Niklas Backstrom: 5 Reasons the Minnesota Wild Should Consider Trading Him
Since the 2006-07 season, Niklas Backstrom has manned the crease for the Minnesota Wild, stopping puck after puck with a steely-eyed countenance and eerie calmness reminiscent of Anthony Hopkins' portrayals of the notorious Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
However, the Wild have several young goaltenders in their system, and the time might be right to trade Backstrom. The following slides present five reasons why the Wild should consider moving the stoic Finn.
Backstrom's Stats Have Been Merely Average in the Post-Lemaire Era
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Under the defensively-oriented system employed by Jacques Lemaire, Niklas Backstrom annually posted impressive statistics that were among the best in the league. Since Lemaire left the Wild, Backstrom's numbers have regressed; he is now statistically closer to the average NHL goaltenders than the elite.
In his three seasons under Lemaire (2006-07 to 2008-2009), Backstrom posted a 93-45-22 record, with a 2.23 GAA, a .923 save percentage and 13 shutouts. Following his 37-win 2008-09 campaign, he was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded annually to the league's best goaltender.
After Lemaire announced his retirement as head coach for the Wild, Todd Richards took the helm and installed a system with a more balanced approach to offense and defense. Without a stingy, trapping system in front of him, Backstrom fell from the ranks of the premier NHL goaltenders.
In the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons under Richards, Backstrom's statistics were those of a mid-range NHL goaltender. He compiled a 48-46-13 record, with a 2.69 GAA, a .909 save percentage and five shutouts.
Backstrom has value, but if he posts average numbers again in 2011-12, the Wild will likely not receive as attractive of a trade proposition as they would at present.
Josh Harding Has the Skills to Start and Has Earned a Chance with the Wild
Josh Harding has been in the Wild system since 2002, when the Wild used their second-round pick to select him 38th overall. The Wild have invested a great deal grooming him to be their starting goaltender, and he has shown that he has the tools to be a number-one NHL netminder.
Harding has been impressive while paying his dues and rising through the Wild organization. His achievements include membership on the 2004 Canadian World Junior Team and a 67-40-7 record as a Houston Aero, including a 29-8-0 record in 2005-06 that allowed the organization to trade Dwayne Roloson and promote him to the Wild. In limited, irregular NHL playing time, Harding has posted a 28-39-8 record, a 2.66 GAA and a .915 save percentage.
Before suffering a gruesome ACL and MCL tear in a preseason game against St. Louis on September 24, 2010, Harding appeared poised to challenge Backstrom for the starting role. The one-year, $750,000 contract into which the Wild entered with Josh Harding on July 1st, 2011 signals their belief that Harding has healed and is ready to play.
The 2011-12 season seems like a great time for the Wild to give the athletic and talented Harding a chance in the starting goaltending position.
Backstrom's Salary Could Be Used to Improve the Defensive Corps
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The Wild have made several moves this offseason, acquiring forwards Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle while trading away defenseman Brent Burns. While the Wild appear to have a group of forwards with the potential to improve on their 25th ranked 2010-11 offense, moving Backstrom would open cap room to mitigate the loss of Burns.
Niklas Backstrom is signed with the Wild through the 2012-13 season, and his $6 million annual salary represents 9.3 percent of the projected 2011-12 salary cap of $64.3 million. While the recent signing of Minnesota native Mike Lundin represents a solid addition to the Wild blue line, the money being spent on the demonstrably average Backstrom could be used to sign a veteran defenseman such as current unrestricted free agent Scott Hannan.
Backstrom can be replaced by a goaltender of similar skill for much less than $6 million per year. Adding another high-end defenseman such as Hannan could be the difference the Wild need to reach the playoffs in the extremely competitive Western Conference.
Backstrom Has Had Durability Issues, and He Isn't Getting Any Younger
Niklas Backstrom has battled hip, groin and shoulder issues throughout recent years. He underwent a 2009 surgery on his hip, and despite a implementing a stretching regimen designed to further ameliorate the problem, it resurfaced in January 2011, forcing Backstrom to contemplate yet another hip surgery.
In addition to his hip problems, which have become more and more prevalent in the NHL in the wake of changes in equipment regulations, Backstrom admitted that he played most of the 2010-11 season with a shoulder injury that could require surgery.
Playing goaltender in the NHL is a grueling strain on the human body, and the damage adds up over time. Backstrom, who will turn 34 during the 2011-12 season, is likely to continue to deal with nagging physical ailments as he enters the twilight of his playing career.
Matt Hackett Is Waiting in the Wings
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At age 21, Matt Hackett is coming off of a 2010-11 campaign in which he was an integral part of the Houston Aeros' run to the Calder Cup Finals. The third-round draft pick was rated as the top goaltender of the 2009 draft class by NHL Central Scouting, and as the nephew of longtime NHL netminder Jeff Hackett, he has goaltending in his blood.
Hackett will be with the Wild sooner rather than later. As he continues to progress, he will force the organization to make room for him on the NHL roster. Trading the aging and statistically-regressing Backstrom would allow Hackett to gain valuable NHL experience.
The Wild have two blue-chip goaltenders in Harding and Hackett. Backstrom has served the Wild well, but his best value to the organization at this point may be as a trade prospect.