If Saturday’s season finale between Calgary and Minnesota turns out to be Niklas Backstrom’s last time stepping on the ice, he sure got a fitting send-off. The 38-year-old returned to Minnesota for the second time this season, making 35 saves to lead the Flames to a 2-1 win.
With Backstrom’s contract expiring this summer, it seems likely that fans have seen the last of the Finnish netminder. Despite losing his starting job with the Wild and having played just 23 games over the last two seasons, Backstrom should go out being seen as one of the top goalies of the last decade.
Time with Minnesota
At the start of the 2006-07, Backstrom was signed by the Wild to backup then starter Manny Fernandez, but soon took over the starting job, after his incredible play. Backstrom went 23-8-6, while posting a .929 save percentage and a 1.97 GAA, as well as racking up five shutouts. Backstrom was the final winner of the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award in his rookie season, after securing the highest save percentage in the NHL.
Backstrom continued his play over the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, posting a combined .921 save percentage between the two seasons. In 2009, Backstrom was named to the NHL all-star game, and was a Vezina Trophy finalist come the end of the season.
Backstrom would go on to play games in parts of six more seasons through 2009-2015 with the Wild, leaving the team as the franchise leader in games played, wins, and shutouts.
Backstrom also represented his home country, Finland, in two separate Olympic Games, winning a silver medal in 2006, and a bronze in 2010. The Finnish netminder also took home back-to-back bronze medals at the World Championships in 2007 and 2008. In his second appearance in 2008, Backstrom was a starter for Finland, playing eight games and posting a .922 save percentage in the tournament.
After a two straight disappointing years with the Wild, which saw Backstrom play only 40 games between the two seasons, the former starter was relegated to the sidelines. With a crowded crease in Minnesota consisting of Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper, Backstrom practiced with the team, but wasn’t able to get action in a single game this season with the Wild.
So when this year’s instalment of the trade deadline rolled around, Backstrom found himself leaving Minnesota for the first time in his career, to join Calgary. Backstrom went on to play four games for the Flames, most notably stealing the final game of the season against the Wild, and being named the first star of the game.
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) April 10, 2016
Though the final years of Backstrom’s career may not have gone as well as one would hope, his performance must be looked at realistically. Very few goaltenders are still around at Backstrom’s age, and it should be expected to see the play of any goalie aged 35-plus deteriorate. Backstrom’s resume is stacked with awards, all-star game appearances, and franchise records, and he played a large role in Minnesota just a few years ago.
However if Saturday was Backstom’s last NHL game, he went out playing the way that he should be remembered.
Ben is a journalism student at Ryerson University and covers the Toronto Maple Leafs.