There are more ways to improve the Minnesota Wild than signing Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, or Matt Niskanen this offseason. So, leading up to the draft, Hockey Wilderness is going to look at 15 potential trade candidates around the league for the Wild to target.
It's really a good thing you have whip-smart analysts like me, Wilderness. Were it not for my prodigious talents and remarkable insight, you may never know that there is a major problem with the Minnesota Wild.
I'm sure you're hearing this for the first time, just now, but with Josh Harding, Niklas Backstrom, and Darcy Kuemper in net, goaltending could easily emerge as the Wild's Achilles' Heel. And there's actually a lot of variety in what makes each goaltender a question mark. Harding's degenerative condition is well-documented, and it's thwarted him whenever he's done well. Backstrom's production has been declining due to a combination of age and injury. Kuemper showed a lot of promise last season, but he's young, untested, and has had concussion problems himself.
What's worse, as you've not heard until now, having these three goalies in net makes it difficult for the Wild to solidify the position. In hindsight, Backstrom re-signing severely limited the Wild's flexibility in this regard. So, what is likely to happen is the Wild will enter this season hoping it can get Harding's condition under control, Backstrom to rebound, and Kuemper to be able to fill in the gaps when called upon.
A trade- or a series of trading- could be the Wild's way out of this situation, if they'd like to upgrade that position. Signing a Free Agent such as Ilya Bryzgalov leaves the Wild with 4 goaltenders competing for an NHL role. It's almost entirely out of the question.
So, the question becomes, where can the Wild upgrade on the trade front?
If you're looking for a player with youth, skill, and the need for a change of scenery, James Reimer could well be the answer to that question.
The 26-year-old netminder's most notable career achievement is single-handedly carrying a terrible Toronto Maple Leafs team to the playoffs two years ago. Behind a defense that gave up 32.4 shots per game (the NHL's 4th-worst mark), Reimer shone with a .924 save percentage. It was a heroic season that was bound to be rewarded.
And it was rewarded, all right. In the offseason, GM Dave Nonis displayed his faith toward Reimer by acquiring Jonathan Bernier from the LA Kings. Reimer's days as a starter were soon to be over. Reimer started 32 games to Bernier's 49.
It must be said that Bernier did earn the "Number 1" goalie position during the season. On a Toronto team that was even worse than 2012-13's, Bernier was the only thing keeping the Leafs from a Top-3 draft pick, putting up a .923 save percentage. On the other hand, Reimer appeared to struggle, posting a .911 save percentage, which was T-24th among goalies who played in 35+ games. In 5-on-5 situations, he fared a bit better, ranking 22nd among those with 35 games.
The emergence of Bernier, and a seemingly rocky relationship between Reimer, the Toronto Front Office, and vocal factions of Toronto, have Reimer expected to be asking for a trade this summer.
The Wild could do a lot worse than to help accommodate his request. Take a look at what he's managed to do over the last three years. At 5-on-5, Reimer's save percentage is nearly identical to Corey Crawford, Ryan Miller, and Pekka Rinne. That's a Stanley Cup winner, this year's best Free Agent netminder, and a guy generally considered to be one of the NHL's best. There's good reason to believe that behind a real defense, like the one which the Wild employ, Reimer could shine.
There are some concerns in bringing in Reimer. Would bringing in Reimer similarly block Darcy Kuemper? Kuemper only played in a small sample (26 games), but he dazzled in it. His .934 5-on-5 save percentage was 8th in the league among those with 21+ games. It's unreasonable to expect Kuemper to be Carey Price or Sergei Bobrovsky over a larger sample- we wouldn't be discussing Reimer if we did- but the Wild could have something on their hands, and it would be a risk to limit his development just to hedge the Wild's bets in net.
There are many reasons that this may not happen. It may be too hard for the Wild to pull off, or Chuck Fletcher may feel confident in the goaltenders the Wild currently employ. But the brilliant and aesthetically pleasing think-tank of Hockey Wilderness agrees that if the Wild want to take a shot at a goalie on the trade market, James Reimer's the guy.
What do you think, Wilderness?