With the return of the NHL, it is likely helpful to take a few steps backwards and take a look at just what exactly the Wild tool chest holds. With the season previews starting to roll out, and the advanced stats crowd already predicting the Wild to finish somewhere in the bottom 10 of the league, it's time to jump in and get out feet wet.
We'll take a look at each position, gauge relative strength or weakness, and make a handful of predictions about what we think might happen. All standard fare.
Looking for a position of strength for the Wild? You found it. Goalies, goalies everywhere, just one net to... um... stand in front of. The net has been a strength for the Wild for nearly the entire history of the team. Right now, not only is the current tandem strong, but the depth is as strong as any franchise in the league. Despite the constant calls for change, when a team has the embarrassment of wealth the Wild have, they don't often part with it easily.
Unless that team is the Canucks, apparently.
Though we all know who the Wild have, let's take a look, anyway.
#32 / Goalie / Minnesota Wild
Feb 13, 1978
So much doubt, so little time. Even among the Wild faithful, Backstrom is never far from a criticism. Sure, the shootout is a, shall we say, weakness, but getting there has to happen first, and Backstrom gives the best chance to win the game. Age is likely catching up with Backstrom, but his career is not yet approaching the end. If Backstrom can stay healthy, the Wild have a very good chance this season.
#37 / Goalie / Minnesota Wild
Jun 18, 1984
Harding, for the first time in his career, does not need to worry about where he is going to be playing next season. After several freak injuries, Harding is ready to take his role as heir apparent to Backstrom. How the Backstrom situation plays out this summer will be interesting, but if Harding can play at the next level, it makes the decision that much easier for the Wild. Disclaimer: I've always been a big proponent of Harding's. It's good to see he is sticking around.
Listening to and reading comments from Wild fans behave like Vikings fans is a big disconcerting. If you believe what they are saying, the Wild have the next Domink Hasek buried in Houston, refusing to let the poor kid get a chance. Here's the truth. Goalies take even longer than d-men to develop. Hackett is good. Really good. He's not ready yet. Goalies are in their prime in their late 20's, early 30's, and Hackett is still a few years off.
Trust the GM, folks. Everything will be fine.
Kuemper seems to be the guy getting the short end of the stick here. He, too, is really good. Yet, he doesn't get the minutes, and often times is sent to Orlando to get some playing time. Truth be told, I can see next season having a Harding / Hackett tandem here in Minnesota, and Kuemper taking the reigns in Houston. The wealth of inexpensive, high caliber goaltending in the system may just be took much to resist. If Backstrom is re-signed, expect Kuemper to wish very hard for a package deal to be made.
The Wild's goaltending position is ridiculous. Two #1 level NHL goalies, two #1 AHL level goalies, and two prospects (Johan Gustafsson and Stephen Michalek) that could also turn out to be exquisite talents. When your GM is faced with the choice of re-signing a Niklas Backstrom, or beginning to roll out the talent behind him, that is a good problem to have.
Don't expect the Wild to point to the net as an excuse this season. They're stacked, like Grant Fuhr's pads.