With about a month until camp, and considering the general dearth of actual hockey news to chew on right now, I thought I'd start taking a look at the roster to see where the holes are, where it's strongest, etc.
Up first is the goalies. In addition to being the most important position on a team, it is also the position with the least amount of change from last year - at least so far.
Niklas Backstrom is 30 (will not turn 31 until Valentine's Day Eve 2009), and is in the last year of his contract that pays him $3.1M (same cap hit). He will be an UFA after this season - more on that later. According to goaliesarchive.com, Nik has a NHL career regular season record of:
Very, very, solid numbers.
His NHL career playoffs record is interesting.
Of course, the Wild is 0-2 in those two series - though you can hardly fault Backstrom for either series loss.
Backstrom is much maligned for his shootout shortcomings. Nhlshootouts.com tells me that he has the third-worst winning percentage (.267) among goalies with at least 10 shootout appearances in the league. He also has the second-worst SPCT (.491) among goalies with at least 30 shots faced.
Josh Harding is 24 and is in the last year of his contract that pays him $750k ($725k cap hit) after which he will be a RFA. According to goaliesarchive.com, Josh has a NHL career regular season record of:
Decent numbers, in a backup capacity.
Josh has one relief appearance in the playoffs, where he played one period.
Josh has not appeared in enough shootouts to be ranked at nhlshootouts.com.
"Solid" and "decent" are hardly confidence-inspiring adjectives in describing your netminding tandem. Especially when you consider that the goalies in Lemaire's system receive the benefits of the heightened defensive awareness/execution of the rest of the players on the team - which, given the circumstances around JL's "decision process" on returning or not this season, you'd think would be even more in play in 08-09 than it was in 07-08.
Harding is clearly the heir apparent right now, though Backstrom is hardly over the hill. You'd think JL will be hoping to see Hards earn a full tandem role this season, to give DR the insight needed to proceed with each of their contract situations. While it's good (for the team) that both are playing for contracts, and neither really has a margin for error, it's tough to hope you can get more out of a goalie than you already do - particularly when arguably the greatest asset of one of them is his strict adherence to routine.
Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, the 2009 UFA list for goalies isn't exactly star-studded, so, should either Harding grab the brass ring or Backstrom falter, sending Backstrom out in a trade at the deadline might bring a decent return - though the extent to which that return would be blunted by the fact that he played "poorly"/was outplayed by Harding to be getting traded in the first place obviously remains to be seen.
"Should the Wild goalies be better" is really not a pertinent question. Or, at least, it's not more pertinent than, "Does the Wild need better goaltending?"
I'm not sure the Wild is an upgrade from Backs/Hards to Luongo away from Cup contention this year. No, those two don't steal too many games, but they really don't give any games away, either. And, on the list of the Wild's overall issues, I think "lack of elite goaltending" is probably not in the top three (depth at center, supplementary scoring and team toughness all being more prevalent, off the top of my head).
I guess the bottom line is that Backstrom and Harding both control their own fate this season. Again, that ought to be a good thing for the team overall as players tend to perform well in contract years. I don't think it's just Backstrom that could end up as trade bait either. If they both play at the same level, then I could see where Harding would be more desirable to another team than Nik. That the team is relatively thin at goalie at the AHL level (and below), is a concern as well. So you'd think that, for DR to trade Harding he'd have to get back another young goalie who is at least NHL back-up quality - and with some upside.
Should be an interesting year between the pipes for the Wild.