Today is the last day of player grades Wilderness. You have the editors grades at 10, and the staff grades at 2. Next week we'll bring you grades for the brass. Enjoy!
The Editors grades are a bit thin today, apparently Memorial day weekend came early for a few people :)
Bryan-Of the three goalies we will grade, Backstrom still remains the most... let's say... debated. Despite a contract that is now seen as out of whack with the rest of the league, a statistical no trade clause that would have prevented any trade, and a stated love for the state of Minnesota, the calls to "trade Backstrom" were loud right up until the end of the season. Again. The mind boggles.
He has never finished below a .903 save percentage, has never played in less than half the games in a given season, and finished tied for the lead in wins this seasons. Yes, Backstrom haters, he won as many games as anyone else this season. Hate all you want, the guy can still play.
This season, Backstrom showed, once again, that he is a positional goalie. Once he is out of position, it is rare that he can make the stop. That said, he had a couple of stellar saves that made highlight reels. He was improved in the shootout, and to anyone paying attention, was one of the best goalies in the league. He's going to be the lightning rod for fans too stupid or lazy to figure out the actual issues with the team. Goalies always are. He can still play.
Emilie- Anyone who thinks Backstrom earned less than an A this season needs to re-evaluate their critical thinking skills. He tied for most wins by any goalie this season, and was practically pile-driven into the ground because he didn't have a proper back-up for most of the season. Bryan threw Backstroms stats into his post, so I'm not going to repeat them. A
Bryan- It is difficult to separate the story from the performance here. With his diagnosis, no one would have batted an eye if he had hung up the skates and faded into the background. Instead, he stood tall, took his lumps, fought back against an undefeatable enemy, and performed admirably. His regular season stats were lackluster, yes, and he isn't going to say it was the MS, no. We will never know if he was just off his game during the season, or if he physically couldn't do what he wanted to do.
The playoffs, though, were a different story. Thrown into an impossible situation in game one, Harding nearly stole the show and completed the made for TV movie. It was not to be, but the point was made. Harding could still play, and would still play, and would a fine job of it. The Hawks were an opponent no one thought the Wild could beat even once, but they were closer than not in at least three of the games, mostly due to Harding's play.
I'm not going to separate the story and the play. Why? Because I don't have to.
Emilie- What an incredible road for Harding this season. After questions about whether he would play at all, his first game was a shutout. After med complications, he was able to come back and almost steal the first game in his first ever playoff start, and eventually get a win in the series (which says a lot considering that most people expected the Wild to be swept). His game wasn't perfect, but who cares. What a story. A
Bryan-The kid is good, I'll give him that. He has the makings of a fine NHL goalie, which is good, since they traded away the competition. However, he still has a long way to go, and no one should be feeling comfortable with a Harding / Kuemper pairing next season. Kuemper has yet to master rebound control, and at times looked as though he was not quite ready for the speed of the NHL game. It happens to the best of 'em, kid.
Overall, he was far from terrible, but he was also far from stellar. He'll get there, but he isn't quite there yet.