Minnesota Wild: Niklas Backstrom’s Injury May Be Blessing


When news broke in mid-June that Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom had suffered an elbow injury, team officials seemed just as surprised as fans were.  Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s Michael Russo even said he had to dig a little bit farther in order to get confirmation of the news as opposed to just to being able to go to his normal team sources.  Backstrom’s injury disclosure meant the team could no longer buy out the goaltender prior to the opening of NHL Free Agency on July 1st and some felt that was a major opportunity lost.  Or was it?

"“I honestly don’t know the full prognosis at this point, but it’s not a long-term thing and we’re hoping that he’ll be good to go in short order and healthy.” ~ Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher in June 8th interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune."

Fast forward to today, when Niklas Backstrom released the details of his elbow injury to a Finnish MTV’s Timo Kunnari.  The injury appears to be nerve damage which has affected his ability for the fingers in his right hand to close properly.  I think its safe to say if that condition persists that it will greatly compromise his ability to play between the pipes at the NHL level let alone in life in general.  Even though Backstrom admits he’s still not able to close his right hand he’s seems to think he can return.  The Minnesota Wild (officially-speaking) are still hopeful he can be at least ready to play by the start of training camp.  But is that the best outcome for the organization?

Nerve damage is something that is extremely uncertain in regards to a person’s ability to recover.  Its not like a general loss of strength or stamina that can be improved through physical therapy and exercise.  This 2012 article from NPR sort of gives you an idea of some of the probable steps Backstrom will be taking to try to heal those nerves.  If Backstrom is unsuccessful, the Wild would have an obvious opportunity to place him on Long Term Injury Reserve.

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  • The Wild would still be paying Backstrom’s salary but they would be enjoy significant cap relief that might give them space to sign another impact forward or defenseman.  Forwards Chris Stewart, Jiri Tlusty, Eric Fehr and defenseman Johnny Oduya and Christian Ehrhoff would all be far more in reach if the Wild could use some of Backstrom’s cap space.  At the very least placing Backstrom on LTIR would free up a roster spot so the team would not be compelled to carry 3 goaltenders would certainly offer more roster flexibility that I am sure the Minnesota Wild would welcome.

    With the 6-year contract extension to Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper with one-year remaining on his contract should (knock on wood) have Minnesota’s crease under control.  According to CapFriendly.com (which by the way is an awesome new resource) the Minnesota Wild currently have $3.1 million in cap space with restricted free agent Erik Haula taking the team to arbitration and no deal to fellow RFA Christian Folin just yet.

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    If Backstrom’s injury does keep him out of the lineup in the long term it will probably be the effective end of his NHL career.  While nerve damage in a person’s elbow or hand perhaps is not as dire as a life changed by concussions, it is still something that sounds like it could affect his quality of life if it lingers.  While it may seem mean to take advantage of a players’ personal misfortune, but the truth is the Wild were planning on buying out Backstrom anyway.

    The fact the Wild signed Backstrom to his current contract after he had turned 35 means that even if he chose to retire the team would still feel the full weight of his cap hit.  Time will only tell if this is a possibility or not, but it only adds more intrigue which was a bit of an odd story to begin with.

    Next: Minnesota Wild Trades: The Value of Mikko Koivu

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