Just hours before the doors of free agency were swung all the way open with the force of thousands of fans wanting to be entertained by transactions, the Minnesota Wild decided to spice up the event, by trading away goaltender Cam Talbot to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday. In exchange, they received young netminder Filip Gustavsson.
But why did they do this? Well, there are multiple reasons and factors that went into this move.
The most obvious answer is that Talbot was much more expensive and considering that everything the Wild do for the next three years will have the shadow of the twin buyouts of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise all over them, creating some more room in a simple move, was a no-brainer. Gustavsson is in the final year of his second contract that carries a cap hit of just $787,500, so compare that to Talbot’s $3.66-million cap hit before he heads to free agency next summer, and it’s a significant difference of $2.897 million.
And with that immediate room, the Wild can now be a little bit more of a player for those mid-tier free agents, other than trying to squeeze under the cap ceiling by trying to dance around any limitations. Even if they don’t bring in any decently-sized name, having a little bit more breathing room for a potential trade deadline move, isn’t the worst thing in the world.
At the age of just 24 years old, Gustavsson is essentially a goaltending infant. While more and more goalies are making the NHL at younger ages, there is still plenty of potential in the player and the Wild’s group of under-25 players gets even stronger.
Before he made his way to North America, when he was still playing in the SHL back in the 2017-18 season as a 19-year-old — okay, it might be too far back to really think about — he was able to earn a .918 save percentage, which was the fifth-highest among all goaltenders that season. But interestingly enough, Gustavsson started the exact same number of games (22) and had the same save percentage as a 19-year-old Jesper Wallstedt did in the SHL this season. To make it even freakier, they both played for the team Luleå HF.
I’m not saying that Gustavsson should be in the same realm of potential as Wallstedt, or that Wallstedt is essentially a younger Gustavsson; but it’s just a neat fact.
Anyway, there is easily more beneath the surface of the Wild’s newest goaltender; and hopefully backing-up a legendary netminder like Fleury is enough to unlock some of that.
Clarity in roles
The minute Fleury was acquired at the trade deadline last season, questions about how the Wild will handle the relationship between two veteran goalies that want to be bona fide starters. It is a tough balancing act that really tests the strength of the management’s ability to communicate well with their players. And while it was good for the last few weeks of the regular season and the playoffs, when Fleury signed for two more years, you could tell that was a little bit of a tipping point in the situation.
So, with all that said and done, Minnesota has at least some peace of mind when it comes to their tandem. There will be no back-and-forth between the two veterans, but an established starter and an up-and-coming backup. Over in Ottawa might be a different situation, as Anton Forsberg certainly deserves to be the 1A to Talbot’s 1B, but that’s their problem now.
Doing well by Cam
We all know that Bill Guerin loves to be a player-pleaser, in a good way. He seems to genuinely do right by them, for the most part, and is there to chat, as he did with Talbot ever since signing Fleury to his extension. It’s not some strenuous boss-employee relationship, but maybe it goes a little bit beyond that and the second Talbot expressed any doubts of being able to play his entire season in this weird tandem, he got him his move out of town.
Guerin said he knew in his gut things wouldn't work out and Talbot wouldn't be happy. Said he had a good conversation with Talbot: "Cam's a no BS kind of guy, and so am I, ... but I have a ton of respect for Cam."— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) July 12, 2022
Who doesn’t love respect?
Making the timeline work (potentially)
This is a little bit of future-seeing on my part, but we all knew that Talbot was in the final year of his contract, and that he probably wasn’t part of the plan for the 2023-24 season. With that in mind, Fleury being here for two more years and acquiring a 24-year-old netminder that has some decent potential, stretches the timeline in the crease a little bit further. Fleury is an adequate player to just ride along as you start to develop more and more young talent in between the pipes.
And there isn’t much better goaltenders to learn from than someone with three rings and a first-ballot ticket to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Gustavsson was a Pens' second-round pick and is reunited with Guerin. Has a lot of promise in his future, Guerin says, and "he'll flourish and a learn a lot" paired with Fleury— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) July 12, 2022
The Swedish elephant in the room is Jesper Wallstedt. The 2021 first-round pick is set to make his North American debut this season for AHL Iowa at just 19 years old, but if everything works out and he develops well enough, he will be storming up the depth chart like a madman. We won’t see him this year — unless everyone suddenly gets injured — but next year, especially if Gustavsson doesn’t pan out, he could arguably make his case to be a backup for his age-21 season, and have that Tuukka Rask-Tim Thomas dynamic of your future franchise goaltender being behind a very, very good veteran.
There are loads of reasons why this move was made, and generally, it’s positive all around.