Goalie agrees to terms on new multiyear deal
Backstrom went 23-8-6 with five shutouts in 41 games, taking over when Manny Fernandez got hurt and steering the Wild toward their first playoff appearance in four years with an unexpected performance.
"I have to pinch myself. It's like I'm in a dream," Backstrom said. "I was surprised how fast and smooth everything went last season."
The NHL leader in goals-against average (1.97) and save percentage (.929), Backstrom shared with Fernandez the William M. Jennings Trophy for the team's league-low 191 goals against. But Fernandez, who sprained his left knee in late January and suffered a setback that prevented him from returning for the postseason, will make about $4.5 million next season with the team close to the salary cap.
He's signed through the 2008-09 season, will turn 33 in August, and has said he expects to be traded.
General manager Doug Risebrough said Thursday that he will keep both of them.
"I was just trying to do the right thing right now for the team, which is to have good goaltending for the team," said Risebrough, who declined to comment on the possibility of dealing Fernandez this summer.
Backstrom has a full no-trade clause in the first year of his contract and a limited no-trade clause in the second year. He became one of the NHL's biggest surprises after leaving the Finnish Elite League and signing a one-year contract with Minnesota.
The 29-year-old Backstrom had never played in the NHL and acknowledged that -- despite confidence in his ability -- he was unsure how he'd measure up.
Using a strong work ethic, Backstrom gave up three goals or less in all but three of his appearances. He had such an enjoyable experience that he encouraged his agent, Don Baizley, to secure a deal for him to stay with the Wild. Had Backstrom waited until July 1 to enter the free-agent pool, he likely could've made more money.
"I didn't ever think about that," he said on a conference call. "I want to be somewhere where I'm happy and having fun and be on a team that has a chance to win and achieve something."
Even his friends and family in Finland wondered what team he'd like to play for if a contract didn't work out with the Wild.
They're still wondering.
"The only thing I thought about was getting back to Minnesota," Backstrom said.
Fernandez, one of three players left from the Wild's inaugural 2000-01 season, spoke in the past tense last weekend about his time with the team and sounded resigned to moving on. Risebrough, though, said repeatedly that he planned to enter the season with a pair of multimillion-dollar goalies.
"It's probably not something he envisioned a year ago, but it's in the best interests of the team and Manny's part of this team," Risebrough said.
Fernandez, who went 22-16-1 with a 2.47 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage before the injury, shared the job with Dwayne Roloson for nearly four seasons. Neither player preferred the arrangement, though it was generally successful, and Fernandez's status as the unquestioned starter seemed established when his contract extension came last year.
But then came Backstrom.
"I don't know how it will work out, but it's possible," Risebrough said when asked if he could keep both goalies happy. "That is ... what we're trying to do right now."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press