Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Backstrom going nowhere; Latendresse: "Just got cleared by team doctors"

Posted by: Michael Russo under Vikings draft, Wild off-season news Updated: June 19, 2012 - 4:54 PM

Busy day as I prepare to head to Pittsburgh in the morning for the draft. I'll be hosting a live chat on startribune.com Wednesday at 1 p.m.

Barring problems in negotiations, Guillaume Latendresse should soon be following Josh Harding's lead and re-signing with the Wild.

The 25-year-old winger, who played 16 games last season due to a concussion and 11 games the year before due to myriad injuries, tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he was cleared by Wild doctors: "Next season, here I come."

I talked to GM Chuck Fletcher this afternoon, and he had yet to hear from the doctors. But he was waiting for an email back from athletic therapist Don Fuller.

Being cleared by Wild doctors would be the catalyst to re-signing Latendresse any day. As I reported June 9 here, the Wild will likely sign Latendresse to a one-year deal at a lower base salary with performance bonuses, a deal permitted under the CBA because Latendresse spent more than 100 days on injured reserve during the final year of his two-year, $5 million deal.

Fletcher said the deal isn't done yet, but they've had good conversations and he's not anticipating issues. I bet it's done in the next few days, maybe Wednesday.

As for the Josh Harding deal and how it affects Niklas Backstrom, "We have no interest in trading Backstrom. None,”  Fletcher said. “When we were on top of the league [in the first 30 games] last year, a big part of the reason was our goaltending tandem. There’s no reason for us to want to change that up. Why not bring them back? The future will be the future. Everything work itself out. When Josh indicated he was willing to stay, we worked quickly to get it done.”

Harding added, “We like being a tandem. I love playing with Backy. I’ve learned the most from having Backy and [goalie coach Bob Mason] on my side than anybody else.”

Fletcher:

"Josh took a strong step last year and I still think his best days are ahead of him."

On the goaltending depth on the team: "We've had a lot of injuries the last few years and I'm not sure you can ever have enough depth. I think somebody on the other end of this phone line accused us of not having enough depth last year. We like having depth, there's no question. That's not why we re-signed him. We wanted to lock up Josh because we believe in him. The young prospects are all good prospects, but it takes time for goaltenders to develop.
“If we have too many good goalies at one time, that'll be a nice problem to have. And last [March] was pretty scary when we were one groin pull away from having one goalie under contract in the entire system.”

I brought up to Fletcher how in LA for a long time, even the Kings thought Jonathan Bernier was better than Jonathan Quick. That's why Quick was in the ECHL at one point. Now the Wild can let Hackett and Kuemper figure out who's better.

"Exactly. Let them play it out. The less guessing you do in this business, usually the better off you are. Just let the players make the decisions for you with their play. I know we have quality goaltending in our organization and have a strong 1-2 punch in the NHL next year."

Fletcher felt there was nobody on the free agent market that was an upgrade on Harding.

The Wild has begun tendering qualifying offers to its restricted free agents and is working to sign a couple of these guys before it even has to announce the QO's by Monday.

Justin Falk is one player I know it's trying to get a deal done now, like Colton Gillies last year. Some of the minor-league guys will be signed, too, soon, like Chad Rau. I really think we're going to find out soon that Nick Johnson will not have his rights retained. He could earn a one-way deal perhaps in arbitration, which would block some of the prospects from having the ability to make the team. I think he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. Just a guess though.

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