Minnesota Wild: Is Josh Harding's New Contract a Sign of Big Things to Come?

Riley Kufta@@RileyKuftaContributor IIIJune 28, 2012

ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Josh Harding #37 of the Minnesota Wild celebrates an empty net goal by Cal Clutterbuck #22 to seal a 5-3 win against the Anaheim Ducks during the third period at Honda Center on December 4, 2011 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Last week, the Minnesota Wild announced that they had signed goaltender Josh Harding to a three-year, $5.7 million contract. 

The extension came as a surprise to many, as Harding's strong play over the years have earned him a chance at being a starting goalie in the NHL. Of course, with the consistent Niklas Backstrom between the pipes in Minnesota, it's unlikely that Harding will get the deserved time. 

So what does this mean? 

Well, in addition to the raised stocks of available goaltenders like Roberto Luongo and Jonathan Bernier, this could be a sign that something big is on the way in Minnesota. 

In order for Harding to sign this extension, one of two things must have happened. It either means that Niklas Backstrom is in play and will be moved this summer, making way for the Josh Harding-era, or it means that the team has demonstrated such a commitment to winning that Josh is willing to remain a backup for at least one more year if it means getting a chance at the cup. 

With a save percentage of .919 last year, and an average of .918 over his career with the Wild, it is highly unlikely that Backstrom will be getting moved this summer. 

Following the 2012/13 season, Backstrom is an unrestricted free agent. When the Wild do part ways with the Finland native (if ever), it will likely be next summer. 

So, this leaves us to believe that Harding will not only become the starter in a few years, but that the Minnesota Wild will make some moves in the meantime that could put them in serious contention. 

Although they missed the playoffs last season, Minnesota was one of the stronger teams in the league until some untimely injuries to Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse. 

So what could they do to ensure a future of success? 

Well, for starters, if the Wild did nothing they will likely improve from last season simply due to the health of their big players. But they will also likely make a big splash in free agency. 

With free agency set to commence this Sunday, the Wild have already been linked to big-name free agents such as Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. 

At this point you're probably thinking "who isn't interested in those guys?", and you're completely right. But the big difference with Minnesota is that they not only have a great hockey market and fan base, but the funds available to pursue these players. 

According to Capgeek, the Wild currently have just under $20 million available, and not too many players left to sign. The prospect of going after Parise or Suter, if not both, if the opportunity presents itself, makes complete sense. 

With loss of Marek Zidlicky at the trade deadline, you'd have to think a defender is the top priority for the Wild; in which case, they should be considering other guys like Shea Weber, Matt Carle and Jason Garrison as well. 

Although time will tell what's in store for the Wild, Chuck Fletcher likely has some free agency tricks up his sleeve that he's shared with Josh Harding, and we might be seeing a very different looking Minnesota Wild come this time on Sunday.