According a to a report on tsn.ca today, the Wild are apparently kicking tires on 41-year old Martin Brodeur as they look to shore up their bizarre goaltending situation heading towards the postseason. Ignoring the obvious sentiment that seeing Martin Brodeur outside of any uniform that isn’t the ugly-as-hell Devils ensemble (and Chicago is also apparently interested), lets take a deeper look at what Martin Brodeur in a Wild uniform would look like.
The why is, of course, obvious. Josh Harding’s inspiring story continues to hit roadblocks, and he is currently sidelined as he tries to get his MS medication right. Without this situation the Wild would never be looking for a goalie, as Harding was Vezina-Trophy good during the first half of the season before his horrible luck struck again.
In his stead, the Wild have the seemingly rapidly-aging Niklas Backstrom, who has been frequently injured as well and has been well off the NHL pace when he does play. Backstrom doesn’t look like anything more than a below league average backup at this point, so he obviously isn’t the answer.
Which brings us to young Darcy Kuemper. Judging by his face, Darcy is 23 going on 11, and his NHL career now spans 22 games over two seasons, of which the last dozen or so have been spectacular, culminating with a shutout of Edmonton on Thursday night, with a pair of oh-my-god-i’m-in-so-over-my-head playoff appearances in last year’s first round playoff debacle against Chicago sprinkled in for seasoning.
There are so many reasons not to trust Kuemper. First of all, the 22 games. Kuemper’s overall career stats are as follows: 10-5-0 with a 2.20 Goals Against and a .920 Save Percentage. Are those number you would take in a playoff goalie? Absolutely. But anyone can put together 22 games and look like an NHL goaltender. In addition, lest we forget that Kuemper’s run is actually shorter than that. He was decent in his three regular season starts last season, but his first two appearances in 2013-14 (against Toronto and Montreal in October and November, respectively) were atrocious, allowing 6 goals on 16 shots. His playoff appearances against Chicago last May were less than stellar as well, though he was thrown into a horrible situation, so judging him on that might be too harsh. In any case, you could be of the opinion that Kuemper is too raw to take the Wild anywhere beyond the regular season, and you could be right.
So we should go get us some Marty Brodeur, right? Let’s pick up the greatest goalie of all time (Patrick Roy on line one for me, Glenn Hall on line 2) and get him into the playoffs for his swan song, right? Ummm. I don’t know. Certainly, Brodeur can still play, but at what level? His goals against average is 2.52, high for him, and his save percentage is .899, which is A) not starter material and B) the same as Niklas Backstrom’s (make of that what you will, but it bears mentioning). Yes, Marty Brodeur is the greatest, or one of the greatest, ever to play his position, but he is 41 years old, and even legends fade. There is a decent bet that, at this point in his career, he isn’t better than Darcy Kuemper, so why give up assets to get him? Furthermore, what if the Wild did grab Brodeur, only to have Harding make a return? Now Brodeur is the third best goalie on the roster, and he’s not exactly a guy you can scratch.
Brodeur isn’t the only goaltender whom the Wild have been linked with. Seemingly anyone who is available at present is someone the Wild are interested in. That includes the marquee names (Ryan Miller), the once great (Cam Ward) and the “has a pulse and knows how to put pads on” (Justin Peters, Viktor Fasth, etc.). So, if not Brodeur, whom should the Wild target? Well if you ask me, which no one will, my answer would be…absolutely no one.
The Wild are in an interesting position. Unless they completely combust, one would think that they will make the playoffs. They will also likely not get anywhere near the Stanley Cup once they do, so loaded is the Western Conference with teams significantly better than our boys. The addition of a big-name goaltender will not close the gap between the Wild and St. Louis, Chicago, San Jose or Anaheim, but time and development will.
The Wild are playing good hockey without their captain and also without their best goaltender. The former will return, perhaps today, the latter may not, but if he does, he deserves to play. They are also a very young team that is still growing. A list of key contributors for the Wild right now that are all under the age of 25 includes Mikhail Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon Marco Scandella and Kuemper. While the four “best” Wild players (Parise, Suter, Koivu, Pominville) are all 29-31, they are not so old that this team desperately needs to upgrade to a Stanley Cup level contender right now, and with so many players still growing into the NHL (and you could expand that list above to include Haula and Zucker as well if you felt like it) they are still a contender in development. Why not see what you have in Kuemper? He’s already passed one baptism by fire, backstopping the Wild out of their late December funk and through an terrific January, and in my humble opinion he has earned the right to at least continue the extended interview process he’s getting.
In 1993, Martin Brodeur was a young goaltender who had spent most of the previous two seasons in Utica before the Devils gave him his shot. He of course went on to win the Calder Trophy that year. In 2005-06, Ryan Miller emerged from the minors to lead the Buffalo Sabres to the Eastern Conference finals, establishing himself as an elite goalie. That same year, Cam Ward was the Carolina Hurricanes backup goalie when the playoffs began. He finished that playoff run with a starting job, a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy to his name.
The Wild could have any one of those goaltenders by next Wednesday for the right price. For the price of nothing, they can continue to see what they have in young Darcy Kuemper. Given what you read in the previous paragraph, you should understand by now that all great goaltenders have to start somewhere. And while Kuemper may never turn out to be anywhere near as good as the three men just mentioned, if the Wild grab one of them to block his path, they will never find out one way or another.