Ever since the decline of Niklas Backstrom back in the 2012-13 season, the Minnesota Wild have had problems in net.
Josh Harding, once heralded as the Wild’s Goalie of the Future™, had his career derailed by multiple sclerosis. The Wild had two prized goaltending prospects in Darcy Kuemper and Matt Hackett, but neither worked out in Minnesota. Kuemper struggled immensely when given the full-time job, and left the Wild organization this summer. Hackett was traded, but his poor play in the AHL suggests his fate would not have been different had he remained with the Wild.
The Devan Dubnyk trade proved to be a 6’6” bandage for the Wild’s goaltending woes. But a closer look shows that as great as Dubnyk has been, even he can’t completely solve this issue.
God knows he tried. Dubnyk has been a workhorse for the Wild since his arrival, starting 192 of 225 games (including playoffs). That’s an absurd 85%. There are goaltenders who can succeed under that workload, but there’s constant concern that the overuse will lead to fatigue.
You could definitely see that in March, where Dubnyk’s game fell off a cliff for little apparent reason. As bad as Dubnyk was, however, Minnesota couldn’t afford to spell him. They were in a race to claim the Division title, and simply had no one in the organization they could trust, even for a night. You could argue that not having a reliable backup cost the Wild the Central Division title.
The events that led to Dubnyk’s trade could be chalked up as bad luck. That no longer applies to the backup goalie issues the Wild face. That can’t be described as anything other than neglect.
It’s understandable that the Wild held onto Kuemper for as long as they did. But they didn’t have a backup plan when Kuemper proved he was not going to thrive in St. Paul. They didn’t have a viable option to start the season, nor did they pursue one at the trade deadline.
It would’ve made sense to address the issue in the offseason, but Minnesota didn’t move to find a quality backup. Instead, they stuck with what they had in Alex Stalock. Stalock did perform well for Iowa in the AHL last season, but his NHL career has left much to be desired. Since his rookie season, Stalock has found his way into just 37 NHL contests, sporting a save percentage of .899.
To put that in context, Kuemper posted a .902 save percentage last season.
Not only has Minnesota not addressed this issue at the NHL level, but they’ve avoided pursuing top-tier goaltending talent in the draft as well. Since the Dubnyk trade, Minnesota has had 17 picks over 3 drafts. They’ve spent just one of those picks on a goaltender (4th-rounder Ales Stezka). While no one could expect a goalie to make the NHL so quickly, it’s astounding how few resources the Wild are putting into solving this organizational issue.
Luckily for Minnesota, they have an opportunity to improve their goaltending depth for now and the future. The Boston Bruins put Malcolm Subban on waivers today, and Minnesota should absolutely claim him.
Subban was a first-round draft pick of Boston’s in 2012, and he’s currently caught in a numbers game. Established backup Anton Khudobin will take the backup gig behind Tuukka Rask, leaving Subban in the AHL. In Providence, Subban will be the backup behind Zane McIntyre, who wrested the job from Subban last year with a .930 save percentage.
Subban hardly made the most of his cups of coffee in the NHL, allowing 6 goals in parts of 2 NHL games, including a clunker versus the Wild where he saved just 13 of 16 shots.
In case you’re scoring at home, Subban is 4th on the depth chart in Boston, which is pretty disappointing for a first-round pick. That disappointment, combined with the depth the Bruins have in net and his poor NHL showings clearly made Subban expendable in Boston.
Perhaps the Wild are indeed content with placing Stalock behind Dubnyk. But they shouldn’t be. As I said earlier, Stalock has an .899 save percentage since his rookie season. Stalock not only lost his job in San Jose, but couldn’t topple Garret Sparks (.893 save percentage) as a backup once he was traded to Toronto.
And yes, that .899 stat includes the strong 2 games he had for Minnesota last season.
Stalock has been solid in the AHL, but it should be noted that he hasn’t done much to suggest he’s superior to Subban. Over the past 4 years, Stalock has a .920 save percentage in the AHL. Over that same time span, Subban has a .918 save percentage. Virtually identical.
If we’re comparing Stalock to Subban right now, it’s a wash. But in terms of potentially solving the Wild’s issues in net? Subban gets a huge advantage.
Stalock is 30. Subban is 23. Stalock is close to leaving his prime as a goaltender, while Subban has yet to enter his prime years. If everything works out for Stalock, the Wild will have a decent goaltender backing up Dubnyk for the next few years. If things work out with Subban, you have a goaltender who can ease into the starting role as the 31-year-old Dubnyk starts to decline. And since both goaltenders make $650K against the salary cap, they can accomplish this without worsening their cap issues.
Is it a risk to entrust Subban with 20-25 games for a playoff contender? Sure. He’s a young goalie who will no doubt be subject to ups and downs. But the Wild should realize that it’s equally risky to entrust a 30-year-old goaltender who has a bad track record in the NHL.
There’s no difference between the two in terms of risk. There’s a huge difference in terms of reward. Based on that fact alone, the Wild are insane if they decide to further neglect their need for goaltending depth by passing on Subban.