TORONTO - Josh Harding isn't oblivious to the fact his name is churning through the NHL rumor mill.
It has been almost 10 years since he was drafted, so he knows how it works. The Wild goalie is a potential free agent and it's five weeks to the Feb. 27 trade deadline.
So since the Wild has yet to talk contract with him, could Harding help the Wild land that much-coveted top-six forward?
"You tell me," Harding said with a laugh. "I should be asking you the questions because you probably know more than me. I don't know what they're thinking of doing. If I did know, I'd probably tell you."
Harding, 27, has had an impressive comeback year after tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee during last season's exhibition opener. He is 8-6-3 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.
With Matt Hackett, 21, considered the Wild's "Goalie of the Future" and the Wild deep in goal with Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson developing, Harding might be bait, especially since Niklas Backstrom might not be as coveted.
Backstrom is turning 34 and has another year left on his deal at $6 million. He also has a no-trade clause.
"Being a No. 1 in this league is obviously the ultimate goal, but there's not much I can control," Harding said. "Whatever happens on the business side, that's what happens. I don't want to get it in my mind at all. There's a lot more important stuff to be worrying about than that.
"I've got to play good, have fun. I've always been a Minnesota Wild, so I want to battle with these guys every night. It's definitely better than rehabbing all year."
Gardiner gets a chance
Long after Wednesday's Maple Leafs practice, when most his teammates were leaving the practice rink, Jake Gardiner was working overtime with the coaches.
Then, he picked up all the pucks.
"The price of being a rookie," said Gardiner, who played at Minnetonka and the University of Wisconsin. "Those are the duties you accept to get better."
And Gardiner, 21, has impressed in his first year. He has 11 assists in 39 games, is plus-2, is being mentored by such pros as Dion Phaneuf and John-Michael Liles and gets to play nightly against Evgeni Malkin and Jaromir Jagr.
"Such big bodies, and so fast and explosive and talent. It's pretty eye-opening," Gardiner said.
Thursday, with his parents, Jill and John, at Air Canada Centre, Gardiner got to play the Wild for the first time. His dad used to be a Wild suite-holder.
"I watched them since I was 10 or 11 years old, so you never think you're actually going to play against them," Gardiner said.
Drafted 17th overall by Anaheim in 2008, Gardiner, a left-shot defenseman, was stuck behind left-shot Ducks up-and-comers Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa. Then, Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, who drafted Gardiner, acquired him with Joffrey Lupul for Francois Beauchemin.
"I didn't know how long it would take for me to be here or if I even would, so this has been cool," Gardiner said.
Watching the heads
Edmonton Oilers winger Taylor Hall suffered a gruesome forehead and eye injury in warmups Tuesday when a teammate accidentally stepped on his face, and many are asking why some players don't wear helmets in warmups.
The Wild has four -- Cal Clutterbuck, Devin Setoguchi, Brad Staubitz and Greg Zanon. Clutterbuck, who took a puck to the head in warmups two weeks ago, says it's "superstition" for him.
"It's just like everything else, it's an overreaction," Clutterbuck said. "The kid got stepped on, got some stitches. Guaranteed, he'll be back soon. It doesn't happen everyday."