‘Realistic chance’ Wild will carry three goalies next year

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Following a season in which they had four different starting goalies, the Minnesota Wild are thinking they can trim that number for next year — by one.

“I wish I could sit here and tell you we had the answer right now,” GM Chuck Fletcher said, per the Pioneer Press. “That’ll be part of the process we go through right now and in June at our organizational meetings.

“Certainly, some of the doctors will play a part in this, the salary cap will play a part in this, and we’ll sit down and try to make the best decisions we can. But certainly there’s a realistic chance that we need to have three goaltenders next year.”

Here’s how the situation looks as of today…

Josh Harding: Under contract ’til 2015, at $1.9 million per. Unclear if he’ll be healthy enough to return, as complications from a change in multiple sclerosis treatment forced him to miss the second half of the season and playoffs.

Niklas Backstrom: Under contract ’til 2016, at $3.4 million per. The 36-year-old suffered through an injury-riddled campaign this year, playing in just 21 games while posting a .899 save percentage and 3.02 GAA.

Darcy Kuemper: Pending RFA, will definitely be back as he’s viewed as the club’s goalie of the future. Will be interesting to see what price he’s signed for, though, as the Wild have $5.3 million committed to goaltending next season already in Harding and Backstrom.

Ilya Bryzgalov: Pending UFA, unlikely to be back.

All in all, it’s a pretty muddled situation. Carrying three goalies is rarely a popular option for NHL clubs — it ties up a roster spot, you can only dress two each game and practice becomes a jugging act trying to get guys equal time — but it might be a necessity for Minnesota given Harding and Backstrom’s health concerns, and the fact Kuemper has never played more than 26 games in a single NHL campaign.

It’ll be interesting to see what Fletcher does here, and how Mike Yeo plays into it. It sounds as though a contract extension is coming for the head coach, and one would think he’d like some assurance he won’t be playing the goalie carousel game all of next year (especially since many praised Yeo’s coaching job this year in spite of all the uncertainty the Wild had in net.)