Alex Stalock knows he'll have to earn the Minnesota Wild starting goalie job for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, even after his breakout regular season.
"I think whoever is looking the sharpest you got to go with the first night," Stalock said Tuesday. "You roll right into a [qualifying] series. It's probably the first time for a lot of people to go through a training camp, and then all of a sudden you're playing some of the most meaningful games of your lives."
Stalock expects the Wild to have a clean slate at the position, and potentially even a three-man competition with himself, Devan Dubnyk and rookie Kaapo Kahkonen, at the start of training camp, which the League has said will not be before July 10. The Wild would face the Vancouver Canucks in a best-of-5 series as part of the NHL's Return to Play Plan, which will involve 24 teams competing for the Stanley Cup.
Stalock emerged as the Wild's starter before the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. He played an NHL career-high 38 games (36 starts) and going 20-11-4 with a 2.67 goals-against average, .910 save percentage and four shutouts. He had been a backup for most of his nine-season NHL career with the San Jose Sharks and Wild, overcame a serious leg laceration in 2011 and had multiple stints in the American Hockey League following the injury.
The 32-year-old was named the Wild's nominee for the Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. The award is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
"I think, as an individual, it's an honor to take it, but this is a team award for sure with this group," Stalock said Tuesday. "The way we competed throughout the ups and a lot of the downs we had, to get our way back into contention was, I think, a big reason I had a chance to be up for this award."
Despite his strong season, Stalock expects the Wild to have a clean slate at the position at the start of training camp, which the League has said will not be before July 10. The Wild would face the Vancouver Canucks in a best-of-5 series as part of the NHL Return to Play Plan, which will involve 24 teams competing for the Stanley Cup.
Dubnyk, who had been the Wild's starter since arriving in Minnesota during the 2014-15 season, went 12-15-2 in 30 games (28 starts) with a 3.35 GAA, an .890 save percentage and one shutout. He also missed time in November and December while his wife, Jenn, dealt with a medical situation. But he said last month he thinks he's still capable of being a No. 1 goalie.
Wild coach Dean Evason, who replaced Bruce Boudreau on Feb. 14, reportedly said last week that he hopes it'll be a difficult decision to make between Stalock and Dubnyk. Minnesota's goalie competition also could include Kahkonen if rosters are expanded for the 24-team tournament.
Kahkonen went 25-6-3, with a .927 save percentage and seven shutouts in 34 games with Iowa of the American Hockey League and was named to the AHL First All-Star Team. He was recalled by the Wild when Dubnyk was on personal leave and went 3-1-1 with a 2.96 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in five NHL games.
Stalock, who has stayed in Minnesota with his wife and children during the season pause, acknowledged that some NHL players have skated during the break but others haven't been able to. He said he imagines the coaching staff will be more understanding than a typical training camp given the varying circumstances for each player.
"Three months is probably the longest time that guys have been off skates," he said. "You get goalies that report and want to show what they've done and what shape they're in, how they're looking, and that'll kind of set the lineup, I believe.
"Guys are going to do the best they can to be ready to go because we're so honored to be able to get into this [qualifying] format. It worked for us to get in to be able to play for the [Stanley] Cup. I know guys are feeling energized and fired up."