Now that the Minnesota Wild are eliminated from the playoffs, there is one position that, going forward, is still a giant question mark. GM Bill Guerin acquired Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline to secure some goaltending stability down the stretch and into the post-season, but at the same time, the one goalie that they didn’t trade away, veteran Cam Talbot, exceeded any previous expectations and performances from the first half of his season. This created a weird mix of talents that caused some ruffling of feathers once Fleury got the starting role for all but the final playoff game the Wild had.
After the dust settled, it seems like everyone is — at least from what we can tell — cool with each other and possibilities are still open. So what are exactly those possibilities in between the pipes? Who will even be here when training camp starts?
We’re trying to figure that out.
Keep both Talbot and Fleury
Keeping the status quo might not be the easiest route but it does make the most sense when you really want to take another jab at the Stanley Cup. What’s not to love about having two starting goaltenders?
The confidence in either might be a little bit sullied with the fact that they are together, but from every single quote we read and heard, they get along just fine. And Wild GM Bill Guerin wants to keep that going.
“There’s no controversy. There’s no drama,” Guerin said. “We like both goalies. We like both people. We want them both back, and we think we can be successful with both of them.”
This all depends on what kind of contract Fleury wants. The legendary netminder is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer and will soon be free to sign with any team in the league, but is still going on a year-by-year basis for his future contracts. Before any moves, Minnesota has approximately $8 million in cap space, but that also doesn’t have Jake Middleton’s next deal, and whoever replaces Kevin Fiala in the lineup (if he were to get traded).
It will be a mix of negotiations and cap management, that might just solidify one position but hurt another. It’s tricky.
Keep Fleury, trade Talbot, sign veteran
Certainly the most transaction-heavy path would be to re-sign Fleury to a one-year deal, then trade Talbot to a team wanting the one year remaining on his contract, and then to sign a solid and experienced backup goaltender.
This might just result in a shuffle of the puzzle pieces, because when you think of it, just how much better is Fleury than Talbot, and plainly, is he even better at this point of his career? It’s a tough question to answer.
Keep Talbot, let Fleury walk, sign veteran
A similar plan — and much more simple — would be to keep the current contracts, let Fleury head off to another team in search of a fourth ring, and to sign that same established goaltender to be the backup. In my humble opinion of someone trying to determine a roster of an NHL team months before they will ever hit the ice again, this feels like the most likely scenario.
Talbot has done well enough and his performance down the stretch of the regular season is starter-caliber. Maybe the veteran will be someone you can lean on a little more, but that’s just speaking hypothetically.
The Jesper Wallstedt Situation
The one constant thread through all of this is Jesper Wallstedt, the 19-year-old rookie netminder who just signed his entry-level deal with the Wild last week and has been heralded as the next great goaltending prospect. All the stats in the world show that he is destined to get at least a sizeable chance and potentially can become that decade-long starter Minnesota has always dreamed of, but right now, it’s just patience and development.
With Talbot’s contract expiring after next season, and then exactly zero NHL goaltenders currently signed after that, it leaves every possibility wide open.
Wallstedt will start with AHL Iowa no matter what, but we have seen goaltenders thrive after being exposed to professional North American hockey so young. While technically he was a year older, Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart spent just 18 games in the AHL before being called up and has been the Flyers starter ever since.
If Wallstedt can be on a similar trajectory, then would it be absolutely crazy to think that he could be starting games in Minnesota by the end of next season? And if Guerin thinks highly enough of the player, then would he be aiming to get a veteran backup that would be comfortable stepping aside and accepting the trip down to Iowa more gracefully than others? It’s the standard puzzle of building a team, but at least Wallstedt provides some excitement for the future and something to keep an eye on.
Guerin said it himself.
Guerin says that he's "not a goalie guy," but will have Jesper Wallstedt play in AHL Iowa to start and he will "see from there." #mnwild— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) May 17, 2022
It’s going to be an interesting summer no matter what.