The Minnesota Wild have waived Josh Harding, but it's hard to imagine this will be the end of the line for the goaltender. Whether in Minnesota or elsewhere, you can count on Harding being back in the bigs.
The Minnesota Wild have waived Josh Harding and, if no NHL team makes a claim for him, he will be back in the American League. It might be a step backwards, but there’s no reason to believe this will be even close to the end of the line for Harding.
There’s no shortage of documentation about Harding being able to battle through adversity to make it in the NHL. His fight with multiple sclerosis is no secret, and his performance his first night back after revealing he had the disease – a 1-0, 24-save shutout of the Dallas Stars – is proof-positive it’s going to take a lot more than a demotion to stop Harding.
That said, Harding is not without his baggage. He's coming off of a broken foot and should have been Minnesota's starter this season. Make no mistake, the play of Darcy Kuemper combined with some off-ice issues are what led to his waiving. In fact, the broken foot which has sidelined him since before the season began resulted from an off-ice incident with a teammate and was cause enough for the Wild to suspend Harding without pay. In order for him to be waived on Monday, Harding’s suspension was lifted.
Off-ice issues and MS aside, Harding has had several injuries and missed a total of 116 games due to lower body injuries, 82 of which were from an ACL and MCL tear in his right knee. The 30-year-old netminder has also missed nine games with head injuries and he’s coming off 17 games on the injured reserve with a broken foot. He's had injury troubles, and that could be enough to keep interested parties from putting in a claim.
But all this means is, if someone takes a chance on him, Harding is going to have to prove he’s the goalie we all saw before MS sidelined him for the remainder of 2013-14. Playing more than 1,500 minutes in the Wild goal last season, Harding posted unbelievable numbers, finishing in the top-five for 5-on-5 save percentage for goaltenders that had seen at least 750 minutes of playing time. On top of that, Harding’s performance in tight games was even better, his .944 SP tops among goaltenders with 750 minutes or more at 5-on-5 with the score close.
He’s cap friendly at just $1.9 million per year for this season and next (in actual salary, he’ll be paid $2.1 million), he’s proven he can play in the NHL when he’s healthy, and, though there’s uncertainty about his health, he’d be a good, veteran addition to a few teams around the league.
If he can return to form, there’s a possibility for Harding to flourish in Edmonton or Winnipeg. In Edmonton, he could battle for the starting role and in Winnipeg he could be part of a useful tandem if paired with Ondrej Pavelec. The positives for Winnipeg would also include more development time for Michael Hutchinson in the AHL. Almost any team could bring him in salary wise, but the fit is really only there on a select few squads.
There’s also the distinct possibility that, were he not to be claimed and an injury were to occur to either Niklas Backstrom or Kuemper, Harding would be back up with the Wild. It’s never a bad thing to have a netminder of Harding’s kind waiting in the wings and if he clears waivers, Minnesota would have exactly that.
Whether a team is willing to take a flyer on the Regina, Sask., native is to be seen. With his injury history, you’ve got to think there’ll be more than a couple potential suitors who are scared off. But, when healthy, Harding can be one of the league’s better goaltenders. It’s just a matter of him staying that way.
His suspension and subsequent waiving may be the end of the Minnesota chapter of his career, but it’s hardly the end of his story. Harding will find his way back, and we shouldn’t expect anything less.