The Minnesota Wild locked up 28 year-old goaltender Josh Harding for the next three years, a deal worth $5.7 million over that stretch. The contract is a raise for Harding, whose previous deal paid him $750 thousand last season. The contract sets the Wild up for the future after starter Nicklas Backstrom, age 34, becomes a free agent, scheduled for the summer of 2013.
But for anyone playing "Brian Burke - Home Edition," don't make the mistake of believing that Harding's new deal in Minnesota makes Backstrom an option via trade for the Leafs next season, or any other team for that matter. Backstrom won't be going anywhere.
Pierre Lebrun reported as much this afternoon, stating that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher wanted to keep Backstrom and Harding as a formidable "1-2 punch" in the West. Such isn't a bad plan with the two posting similarly strong numbers. Backstrom posted a GAA of 2.43 and a save percentage of .919 while carrying the bulk of the work, while Harding posted a GAA of 2.62 and a save percentage of.917 through 34 games, the heaviest workload of his career, as the Wild groomed him to be their starter for the future.
But while the Wild are solid in net with both Harding and Backstrom, there is probably more to Fletcher's remarks than a "strong 1-2 punch." More realistically, it would seem as though Backstrom would be hard to move.
Despite strong goaltending, there are numerous question marks for a Wild team seeking to contend in the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The Wild were strong throughout the first half of the season, only to drop to twelfth in the conference. But injuries to Guillaume Latendresse (16 games played) and Mikko Koivu (55 games played) deprived the Wild of much needed scoring, while the additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi didn't translate to wins.
Fletcher will be among the top bidders if Zach Parise hits the open market in July, as he needs to add scoring to his roster that ranked dead last in the NHL in goals scored, 17 back of 29th ranked Los Angeles. But would Fletcher give greater consideration to dealing a proven starter like Backstrom, in relatively high demand in the league this summer and after making a commitment to Harding, to fill those scoring needs? Perhaps if he could.
The fact is that the 34 year-old Backstrom carries with him a $6 million cap hit and, again, is a free agent next summer. What team, even with the most dire goaltending needs, would deal for a one year rental at that hefty a cap hit, not to mention the package Minnesota could command to complete such a deal?
Or think of it this way. Even a contract as unappealing as Roberto Luongo's would charge a team $4.5 million next season, and at least give that team the stability of knowing their situation in the crease through 2022. Luongo's contract is more affordable for next season and at least allows for a plan and stability, while Backstrom would serve as the most expensive temporary stop-gap in the game.
Any deal for Backstrom would almost certainly require an extension upon signing, if not some restructuring, which would not even be considered until a new CBA is set in place this fall, we hope.
So one way or another, Backstrom will stay, and Minnesota will be safe in net. But regardless of their goaltending strength, without additions to the offense, Minnesota will find themselves in the exact same spot they were last Spring when the trade deadline comes around. At that point, when teams are willing to deal for large expiring contracts for the playoff run, Backstrom may be the most sought after goaltender in the game. But for the time being, Chuck Fletcher will have to work to see that this "1-2 punch" isn't the only punch his roster has.