The Minnesota Wild only made one NHL level trade on this season’s trade deadline day. The Wild received forward David Jones from the Calgary Flames in exchange for goaltender Niklas Backstrom. Calgary was in a huge need of a goaltender due to injuries, and Minnesota needed to bolster its forward corps. It seemed like a great trade on the surface, but in the State of Hockey lots of people just felt sad to know the longtime Wild goaltender known as Backs was gone.
Everyone knew that this was the right thing to do. The Wild had not played him in net all season, and Backstrom still felt he could compete at a high level. Calgary offered him a chance to actually get playing time before his contract and career ran out. Now with the Flames skating into the Xcel Center it’s worth a look back at Backs’ Wild career before tomorrow’s bittersweet moment as he is scheduled to start against his former mates. As Michael Russo of the Star Tribune put’s it this is an awesome thing to see.
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) March 23, 2016
The Best in Wild History
Backstrom’s NHL career started at age 28 after becoming an established elite talent in Finland for seven seasons. His first year in the NHL in 2006-07 he finished the regular season at the top of the league in GAA (1.97), Save Percentage (.929), and Goals Allowed (75) which earned him the William Jennings Trophy. The bar was set high from the get go and the Wild looked like they were set between the pipes for years.
He posted dominate regular season numbers that saw him win 20 plus games in six of his first seven seasons. Backstrom was an All-Star in 2009 and finished tied for most wins by a goaltender in the 2012-13 season with 24 wins. Perhaps most of all he was the backstop for the Wild’s only regular season division title in 2007-08 winning 33 games that year.
Unfortunately, all that regular season success didn’t translate into the playoffs as Backstrom and the Wild struggled in the two playoff years he had with the team. In 2006-07 they were beaten in the first round in five games handily by the eventual Stanley Cup winners the Anaheim Ducks. The next season would see more of a fight, but alas a first round exit in six games at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche.
Still despite never taking the Wild far into the playoffs, Backstrom’s regular season numbers far eclipse any goaltender in any of the major goaltending categories as best of all time in the Wild franchise. It definitely can be said for seven of his nine seasons with the Wild Backstrom was dominate, until injuries began to take their toll and derail much of the next two seasons.
Injuries Take Their Toll
The 2012-13 season would see the injury bug hit Backstrom hard. In November against the Maple Leafs a collision with Nazem Kadri took him out with an upper body injury that would limit his play. Backstrom would only play in 21 games the entire season, but returned just in time to play in the playoffs. Still as fate would have it Backstrom would suffer a mysterious injury in warm-up for game one of the playoff series against the Blackhawks and have to sit out the entire rest of the playoffs.
In 2013-14 the injury bug would strike again as Backstrom would miss considerable time due to abdominal issues. He missed so much time that he only played in 19 games. The Wild considered buying out his contract at that offseason, but his injury status would not allow it so he started the with the team in 2014-15.
Last season due to nerve damage in his arm he struggled to find his game. He played 19 games and posted only a .887 save percentage winning only 5 games. His poor performance mixed with Darcy Kuemper’s consistency issues caused the Wild to bring in Devan Dubnyk to save the year. For the second straight offseason the Wild looked to buyout Backstrom, but his injury would not permit it once again.
A Chance to Finish Strong
Unable to be bought out of his contract Backstrom found himself a third goaltender behind Kuemper and Dubnyk. He played in only one preseason game against the Jets where he posted a shutout, and it looked as if he might have a little something left in the tank. Still Mike Yeo and the Wild coaching staff didn’t see it that way as Backstrom would not see a minute of game time and would only dress a handful of times to cover back-up duties because of injuries.
Staying positive and continuing to work hard, Backstrom kept working and doing what was expected of him even if at times it seemed as if he deserved a chance at game action. Then out of nowhere on the 29th of February, the Flames decided to see if Backstrom had something left in the tank to help their injury depleted line-up. It turns out he did as Backs got the start against Montreal three days ago and won stopping 21 of 22 shots.
Now to complete the circle the Flames have decided to give Backstrom the start as they roll into St. Paul. Thursday will mark Backstrom’s 230th game at the Xcel Energy Center, and only one of those will be in a uniform other than that of the Minnesota Wild. The name of the front of the jersey won’t matter in this case as I’m sure everyone in attendance and on the benches will be happy to stand up, cheer, and celebrate the career of one of best players to wear the Minnesota Wild jersey.
Danny Lambert has been covering the Minnesota Wild for some time now, and is back again as contributor to THW staff. A native Minnesotan he’s always had his eye on the State of Hockey and is proud to write and represent such a great market and fans. Follow him on Twitter at @dannylambert17