Wild

It's Time For the Wild To Make An Upgrade In Net

Photo Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

It seemed as though the Minnesota Wild finally figured out their goaltending. Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen were an antidote to their recent goaltending woes that held the Wild back recently. Talbot started 33 games and won 19 of them with a .915 save percentage, and Kahkonen’s early-season success earned him a few votes for the Calder Trophy.

The numbers were acceptable. But that’s all the Wild needed given their stingy defense. Both of them clicked in the playoffs as they pushed the Vegas Golden Knights to seven games before bowing out in the first round.

Yet, doubt began to sow into the collective minds of fans this offseason. While Kahkonen’s numbers were encouraging for a goalie of his age, those statistics were buoyed by a scorching start to his season. But his play face-planted into the ice at the end of the season, resulting in a -15.34 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx), ranking fourth-worst in the NHL.

In fairness to Kahkonen, his GSAx was cratered in large part by a couple of absolute stinkers he and his teammates put up against the St. Louis Blues. Yet, his decline still was noticeable before those two showings.

For Talbot, his GSAx hovered around even before taking a dip at the end of the season, finishing with a -5.62. Again, the Wild were simply asking (and paying) Talbot to be about an average goaltender. Minnesota had snuck into the playoff bubble in the previous season with goaltenders Alex Stalock and Devan Dubnyk combining for a *checks notes* -44.13 GSAx! Safe to say, Talbot performed as the Wild needed him to.

Goalie performance is always an undeniable question mark year-to-year, though. That’s doubly true for goalies in their mid-30’s. It was fitting to wonder if Minnesota’s goaltending situation could be an issue this season. If Kahkonen’s late-season struggles continued in the 2021-21 season, could they depend on an aging goaltender to defy odds and continue to perform at a consistently high level? With Thanksgiving approaching, it sure looks like the Wild know the answer to that question.

Through 18 games, the tandem of Talbot and Kahkonen has produced a -9.85 GSAx, the third-worst tandem in the NHL. They now sit behind only the inept Seattle Kraken goaltenders and the not-even-trying Arizona Coyotes. The Wild are top-5 in expected goals offensively and defensively at 5-on-5. They have the makings of a true contender, but that goaltending has the potential to harm them fundamentally. If not for several furious comebacks, it might already have done so.

Earlier this week, Zone Coverage’s Aaron Heckmann explored the trade market for available centers in an attempt to get this season’s roster over the hump. However, while Bill Guerin could certainly still be searching for a center, it may be more important to upgrade in goal to keep their Stanley Cup aspirations alive. Let’s dig in to see who’s available.

Scott Wedgewood (age 29), ARI

Wait, didn’t we say that the Arizona Coyotes were the only teams worse than Minnesota in goaltending performance? What’s going on here? Well, surprising as it may seem, Arizona has a goaltender with an above-average GSAx in Wedgewood, who’s currently at +4.24 through six starts. The Coyotes’ team goalie rankings are dragged down by his two teammates in Karel Vejmelka and Carter Hutton, who combine for a (are you sitting down?) -14.53 GSAx through 16 starts. Remember, this is a team trying to lose, so they will be content to continue rolling out their worst options.

It’s for that reason Wedgewood could make a lot of sense for Minnesota. He has performed well this season for a terrible team. Wedgewood has had an up and down career, bouncing back and forth with the Coyotes and New Jersey Devils, another team who has been rebuilding for a handful of years now. But with an excellent start to the season, it’s not unreasonable to think he couldn’t thrive in a strong defensive system like Minnesota. Again, the Coyotes are actively trying to lose, so they should be motivated to trade away their best goaltender for extra stuffing on the table this Thursday.

Craig Anderson (age 40), BUF

Are you noticing a trend here? Only a few teams firmly planted their flag in the Shane Wright sweepstakes before the season started. If Guerin wants to upgrade in goal soon, his options are limited to a few bad teams. And it’s an even smaller pool than that, as they have to have goalies performing well despite their general managers actively icing a roster belonging in the AHL. The Buffalo Sabres are one of those teams.

Yes, Craig Anderson is 40, but he is again defying the aging curve and performing at a respectable level this season, posting a -0.96 GSAx in six starts. However, unlike Wedgewood, Anderson has a tremendous track record of solid-to-great goaltending (see the 2016-17 Ottawa Senators.) On a 1-year contract worth $750K, Anderson is not only cheap but probably could be available immediately. Bringing in a veteran to split time with Talbot could not only be beneficial for him as he works to improve, but it would also be beneficial for Kahkonen. The young netminder would be able to return to Iowa and play more games.

Braden Holtby (age 32), DAL

Here is where the waiting game probably starts. The Dallas Stars aren’t out of contention or attempting to tank like Buffalo or Arizona. But they certainly haven’t started the season well. With just 16 points in 16 games, the Stars currently sit 6th in the Central Division and have no signs of showing improvement. Their roster is old, and they have looked slow all season, as Minnesota fans witnessed last Thursday when the Wild trounced them 7-2.

However, Holtby has performed well with a 0.43 GSAx through eight starts. It’s been a bounce-back season for him after a dreadful campaign last year with the Vancouver Canucks. It’s easy to see the appeal for Holtby. He backstopped a Stanely Cup-winning Washington Capitals team, and with just one year left on his deal at a $2 million cap hit, the Wild wouldn’t need to move money out to accommodate him. Keep an eye on Dallas in the coming weeks. If they continue to fall in the standings, Holtby could be made available.

Marc-Andre Fleury (age 38), CHI

Last season’s Vezina Trophy winner got off to a rough start for the Chicago Blackhawks this year, but then again, what could anyone expect in that organization? Serious problems on and off the ice led to an abysmal start to the season. Chicago started the season 1-9-2 in a year they thought they could compete. However, things have begun to turn around for Chicago and their star netminder after firing head coach Jeremy Colliton on Nov. 6th.

The Blackhawks are 5-1 since the change, and Fleury looks like his old self again. While his -1.81 GSAx isn’t great, it’s beginning to climb after no longer being asked to play Superman in the terrible defensive system implemented by Colliton.

It’s tough to say if Fleury will be available at the trade deadline, but with only one year remaining on his contract, many teams will be calling Chicago about a trade, including other Cup contenders. This means Chicago’s asking price could climb to the point that’s uncomfortable for Guerin. However, it’s worth pursuing if a goalie like Fleury is available and the Wild still look like cup contenders.

The veteran goaltending market was supposed to be more robust this season. But surprisingly hot starts in Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Jose are effectively taking the likes of Jonathan Quick, John Gibson, and James Reimer off the market, at least for now. However, the Wild still have some viable options to improve their poor goaltending this season. And if their goal is to truly compete for the Stanley Cup, it’s a move Guerin needs to make sooner than later.

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