The COVID-19 virus has provided time for everyone to think and reflect, both on their current situation and the past. With professional sports, worldwide put on hold in its wake it makes us appreciate what we’ve had. The timing of the hiatus was most unfortunate for the Minnesota Wild who was hoping for a chance to battle for a spot in the post-season. If the Wild were to scratch and claw their way into the post-season, the play between the pipes was going to play a critical role.
The Minnesota Wild have had 18 players man the crease for the club over its 19-season long history. Like Lake Wobegon, most of those goaltenders were above average but not great. But who is the greatest of that group?
That is what we hope to try to accomplish today as we rank all 18 of those players who have spent time between the pipes for the Minnesota Wild. To determine who the best goaltender in team history we only used the statistics they garnered from play during the regular season. We also separated the players into 3 groups based on the amount of career starts they had with the Minnesota Wild. The large sample group are goaltenders who have played at least 120 starts with the team, the mid-sized sample are players between 119 starts and 15 starts and our small sample size group have less than 15 starts. Our assessment disregards any of their records with other teams, we only care about what they did with the Wild.
But what is the best way to determine the best? The most important statistic for any goaltender in our opinion is the win-loss record. Winning percentage, a simple calculation of a player’s wins versus how many starts they had was how we looked at that first two sample groups. With the last group, we looked at wins and then used save percentage to achieve our rankings.
Are they perfect? Nope. Will everyone agree with us? Nope. But we’re fine with that. Some players certainly have benefited playing for higher quality Wild teams while others probably were deserving of better records but didn’t have nearly as much goal support. Let’s face it, it was going to be comparing apples to oranges no matter what.
Case in point, Jamie McLennan has the worst win percentage of the mid-sized sample group by far. However he was mostly a victim of minimal goal support during the Wild’s inaugural season. That’s not McLennan’s fault, but one could also argue that those same goaltenders benefited from Jacques Lemaire‘s defensive system. Also, some of these goalies played with the club prior to the advent of the shootout which means the accumulation of ties more or less factors in as a loss since it detracts from a goaltenders’ winning percentage. So let’s just embrace that a difference of opinion is likely and leave at that. Here’s how we see that list of the Minnesota Wild’s best goaltenders of all time.
Large Sample Group (at least 90 starts)
1. Devan Dubnyk ~ 321GS (177-113-28) 2.41 GAA .918% 23 SO (Win pct. 55%) – Dubnyk is soldiering on through what has been a challenging season both on and off the ice, in his 6 years he has the highest win percentage of goaltenders with at least 50 starts. He is 2nd all time in wins and 2nd all time in shutouts in franchise history. His most memorable run came after he arrived in Minnesota after a mid-season trade in 2016-17 where he went 27-9-2 in 39 consecutive starts to deliver the team to the playoffs and he won the Masterton Trophy for perseverance in the process. Dubnyk has been a two-time Hart Trophy candidate and was a Vezina finalist (finishing 3rd) in 2016-17 attests to the fact he has been among the best goaltenders in the league for at least part of his tenure with the Wild. Dubnyk is the only Wild goaltender to have ever have 40 wins in a single season and is the only goaltender in franchise history to have four 30+ win seasons in a row which is a big reason why he tops our list.
2. Niklas Backstrom ~ 354GS (194-142-50) 2.48 GAA .915% 28 SO (Win pct. 54%) – In his 2nd to the last visit as a player to the formerly friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center, he was mocked with a ‘Backstrom’ chant after giving up a few suspect goals. However, he got the last laugh as he earned a win against his former club in his last NHL start. Niklas Backstrom was a free agent find during the Doug Risebrough-era and he gave the Wild many solid seasons and is still the all time leader in wins, starts and shutouts. He was almost always incredibly calm and poised and split the Jennings trophy as the league’s best goaltending tandem in 2006-07. Two years after winning the Jennings he finished 3rd in Vezina voting. It is an interesting ‘what if’ to consider what Backstrom may have accomplished if he had arrived to the NHL sooner than when he did at the age of 28.
4. Manny Fernandez ~ 260GS (113-102-28) 2.47GAA .914%SP 12SO (Win pct. 43%) – The nephew of Wild Head Coach Jacques Lemaire was arguably the team’s most impressive player during their first few seasons. Fernandez could not count on much goal support during those offensively-challenged years and at times seemed to be a bit moody; especially as he started to share the crease with Dwayne Roloson and later Niklas Backstrom. He won the Jennings trophy alongside Backstrom in 2006-07 but more or less forced a trade to the Boston Bruins the following season where he’d win his 2nd Jennings trophy along side Tim Thomas. He often would sniff some smelling-salts before going onto the ice but he never seemed to be content to be in Minnesota. Despite the mercurial attitude, Fernandez gave the Wild a chance to win most nights and his numbers are pretty respectable when you consider how difficult a time they had scoring much more than 2 goals per game in the time he was with Minnesota.
5. Dwayne Roloson ~ 167GS (62-71-27) 2.28GAA .919% 15SO (Win pct. 37%) – The veteran backup goaltender arrived in 2001-02, he served as backup to Manny Fernandez. By the end of the 2002-03 season, the year of their improbable playoff run he had somewhat supplanted Jacques Lemaire’s nephew. Roloson has the best goals against average and career save percentage among goalies in the large sample group. His unorthodox style of handling the puck, with his hand over hand grip, made adventures out of the crease somewhat terrifying but he did occasionally delight crowds by catching a puck and then dropping it and batting it out of the air with his paddle to clear the zone. The Wild would trade Roloson for a 1st round pick to Edmonton and he came dangerously close to helping the Oilers win the Stanley Cup in 2006.
Mid-sized Sample Group (less than 120 starts but more than 15)
Wild goaltender Josh Harding
1. Josh Harding ~ 117GS (60-59-11) 2.45 GAA .918% 10 SO (Win pct. 51%) – The Minnesota Wild drafted Harding in the 2nd round (38th Overall) in 2001 and he probably presents one of the bigger ‘what if’ stories in team history. The rare, right-catching goaltender seemed to be primed to be Minnesota’s goalie of the future as he waited patiently in his time as a backup to Niklas Backstrom. Unfortunately, he would contract Multiple Sclerosis which eventually led to an early retirement from the league. Harding demonstrated tremendous courage after his diagnosis and won the Masterton trophy in 2012-13. His best season was his last one in the league where he went 18-7-3, but Multiple Sclerosis symptoms would continue to flare up giving him no choice but to retire at the age of 29. If those health problems hadn’t arrived, I think there is a fair case to be made he eventually would have had a chance to be a starting goalie with the Wild and perhaps be in the large sample group.
2. Jose Theodore ~ 29GS (15-11-3) 2.71GAA .916% 1SO (Win pct. 51%) – The former Vezina and Hart Trophy winner was in the twilight of his NHL career when he arrived in Minnesota to be the backup to Niklas Backstrom. In fact he had just won the Masterton Trophy after earning 20 wins for the Washington Capitals the season before he arrived in the State of Hockey. Theodore was the quiet and poised professional and provided quality starts in his time with Minnesota. His strong play earned him another chance with the Florida Panthers and he ended up leading them the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
3. Alex Stalock ~ 77GS (37-30-11) 2.77GAA .908% 5SO (Win pct. 48%) – Currently, I think it could certainly be argued that as of the COVID-19 imposed suspension of the season that Stalock is Minnesota’s #1 goaltender. The South St. Paul-native’s affable personality, his impressive athleticism and ability to play the puck sets him apart from many of his peers on this list. As Dubnyk has struggled, he’s been a relative source of stability and is posting career highs in wins and starts this season. The former Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog is under contract through the 2021-22 season and it will interesting to see if he’s carrying the starting goaltender’s mantle next year.
4. Darcy Kuemper ~ 89GS (41-34-14) 2.60GAA .910% 7SO (Win pct. 46%) – The former 6th round pick (161st Overall) in 2009 seemed to have everything you want in a future starting goalie prospect. He had the prototypical NHL size as he had a 6’5″ frame, and he was CHL goaltender of the year in 2011 with the Red Deer Rebels. He continued to play well for the Houston Aeros and eventually made his way up to the big club as a backup to Niklas Backstrom where many hoped he’d be his heir apparent. It just didn’t work out that way as consistency and a bad tendency to let one bad goal turn into 3-4 more bad goals kind of made him a house of cards from an emotional standpoint. Kuemper also had a tendency to get hurt, whether at practice or in games at moments where he could’ve taken on a bigger role with the club. Eventually he’d be let go to Los Angeles in 2017-18 and seems to have established himself in Arizona where he was putting up league-leading numbers. Yet, against the Wild, the mental fragility that haunted him in Minnesota seemed to have followed him after he mocked Eric Staal which led to the Wild burying a bunch of goals in quick succession before getting hurt in an 8-5 loss on December 19th, 2019.
5. Jamie McLennan ~ 38GS (5-23-9) 2.64GAA .905% 2SO (Win pct. 13%) – During the Wild’s inaugural season, I managed to attend two games. I was living in Connecticut for school. I saw two goaltenders in those two games, but alas McLennan wasn’t one of those. McLennan, also known as Noodles, was the perpetual backup journeyman goaltender. His journeyman days even included three games for the Guidlford Flames and he won the Masterton after successfully battling off bacterial meningitis which almost killed him. Interestingly enough, he was the fourth Wild goaltender to have won the Masterton trophy in their playing career. If you’re like me, you’re wondering what league they’re in, you’ll be guessing for a while. That would be in the British National League. Strangely enough hockeydb.com lists no stats for that game. If Guildford wasn’t exotic enough for you, Noodles can even beat that. He finished out his career with 14 games for the Nippon Paper Cranes in Japan. However when it comes to the National Hockey League, he played the most games in a season for the Minnesota Wild. It’s too bad the team in front of him could score enough goals to give him more than 5 wins. While his numbers are not the greatest, he has the honor of being part of the original Minnesota Wild. Perhaps his greatest gift was his affable personality and has carried that on into television as a studio analyst with Canada’s TSN.
Small Sample Group (Less than 15 starts)
1. Anton Khudobin ~ 4GS (4-1) 1.39GAA .955% 1SO – If there was ever a deal that this team has made that ticks me (Theresa) off more than any other deal, it was the one that sent Khudobin off to the Boston Bruins for essentially nothing. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Bruins supposedly traded us minor league defenseman Jeff Penner and forward Mikko Lehtonen. Penner played a bit with the Houston Aeros and Lehtonen never even bothered to make the trip over from the KHL. That still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Considering the goaltending woes the Wild have had after he was traded in February 2011, it really makes me wonder what the Front Office was thinking. He was a player the Wild had developed from the ECHL (with the Texas Wildcatters where he was ECHL Goaltender of the Year) to the AHL but we tossed him away as an afterthought. Mind you, Khudobin isn’t any team’s starting goaltender, but he has built a decent career as a backup goaltender with Boston (two stints), Carolina, Anaheim, and currently Dallas. He currently has 99 NHL wins to his credit in 218 NHL starts. While he had a small sample size with the Wild, you just have to look at his numbers with his other teams. Before this season was put on hold, Khudobin boasted a respectable 16-8-4 record with a 2.22GAA and .930SV%. Not sure if Khudobin could have made Minnesota’s record this season look better, but it couldn’t be worse.
2. Ilya Bryzgalov ~ 11GS (7-1-3) 2.12GAA .911% 3SO – A few years after he opined about the universe in his time with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Minnesota Wild desperately signed the NHL veteran near the end of the 2013-14 season. The big goaltender was clutch, helping the team win the majority of its games and earning a spot in the playoffs. He gave the Wild a chance in the playoffs but he didn’t get much in the way of goal support and after getting a few more looks in pre-season in 2014 the team passed on re-signing him and his NHL career was effectively over.
3. Kaapo Kahkonen ~ 5GS (3-1-1) 2.96GAA .913% – There are high hopes for the Finnish goaltender after his strong play with the Iowa Wild the last two seasons. As Minnesota struggled earlier in the season, in large part due to the play it was receiving in the crease many fans clamored to have the Wild call up Kahkonen. He had a few respectable starts before eventually being sent back to Iowa where he currently leads the AHL in wins (25) and in shutouts (7). Time will only tell if he will be the Wild’s starting goaltender of the future, but so far the future looks pretty bright for Kahkonen.
4. Matt Hackett ~ 8GS (3-7-0) 2.64GAA .914% – When the Minnesota Wild drafted Hackett in the 3rd round (77th Overall) in 2009 he was seen as another candidate to be a future starting goaltender. After performing reasonably well in Houston, he had a competent debut with the big club. Yet as Darcy Kuemper’s star began to rise, Hackett was seen as expendable and he was dealt in the Jason Pominville trade. Hackett struggled after being dealt to Buffalo and eventually was out of the league and took his game to Europe finishing his professional career in England with the Coventry Blaze in 2018-19.
5. Derek Gustafson ~ 4GS (1-3) 2.27GAA .904% – Hop aboard the Wayback Machine with me. It’s the spring of 2001, I’m attending graduate school in Connecticut. To get out of the boring confines of Hartford, I had purchased tickets to attend the Wild’s game against the New York Islanders. I met up with a friend at Nassau Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum to watch the Wild at Islanders game. Prior to the game, I also had the dubious honor of meeting Islanders super fan, Goldie and also ended up in a few pictures with a Japanese foreign exchange student thanks to my Wild jersey. Imagine my surprise when the starting goaltender was announced as Derek Gustafson. Clearly either Fernandez or McLennan was injured or sick. I had a feeling that the lowly Wild had no chance. But surprisingly, Gustafson posted a 4-1 win in that first ever trip to Long Island. In fact, he had a shut out for much of the game until a late Islanders goal, a goal that Wes Walz later apologized for. It was the best game and only win Gustafson had for the Wild or in the NHL, and I’m just glad I was there to witness it.
Wade Dubielewicz of the Houston Aeros (AHL) in February of 2010.
6. Wade Dubielewicz ~ 2GS (1-1-0) 2.98GAA .853% – the former University of Denver star may only have had two starts with the big club, but he certainly was one of the most vocal goaltenders the team has ever had whether on the ice or the bench. Dubielewicz is not your typical goaltender sitting on the bench with a baseball hat on just watching the game like he’s a passive spectator like a lot of goalies. He would be standing up near the boards, doing what he could to help his club. I must admit, I admire how engaged he was into the game and no doubt other teams appreciated his team-centered attitutude. He did have some opportunities in the NHL in stints with the Atlanta Thrashers and New York Islanders. His superior goals against average is why I have him sitting him in 6th instead of 7th.
7. John Curry ~ 2GS (1-0-1) 3.56GAA .890% – Who is the first Minnesotan to start as a goaltender for the Wild? If you said Alex Stalock you would be wrong, it was actually Shoreview, Minnesota-native John Curry. Injuries in the last few games of the season, prompted a late call up from Iowa and Curry managed to earn a victory against the Blues. But it was a fairly remarkable rise for Curry who had started that same season playing for the Wild’s then ECHL-affiliate Orlando Solar Bears before getting his shot with the big club and coincidentally his last NHL start.
8. Dieter Kochan ~ 1GS (0-1-0) 5.00GAA .821% – Injuries to Wild goaltenders forced Dieter Kochan into a start against the Edmonton Oilers where he surrendered 5 goals in a 5-0 loss. It was his last start in the NHL before taking his game to Europe.
9. Zac Bierk ~ 1GS (0-1-0) 6.00GAA .778% – No one would want to be last on this list, but it was a brief and rather forgettable start for the former Phoenix Coyote. Not only is Bierk’s 6.00 goals against average the worst of any goaltender in franchise history, he’s the only goaltender to have a sub. 800 save percentage. At least he can hang out with his rock star older brother and former front man of Skid Row, Sebastian Bach.
So what do you think of this list? Do you agree with it, do you disagree with and if you do how would you rank this group of goaltenders? Tell us on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or @MNSOTA24 or in the comment section below!