by Michael Russo
February 29, 2016 — 6:48pm
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 has finally been traded.
After not being able to be bought out the last two summers because of separate injuries, 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 pick to the Calgary Flames for veteran right wing 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.
Jones, 31, who scored a goal off Wild defenseman Matt Dumba’s face a few weeks ago, has usually played the Wild well over his nine seasons with Colorado and Calgary. The 6-foot-3, 208-pounder has two 20-goal seasons under his belt and has scored 102 goals and 188 points in 446 games. He should bring size, grit and versatility to the Wild’s bottom-six.
Jones, in Philadelphia with the Flames on Monday night, went to Wells Fargo Center to pack his gear and fly to Minnesota. He may not be able to debut Tuesday as the team works to get him a work visa, but we should talk to him for the first time in the morning.
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 feels the table’s 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.”
I have not heard back from Backstrom yet and it’ll be bizarre not seeing him in the stall he has occupied for 10 seasons.
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 in 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 Minnesota. He appeared in the 2009 NHL All-Star Game, was a finalist for the 2009 Vezina Trophy and teamed with Manny Fernandez to win the 2006-07 William Jennings Trophy as the Wild allowed a league-low 191 goals.
The Wild also made two minor-league moves, sending center Brett Sutter to the Los Angeles Kings, where his father, Darryl, is the coach for right wing Scott Sabourin and 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.
It was a mostly uneventful trade deadline in the NHL with the biggest trade being made by the Avalanche, the team the Wild’s chasing for the bottom wildcard 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. The 26-year-old 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 Avs’ Executive Vice President of hockey operations.
Loui Eriksson and Jonathan Drouin, two players the Wild had interest in, 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 his conversations were regarding “hockey trades” and he may 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 Jonas 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, the Wild currently has only four draft picks this June – its first-rounder, fourth and two sevenths. 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.”
I’ll be on KFAN at 10:15 a.m. Tuesday and at the Bruce Springsteen concert tonight.smiley