The Minnesota Wild signed goaltender Josh Harding to a three-year, $5.7 million contract on Tuesday, preventing their backup goaltender from hitting the free agent market on July 1. He had a career-high 13 wins last season, along with a .917 save percentage and 2.62 goals against average as the primary backup to starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom. Harding did miss the entire 2010-2011 season due to a significant knee injury suffered during the preseason.
Having the 28-year old Harding in place and coming off another disappointing season in 2011-2012, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher is certainly not done making moves this offseason. It’s fair to wonder if Backstrom now becomes a viable trade chip in an effort to clear salary cap space for a potential run at free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, who look to be two of the most sought after free agents this summer. So the Wild are likely to have to offer significant money to one or both guys to stand out among the other teams that will be interested.
The most significant issue that would hold up any trade involving Backstrom is his contract, which has him slated to make $6 million in 2012-2013 but does expire after next season. He is also 34 years old, coming off ankle surgery and has not played more than 51 games in either of the past two seasons, so durability is becoming a concern. In all likelihood a small niche of teams would even have interest in making a trade for him, and playoff contenders with a clear need in goal possibly might move to the front of the line if Backstrom is made available.
Fletcher has already said publicly the team has no interest in trading Backstrom, and given his overall track record when healthy and Harding’s own injury issues that is not surprising. But it seems foolish to not be open to trading Backstrom for something of value if an offer comes in, given how the rest of the roster looks to be getting younger in the coming years and the virtual certainty Backstrom will not be back after next season anyway.