Minnesota Wild 2011-12 Season Preview: Goaltending

If ever there was an area the Wild are locked in on, it is goaltending. While there is still a rather annoying vocal, rather small, minority that wishes to see Niklas Backstrom traded (despite a no-trade clause and large contract) and Josh Harding minted as the starter, Backstrom is a capable backstop, with elite abilities and the Wild would be a totally different team without him in net.

It is a case of be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it all. A Wild team without Backstrom is not a very good Wild team, and fans lasted exactly three years before they jumped off the ship. Someday, the "Trade Backstrom" campaign will stop. Probably the day his contract expires.

After the jump, a look at the Wild's goaltending situation this season.

Additions: None

Subtractions: Jose Theodore

The signing of Theodore last season was a bold stroke of genius for Chuck Fletcher. We all thought, for sure, that Anton Khudobin was the heir apparent for Harding, and yet, there Fletcher was, in Finland (who that could be done?), signing a veteran free agent goalie to back up Backstrom. The move worked, as Theodore turned out to be the best free agent the Wild signed last year.

This year, in a bit of a surprise, Fletcher brought Harding back, allowing Harding to rebuild his career and make a case for a job elsewhere next season. Matt Hackett, Darcy Kuemper, and Dennis Endras are all in the wings, waiting for their chance to shine. With only one AHL affiliate, and only two goaltending positions, the Wild have some choices to make. With the talent of these goalies, that decision will not be easy, and no matter what, will be second guessed.

Question to Answer

With five goaltenders in the system, where do they all end up?

Elise: Well, Backstrom and Harding seem to be pretty set at the 1-2 up with the Wild. After that, it will be interesting to see where the other three end up. Hackett sounded like he was pretty good throughout the Aeros' Calder Cup Run, but Kuemper and Endras both seem like solid prospects, too. Regardless of where they end up, it's nice to know that they're there rising through the ranks.

JS: Backstrom and Harding with the Wild obviously, with Hackett, goalie for the Calder Cup finalist Aeros last season,  and Kuemper, the best CHL goalie last season, fighting it out in Houston, Hackett surely taking the no.1 job there. It's not really clear to me what will happen with Endras, who was expected to back Backstrom up if Theodore or Harding didn't re-sign. I think there are a lot of teams who would love such a logjam in goal. It's kind of like that George Carlin joke about buying 66 pairs of sneakers so you'd be set for life. The Wild are set in net for a loooooong time.

Bryan: Backstrom and Harding will be with the Wild, barring injury. Hackett has the starting role in Houston to lose. That leaves a question of what to do with Kuemper and Endras.

If the Wild do not keep Endras in the AHL, they will return him to Germany. His old team referred to themselves as "Endras' former team," however, so they don't see him coming back. I think the Wild like Endras, and at 26, has the experience in pro level hockey that Hackett doesn't. If Endras is the third in line, it also leaves Hackett in Houston to play if there is an injury.

Kuemper, on the other hand, is an award winning, stellar young talent ready to go pro. But if Endras and Hackett are in Houston, where does Kuemper go for playing time? The Wild no longer have an ECHL affiliate, but with the way minor pro hockey works, he could go anywhere.

My bet is this: Backstrom and Harding in St. Paul. Hackett and Endras in Houston. Kuemper goes to an ECHL team, possibly an old friend, the Florida Everblades.

Nathan: Too many goaltenders = tradebait. Josh Harding has four or five months to earn his career contract. He will be moved before the end of the season. Either Matt Hackett or Dennis Endras will end up replacing him leaving the other to share time with Darcy Kuemper in Houston. The fifth guy will start (most likely Kuemper) in the ECHL.

Prediction of the Day

Is Josh Harding a member of the Minnesota Wild after the trade deadline?

Elise: I haven't had the chance to see the goalie prospects play, but if one of them is ready to make the jump, I would say Harding is gone. He could be good bait if he gets some solid playing time and puts up good numbers post-surgery. I really like Harding and feel badly that the whole "Wild goalie of the future" thing didn't quite work out for him, but he could thrive somewhere else if he's given that chance.

JS: I think it's going to be the same old story: The Wild will shop him, but find no takers. I don't see any team really needing Harding, unless he has a monster season backing Backstrom up.

Bryan: Unless the Wild are out of the playoff race, yes he is. If they are out, he will find a home on a contender looking for a capable backup to help out in the playoff run. Next season, he needs to move on as the Wild continue to pump through the prospects, and Hackett needs some time to learn from Backstrom.

Nathan: Nope. No chance. He's gone.

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