Monday, October 6, 2014

The 2014-15 Minnesota Wild: Goaltenders

Photo: Andy King/Reuters
Last year, the line for Minnesota's goaltenders was "just good enough is no longer acceptable". Well, they were just that. They were beyond good enough. They were great. Minnesota used five goalies in the 2013-14 season and all five played a role in helping the Wild reach the postseason for a consecutive season.

Minnesota's goaltenders combined to allow an average of 2.42 goals per game last season (which ranked 7th in the NHL) and had a cumulative five on five save percentage of .931 (4th in the NHL). Had it not been for their performance, Minnesota never sniffs the postseason.

Courtesy of War on Ice
This year, however, the line needs to be "Stay on the ice!"

Despite their outstanding play last season the Wild saw their top three goalies all miss time due to various injuries/ailments. Niklas Backstrom only played in 21 games, Josh Harding played in 29, and Darcy Kuemper played in 26 (but he was mainly in Iowa before January 1st).

This year did not get off to a good start when Josh Harding fractured his foot after an incident where he ended up kicking a wall. He will be out 2-3 months. Thankfully, Backstrom and Kuemper havae come into camp healthy and appear to be the Wild's goaltending tandem heading into the season.

With cuts expected to come later today, Ilya Bryzgalov is not likely to make the team. He was brought in on a PTO after doing no offseason training and looked exactly like someone who did not work out for four months. The Wild could offer him up a two way deal to keep him in Iowa in the event that Backstrom or Kuemper sustain another injury, but it will be on Bryz to accept that deal.

Speaking of Backstrom, one has to wonder how much he has left in the tank. He is 37 years old and his contract expires after the 2015-16 season. He is coming off his worst season statistically (3.02 GAA, .899 save percentage) and his stats have been on the decline since his best season in 2010-11 (see chart below). He also has not had an injury-free season since 2009-10, which is a big cause for concern heading into this season.

Courtesy of Hockey Analysis
Thankfully the Wild have Kuemper waiting in the wings, and he appears poised to take over as the team's number one goaltender.

Last season, Kuemper saved the Wild season in January going 6-2-1 with a 2.15 GAA and .932 save percentage. He finished the year with 12 wins, a 2.43 GAA, and a five on five save percentage of .933 (8th best in the NHL). He also was instrumental in getting the Wild back in the series against Colorado last April as he went 3-1 before leaving Game Seven with a head injury.

Many have tabbed the Wild's biggest issue heading into 2014-15 as their goaltending. This is far from being true. While Kuemper is still young and has not played a full NHL season, he has played outstanding and there is no reason for him to regress. Backstrom will more likely play a backup role this season, but he is still serviceable in goal despite his declining numbers. And if they can make it to December without injuries, Josh Harding should return around then and all he did was put up Vezina worthy numbers last year.

So no matter who the Wild put out in net, they will be fine. Just hope they can keep them out on the ice this season.

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