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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Fletcher, Backstrom talk about today's 3-year, $10.25 million deal

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news, Wild player moves Updated: June 24, 2013 - 5:47 PM
Chuck Fletcher hopes Monday’s signing of Niklas Backstrom is the right move for the Wild short-term and long-term.
 
Short-term it gives the Wild a No. 1 goalie again. Long-term, it bides more time for Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson to develop in the minors.
 
Fletcher reminded that Kuemper, the former Canadian Hockey League Goalie of the Year, is only 23 with only 50+ games of pro experience, so the proper place for him to be is Iowa platooning with Gustafsson, who led Sweden to gold at world juniors in 2012.
 
“I like the way we’re set up in goal,” the Wild GM said Monday.
 
Good evening before Game 6. I wanted to toss up a quick Backstrom blog with quotes from today. Read the story in Tuesday’s paper please because there’s a lot of stuff in there on other pertinent things you’re wondering about.
 
I will also post a blog later tonight with some of that stuff, an updated depth chart and details about the show I’m hosting on KFAN on Tuesday from 9-noon. It’ll be a fun one.
 
Back to the news of the day: Fletcher wants Kuemper and Gustafsson to push Josh Harding and Harding to push Backstrom.
 
“Nik right now is slotted as our No. 1 until someone unseats him, whether it be Josh or Darcy Kuemper,” Fletcher said.
 
Fletcher admitted the Wild “ran Nik hard” last year. The team had little choice because Harding missed two months due to complications with multiple sclerosis. Fletcher said he met with Harding on Saturday for two hours and “he’s in a great spot mentally. Physically he never felt better.”
 
He’s a better spot now, Fletcher said, understanding what his regimen should be, what his body can take. “We’re going to need him to win games next year.”
 
Backstrom finished with the seventh-most minutes played in the league, and while he finished tied for first with 24 wins, his play suffered down the stretch and then he was ultimately hurt before Game 1 of the playoffs.
 
The Wild has talked to Backstrom about taking more practices off or maybe not spending an entire 40-minute morning skate on the ice. Backstrom said he loves playing, loves practicing “everyday” but understands he needs to start saving his energy for games. He says “that’s something I have to work on.”
 
Backstrom said it’s no secret how badly he wanted to stay in Minnesota. He took a cap friendly three-year, $10.25 million deal ($3.41+M a year; $2.5M in Year 1, $3.75M in Year 2, $4M in Year 3).
 
In an email this morning, he wrote me, “You can’t value happiness.”
 
On his game right now and his age (35), Backstrom said, “Age is a number. I don’t think you ever feel good about your game. It’s something you want to improve every time. I still have a lot of things I can improve and get better at.”
 
Coincidentally, Backstrom took the ice today for the first time since surgery to repair his sports hernia in May. He said he felt better than expected and that his lower core feels good.
 
“I’ve got a lot of calls out to GMs to try to find mutual fits. There could be some trades before the draft. We can’t bring the same team back.”
 
As far as re-signing Backstrom, Fletcher said, “We were working with a player and his agent who really wanted to be here as well,” so the team gave Backstrom the security he wanted and in return he gave the team a cap hit below what the Wild believes he would have received on the open market.
 
“It’s a win-win,” Fletcher said. “There really never was another option. You have to say there is, so you have some leverage. But clearly he was our first choice.”
 
It’s probably no coincidence though that the Backstrom signing came one day after Toronto acquired Jonathan Bernier, whom the Wild inquired about, from Los Angeles. The Wild asked about Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury but was told he’s going nowhere.
 
Ryan Miller appears on his way out of Buffalo, but his game has tailed off since the 2010 Olympics and has one year left on a deal that pays $6.25 million. Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo is 34 and has nine years left on a contract with a cap hit of $5.33 million.
 
St. Louis may be looking to trade Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott. But in the end, re-signing Backstrom was always the easiest and likeliest route.
 
“We’re familiar with Nik. He’s familiar with us,” Fletcher said. “He’s earned the trust of his teammates through his professionalism and his work ethic. Nobody is more prepared as a goaltender than Nik. I’ve never seen a goalie practice that hard.”
 
On Backstrom’s decline in April, Fletcher said there were likely myriad reasons, from perhaps the fact he was battling injury to fatigue from a “vicious” schedule to poor play in front of him.
 
“Hopefully this year the schedule will not be as compressed,” Fletcher said. “We’re expecting Josh to battle and to give us some quality starts [too].”
 
Fletcher said he needed to get this done early this week so he can move on to other things this week, like potential trades. He needed Backstrom to give the team a quality cap number. Still, as I’ll detail on tonight’s blog, as of now, the Wild only has about $2.8 million in space.
 
“The great thing about the cap world is you can’t pull the wool over anyone’s eyes,” Fletcher said of Backstrom understanding the Wild’s cap situation. “Everybody has the numbers and has a calculator. Nik’s goal isn’t to sign here for the most money he can. He wants to get a fair contract, but he also wants to be part of a team that’s going to win.”
 
I’ll be back later. Enjoy Game 6, and if you didn’t see my John Torchetti blog, look down below.

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