The Minnesota Wild are in a precarious position leading into free agency. With only a few days before the flood gates open, the team finds themselves with an estimated $13.4 million under the cap and plenty of holes to fill. Getting Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter under contract is clearly the priority, but other moves need to be made to get some money off the books to be able to afford anything in free agency.
Part of their problem will come off the books after this season. The buyout of Thomas Vanek will cost the team $2.5 million against the cap this season. That is neither here nor there. Since free agency is just up the road we’re going to start sifting through some potential targets.
Until something changes with the Wild’s cap situation, we have to assume they are stuck as is, so we need to make some moves on the cheap. The Wild could use a serviceable backup goaltender now with the assumed departure of Darcy Kuemper. Alex Stalock is in the fold, but his performance has been known to be shaky at times. A couple names that have been floated out there are Anders Nilsson and Mike Condon. Both players earned decisions in 20+ games last season and are each 27 years old. Both are also unrestricted free agents come this Saturday.
A few things came into mind when I pulled these two names out of the bunch. First, the price tag attached to both players last season is something the Wild could easily afford. Anders Nilsson was signed to a 1-year contract which earned him 1 million dollars, while Mike Condon finished off a 2-year deal that netted him $1.15 million. Condon was traded from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Ottawa Senators last season, but there is a log jam of goaltenders in Ottawa and unless the Senators plan on trading away Andrew Hammond to re-sign Condon, he seems to be the odd man out. Nilsson however backed up for the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have a few goalies back on the farm, one of which in Linus Ullmark, who have some limited NHL experience. Both netminders seem to be in a position to be had, for the right price.
These netminders have some pretty comparable numbers, with Condon definitely taking the edge in games played and shutouts last season, Nilsson takes the edge in save percentage on a Buffalo squad that is still trying to right the ship.
Both options feel like a good fit. Condon has certainly shown that he can carry the load while playing for Ottawa. If Dubnyk goes down for any reason, having an insurance policy in-house that can handle the bulk of the reps would be clutch. Like any free agent, Condon will undoubtedly be looking to get paid. With his previous cap hit rolling in below a million bucks though, even a decent raise won't be stretching the Wild's pocketbook too thin.
Anders Nilsson is kind of the wild card. He hasn't had to take on the burdens of being the #1 man between the pipes for Buffalo, but his numbers in 20 games last season were pretty good. If the Wild don't play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on defense as they had been prone to do when Kuemper took the cage, it's a reasonable assumption that Nilsson could be even more successful with the Wild's stingy defense playing in front of him. With Buffalo's goalie situation he may also feel inclined to stay with a team on the rise.
If the Wild are looking to get a bigger name to spell Dubnyk, they need to widen their pocketbook first. This is not to say Stalock is not an option as the backup either. If the Wild are able to make a trade that gets them some cap relief, I would look for them to try to bring back a young developing netminder to play down in Iowa. This is probably the position with which the Wild have the most flexibility. They can roll with Stalock and bring in some new blood for Iowa, or try to make a grab for a cheap, decent free agent, and relegate Stalock to Iowa. Either way they are in the market, but it's a market not terribly rich with quality options.