30-Year-Old Goalie – Minnesota Wild
Josh Harding Contract Information:
Signed a three-year, $5.7 million contract with the Wild in June of 2012
Harding was assigned to AHL Iowa after clearing waivers Tuesday, but he does not plan to report, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
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Josh Harding: Past News Updates ( ▲ View most recent update )
RotoWire's Preseason Outlooks
Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) before the start of last season and played just five regular season games as he struggled with issues related to the medication he used to treat his condition. However, he returned for the playoffs and started every game after Niklas Backstrom went down with a sports hernia. Harding responded with a solid 2.94 GAA against the eventual Stanley Cup champions. The playoff effort shows he has the skills to remain a top backup and could get more work this season as the Wild looks to reduce Backstrom's workload. However, the unpredictable nature of MS makes any prediction for his season difficult and continues to threaten his career.
Last winter, Harding started the most games (30) in his NHL career while appearing in 34 total games and recording a 13-12-0 record with two shutouts. He has said he wants to be a starting netminder (and soon), but that may not happen in Minnesota with Niklas Backstrom still around. Then again, Backstrom missed 37 games last season because of injury, so that opportunity could be closer than we think. He'll start the season as the back-up, but if he's pressed into the starting job, Harding's value with get a serious boost, particularly with an improved squad in front of him. But for now, he’s a backup plan for both the Wild and most poolies.
The Wild have been loyal to Harding since drafting him in the second round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, even though he's made just 83 appearances between the pipes in his career. Once billed as a top goalie prospect, Harding missed the entire 2010-11 campaign after sustaining a torn ACL/MCL in preseason action last September. Harding re-signed with the Wild this past offseason and is expected to be healthy for the 2011-12, reprising the role of backup netminder to starter Niklas Backstrom. Harding is not an attractive fantasy option given his propensity for injuries and limited role.
Harding is a career backup, but an important one. At least that's what the Wild thought when they signed him to a one-year deal in July 2010. If No.1 netminder, Niklas Backstrom, ever goes down with an injury - a real possibility given his age (32) and injury history - Harding would have instant value. Of course, Harding had offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip, but he's expected to be ready to go when the season opens. Assuming he doesn't have to step in for Backstrom for an extended period of time, count on close to 25 starts, and a 2.5 (or higher) goals-against average with wins hard to come by for Mr. Harding in 2010-11.
Harding put up numbers very similiar to Minnesota's starter Niklas Backstrom last season - though in a much smaller sample size - but doesn't figure to see more than 20-25 starts this season. He'd likely command a nice price on the trade market, so the Wild will likely be entertaining offers throughout the season for the netminder. If a trade does go down, Harding could slide into a starting spot.
Harding is your prototypical backup goalie. His numbers won't drop jaws, but the netminder will certainly secure a stable NHL career if Backstrom ever suffers a significant injury -- or is traded. After all, experience is the only facet missing from his game. Several AHL teams have enjoyed Harding's services, but most notable was his time spent with the Houston Aeros, a team that he hadn't posted less than 17 wins with in three seasons. Although he did spell Backstrom for 29 games in 2007-08 playing for the Wild, it's important to understand that his value is currently limited to backup duty.
Harding will serve as Minnesota's backup to Niklas Backstrom after the departure of Manny Fernandez. It's not hard to envision a scenario where Backstrom has a sophomore slump and Harding splits the workload in goal (as Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson did for years under head coach Jacques Lemaire), especially after his strong rookie season (1.16 GAA in seven starts that included one shutout). He's a good sleeper as a result.
He'll likely win the job as the backup to Manny Fernandez, but the platoon system is gone in Minnesota. Don't expect many starts.
The top goaltending prospect in the Wild organization was the WHL Most Valuable Player for 2002-03. He won't get any playing time with the Wild this season as long as Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson remain healthy, but he's a decent keeper prospect.