So, when he writes something like:
"My gut though is that there’s been recent conversation. Backstrom, as of
three weeks ago, said the Wild hadn’t contacted his agent. Today he said we had
to ask the Wild or his agent, and that he didn’t want to think about his
contract situation, which makes you think something’s going on. Also, Risebrough
kind of let a little subtle, 'The best thing for me to do is do it in a
strategic, quiet manner, so I’m not commenting any further.'”
I'm inclined to go with his gut.
Why does this matter? Well because, with the Gaborik situation on the back burner, this is THE salient "off-ice" topic around the Wild right now.
There's no doubt that Backstrom has been the team MVP (with all due respect to Mikko) so far this season. At $3.1M he's probably pretty well underpaid. Yes, he's partially a product of the system Lemaire has in place, but he's also a damn fine goalie. Particularly endearing is how he identified areas of weakness in his game, worked on them, and has improved in them (ie breakaways/shootouts.) That's professionalism, folks. And you build your team from the goal-out. No doubt about it.
But...(and you knew there was a "but" coming) if we're looking at getting nothing in return when Gaby skates off as a UFA this summer, and you have some holes (read: scoring), and one of your obvious areas of strength is in goal, then I think you have to at least be open to the idea of trading Backstrom.
Now, personally, I think there have to be a few things in play in order to justify doing so:
1. The Wild has to be out of a playoff spot (at the deadline)
2. Riser has to be able to get the better end of the deal (no guarantee, and that means he has to have the stones to be able to pull the trigger on the deal in the first place)
3. Backstrom is looking for more than the Wild is willing to pay, considering Harding is still waiting in the wings, and there are some other enticing names on the upcoming goalie UFA list this summer.
Furthermore, I personally think all three of those things have to be in play in order to justify moving him.
Which makes it that much less likely that it would happen....
....Which makes the question of whether or not Doug has opened negotiations with Backstrom and his agent (Don Baizley) all the more important....
....Which makes Russo's suppositions all the more intriguing.
And there it is. The resolution of the Backstrom situation will go a long way towards quantifying the immediate prospects for the team's success - regardless of whether or not he's re-signed or traded.
**UPDATE** Russo has added that he confirmed with Baizley that there is an open dialogue. Note that does not mean there's been any meaningful progress, per se. But something's better than nothing, right?
I should add that I would like to see Backstrom re-signed. I think you need a top-flight goalie more than you need another 1st round pick. I think Harding has some trade value, if push comes to shove, and he's a RFA after the season. But, if those three things come to fruition, or if another GM calls you with a great offer, you'd be stupid not to at least consider it.