UPDATE: Harding cleared waivers and will report to AHL Iowa.
Minnesota Wild have put goaltender Josh Harding on waivers today after being suspended by the team without pay for breaking his ankle in a dispute with a teammate earlier this season. He broke his ankle in training camp and hasn’t suited up for a game yet this season.
Harding was an early Vezina candidate last season going 18-7-2 with a .942 even strength SV% and a 1.65 GAA. His season was cut short at the end of December when he had complications from Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disease that has appeared multiple times over past few seasons causing Harding to miss extended periods of time.
The combination of Harding’s broken ankle along with the stellar play of emerging goaltender Darcy Kuemper to start the season has found Harding out of a job on the Minnesota Wild. Any long term plans of Harding being the go-to goaltender in the Minnesota organization have been thrown out with Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom being under contract through 2016 and Harding scheduled to become an UFA at the end of the season.
There is a good chance Harding will be claimed off waivers at noon tomorrow as he’s a talented goaltender, carries a cheap salary hit of $1.9M (actual salary of $2.1M), and is scheduled to become an UFA at the end of the season. This presents a low-risk, high-reward option for many teams who could be searching for goaltending depth both this season and into the future. Assuming his ankle is fully healed and there are no other problems resulting from it, a main concern with Harding would be another MS complication that would cause him to miss time. The fact that Harding hasn’t played a game in 11 months presents a problem, but a good goaltender can get back in the swing of things with a conditional stint in the AHL and a few NHL games. Even so, his cap hit is low enough that it is worth taking the risk this season. Several teams have been struggling in net thus far and could use the help of Harding between the pipes:
Dallas – Dallas boosts one of the most potent offensives in the game with the likes of Seguin, Benn, Spezza among others. Their biggest weak spot this season has been their goaltending as Kari Lehtonen has been average and backup Anders Lindback has been pitiful. With over $5.3M in cap space, Dallas has more than enough space to for the extra $1M it would cost to add Harding then waive Lindback to the minors. Adding Harding would provide Dallas with a solid goaltending foundation they need to compete with the best of the West.
Buffalo – In full rebuild mode, Harding would be the perfect piece to center the organization around in net. With Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth both set to become UFAs at the end of the season and a scrinking goaltender market, Harding would be a great option for the future as they don’t have to give up anything in return.
Edmonton – The Oilers are another team that has struggled stopping shots this season. With Viktor Fasth becoming an UFA at the end of the season and likely not coming back, Harding would become a more affordable backup to Ben Scrivens but presents the problem of what to do with him for the rest of this season.
Arizona – The Coyotes have struggled this season in net, mainly on the back of Mike Smith. Harding would instantly help Arizona but Mike Smith is signed long term for a $5.6M salary hit and a NTC. A better solution would be to given Devan Dubnyk more starts.
New Jersey – New Jersey has struggled this season and Cory Schneider has started every game. Adding Harding would give the Devils a stronger backup allowing Schneider more rest and let prospect Keith Kinkaid to continue to develop while starting in the AHL.
Columbus – Columbus has faced a magnitude of injuries this season and struggled while Sergei Bobrovsky was out of the lineup. Curtis McElhinney was given a chance to shine in net but is 1-5-1 this season. Bobrovsky and Harding would make for a great 1-2 combo and help the Blue Jackets starting climbing in the East.
We’ll see tomorrow at noon whether Harding will be reporting to the Wild’s AHL affiliate, the Iowa Wild, or if he’ll be packing his bags and moving to a different organization. Landing in Dallas makes the most sense, but crazier things have happened.