NHL Rumors: Could 2013 Be Niklas Backstrom's Last Season with Minnesota Wild?

By Mark Donatiello
Brace Hammelgarn – US PRESSWIRE

The Minnesota Wild have less than 200,000 dollars in cap space this year, and the salary cap is set to fall six million dollars next season.  Ironically, that is the exact salary cap hit that starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom carries in the final year of his pricey contract.

After locking up money in prized free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, do the Minnesota Wild have plans to bring Backstrom back next season?

The goaltenders in the Minnesota Wild system are extremely talented, though unproven.

Josh Harding is battling MS, which renders him an unpredictable asset going forward.  The 28 year old has spent his entire career with the Wild, showing both flashes of greatness and spells of mediocrity throughout his tenure.  Harding’s MS diagnosis means fatigue and inconsistency could plague the rest of his career, though he is fighting through his new condition with dignity and valor.  Harding could be ready to take over the starting role with a career GAA of 2.65 and a saves percentage of .915.  Still, relying on Harding going forward is a bit risky.

Matt Hackett is another goaltending prospect in the Minnesota system that has seen some NHL playing time.  The 22-year-old netminder is just 3-6 in 12 appearances in the NHL, but his numbers are strong.  He had a 2.37 goals against average while stopping 92.2% of the shots he faced in a brief stint with the Wild.  Hackett is another unproven asset in the Minnesota system, but he has potential.  Unfortunately, Hackett is an RFA next season, and making the decision to let Backstrom walk could mean paying Hackett significantly more on his next deal.

If the Wild elected to let Backstrom leave as an unrestricted free agent next season, Hackett and Harding would likely be the tandem to replace him in net.  Johan Gustafsson could also be in the mix, as the Wild have no shortage of young goaltending talent.

While it would be nice to hold onto Niklas Backstrom, who has been a consistent presence in net for the Minnesota Wild over the years, the Wild do have the prospects to move on without him.  As such, if the price isn’t right this offseason and Backstrom isn’t prepared to take a large pay cut on his next contract, this could be the last season Backstrom spends in Minnesota.

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