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SAVE JOSH HARDING! (Warning: Not for the casual fan)

Goaltending: it's easily the toughest position in the sport of ice hockey. Nobody on the team is under a hotter pressure cooker. The goalie is the only player on the team who carries a win and loss record and the elite are few and far between. The Minnesota Wild have a bona-fide #1 goaltender in Niklas Backstrom, but are also a team notorious for finding above average goaltender prospects. However, that very strength has led to five goaltenders on the Wild depth chart who are major players in the future of the Wild's net. The question is basic but the formula is complex: Who is the future of the Minnesota Wild's net? My answer: It's a tough choice and this season will be what determines that. The only firm argument I have: Josh Harding should not be traded this season. I warn you now, however, this article is for the serious thinker and if you want everything out of it, set aside at least 30 minutes to consider what I have to say.

Wild fans have raved about the idea of trading Josh Harding, which would open the back up position for Endras and pave a nice road for Matt Hackett to begin walking along for NHL success. I will tell you right off the bat, Harding should not be traded this season. The reasoning behind that logic is simple: Harding will not command a return that is truly his worth, which is something the Wild will absolutely require if they make any trades this season. The unfornate thing is, Harding's worth is completely subjective at this point and has little objective evidence to back him up other than weak arguments such as, "He's never posted below .900 SV%, even in junior," and "Have you seen what this guy can do with that glove?" Sorry folks, that just doesn't hold water to an NHL GM.

Face it, the Wild have very little hardware they can afford to trade at the professional ranks when the holes they need to fill are concerned. While the Wild's defense has been overblown into what some poorly educated analysts consider "the worst in the league," I refuse to believe the Wild do not require an upgrade. No matter how you analyze it, the loss of Brent Burns hurt. The Wild are without a legitimate top pairing defensive leader and currently have nobody on the depth chart who will be ready to take those reigns realistically within the next two or three years. Jonas Brodin could definately blossom into that, but he's at least four or five years from taking the responsibilities Burns had and his offensive potential is still up in the air a little. Marco Scandella definately has potential as an all-around defenseman, but when the chips are counted, he's most likely second pairing material. If the Wild are going to make a trade, it's going to bolster the blue line with the ultimate goal of gaining a young, potential top pairing defender.

Since the starting goaltender position brings so much pressure onto a netminder, there's really only three types of goalies GMs will really consider for acquisition. First is an established starter. Second is a prospect with a promising future. Third is a back-up with statistical evidence to support starting upside. All else are traded for depth, small team needs and late draft picks. Just ask a guy like, say, Johan Hedberg.

There is a basic concept a lot of casual fans fail to realize about NHL General Managers. That concept is that any smart GM has a magic number when it comes to considering an off-season trade to acquire a goaltender with starting potential in mind. That magic number is games played in the last season. Compare that number to his vital statline (Wins, GAA, SV%) and that GM will determine if he's a quality potential starter. Of course, the initial question is always, "Did this goaltender ever in his career have starting potential? If so, does he still?"

There is always tons of subjective questions GMs will ask when considering acquiring a starting goalie such as injury history, mental makeup, ability to play a total game, strengths vs weaknesses and age. It's the objective questions that tend to be statistically based and will really end up being the clear, cut and dry answer. A goalie may be the greatest guy in the locker room, work harder than anybody else, but he gives up 3 goals a game on average and posts a save percentage under .900. Sorry, but no intangibles or personality traits can change the fact he just isn't that good.

If I were an NHL GM, I would bust out the calculator and literally use a mathematical formula to generate a statline which I believed was a fair assessment of that goalie's season if he were to be the starter. If you want to follow it, bust out a slip of paper and a calculator and figure out a few backup goalies. It's by no means tough math, just a decent amount of work and the ability to pay attention to what I'm about to propose. If not, skip the math and proceed to the bottom of the article.

The formula would consider the minimum amount of games I believe a quality starter should play. I call this my baseline number That number for me, is 60. To me, a starter should handle no less than 75% of games (I cut off the last 2 games of the regular season to make the math a lot easier).

Then I figure my magic number which is 50% of what I believe the minimum games a starter should play. My magic number is 30. This number is the bare minimum of what I believe a good cross-section can be developed. A goaltender to be traded for should meet this number. If he's close or I particularly believe in him, I will accept and use the number 30 for calulation's sake.

I then figure my minimum statline for a quality starter's season: 60 GP, 2.75 GAA, .905 SV% and then compare to the player in question's statline.

Now for the big calculations. I figure out exactly what percentage of games the goalie in question played compared to my Required Number. I call this the X-Percentage. If he played 30, the x-percentage is exactly 50%. If he played 40, he rests at 33%. This formula: 1.00 - (Number of actual games played / 60GP)

Almost done. Now it is time to create what I call stat degradation. This is simply a pessimistic view that the goalie would end up having worse stats had he played a full 60 games which would trend towards (but not fall below) the stats I believe are the bare minimum for a good starter (because I already believe he may be a quality starter). OK! FINAL CALCULATIONS! Now we figure out the actual stat degradation. Take the goalie in questions statline and find the positive difference between that and the minimum stats for a quality goalie. Take the difference and multiply by the X-Percentage and add the results to the minimum stats. I other words:

Degraded Stats for GAA = [(Actual - Minimum Stat) x X-Percentage] + Minimum Stat
Degraded Stats for SV% = Actual Stat - [(Actual - Minimum Stat) x X-Percentage]

Now let's put this formula into action using a real life goalie. I will use Jaroslav Halak's stats from the 2009-2010 NHL Regular Season, his last with Montreal. Halak was traded that summer for two prospects, which included high value asset Lars Eller.

My Magic Number: 30GP

Halak's 2009-2010 Statline:
45GP, GAA 2.40. SV% .924

My Minimum Starting Goaltender Statline:
60GP, GAA 2.75, SV% .905

Halak's X-Percentage: 25% = 1.00 - (45GP / 60GP)

Halak's Degraded Stats
GAA: 2.49 = [(2.75 - 2.40) x .25] + 2.40
SV%: .920 = .919 - [(.924 - .905) x .25]

Halak's Actual 2010-2011 Stats
57GP
27W, 21L
GAA: 2.48
SV%: .910

If I were a GM, I would say if Halak were to have played 60 games, which is my minimum requirement for a starting goalie, he would have a GAA of 2.49 and a SV% of .919considering I'm assuming his performance would slightly decline with a heavier load. I would compare these numbers to my current starter, which at the time was Chris Mason. Mason's statline was 61GP, 2.53 GAA and SV% of .913on what would could say is a particularly good season for a goalie with questionable starting upside. Assuming Halak can continue his performance, he may be worth a trade. Add subjective factors in such as Mason's inconsistency season to season, compare ages, Halak's playoff performance and Halak's overall upside down the stretch, not only are the statistics better, he has a potential future.

Alright... back to Harding! IF YOU SKIPPED THE MATH, PICK IT UP HERE. Take a second to clear your head from all that math... Now look at Harding's statline from last season. If Harding were to be traded, he would almost need to have a tag as a "near immediate starting goalie" to get anything of real value in return. I won't even mention his statline. You can figure out that result without the math.

Great fans of the game know politics will play a role and a rebuilding team looking to shop a player will grant that player ice time to advertise. If my instincts prove me right, Harding (once returned from injury) will see at minimum 25 starts this season. His performance will be the beacon to judge two things from the Wild management: His starting upside for the Wild's future, or a possible trade opportunity.

If Harding absolutely stands on his head for those 25+ games, our dear Niklas Backstrom could end up the trade target. A bona-fide, quality starter with Backstrom's credentials demand a huge return. It's all a matter of how much faith develops from Wild management in Harding. The best thing that could happen to Harding is (knocking on wood and God FORBID) is Backstrom being unable to man the net for over half the season, giving Harding a chance to truly showcase himself as a #1. If not, Harding goes in the off-season, and unless someone calls with a particularly nice offer, he will not be dealt at the deadline. Why? Management needs that extra time to showcase his skills late into the season and the chances of a juicy proposal are slim. Harding needs a good season to give positive answers to subjective questions GMs will ask, and a good statline to give confidence to the objective ones.

All in all, this season requires a lot of moving parts to go right for the Wild if they want to trade a peice of their goaltending depth for a decent, fair return. Success and failure in that regard, could very well play a large determination in the Wild's restructuring all together. The clock is ticking for Backstrom and Harding, but more importantly, for the Wild management. Because when it's all said and done, the Wild have little else to offer in their push to make a contender in the near future and sales have to be made. The only question is who...

The opinions posted here are not those of Hockey Wilderness

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