As reported on the previous blog here, goalie Josh Harding has been medically cleared to return and was placed on waivers today at 11 a.m. CT by the Wild.
The Wild will find out at 11 a.m. Tuesday if he clears waivers. If Harding does, he’ll be assigned to AHL Iowa.
I gave my opinion on the previous blog as to what I think happens, but part of me is still wavering because on second thought, if you’re a team with goaltending issues, maybe you take the gamble despite the multiple sclerosis uncertainty. After all, Harding was the best goalie statistically in the NHL when he had to be pulled from the lineup last year.
Harding’s salary is $2.1 million with a $1.9 million cap hit, so that isn’t that big a risk.
An update on the previous blog guesstimates, if Harding is claimed Tuesday, a team would carry a $1.48 million cap hit the rest of the year (that’s prorated because we’re six weeks into the season).
If he clears and is assigned to Iowa, the Wild would carry a prorated portion of $975,000 while on loan. That would be a cap hit of $760,000 or roughly $5,200 a day. Now that he is off suspension, for today, the Wild carries his full cap hit, which is $10,000 per day.
Salary-wise, he is owed $1.65 million the rest of the year even if he plays in Iowa. The Wild has plenty of cap space, so this decision wasn’t motivated by cap or financial reasons.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher has landed in Toronto for today’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony, so I was able to speak to him by phone.
Fletcher said he met with Harding face-to-face last night and explained to him the team’s reasoning. He said he left it with Harding that the two would talk again Tuesday if he clears waivers, but Harding gave him no indication that he wouldn’t report to Iowa (Harding has declined comment on the situation through the Wild PR department.
“His focus and goal is to get back and be a quality NHL goaltender again, so it’s another step for him,” Fletcher said. “I think that’s where his focus is right now. I don’t assume there will be any issue.”
Asked why he went the waiver route as opposed to sending Harding to Iowa on a two-week conditioning stint, Fletcher said, “The reality is he hasn’t played in a game since Dec. 31. He missed training camp and the first month-and-a-half this season, and that’s a lot of time for any player to miss. Our main goal now is to help him successfully regain his form of last season, and assuming he clears waivers, we felt this move would best help facilitate that. There’s really no sense in putting a timetable on how long it’ll take him to get ready. This move allows us to just give him the time that he needs to get his game back.
“A two-week conditioning stint, that to me made no sense. He needs to play games. Let’s just get him to Iowa and get him going and not have any artificial timetable attached to it. Things change so quickly as we’ve seen the past several seasons with any situation, never mind our goaltending situation. So our thought right now is let’s just get him down, get him a part of the group and let him get a chance to get his game going, so when we do need him, he’s ready to go. We’ll see how things play out.”
If the Wild loses Harding, the Wild’s only other goalies available down there are John Curry and Johan Gustafsson. Fletcher said if the Wild loses him, it’ll create a different set of circumstances that the team will have to look at, like maybe Ilya Bryzgalov as insurance.
But, Fletcher said, “We didn’t have interest in carrying three goalies on a 23-man roster, particularly with the mumps or whatever the heck it is ripping through us. We’ve had two situations now with [Christian] Folin and [Marco] Scandella where they haven’t had to go on IR, so roster flexibility played a part in this. This is the best move, to get him playing without any artificial timetable attached to it.”
Harding, 30, was drafted by the Wild in the second round in 2002. He is 60-59-11 all-time with a 2.45 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and 10 shutouts.
As for practice for the Wild (which has won three in a row heading into a three-game road trip to Philly, Tampa Bay and Florida), coach Mike Yeo said Erik Haula sustained a charleyhorse last night and he expects him to be able to practice Wednesday and play in Philadelphia on Thursday.
He also hopes defenseman Jonas Brodin will be back for Thursday. He was in this morning and the Wild got him out pretty quickly. His jaw is pretty swollen still, Yeo said. “He is progressing. The way he skates, the way he plays the game. I don’t think he’ll need too much [practice] time before he’s able to come in and help us.”
If Brodin can’t play Thursday, the Wild would likely recall a defenseman again because Yeo prefers Stu Bickel at forward.
Yeo said he has no update on Matt Cooke’s status. “Just not progressing as quickly as we had hoped,” Yeo said. He has missed nine games.
I'll be on KFAN in studio at 9 am Tuesday. Also, no practice Tuesday, so I'll blog after I hear about Harding at 11ish.