When the Minnesota Wild made the Devan Dubnyk six-year extension official on Monday, it finally cemented — for now, at least — their goaltening, which has been a game of musical chairs for the past couple of seasons.
Before Dubnyk, Niklas Backstrom was the rock in the Wild net, starting at least 45 games between 2007-08 and 2011-12. But injuries have kept him off the ice over the last few seasons, opening the door for a handful of contenders for the No. 1 job.
The latest injury for the 37-year old Backstrom has affected his right elbow, which caused nerve damage leaving him unable to use his right hand to help do simple everyday things like drive a car or use a phone.
In an interview with MTV 3’s Timo Kunnari of Finland, Backstrom revealed he initially injured his arm during preseason and aggravated it in the spring.
“It was a bit scary situation. It happened pretty fast. All of a sudden two fingers are not working. Even in rest, two fingers were motionless. I couldn’t use my right hand to drive a car or to hold a phone. There’s a lot of stuff that’s happened during my career, but this really made me stop and think. You need your hand for the rest of your career. I’m righthanded.”
Backstrom’s injury threw a monkey wrench into Wild GM Chuck Fletcher’s off-season plans of buying out the the final year of the netminder’s deal. The buy out could not happen last month because Backstrom had not been medically cleared. But now that forward Erik Haula filed for player-elected arbitration, that will open a second buy out window for the team.
(Last summer the Wild were unable to use its second compliance buy out Backstrom because he was, you guessed it, injured at the time.)
It appears that second window won’t be useful to Fletcher, either. Backstrom’s new agent, Jay Grossman, told the Star Tribune’s Mike Russo that the goaltender won’t be cleared to return until September. Should he still be unable to play come the start of the 2015-16 NHL season, that would mean the best the Wild could do is place him on long-term injury reserve.
According to General Fanager, the Wild are currently $3,628,664 from the cap ceiling, with RFAs Haula, Christian Folin among those needing to be re-signed. Placing Backstrom on LTIR, if needed, would not free up cap space, only allow the team to exceed the ceiling until the goaltender is healthy, and then they need to get compliant once again to the $71.4 million limit.
Minnesota has Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper under contract for next season, and as General Fanager notes, Backstrom has a no-move clause, meaning if he’s healthy enough to return, that could lead to his ticket out of town if there are any interested takers in a veteran goalie who’s been banged up in each of the past two seasons. Probably not a long list.
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