MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Doug Risebrough knew Manny Fernandez would have a hard time accepting a two-goalie system in Minnesota.
So rather than wait for the situation to become a problem in training camp, the Wild general manager nipped it in the bud on the first day of free agency.
The Wild traded Fernandez to the Boston Bruins on Sunday for forward Petr Kalus and a fourth-round draft pick.
“I felt like at some point Manny’s situation would resolve itself,” Risebrough said. “If we didn’t get it done today or in the next few days, it probably would have had to wait until September. But it wasn’t like it was going to resolve itself over the summer.”
The trade was approved by the NHL early Sunday morning. The NHL’s salary cap increased Sunday, and Fernandez’s $4.3 million salary would have pushed the Bruins over the $44 million cap if it had happened before then.
The move also gives the Wild some room under the cap to pursue free agents, though Risebrough said he likes the makeup of his club and is “looking for pieces, not replacements.”
The 32-year-old Fernandez was one of three original Wild players remaining with the team. He had a record of 113-102-28 in 260 games with the Wild, with a 2.47 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. This past season, Fernandez and fellow goaltender Niklas Backstrom won the William Jennings Trophy, awarded to goalies on the team that gives up the fewest goals.
The goaltender had been on the trading block since the Wild signed Backstrom to a two-year, $6.2 million contract on June 7. The trade means the Wild will start next season with Backstrom as the No. 1 goaltender and 23-year-old Josh Harding, who impressed last season with a 1.65 goals-against and a .942 save percentage, in a backup role.
“I understood that if I was committed to the two-goalie system, of all the three goalies we had, he was the person who was going to least like it,” Risebrough said. “This gives him a chance to go to a team that needs a No. 1 goaltender and get more playing time.”
But it also is the ending of an era of sorts in Minnesota.
Fernandez has worn a Wild sweater for all six of the franchise’s seasons. He came to Minnesota after playing sparingly in five seasons with the Dallas Stars and became a fan favorite while splitting time with Dwayne Roloson.
“He made a major contribution to our team being as competitive as it has been over the last seven years,” Risebrough said. “He helped shape the way our franchise competed.”
The Wild traded Roloson in 2006 and signed Fernandez to a three-year, $13 million extension to be the No. 1 goaltender. He was one of the best goalies in the league in the first two months of last season, but a knee injury flared up in December and knocked him out for good in January.
In 44 games last season, Fernandez posted a 2.55 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage.
Backstrom flourished after Fernandez went down. The little-known Finnish free agent led the league in save percentage (.929) and goals-against average (1.97), leading the Wild to their first playoff appearance since 2003.
The Wild picked up the Bruins’ fourth-round pick in 2009 and the 20-year-old Kalus, a 2005 second-round pick by the Bruins who is considered a top prospect. He had four goals and an assist in nine games with Boston last season. In 43 games with Providence of the AHL, the Czech native scored 13 goals and had 30 points.
Provided Fernandez is healthy, and all indications are that he will be, the Bruins gained the No. 1 goaltender they have lacked.
Tim Thomas and Joey MacDonald both had GAAs above 3.10, and Hannu Toivonen shuttled up and down between the NHL and the minors as the Bruins missed the playoffs for the second straight season.
“I think all players want to feel like their contribution is significant and meaningful,” Risebrough said. “Moving on is not a negative thing for (Fernandez) here.”