On Wednesday, Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom will undergo surgery to repair a sports hernia that kept him out of the playoffs. After that, he will begin the process of determining his future — something he hopes will be far less painful.
Backstrom, 35, will become an unrestricted free agent on July 5. He said Saturday that while he isn’t certain how things might pan out, he has come to love the place where he has played all seven seasons of his NHL career. Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said he plans to talk to Backstrom next week to get his thoughts.
Backstrom was injured in warmups before Game 1 of the Wild’s first-round playoff series against Chicago. With backup Josh Harding missing most of the season, Backstrom played in 42 games, and his 24 victories tied him for most in the NHL. He anticipates a three-week recovery after his surgery, followed by a normal offseason.
“I’ve been fortunate to be here for seven years,’’ said Backstrom, whose seven franchise goalie records include victories (184) and games played (369). “I don’t know what the future will bring. It’s business, but at the end of the day, it’s about where you feel good and comfortable and get the most out of yourself.’’
Fletcher and Backstrom both said they do not believe the injury was caused by overuse. Backstrom said he anticipates being able to handle a heavy workload next season, and Harding said the same.
Harding missed 33 games while his treatment for multiple sclerosis was being refined. After playing five playoff games in 10 days — in a high-stress environment against the NHL’s best team — he said he feels great. He will work out in Minnesota this summer with an emphasis on regaining weight and adding strength.
“It took a lot of learning to cope with [MS] and get the medications right,’’ Harding said. “I’m definitely happy where I’m at right now, and I’ll be even more dialed in next year.’’
Fletcher said that Harding’s doctors have told him they feel they can manage his illness, and he is comfortable with his outlook.
Up in the air
Matt Cullen appeared a little melancholy in a Saturday visit to the Wild’s locker room. The center can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and at age 36, he knows his three-year tenure with his home-state team could be over.
“I’m going to need some time to sit down and think,’’ said Cullen, who led the Wild with a plus-9 rating and was tied for fifth in scoring with 27 points. “You never want to make decisions when you’re disappointed or emotional. Those emotions are still pretty raw, losing a couple of nights ago.’’
Pierre-Marc Bouchard also can become an unrestricted free agent. Though he said he would like to return, it has been widely speculated that he will play elsewhere next season.
“I’ve been here a lot of years,’’ said the winger, drafted by the Wild in 2002. “It is kind of weird; it’s my first time in that situation, not knowing if I’ll be back next year. So it is a little bit emotional.’’
Cullen said he felt good and needed only time to heal the knee injury that cost him six games in April. Fletcher said that winger Mike Rupp will need surgery on his knee to repair a torn meniscus.
Gone too soon
Being bounced out of the playoffs after only five games did not sit well with winger Zach Parise. Last season, he made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals with New Jersey.
Parise has made it to the postseason in seven of the past eight seasons, and five games is the least he has played in any of those years. “Every player has to look at themselves and evaluate how they did,’’ said Parise, who had one goal and was minus-7 in the series against Chicago. “From my standpoint, it wasn’t good enough in the playoffs, so that’s frustrating. The hard thing is, you have to think about that all summer.’’