Minnesota Wild Fifteen Greatest Players: #4 Niklas Backstrom


Niklas Backstrom checks-in to the list at number four amount the top fifteen Minnesota Wild players.  The Finnish netminder spent ten seasons playing in Finland’s elite league, but once he got to the Wild he became a dependable goaltender who can be called the best in team history.

Niklas Backstrom’s NHL career didn’t start until the age 28 after becoming an established élite talent in Finland for ten seasons.  Even in Finland it took him five seasons before he got a regular starting job.  His two best seasons there were his last two with Karpat where he backstopped them to two straight SM-liiga titles in 2004 and 2005.  It was that last season where he posted an incredible stat-line of 32 wins, .940 SV%, and a 1.97 GAA that caught the eye of the Wild who signed him to a one-year deal.

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His first year in the NHL in 2006-07 he finished the regular season at the top of the league in GAA (1.97), Save Percentage (.929), and Goals Allowed (75) which earned him the William Jennings Trophy.  The bar was set high from the get go and the Wild looked like they were set between the pipes for years.

He posted dominate regular season numbers that saw him win 20 plus games in six of his first seven seasons.  Backstrom was an All-Star and Vezina runner-up in 2009, and finished tied for most wins by a goaltender in the 2012-13 season with 24 wins.

Unfortunately, all that regular season success didn’t translate into the playoffs as Backstrom and the Wild struggled in the two playoff years he had with the team.  In 2006-07 they were beaten in the first round in five games handily by the eventual Stanley Cup winners the Anaheim Ducks.  The next season would see more of a fight, but alas a first round exit in six games at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche.

The 2012-13 season would see the injury bug hit Backstrom hard.  Backstrom would only play in 21 games the entire season, but returned just in time to play in the playoffs.  Still as fate would have it Backstrom would suffer a mysterious injury in warm-up for game one of the playoff series against the Blackhawks and have to sit out the entire rest of the playoffs.

In 2013-14 the injury bug would strike again as Backstrom would miss considerable time due to abdominal issues.  He missed so much time that he only played in 19 games.  The Wild considered buying out his contract at that offseason, but his injury status would not allow it so he started with the team in 2014-15.

Last season due to nerve damage in his arm he struggled to find his game.  He played 19 games and posted only a .887 save percentage winning only 5 games.  For the second straight offseason the Wild looked to buyout Backstrom, but his injury would not permit it once again.  Unable to be bought out of his contract Backstrom found himself a third goaltender behind Darcy Kuemper and Devan Dubnyk.  He played in only one preseason game against the Jets where he posted a shutout, and it looked as if he might have a little something left in the tank.  Still Mike Yeo and the Wild coaching staff didn’t see it that way as Backstrom would not see a minute of game time and would only dress a handful of times to cover back-up duties because of injuries.

Then just when it seemed Backstrom would fadeout without getting a chance to play another NHL game, unexpectedly he was traded at this year’s trade deadline to the Flames decided to see if Backstrom had something left in the tank to help their injury depleted line-up.  And turns out he did as he played four more games for the Flames winning two of them including one against the Wild.

Despite never taking the Wild far into the playoffs, Backstrom’s regular season numbers far eclipse any goaltender in any of the major goaltending categories as best of all time in the Wild franchise. Currently he is the franchise leader in shutouts with 28, and wins with 194.   It definitely can be said for seven of his nine seasons with the Wild Backstrom was dominate, until injuries began to take their toll and derail much of the next two seasons.

11978Niklas Bäckström4092.480.915194142282324705522
21974Manny Fernandez2602.470.914113102121490204436
31969Dwayne Roloson1672.280.919627115965902226
41984Josh Harding1512.450.91860591079940226
51986Devan Dubnyk1062.130.925593510615402210
61990Darcy Kuemper842.470.9123329744000002
71976José Théodore322.710.9161511117920002
81980Ilya Bryzgalov122.120.9117136790000
91971Jamie McLennan382.640.905523222300114
101986Anton Khudobin61.400.9554112570000
111990Matt Hackett132.630.9143706150000
121979Derek Gustafson52.260.9041302650000
131984John Curry43.550.8901001520000
141979Wade Dubielewicz33.000.8531101000000
151976Zac Bierk16.000.778010600002
161974Dieter Kochan15.000.821010600000

Source: QuantHockey.com

Next: Is a Trade for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Possible?

There’s no denying Backstrom’s place in the halls of great Wild players.  For so many seasons he gave the Wild a chance to win night-in and night-out.  He’ll always be remembered for how he was and not how it ended in Minnesota.  Although he has not officially announced his retirement, it seems that it is likely we have seen the last of Backs in the NHL.  I’m sure Wild fans will be waiting and supporting him in whatever he decides.