Wild fans who spent their day incessantly refreshing their Twitter accounts and favorite blogs had to wait until three hours past Monday’s 2 p.m. trade deadline to learn the breaking news: Niklas Backstrom finally has been traded.
After not being able to be bought out the past two summers because of separate injuries, and after occupying one of 23 roster spots all season despite not playing a single game in more than 13 months, the Wild’s all-time leader in victories, shutouts and games played for a goaltender was traded along with a sixth-round draft pick to the Calgary Flames for veteran right winger David Jones.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher hopes the deal helps the Wild make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season and in turn helps Backstrom resurrect his NHL career so he can continue beyond this season.
“He was very professional this year in trying circumstances, and I just give him a lot of credit for putting the team first and practicing hard every day and being a good teammate,” Fletcher said of the 38-year-old who debuted for the Wild in 2006 and led the franchise to its only division title in 2008.
The 31-year-old Jones, who scored a goal off Wild defenseman Matt Dumba’s face a few weeks ago, usually has played well against the Wild over his nine seasons with Colorado and Calgary. The 6-3, 208-pounder has two 20-goal seasons and has scored 102 goals and 188 points in 446 games. He should bring size, grit and versatility to the Wild’s bottom six group of forwards.
Jones, in Philadelphia with the Flames on Monday night, went to Wells Fargo Center to pack his gear and fly to Minnesota. He might not be able to debut Tuesday as the team works to get him a work visa.
“I was excited,’’ Jones said. “I waited all day and I was hoping that I would get to go to a team that will go to the playoffs and take a run at it, and I think that Minny has a great team.’’
With defenseman Jonas Brodin potentially returning from a broken foot Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche and winger Jason Zucker close to returning from a concussion, Fletcher believes the table is set for a solid final 19 games even though Central Division foes Chicago, Colorado, Dallas and Nashville have all made significant trades since early January.
“We have a lot of different options that our coaching staff can look at,” Fletcher said. “The last couple weeks, even I’d say three weeks, we’ve started playing much better. We’re right in the thick of it, and our depth is very good. So I’m excited to see what we can do.”
Beating the clock
The Wild has tried to trade Backstrom all season. Fletcher and Backstrom’s agent, Jay Grossman, spoke the last two weeks because Backstrom “wanted a chance to play” and would agree to waive his no-trade clause. Everything was agreed upon “as last-second as you can get,” Grossman said, which is why the trade was announced so late.
Despite not playing since an exhibition shutout at Winnipeg in September, Backstrom was the Wild’s first player on the ice and last off at every practice this season.
“Even not playing, you’ve seen it, his effort and attitude was nothing short of 100 percent professional,” Grossman said. “He still feels like he has a good deal of fight left in him and wants to be able to prove that.”
Backstrom went 194-142-50 with a 2.48 goals-against average, a .915 save percentage and 28 shutouts in 409 career games with the Wild. He played in the 2009 All-Star Game and was a Vezina Trophy finalist that year.
Backstrom could face the Wild this season because the Flames visit St. Paul twice, including the last game of the regular season.
The Wild also made two minor league moves. The team sent center Brett Sutter to the Los Angeles Kings, where his father, Darryl, is the coach, for right winger Scott Sabourin. The Wild also traded winger Michael Keranen to the Ottawa Senators for defenseman Conor Allen. Sabourin, 23, and Allen, 26, who has played seven games for the New York Rangers, will report to Iowa of the AHL.
Avalanche adds help
It was a mostly uneventful trade deadline in the NHL with the biggest trade being made by the Avalanche, the team the Wild is chasing for the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
The Avs, who could lose that eighth and final playoff position to the Wild if they lose in regulation Tuesday, acquired speedy Arizona Coyotes winger Mikkel Boedker for veteran Alex Tanguay and two prospects. Boedker, 26, will debut Tuesday on Colorado’s top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog.
The Avs also traded a third-round pick to New Jersey for big-shot defenseman Eric Gelinas.
“We expect to make the playoffs,” said Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, the Colorado executive vice president of hockey operations.
Loui Eriksson and Jonathan Drouin, two players in whom the Wild had interest, weren’t traded by the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, respectively. Fletcher said he had a lot of dialogue Monday “and a lot of difficulty finding consensus on value.”
He said most of his conversations were regarding “hockey trades” and he might have laid the groundwork for potential deals this summer. That could include anybody from pending restricted free agents Jason Zucker or Darcy Kuemper, forwards Mikael Granlund or Nino Niederreiter, who each have a year left on their contracts, and Brodin, whom Fletcher admitted drew lots of interest in the past several days.
“Brodin is a heck of a hockey player, and we were never shopping him,” Fletcher said. “I can’t stop teams from calling me and expressing interest in a 22-year-old defenseman that plays the game that he plays. … I feel a little badly for him that his name was dragged in trades.”
By trading its sixth-round pick, the Wild currently has only four draft picks this June — its first-rounder, fourth-rounder and two seventh-rounders. But Fletcher said it was critical keeping the first.
“I think all in all it was an effective day for us. It was a solid day,” he said. “And if we can continue to play the way we’ve played in recent weeks, I think we’re going to be a real good hockey team down the stretch.”