With Harding re-signed, Wild goalie tandem set

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 20, 2012 - 7:32 AM

Josh Harding chose a three-year, $5.7 million deal with the Wild over free agency, and GM Chuck Fletcher said the team has no interest in trading incumbent starter Niklas Backstrom.

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Josh Harding will return to the Wild on a three-year, $5.7 million contract.

Photo: Jim Mone, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Josh Harding knew there was a chance he could make more money in free agency, but he also didn't want to get squeezed out of a job with so few teams looking for a No. 1 goalie.

So Tuesday, the Wild lifer signed a three-year, $5.7 million extension with the franchise that drafted him in the second round 10 years ago this week.

"I've made it no secret that I love it here. I've been with the Wild throughout my life. The money, it's more money than I ever made," said Harding, 28, whose contract pays him an average of $1.9 million a year. "I'm happy here. You can always go to the 'what if's,' but I didn't want to be in a different spot when all the chairs are gone and the music stops."

If there were no No. 1 jobs for him July 1, Harding said it made no sense to leave Minnesota for a backup job elsewhere.

By signing for three years, Harding has a contract that takes him two years past the expiration of Niklas Backstrom's deal. With Backstrom's four-year, $24 million deal ending after next season, Harding might have a chance to "one day be the No. 1 in Minnesota."

But for next season, Backstrom and Harding will remain a tandem.

"We have no interest in trading Backstrom. None," Wild General Manager Chuck 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."

Re-signing Harding means the Wild doesn't have to rush the development of young goalies Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper in Houston of the American Hockey League and Johan Gustafsson in Sweden.

Fletcher said there was nobody in free agency whom the Wild felt would have been an upgrade over Harding, "so why make a change if you don't have to? ... I remember [Hall of Fame goalie] Billy Smith once telling me that goalies don't hit their prime until they're 29 or 30."

Harding is 41-51-8 with a 2.65 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and six shutouts in parts of six seasons with the Wild.

"Coming back from knee surgery last year, from hip surgery two years ago, to be in this spot two years later, I thought it would have been far-fetched," said Harding, who made $750,000 on a one-year contract last season. "I still think I've got a lot better in me. Last year was a steppingstone for me."

Etc.

• Guillaume Latendresse tweeted Tuesday that he was cleared by the Wild doctors from a concussion that limited him to 16 games last season. That should clear the way to the Wild re-signing the forward to a one-year deal with performance bonuses.

"It'll let him try to re-establish himself," Fletcher said. "When healthy, he's played well. We'll see if it works out, but obviously we have a need for a goal scorer."

• The Wild has begun tendering qualifying offers to most of its restricted free agents, although it might look to sign defenseman Justin Falk to a contract first and was close to re-signing some minor-leaguers, such as Chad Rau.

There is a chance the Wild walks away from right winger Nick Johnson, which would enable him to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

• Former NHLer Drake Berehowsky was named coach of the Orlando Solar Bears, the Wild's ECHL affiliate.

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