According to Bill Guerin, “There’s no room for petty bullshit. We’re on a team together, and we’re trying to win.” Unfortunately, petty bullshit won out regarding the Minnesota Wild’s goalie situation.
The Wild signed Marc-Andre Fleury to a 2-year, $7 million contract hours before the draft, and Cam Talbot and his agent were not too pleased. Talbot’s agent George Bazos stated that Talbot was unhappy with the Fleury signing and said that “Billy has a lot to think about.” Upon hearing this, Guerin responded, “I don’t have shit to do. Cam Talbot is under contract.”
Four days later, Bill Guerin changed his mind and traded Talbot to the Ottawa Senators for Filip Gustavsson. This trade also frees up some much-needed cap space for the Wild as Gustavsson has a cap hit of only $787,500. Instead, they s $4.3 million in cap room to sign another forward or address any other roster tweaks before Wednesday’s free agency.
It was a bad situation, but Guerin turned it into another solid move. Gustavsson, 24, is just about as good as Talbot, 35, even if it means Fleury, 38, will probably carry a heavier load this season. Even if Gustavsson has more upside than Talbot, goaltending could yet again be a cause for concern.
Let’s not worry about that now, though. Here are some causes for optimism:
- Gustavsson is younger than Talbot and thus has a higher ceiling
- The Wild cleared some cap space and now have more wiggle room
- The Wild avoided more drama that would have most likely ended in a Talbot trade anyway
- Even if Gustavsson can’t take the next step, the Wild’s D core is strong enough to make him look decent
Guerin has a bit of a history with the new Wild goaltender. Guerin was previously the assistant general manager for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who took Gustavsson in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft.
Gustavsson, like Minnesota’s Goalie of the Future, Jesper Wallstedt, put up excellent numbers as a teenager against men in the Swedish Hockey League. In 2015-16 he posted a .910 Sv% in 6 games, then had a .912 Sv% in 15 games the following season. He had his best season yet with a .918 Sv% in 22 games in 2017-18.
His first two AHL seasons were rough, having a sub-.890 Sv% in 55 combined games as a 20- and 21-year-old. Gustavsson rebounded nicely his following two seasons in the American League, posting a .910 Sv% in 13 games in 2020-21, then a .915 Sv% in 20 games in 2021-22.
Gustavsson had a strong 9-game stint with the Senators in the 2020-21 season, posting a 2.16 Goals Against Average and a .933 Save Percentage. But he regressed with more minutes last season, allowing a 3.55 GAA and a .893 Sv%.
Gustavsson doesn’t look great analytically. But he stops the pucks he should be stopping, which has been a problem with past Wild goalies.
This season is a big “prove it” year for Gustavsson as this is his first full year as an NHL goalie. It’s hard to find a better potential mentor than his goalie partner Marc-Andre Fleury, who is one of the best ever to do it. On top of that, he is a restricted free agent next year, and Wallstedt may not need much time in the minors if he comes as advertised.
Minnesota Wild fans may be in for a few years of Swedish brick walls in net. But it all depends on whether and how soon Gustavsson and Wallstedt can make the big jump to the NHL. The Wild now have two candidates to mentor what they hope is a future All-Star goalie in Wallstedt. Fleury has won just about everything a goalie can win, including three Stanley Cups, a Vezina Trophy, Olympic Gold, and more NHL games than all but two players in history. Gustavsson is closer to Wallstedt’s age and is a fellow Swede with some NHL experience under his belt. Between the two, it’s hard to envision a better transition plan.