiculous salary demands. Maybe Toskala has something left in the tank, but at 33 years old, and with no track record of success to run on, he has about as much chance of being hired as I do of winning the Presidency in 2012.
Where it sits: The Star Tribune had a stringer in Montreal that had Chuck Fletcher quoted as saying,"We're going to have some meetings tomorrow and obviously Theodore's available, Toskala's available." Whether that actually means the Wild are interested in Toskala, or it was just a show meant to inform other NHL GMs that the Wild know they have options outside being bent over a barrel for a back-up goalie is unknown. I tend to give Mr. Fletcher the benefit of the doubt, and I would think he knows just how bad Toskala really is.
Is he coming here? Don't count on it. Toskala has a reputation as a spoiled brat, something that would not fit well in the Wild locker room. He wants to be, and truly believes he can be, a #1 goalie in the NHL. He was offered a deal, reported worth over $1 million a season, and he turned it down, believing he is worth more than that. He isn't, and until he wakes up, he's going to be out of work.
This is the most recent speculation, happening just this morning on Twitter when it was announced that Gerber was placed on Waivers by the Edmonton Oilers. Gerber is a 36 year old who hasn't played an NHL game since he had 26 appearances in the 2008-09 campaign. His stats on Yahoo! show a goalie who has never been awe inspiring, but has always stuck around due to one solid season with Carolina back in 2005-06.
Where it sits: This is a huge stretch, and only proves that every goalie who becomes available is going to be the target of speculation for the Wild. Hockey Joe from Pro Hockey Talk says the plan for Gerber was to play in Oklahoma City this season, having no expectations of a return to the NHL. He has to clear waivers to do so, which immediately spurs the question "Will the Wild go after him?" Russo says the Wild like him, and I make a point not to argue with Russo. I still don't get it though.
Is he coming here? His salary of just $500K, and a two way contract could be a benefit to Gerber, but it just makes no sense to pluck him off of waivers. He is past his prime, and the Wild have better options. Should they actually decide to do it, the resulting comment from this author would be "At least they didn't sign Toskala." That should not be motivation enough to sign Gerber.
Legace has never had his chance to shine. He was a number one goalie on a not-very-good Saint Louis team back in 2007-08, but that was really his only chance. A career back-up, Legace filled that role admirably. However, at 37 years old, there is a reason why only the New York Islanders would offer him even a tryout contract.
Where it sits: This is a non-starter. One small article mentioned Legace as a suitor, but there is no chance of this happening. Surely, the Wild would have to think very little of Khudobin to sign a 37 year old never was to fill the role of back-up for Backstrom.
Is he coming here? In a word? No.
Where do we go from here?
Basically every goalie that is currently on and NHL tryout contract, attending a camp, or played in the league last year has been mentioned as a possible fit. The most intriguing (there's that word again) would be Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers from Edmonton, but with Nikolai Khabibulin testing his ability to drink, drive, and become a raving lunatic, there is no way Edmonton gives up on this kid. He performed well for the Oil last season, and he is someone the team could use during a rebuilding season.
Until Chuck Fletcher comes out and announces what it is he is going to do, the speculation will continue. With the team leaving for Finland tonight, you have to assume Khudobin has been given the go ahead as the back-up. My bet is still on them riding it out with Backstrom and Khudobin. Again, that was the plan coming into the season, in case Harding was gone. I just don't see why it needs to change now.
Enjoy the ride, Wild fans. There is very little to speculate on in the NHL right now. When the attention continues to fall on who will be the back-up goaltender on a team no one has chosen to make the playoffs, you know people are desperate for something to talk about, the season needs to start.
Before you leave... no. The Wild is NOT making an offer to Chris Beckford-Tseu.