Goalie-Gate: Josh Harding to Start Fourth in a Row

After dispatching with Clutter-Gate earlier, we turn our attention to what might actually be something to watch develop. According to Russo, Josh Harding will make his fourth straight start on Saturday against the St. Louis Blues.

This doesn't seem like a big deal, right? Harding has given up just two goals against in three games against two of the highest powered offenses in the league. He is a man on a mission, in the zone, playing out of his mind, standing on his head, and all of the other cliches we can throw around for a goalie that is absolutely on fire. It isn't really much of a choice to keep sending the guy out there until the situation demands otherwise.

The problem? Not too many teams carry a $6 million a year back-up with a statistical no-trade clause based on the number of starts he makes.

Let' see if we can sort this out, and make a guess at how this all shakes out. After the jump.

No one thought the Wild had much of a chance in the first game against Detroit this season. The Wild lost,but it wasn't because of the play of Josh Harding. He was lights out, and kept the Wild in the game long enough to get the point for an OT loss they didn't really deserve. Mike Yeo called that game the worst game, systematically, of the season. Yet the Wild walked away with a point. Against the Wings.

When the chance came up to rest Niklas Backstrom again, it lined up nicely with a chance for Harding to get revenge on the Wings. Once again, the team did not play the greatest, but they did score enough goals (one) to earn their goalie a win, and a shutout against the mighty, mighty Red Wings. He was, once again, insane in the net, and it was clear there was no way you pull this guy. Not even for your starter.

Sure enough, Harding was announced as the starter. Second game in a row, both against the Wings. This time, in Detroit. The Wild played one of the best games they have played all year, even if it was a slow start. Once again, the Wild frustrated the wins and took yet another two points away. To say Harding was spectacular in this one would be to say Wayne Gretzky was good at scoring goals. The guy was insane.

He likely embellished the whole game, though. Right?

The Controversy Becomes Real

OK, sure. Harding was playing well. He had five points out of a possible six from the Red Wings, and he had the team in the game the entire time. The guy is out of his mind good right now, but one truth remains. He's the backup. He can have a couple starts in a row, but the man isn't going to just unseat a $6 million man because of a couple games, is he?

He is.

Harding got the start last night against the Canucks, despite not having an excellent stat line against them. The Canucks skated to their "worst loss" they could remember, and Harding allowed just one goal. One. Against a team that scored 12 in their previous two games.

Thanks you, Josh, for the valiant effort, and the six points, but know your role, will ya? Backstrom is the starter around these parts, and that fact is never questioned. I'll be over here, reading my Twitter feed occassionally and making sure nothing slips past.

@RussoStrib: BLOG: Four-peat: Harding in goal again Saturday bit.ly/tv8PWw

Well then...

Looking Forward

The Wild have used a goalie tandem before. Heck, for years it was Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson. Then, Roli the Goalie was traded, and Manny the... um... emotional basket case goalie took the reigns. Even then, Harding was to be the new backup. Then Harding's back injury forced the Wild's hand and they inked Backstrom. It wasn't long until Backstrom outplayed Fernandez and the team was his.

Then, the long term, high dollar contract with the no-trade clause that reads something statistical about him not being able to be traded while he is still the number one in town.

At this point, it is very, very early, but Backstrom is not currently the number one on this team. To think otherwise is foolhardy. Eventually, Harding is going to need a break, and Backstrom will play. What if he shuts out the opponent? Does Harding go back in? Does Backstrom? Is it a "ride the hot hand" situation? Is it now a tandem?

No one knows that. I'm betting not even Mike Yeo knows that right now. It's a great problem to have, and one that can either be handled well, with two elite goalies vying for the start, or it can be handled poorly and become a distraction for not only the two net minders, but also the team.

A couple things we do know with some relative confidence:

1. Niklas Backstrom isn't going anywhere. Even if the NTC comes into play due to a lack of starts, his contract still precludes a trade. I just don't know who trades for a $6 million cap hit this early in the year. If at all.

2. Wild fans better learn the patented Josh Harding fist pump at the end of a win. That's not going anywhere either.

The fact of the matter is, if the team is winning, no one is going to care who is in net. If they hit a rough patch, the controversy becomes a bigger deal. At least to me. And who knows, maybe a team comes calling for Harding, offering some picks or such. Stranger things have happened.

Enjoy it while it lasts, Wild fans. Two goalies is a heckuva lot better than none.

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