Kuemper’s agent says Wild negotiations are stuck, KHL deal ‘could happen’

24 Comments

Earlier today, PHT’s Mike Halford discussed the not-so-promising contract talks between Darcy Kuemper and the Minnesota Wild. Kuemper’s agent Jeff Helperl only reinforced such fears while discussing the matter with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Helperl didn’t exactly shoot down KHL talk, either, stating that “it could happen” if he can’t reach a deal with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher.

“It comes down to Darcy has to play somewhere this year,” Helperl said. “Minnesota, they’re stuck on giving Darcy a two-way deal and I think Darcy deserves more. I’ve basically told Chuck, ‘we’re looking at a one-way deal on a one-year contract.’ They want to do a two-year contract. I just kind of told him where things are at. By no means are we shooting for the moon at all. I just want to get a one-way contract and get Darcy playing more games, and wherever that’s going to be, it’s going to be.”

A lack of leverage

As a 24-year-old restricted free agent, Kuemper’s options are inherently limited, yet the Wild have even more leveraging power thanks to Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding being in the mix. Helperl acknowledged that Minnesota’s other options only make negotiations with Fletcher that much more difficult.

“Chuck keeps reminding me over and over again how healthy they are and how good they’re looking right now, so what am I supposed to do from that?” Helperl said.

Everyone loses?

It’s easy to see the logic driving both sides, but it’s also simple to see why a compromise would be ideal.

Kuemper is just now getting his feet wet at the NHL level, going 12-8-4 with a competitive .915 save percentage in 26 regular season appearances last season (not to mention good work in six postseason reps). Having to uproot to the KHL would likely not be his first choice.

The Wild, meanwhile, would be putting a lot of faith in two question marks in net. Niklas Backstrom’s 2013-14 campaign was derailed by injuries while Josh Harding’s fantastic campaign was derailed by his struggles with multiple sclerosis (a situation that unfortunately opens the door for future questions about his well-being). Harding’s contract also expires after the 2014-15 season, so there’s a lot of uncertainty there.

Backstrom is saying the right things about his health, at least:

Still, the Finnish netminder is 36 and hasn’t put up strong individual stats since 2011-12, when he managed a .919 save percentage,* so how confident can the Wild really be that they have a good No. 1 option in net, let alone a pair of quality goalies for 2014-15?

Considering the promise Minnesota showed last season – especially in pushing the Chicago Blackhawks in a closely fought semifinal series – is it really wise to play hardball here?

One idea for a compromise

Perhaps Kuemper should adjust his expectations and take a compromised two-way deal, as Helperl described to Russo?

Helperl said the Wild is offering Kuemper a two-year deal. The first year would be a two-way deal (meaning Kuemper is paid a lower salary if/when he plays in the AHL and a higher salary if/when he plays in the NHL) and the second year would be a one-way deal (NHL salary in either place). Jason Zucker signed a similarly-designed contract earlier this offseason.

Naturally, there are drawbacks to that plan for Kuemper, but it at least provides one reasonable avenue for compromise. It doesn’t sound like either side is willing to budge at this point, though.

* He went 24-15-3 in 2012-13, but his .909 save percentage argues that he might have been carried a bit there.