No Progress Made Between Wild, Kuemper
With eight days to go until the start of training camp, the vast majority of Minnesota Wild players have already arrived in the Twin Cities and have been skating together in casual captain's practices led by the leadership corps of captain Mikko Koivu and assistants Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
Still, two familiar faces are missing in the forms of energetic young sniper Nino Niederreiter and potential franchise goaltender of the future Darcy Kuemper. Both youngsters are still unsigned restricted free agents with training camp and the 2014-15 preseason looming.
While contract talks between Niederreiter's camp and Wild GM Chuck Fletcher have been fairly friendly--it was just recently announced the Swiss sensation had turned down a quite lucrative deal from a team within Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, meaning a deal with Minnesota will soon be in place--it's safe to say the same hasn't been true between the club and Kuemper's agent, Jeff Helperl. With the team's top two goaltenders, Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom, entering camp in peak form, Fletcher is unwilling to have three goaltenders on one-way contracts on Minnesota's roster. The problem is, that's exactly what Kuemper, 24, and his agent are looking for.
It's easy to see where the talented young goalie is coming from. Whether it has been Canada's WHL, the ECHL, the AHL or, most recently, the NHL, Kuemper has generally done nothing but succeed. As a rookie last season, the 6'5" 205-pound netminder stepped up beautifully in the place of Harding (multiple sclerosis) and Backstrom (abdominal strain), putting together a 12-8-4 record, a 2.43 goals against average, a .915 save percentage and two shutouts in 26 games. In fact, it can be argued the Wild would never have made the playoffs without his exceptional play. Speaking of playoffs, the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native added a 3-1-1 record, a 2.03 goals against average, a .913 save percentage and a shutout in six postseason games before being knocked out of the postseason by a concussion down a goal in Game Seven of the 2014 Western Conference Quarterfinals against Colorado.
Obviously, the kid is good. However, after not having filed for arbitration, he's fighting a losing battle. As stated earlier above, both Harding and Kuemper are healthy, 2014 trade deadline acquisition Ilya Bryzgalov may be a free agent, but he'll sign a two-way deal at the drop of a hat and there are still a few more talented young tenders in the pipeline in Swede Johan Gustafsson and Finn Kaapo Kahkonen.
That said, Kuemper has put into play the only card he's got left--the KHL. Yes, any KHL deal he signs will have an NHL out-clause, but is it worth getting in Fletcher's dog house, especially considering the kid seems to, by all appearances, be a kid just happy to play in the best league on the planet?
Ultimately, it comes down to this: Helperl wants a one-year, one-way deal while Fletcher wants a two-year deal which would transition from two-way to one-way in the second year. The fact of the matter is that Minnesota's GM doesn't want to add another big name to the group of youngsters entering restricted free agency next summer. Big ticket forwards Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Erik Haula, and top young defensemen Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Christian Folin will all be in need of new contracts with limited cap space available. That's another reason why negotiations with Niederreiter and his agent are taking so long; Fletcher has to get it exactly perfect because you can bet the farm it will set the tone for contract talks with the Granlunds, Coyles and Brodins.
If Kuemper is smart, he'll take all this into consideration. He may be the goaltender of the future in St. Paul, but he'll need all that talent around him if he's got any chance of backstopping the club to its first league title.