It appears that Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding may be closer to returning to the team, as he was assigned to the Houston Aeros of the AHL this week on a conditioning assignment. After finding out in the offseason that he had multiple sclerosis, Harding started the season with the Wild and recorded a shutout in his first appearance. Shortly after that, things took a turn for the worse as complications from the medication he takes sidelined him in early February.
The Aeros play on Friday, Saturday and Sunday this weekend and it is likely that Harding starts two of those games to see if he is ready to return to Minnesota. In his absence, Darcy Kuemper and Matt Hackett have seen time backing up Niklas Backstrom. Hackett was traded to the Buffalo Sabres for Jason Pominville at the trade deadline, and Kuemper remains with the Wild. In five appearances as a rookie, Kuemper is 1-2-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average. Backstrom has started 10 straight games but won just four of those contests.
Harding was drafted in the Wild in 2002 (second round), and appeared in more than 100 games for the Aeros from 2004-07. He recorded 67 wins, with a .948 save percentage and seven shutouts. In his NHL career, he has appeared in 121 games with the Wild, and has a 42-52-8 record with seven shutouts. The Wild currently hold down the sixth spot in the Western Conference standings, but have just a one-point lead over the St. Louis Blues (seventh) and a two-point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets (eighth).