The third edition of this article series looking at the history of the Minnesota Wild looks at the franchise’s top four goaltenders of all time. The Minnesota Wild have been a strong defensive team throughout their history and that has undoubtedly helped the goaltending talent. The franchise has gone through phases of rolling two goaltenders and having one main starter, even having three netminders on the roster. This article discusses and ranks the main four goaltenders in franchise history.
4. Josh Harding
Harding has played in 117 games for the Wild posting a .916 save percentage and 2.65 GAA during that time. He has posted six shutouts and generally served as a back-up to Niklas Backstrom. Harding was arguably under-appreciated in recent seasons due to seeing limited ice time because of Backstrom’s dominance of the crease. He missed the 2010-11 season due to injury, but caught some serious attention with a strong first half to the 2011-12 season. He posted a .917 save percentage and 2.62 GAA while playing in a career high 34 games.
The 28-year old struggled a little in the second half of the season and may be wondering where he fits into the long-term plans for the Minnesota Wild with young netminder Matt Hackett starting to move through.
3. Manny Fernandez
Fernandez appeared in 260 games for Minnesota winning 113 of those games posting a .914 save percentage and 2.47 GAA along with 12 shutouts. Fernandez was great at playing the puck outside of the crease. He mainly served as the junior partner in his duo with Dwayne Roloson, though his play in the long playoff run in 2003 was better. His discipline and mentality was questioned in the pre-lockout NHL and he sometimes struggled for consistency as a young goaltender.
Fernandez really came into his own in 2005-06 and took over the starting role from Roloson. He excelled in that season, but he would struggle with injuries and eventually watched as Niklas Backstrom took over the starting role from him in the very next season. Fernandez would manage just 32 NHL games after being traded by the Minnesota Wild due to injuries and sign of poor play.
2. Dwayne Roloson
Separating Roloson from Fernandez, the man he shared net duties with for most of his time in Minnesota, was a difficult one. Roloson was the slightly favoured goaltender in the pre-lockout NHL getting more starts than his younger counterpart. He finished with the best statistics amongst all NHL goaltenders posting a .919 save percentage and 2.28 GAA. He also secured more shutouts than Fernandez registering 15 despite playing nearly 100 less games.
Roloson was slightly unfortunate to lose his job to Fernandez and would enjoy a run all the way to the Stanley Cup finals with the Edmonton Oilers that same season. The Minnesota Wild leaned heavily on Roloson during seasons where they weren’t able to assemble strong, deep rosters.
1. Niklas Backstrom
Backstrom may not possess the very best statistics of NHL goaltenders with a .918 save percentage and 2.42 GAA. He holds the franchise record by miles with 26 shutotus and 327 appearances. He stole the job from a red hot Fernandez in his first seaso and finished with a save percentage higher than .920 in each of his first three seasons. Backstrom isn’t the biggest goaltender, but he has great athleticism and seems to be one member of the glut of Finnish goaltending talent consistently impressing in the NHL.
Injuries have slowed the 34-year old down over the last two seasons, but he continues to produce consistently and has been the first man in Minnesota Wild history to own the starting role all to himself. He appeared in each of the playoffs that the Minnesota Wild have taken part in since the previous lockout.
Backstrom will soon face a challenge for the starting job from Hackett in the coming years. Still, the 2012 lockout will possibly help him rest up and get healthy and could help him prolong his career just that little bit longer.