Don't get us wrong — we're Harding fans, from his untapped talent as a starting goalie to his heartfelt and hilarious mask designs. But we can't liberate someone that doesn't want to be liberated, and Josh Harding doesn't want to leave the Minnesota Wild.
The 28-year-old goalie is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and figured to be one of the better options for teams seeking a potential starter. He's been the understudy in Minnesota since 2007, and played a career-high 34 games last season. That's after missing 2010-11 with a torn ACL and MCL.
But he's talking multi-year deal with the Wild, and thanks to Michael Russo now we know why: He covets the starting gig in Minnesota, and Niklas Backstrom isn't getting any younger.
"I'm hoping we can get something worked out here soon," said Harding, who turned 28 on Monday. "I'd love to be back here. It's no secret I like Minnesota and I like being here. My goal since I was drafted [10 years ago] was to be a No. 1 goalie in Minnesota. I want to be a No. 1 goalie and if there's a place and we can work something out, I'd love to stay."
With Niklas Backstrom turning 35 next season and having only one year left on his contract, a multiyear deal would give Harding an opportunity to eventually achieve his goal of becoming the Wild's No. 1. "A one-year deal right now doesn't make really much sense for us," Harding said, referring to the belief he can secure a multiyear deal in free agency. "That's what we're having talks with [GM Chuck Fletcher] about, and we'll make the best decision for both of us. But it's a business, too, and I want to be a No. 1."
So Harding leaves it open a bit, saying it's "a business" and saying he wants to be a "No. 1." But it's pretty clear he wants to be a No. 1 in Minnesota, which is why he's signed twice with the Wild as a UFA, including a pay cut from 2010-11 to 2011-12.
Harding could make bank with a team looking for a veteran goalie; say, the Columbus Blue Jackets, for example. But he wants to be the starting goalie for the Minnesota Wild, and he's been willing to sacrifice "the business" side to get that. We respect it.
UPDATE: Well, that was quick. From the Wild:
The Wild has re-signed the 28-year-old goaltender to a three-year contract. "I love being here, I love the city, I love the fans," Harding said. "It was really important for me to stay here and work towards my goal (of being a starting goaltender in the NHL)."
It's good to have goals. OK, not if you're a goalie necessarily, but ... you get it.