Josh Harding should never make it to Iowa.
When the Minnesota Wild activated the 30-year-old goaltender from injured reserve Monday and immediately placed him on waivers, no doubt some of the front offices in the 14 teams below the Wild in the standings took notice.
An off-ice incident in which Harding broke his foot left a poor impression on the Wild, which runs the league’s seventh-stingiest defence and must be satisfied by the work of current duo of Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom.
Add that Harding hasn’t played an NHL game in 11 months and that his setbacks due to multiple sclerosis make him doubtful to play big minutes consistently, and it’s possible he clears waivers Tuesday.
But when you consider the abysmal play of some of the NHL backups on teams with playoff expectations, and then look at Harding’s affordable $1.9-million salary cap hit (his deal expires on July 1), he could make a terrific rental at relatively low risk.
Just one year ago the 30-year-old Regina native was one of the league’s best stories. He went 18-7-3 with a sparkling 1.65 goals-against average, .933 save percentage and three shutouts in 29 appearances last season before being shut down in early 2014 because of issues with the medication he takes for M.S.
True, the Wild’s emphasis on defence could boosts most goaltenders’ stat line, but once Harding shakes off the rust, he could step in to play a significant support role on an underachieving team looking to turn things around fast.
Here are four clubs below the Wild in the standings that should submit a waiver claim before noon Tuesday and take a gamble a goaltender cable of some fantastic play.
New Jersey Devils
Talk about not having faith in your backup. If Cory Schneider — the NHL’s clearest No. 1 — starts for the Devils Tuesday in Winnipeg, he’ll tie Martin Brodeur for the franchise record in consecutive starts with 19. No other NHL goalie has started every game for his club this year, evidence that coach Peter DeBoer doesn’t have much faith in Keith Kinkaid, who has posted a .909 save percentage in 27 minutes of relief for Schneider this season. Harding could fill the hole missing in the Devils’ lineup since Brodeur left at the end of last season.
For all the praise general manager Jim Nill gets (deservedly) for his off-season acquisitions, his pickup of Anders Lindback (formerly of the Tampa Bay Lightning) in free agency has been a bust thus far. Lindback’s numbers — 0-3-0, 4.41 GAA, .852 save percentage — have resulted in an over-reliance on starter Kari Lehtonen. Disappointing out of the gate, Dallas ranks 28th in goals allowed. The 31-year-old Lehtonen could benefit by sharing the workload.
Columbus Blue Jackets
We see your 28th-ranked defence, Dallas, and raise you. Only Buffalo — which has no playoff aspirations or expectations — surrenders more than Columbus’s 29th-worst 3.47 goals per game. Billed as team on the rise, the Blue Jackets’ lack of goaltending depth was exploited when started Sergei Bobrovsky (broken finger) hit the IR. Although a serviceable NHLer at times, 31-year-old Curtis McElhinney has been shelled this season: 1-5-1, 3.65 GAA and a .887 save percentage in eight appearances.
We liked how Edmonton set up its goaltending situation heading into this season, especially after the Craig MacTavish and Dallas Eakins’ musical crease saw the Oilers start six(!) different goaltenders in 2013-14. Neither Ben Scrivens nor Viktor Fasth had started more than 40 games in one NHL season. Perhaps they push each other to become a decent tandem, or one would run with it. Hasn’t happened. Both goalies have losing records and sub-.900 save percentages. Harding might be an affordable short-term experiment, one that could force Scrivens and Fasth to improve.