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Backstrom Inked to 4-Year Deal

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Per Mike Russo, the Wild have signed goaltender Niklas Backstrom to a 4 year, $24M deal.  The deal also will include a partial no-trade clause in it that is at least two years in length and will continue as long as Backstrom’s ice time continues to prove that he is the team’s number one goalie.

What this does, however, is put the future of Josh Harding in question.  Keep in mind that Harding was supposed to be the future.  He was supposed to start being groomed to take over for Manny Fernandez three years ago.  Harding got injured in camp, Backstrom stepped in as the back up and eventually won the starting role away from Fernandez when Manny got injured.

After two seasons of being Backstrom’s back up, many thought that Harding would supplant him as the starter next season.  After this deal, however, it is fairly obvious that this will not be the case.  With this, Harding easily becomes one of the Wild’s most valuable assets going towards the trade deadline.  With a wealth of goalies in their system (Barry Brust and Nolan Schaeffer have combined to become one of the AHL’s top goalie tandems), the Wild could find themselves in the position to be able to shop a talented young goaltender to address a more pressing need.

Over the past couple days, the Wild have also waived both Craig Weller (yesterday) and Peter Olvecky (today).  By my count, this may leave the Wild with an open roster spot.  Yes, it’s purely conjecture on my part, but an open roster spot at this point in the season is certainly telling.  With the number of teams out there currently looking for goaltending, it is not out of the realm of reason to think that the Wild could move Harding.  His price tag for this season ($750K) also makes for a very tempting trade, especially with the contenders that could be considered to be in the hunt for a goalie and up against the cap.

Who are those contenders you ask?

Washington Capitals: “Wild Killer” Jose Theodore has been solid recently for the Caps, but this does not mean that the team won’t want to shore up with a solid goaltender behind him.  That also does not mean that the team has confidence in him past this season.  The Caps have approximately $1.75M left in cap space and Harding’s salary would be easy for them to fit.  Possible players that the Wild could target in return could be Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr or Tomas Fleischmann.

Detroit Red Wings: GM Ken Holland has been quite frank in his comments that the Wings would not pursue a goalie at the trade deadline.  Until now, however, most of the goalies talked about have had a salary considerably higher than Harding’s.  The Wings have no lack of scoring (which the Wild need) and this could be a strength for strength trade.  The Wings currently only have about $250K in cap room left, but the return for the Wild could easily mitigate that number.  Possible targets for the Wild could include Johan Franzen, Jiri Hudler, Ville Leino, Darren Helm or Valtteri Filppula.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Trades are typically made amongst friends, and Risebrough and Brian Burke are just that.  Combine that with the fact that there is going to be a fire sale occurring in Toronto and that Burke was in town scouting the LA Kings game and that could lead to a Wild/Leafs trade.  The Leafs have over $8M in cap room, so salary is no problem and it makes no sense to speculate as to who the Wild could target, because only Luke Schenn is considered untouchable by the Leafs at the moment.

Are there any other teams that could be in the running for Harding’s services?  Certainly, but these three are the best three possibilities for the young goaltender to end up at in my mind.  In any event, this signing pretty much is saying “Congratulations Nik and good luck Josh.”


Written by bcbenzel

March 3, 2009 at 1:32 pm

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