Where the Focus Should Be

I cannot explain in words how easy it is to criticize Marian Gaborik. My opinion of his play, his attitude, and him as a man have been made clear. The fact that he is in a contract negotiation makes it that much easier, and all that much more visible.

What isn't visible is the other side of the coin. The ease at which the criticism could be aimed at the management of the Wild. Today, you get to see just how easy the coin could be flipped, and how easy it would have been for Salcer and Moneybags to make DR and the crew look like the bad guys.

To see this alternate universe, we must simply look away from the IR list, and back onto the ice. There, at the end of the ice, sitting alone in the net is Niklas Backstrom. A quiet, reserved man who says little even when prodded by the media. He is quiet because his play speaks for him.

In the past three seasons, Backstrom stacks up with the very best in the game.
105 GP. 61-21-15, 2.16 GAA, .924 Sv%

Martin Brodeur:
163 GP: 97- 52- 14 2.20 GAA, .914 sv

The disparity in games played is due to the fact that the Wild have continued to try to get Josh Harding to step up and be the goalie they drafted him to be. They brought Harding in to be the replacement for the Fernandez / Roloson dynamic duo. When Harding was hurt in training camp two seasons ago, the Wild dug deep into the European pool and came out with an elite goaltender. Meanwhile, Harding still has yet to show he can be the man the Wild rely on day to day.

Did I mention that Backstrom is in the last year of his contract with the Wild? With all of the focus on Moneybags, and DR even saying that UM is the focus right now, and that Backs would have to wait, Wild fans should be worried.

All of the focus is on a man who has never played a full season due to injury, and who has been an absolute disappearing act in the playoffs. All this while the rock in the net gets over looked and ignored by management.

This is the Brian Rolston negotiations all over again. If DR waits until the season ends, the Wild will lose Backs. Negotiate now, and you can keep him until the end of his career, and likely at a reasonable price.

Now, you are asking yourself, how does this flip the coin? How does this situation make the management the bad guys? It is simple. Because Backstrom has said he wants to stay. Flat out, no conditions, no offer me what I'm worth, no "if they would give me what I want, we wouldn't be talking about it." No, the quotes are much more succinct. From an article by Mike Russo :

"I like my teammates here, like the city, the rink, the fans especially. I feel this is a good place for me to be."
"You know real well the city, the guys on the team, the trainers, everything. It feels like coming home, and now you can't wait to play."

On the management side we get this from Doug Risebrough:

"Backstrom's situation will be addressed throughout the season, not necessarily waiting to the end. But maybe we wait 'til the end."

"It is fearful for some. It doesn't look good if the guy leaves, but players have choices."

Yes, players do have choices. It seems by what Backs is saying, that he has made his choice. Now it remains to be seen if DR and the rest of the Wild management staff have made theirs. As the article suggests, the brass is waiting to see how Harding plays this year. Unless he comes off the bench and throws a shut out in every game he plays, it will be very difficult to dethrone Backstrom.

Could Backstrom have a melt down? Sure he could, and Harding could come off the bench and be an absolute stud. I have been a big supporter of Hards for a long time, and I believe that given the chance he will be an outstanding goaltender. However, when you already have a wall in net, why tear it down and hope the new wall is as good? He has been questioned on some soft goals, and his play in shoot outs. To counter these points, he has worked on his shootout play, and has been stellar on the few breakaways he has faced. As to the soft goals, even the best fall dwon sometimes, folks.

The Wild brass need to consider this decision carefully. Even more carefully than the Roslton negotiation, and the current situation with Moneybags. I doubt the team would be winning these games without Backstrom at his prime, and right now, Harding is not Backstrom.

If the situation is allowed to play itself out, and the Wild are not negotiating with Backstrom as I write this, they are making a terrible mistake. Harding may have been drafted to be the future, and he still may very well be. That said, the future is now, and Backstrom is one of the best in the game.

The differences between the Moneybags situation, and the situation with Backstrom are too numerous to go into. However, the main difference is that Backstrom is one of the best, while Gaborik is simply better than most. Gaborik is not a leader, Backstrom is. The most glaring difference, and the one that flips the PR game is Backs' favor? He wants to be here, and has said so.

Just what we expect from a true superstar.



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