While their soon-to-be division rival Chicago Blackhawks were getting ready to clinch the Stanley Cup on Monday afternoon, the Minnesota Wild signed goaltender Niklas Backstrom to a three-year, $10.25 million contract.
The 35-year-old Backstrom was a workhorse between the pipes this season, appearing in 42 of 48 games (41 starts) en route to a 24-15-3 record. Backstrom posted solid numbers, recording a 2.48 goals against average and a .909 save percentage.
Credit Minnesota for not allowing their starting goaltender to reach unrestricted free agency on July 5, but this new deal will keep Backstrom in the fold until he’s 38 years old. Coming off of a four-year, $24 million contract, the netminder’s new deal will escalate from $2.5 million next season to $3.75 million in 2014-15 and $4 million in 2015-16.
“Our first priority was to resign Nik,” said Minnesota General Manager Chuck Fletcher. “He’s been a model of consistency over his career. We found a way to give him some security in terms of a three-year deal and in exchange he was willing to work with us in terms of our cap situation and give us a cap number that is very workable for not just this year, but going forward.”
The salary cap space that Fletcher is alluding to is the situation he put the team in largely due to the hefty, long-term contracts he signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to on July 4 of the last summer, under the terms of the NHL’s old collective bargaining agreement. However, Fletcher is undoubtedly sticking to his established gameplan here, as he sees Backstrom as a part of his team’s core.
Unfortunately, Backstrom was not a part of the Wild’s short-lived playoff run. The netminder sustained an injury during warm-ups prior to Game 1 of the team’s first round playoff series with Chicago, and did not appear in any of the five games. Backstrom underwent a sports hernia surgery last month, stating Monday that “everything feels good with the lower core.”
Backstrom’s replacement in that playoff series, Josh Harding, also remains with the club. The backup Harding played admirably against the eventual Stanley Cup winners after being thrust into the crease with a lifetime playoff experience amounting to one game. Additionally, he appeared in just five games during the 2013 regular season.
Still, Fletcher felt that “we’re familiar with Nik. He’s familiar with us… He’s been a model of consistency. He just finds a way to win games year after year.”
Backstrom has been a member of the Wild since 2006, when he was signed as a free agent out of Finland. In his seven years in Minnesota, he has posted a record of 184-124-45, with a 2.43 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. He’s also added 28 shutouts in his 369 career games. He was a 2009 finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
“It isn’t a secret how much I’ve enjoyed playing with the Wild and living in the State of Hockey,” said Backstrom. Fletcher also added that “hopefully, this isn’t the last contract he signs with us,” calling this situation “a win-win.”
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