Why the Wild should let Backstrom walk

It's a tough time to be a fan of the Wild. Not only has the team not played all that well lately, but all anyone wants to talk about is when a few of your stars are going to make an exit, namely Marian Gaborik and Niklas Backstrom.

Exhibit A:

GM Doug Risebrough, whose squad will be at the Garden Tuesday night, will have to get star goaltender Niklas Backstrom on a new deal very soon, or risk losing him to UFA, too. He's likely to command the $6.875 million average that Henrik Lundqvist is coining with the Blueshirts.

— Kevin Paul Dupont, The Boston Globe

And B:

[Gaborik] isn't the only player the Wild has to worry about. Goalie Niklas Backstrom is also set to become an unrestricted free agent and the team needs to get him locked up to a new deal too. The next little while is going to be extremely important to the Minnesota franchise.

— David Pagnotta, The Fourth Period

Now, Backstrom's a fine goaltender, and has been a great option for your fantasy team for a while now. But he's not worth close to $7-million on a long-term deal.

Even if he was willing to sign on a steep discount, I'd take a pass. And here's why:


Good goaltending numbers grow in Minnesota, that's for sure. Over their existence, the Wild have averaged a .916 save percentage, finishing among the league's top handful of teams every year since some wobbles early in the expansion days.

The NHL average save percentage over that time has been just .904, a world of difference from what we see routinely in Minnesota. The Wild are the top team in this regard in the 30-team era.

Only four goaltenders have made 40 or more starts in the franchise's history — Manny Fernandez, Dwayne Roloson, Backstrom and Josh Harding — and every single one has posted incredible numbers with the team.

Avg. sv% GAA
Fernandez Wild 0.914 2.47
Fernandez other 0.911 2.45
Roloson Wild 0.919 2.28
Roloson other 0.903 2.82
Backstrom  0.924 2.18
Harding 0.919 2.51

Fernandez and Roloson are decent goaltenders, there's no question, but both have seen their numbers dip (in terms of save percentage) when not with the Wild. Fernandez is currently having a terrific year as a backup with the Bruins — a Minnesota clone, really, given Claude Julien's system — while Roloson has regained his form in Edmonton.

And while it's true that Backstrom's posted better numbers in Minnesota, he's played with a much improved team, a group that has made the playoffs the past two seasons and is in the hunt again this year. In their best seasons with the Wild, both Fernandez and Roloson posted comparable numbers to what Backstrom, who turns 31 next month, has to this point.

'00-01 '01-02 '02-03 '03-04 '05-06 '06-07 '07-08 '08-09
Fern. Wild .920 .892 .924 .915 .919 .911
Fern. other .832 .930
Rolo. Wild .901 .927 .933 .910
Rolo. other .905 .909 .901 .921
Backstrom  .929 .920 .927
Harding .904 .960 .908 .935

Harding, meanwhile, is seven years younger than Backstrom, making a bargain basement salary (and likely to again when he re-signs this summer) and has posted excellent numbers in spot duty this season.

Minnesota's money would be better spent elsewhere than on keeping Backstrom, and the Wild's silence on the issue leads me to believe they think the same. It'll be interesting to see how he performs elsewhere — and what sort of contract he gets to do so.

Given how well backups have performed this season, you have to wonder if the Red Wings' strategy to spend little on their 'tenders makes the most sense in a cap system. Other than the truly elite, goalies are simply too inconsistent to invest big dollars in them long term, and there are already some real ugly contracts out there.

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