Splitting games between a veteran duo is no longer the plan in net for the Wild: Marc-Andre Fleury has become the undisputed starter.
The Wild cleared that up on Tuesday, trading Cam Talbot to Ottawa for backup Filip Gustavsson. That put an end to the speculation about whether the Wild would be able to reunite Talbot and Fleury after Talbot was disappointed with his reduced workload in the playoffs.
“It’s probably best to just move in a different direction with Cam,” General Manager Bill Guerin said. “That way there’s no drama. There’s no controversy or anything like that.
“We just felt that it was best at this time.”
Cutting ties with Talbot wasn’t initially the Wild’s intention. After re-signing Fleury last Thursday to a two-year, $7 million deal, the team envisioned bringing back the same tandem even though Talbot was upset he wasn’t the starter for most of the postseason.
This strategy came into question in the aftermath of Fleury’s deal when Talbot’s agent made comments to TSN at the NHL draft about Guerin having “a lot to think about.”
Guerin’s reply? Talbot is under contract and, “My team’s set right now.”
Both sides agreed to take a couple of days to “cool down” and after contemplating the situation more, Guerin said he didn’t want to put the team or the two goalies in an “awkward position” that compromised the team’s success.
“We have good chemistry. We have good culture,” Guerin explained. “Those things can’t exist if we’re going to continue that. Just in more thinking about it, I felt it was best.
“Cam is a wonderful guy. He’s a big part of where our culture is today, and it’s not that he would have been a problem. It’s just sometimes there’s a little awkwardness, and that’s not always the best thing.”
Although Talbot did not demand a trade, Guerin said, they did discuss the scenario.
“I was in no way shape or form obligated to do anything,” Guerin said. “If we would’ve decided to keep him, we would’ve kept him and worked through it.”
Talbot leaves after two seasons where he went 51-20-9 with a 2.71 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and five shutouts.
He signed a three-year, $11 million contract in 2020 to take over as the Wild’s No.1 netminder after revitalizing his career with Calgary, and the 35-year-old remained at the top of the Wild’s depth chart until the 37-year-old Fleury arrived at the March 21 trade deadline. From then on, the two shared the crease until the the three-time Stanley Cup champion Fleury started Games 1-5 before Talbot replaced him for Game 6, a series-ending loss to St. Louis.
“Sometimes you just know in your gut that things might not work out, and somebody might not be happy,” Guerin said. “I don’t want a player to be like that either, and sometimes it’s best to just move on.”
But Talbot’s departure didn’t just shake up the Wild’s goaltending. His exit also created more salary cap space for the team on the eve of NHL free agency, which opens on Wednesday at 11 a.m.
Before this trade, the Wild had only about $1.4 million to work with; now after replacing Talbot’s approximately $3.67 million cap hit with Gustavsson’s $787,500, the team has roughly $4.3 million in wiggle room.
This increase, however, might not change the Wild’s spending habits.
A depth forward is still on the team’s radar and with its lineup almost at gridlock, that could headline the team’s activity barring any more trades — especially since the team anticipates Marco Rossi competing for a roster spot.
Nick Bjugstad and Nic Deslauriers are set to become free agents and although Deslauriers made an impact after an in-season trade from Anaheim, Guerin expects Deslauriers to receive quite a bit of interest; that could price him out of the Wild’s budget.
What the team doesn’t need to shop for is a goalie.
Gustavsson was actually an option the Wild had evaluated in the event Fleury didn’t return. Even though Guerin is disappointed he won’t get to see how a Fleury-Talbot partnership would have fared, he does notice promise in Gustavsson, whom Pittsburgh drafted in the second round in 2016 while Guerin was in the Penguins’ front office.
A 24-year-old from Sweden, Gustavsson is coming off a 5-12-1 season with the struggling Senators in which he posted a 3.55 goals-against average and .892 save percentage.
“Filip can really flourish here, and he can learn a lot,” Guerin said. “Not that he wasn’t in Ottawa, but it’s a different style here, a different way of playing, and I think he’ll benefit.”
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