In 17 years of play, the Minnesota Wild have trotted out 16 goalies in total. An average of nearly a goalie per season may seem like a franchise constantly searching for a reliable backstop, but to their credit, the Wild have been remarkably good at finding goaltenders written off by other teams.
Without question, a list of this nature simply won’t compare to the pedigree of teams that have been around for decades. Regardless, the Wild have been among the league’s best in defensive categories since their inception and that can be attributed to the consistency of a few goalies.
3. Josh Harding
The reason for choosing Josh Harding as the third-best goalie in Wild history has a lot to do with his story. Sure, you could easily make a case for the combo platter of Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson for their role in the Wild’s 2003 playoff run as a fledgling franchise, but Harding’s tale goes far beyond sports.
Most people don’t realize that Harding played eight seasons with the Wild. The problem was that he played second-fiddle to Niklas Backstrom who had the goalie position on lock at exactly the same time. It wasn’t until 2012 when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 28 that he gained notoriety. After his illness became public, his play elevated.
With his career on a timer, Harding pieced together a remarkable string of 29 games to begin 2013-14, going 18-7-3 while posting a 1.65 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.
Harding’s story is that of a career cut far too short by measures out of his control. Now retired, he remains close to the game by coaching and helping Bryan Bickell, a former Chicago Blackhawks rival, in his fight with the same disease.
2. Devan Dubnyk
When Dubnyk’s career with the Minnesota Wild ultimately comes to an end, he’ll more than likely top this list. It’s simply inevitable. He’s been such a huge part of the Wild’s emergence as one of the NHL’s best teams and it doesn’t seem like that will change as long as he’s around.
Since his arrival to Minnesota and subsequent evolution into a top netminder in the league, Dubnyk has unquestionably played the biggest role in turning a team on the brink into a force in the Western Conference.
As a member of the Wild, Dubnyk’s stat line is ridiculous. His record of 91-45-11 is second to only Braden Holtby since coming to Minnesota and his 2.08 GAA and .928 SV% are tops in that same time period.
It’s difficult to consider the position the Wild would be in had Duby not been the saving grace in 2014-15. The Wild began the season by giving Darcy Kuemper the keys to the kingdom and he faltered. What followed couldn’t have been predicted by anyone and the Dubnyk-Wild relationship has been mutually beneficial ever since.
1. Niklas Backstrom
Not a huge surprise here.
Niklas Backstrom is the Wild’s franchise leader in virtually every category. Games played, wins, shutouts, you name it, he owns it by a massive margin.
Backstrom’s journey to the NHL was anything but ordinary. Undrafted out of Finland, he signed a one-year deal with the Wild as a 28-year-old free agent. He immediately assumed the backup role behind Manny Fernandez while waiting for his opportunity. When Fernandez was injured midseason, Backstrom took over the starting job and never looked back.
He led the league in GAA and SV% for the remainder of that season and notched five shutouts in 36 games while guiding the Wild into the playoffs. Fernandez was traded during the offseason and that paved the way for Backstrom to control the crease for the next six years.
What’s impressive about his tenure as the Wild’s primary goalie is that he achieved success during some of the team’s weakest seasons. From the 2008-09 season through 2011-12, the Wild missed the playoffs four straight years. Despite that, Backstrom was as reliable and resilient as you could ask, as he held it together for a team that struggled to provide offensive support.
While he had an unceremonious ending to his career in a Wild sweater, Backstrom was able to hear one last roar from the Wild faithful when he returned to Xcel Energy Center as the enemy last year.