Last week there seemed to be just the smallest glimmer of hope that the NHL and NHLPA might reach a deal, but those hopes were quickly dashed. Now, the two sides aren’t even talking to each other again, and I’m starting to wonder about worst-case scenarios.
If the lockout goes for the full season, that year would just be taken off their current contracts as though the games were played. There are three players whose contracts are up at the end of the year, and I have to wonder what their future holds.
Niklas Backstrom (age 34). Injuries have ruined Backstrom’s last couple of seasons, and some fans are ready to move on to Josh Harding or even Matt Hackett. Backstrom’s numbers have indeed dropped off compared to several we years ago, and at age 34 one has to wonder if he will ever be able to get back to his elite goaltending ways. I guess it all depends on how much “Backs” will be asking for on his next contract, and how many years. Another consideration is just how ready are the Wild to strap their wagon to Josh Harding, who has shown flashed of brilliance but has also had his share of injuries. Then there’s Hackett, who looked amazing in his first couple of NHL games last season but ultimately showed he needs more seasoning in the AHL. I could see the club re-signing Backstrom to a two- or -three year deal at about the same salary as he has been making, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the club cut ties and looked ahead to Harding or Hackett.
Matt Cullen (age 35). Cullen played top-six minutes last year and was a versatile member of the team until he lost the last month of the season to injury. At this stage in his career, Cullen is more of a clubhouse leader and veteran presence on the team. He does not put up great stats, although he is known for being a shoot out specialist, so heroes retain a bit of value to the team. Cullen is also a Minnesota native, so he does bring that element to the team. His future with the Wild might depend on the rapidity of the development of prospects like Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, and Bret Bulmer. If they show they can produce at the top level, it may hasten Cullen’s exit from the team. I think the club offers him a one- or two- year contract so he can finish out his career.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard (age 28). Bouchard is one of the poster boys of the seriousness of concussions, having lost the better part of the last two seasons due to head injury. Whence does play, he still scores points pretty prolifically. He still skates very well, sees the ice better than most players, and can distribute the puck with the best of them. Plus, having missed all that time he has less miles on him than other 28-year olds. I would love to see Bouchard stay with the club, but he would have to take a pay cut, as the team can’t offer him a deal similar to what he was making. As I wrote previously, I really think this one could go either way, but I do hope he stays around because we have seen what he can do if he stays healthy for a full season.