The Wild were able to clear up part of their uncertain goaltending situation on Thursday when they retained Marc-Andre Fleury on a two-year, $7 million contract that stopped the future Hall of Famer from testing free agency for the first time. But the decision to keep Fleury could have an impact on the future of veteran goalie Cam Talbot, who remains under contract for one more season at $3.7 million.
Talbot’s agent, George Bazos, met with Wild general manager Bill Guerin on Friday in Montreal during the third round of the NHL draft, according to Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic. LeBrun reported that Bazos said via text that, “We both stated our positions,” and, “Billy has a lot to think about.”
Guerin, who didn’t get pushed around during his NHL career and certainly isn’t going to be pushed around as an executive, had a quick response. “I don’t have s— to do,” he said, according to Michael Russo of The Athletic. “Cam Talbot’s under contract. George can say whatever the hell he wants. My team’s set right now, and that’s the way it goes. We can have all the discussions we want. Cam’s a member of our team. We really like Cam. All we’re trying to do is win.”
The issues between the Wild and Talbot date to last season. Fleury was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline and he and Talbot split the goaltending duties for much of the remainder of the regular season. But Fleury, a member of three Stanley Cup championship teams in Pittsburgh, started the first five of the Wild’s playoff games against St. Louis. Talbot started the sixth game, in which the Wild was eliminated, and afterward Talbot’s wife, Kelly, took to Twitter to indicate her husband’s time in Minnesota might be coming to an end.
Bazos’ text to Lebrun did little to indicate his client was happy to see Fleury stay in Minnesota, although Fleury did say Friday that he had texted with Talbot.
Guerin is right in that he controls Talbot’s future for at least one more season, but one has to wonder if he wants a goaltender who is going to pout over the potential loss of playing time? After acquiring Fleury in March, Guerin said that Talbot had been great about the situation, adding, “There’s no room for petty bulls—.”
The issue is that with the 37-year-old Fleury and 35-year-old Talbot, the Wild have a very good one-two tandem in goal for the coming season and salary-cap issues mean replacing Talbot with another veteran would be difficult. The Wild have only about $1.4 million left in cap space, and 2021 first-round pick Jesper Wallstedt from Sweden likely will spend the coming season with Iowa of the AHL.
There is potential that a team desperate for goaltending help could inquire about Talbot and might be willing to overpay, especially if they strike out on a goalie once free agency opens Wednesday. Guerin, however, also could play hardball with Talbot.
“I think both me and Cam will play,” Fleury said. “I think it will be very similar to last season. Both of us will play, and I think that’s something that will make us good, too, right? Because every night we’ll have a fresh goalie in net and a guy who can win games. We’ll help each other and push each other. It will be good for the team.
“It’s good with me. I get along great with Cam. He’s a great goalie, a great person and I think sometimes it’s a little easier on the body, too. (I’m) getting a little bit older. The rest during the season helps staying healthy and staying fresh for when you’re playing.”
Fleury wouldn’t get into what teams had expressed interest in him, but confirmed he had options. It’s likely the Toronto Maple Leafs would have pursued him had he gone to market. Although he played only 11 regular-season games with the Wild, going 9-2 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .910 saves percentage, Fleury decided Minnesota was the best place for him and his family.
“I like the team, I like the guys in the locker room, the coaches and staff,” he said. “The welcome I got at the rink from the fans and around town, too. It’s a great place to keep raising my family, my kids. … It’s a good team. I think we still can win some games. That’s very important to me. I’m looking forward to that.”
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