6 foot 1 Finnish goaltender, Niklas Backstrom, has been a key part in the Wild’s young history. His success in SM-liiga, the Finnish league, included winning back to back titles in 2004 and 2005. Despite his skill, he was 27 years old and unable to to enter the 2006 Entry Draft. Entering the league as a free agent, the Minnesota Wild signed him on June 1, 2006.
In the 2006-07 season, Backstrom back stopped Manny Fernandez. He would get the starting position earlier than expected when Fernandez got injured mid-season. Backstrom played above expectation and led the league in GAA and save percentage. On top of that, he tied Roly the Goalie’s franchise record of 5 shutouts in only 36 games. That offseason, Niklas Backstrom won two awards; the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award and split the William M. Jennings award with teammate Manny Fernandez.
In 2007-08 Manny Fernandez was traded to the Boston Bruins and Backstrom stepped in as starter. He would butterfly his way to a 33-13-8 record. This would secure the Wild a third seed in the playoffs. Hoping to ride their success into the playoffs, the Wild met a disappointing end at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. They lost in 6 games. Entering the 2009 season Niklas signed a four year, $24 million contract. He would go on to have another great season and earn himself a Vezina nod, but wouldn’t be able to get the Wild into the postseason.
In 2012, Backstrom would start the season well but suffered injuries and the Wild shrunk out of the playoff race. In 2013 his numbers would remain good but a disappointing first round exit was started mostly by Harding. He also signed a contract extension. Unfortunately, his playing time as well as his stats dwindle due to injuries and subpar play. His spot as starter would be tested by Josh Harding and rookie Darcy Kuemper.
Fast forward to 2014-15. The Wild would start off hot but would slowly collapse due to overall bad play. Then the savior, Devan Dubnyk arrives and both Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom’s positions are at risk. Especially Backstrom. He ended the season 5-7-3 with a 3.04 GAA and a S% of .887. Entering the 2015 postseason, Minnesota’s main priority was to resign Dubnyk and free up some cap space. Backstrom was on that list. However, buying him out would be a hassle because he suffered an undisclosed injury. Finally Backstrom shared his injury, he suffered from severe nerve damage during the post season as a result of aggravating his preexisiting elbow injury. He told reporters he could use two of his fingers.
Bottom Line: Niklas Backstrom was Minnesota’s number one for a chunk of the franchise’s history. He is the all time leaders in wins with 194, won two awards and led the Wild to consecutive playoff series. Unfortunately he entered the league as a seasoned veteran but was a NHL rookie at an age where significant improvement is almost impossible. To make matters worse, when he wasn’t winning he was plagued with multiple injuries that slowed his development. Regardless, whether he stays or renews his career elsewhere, I wish him all the luck in the world and hope he can safely recover from his current ailment.