Niklas Backstrom has had a solid career with the Minnesota Wild since coming over from his native Finland. The stellar play of Devan Dubnyk after his acquisition all but ended it.
The Wild reportedly were ready to buy out the final year of Backstrom’s contract last month, a move that would make him a free agent. But according to the Star Tribune, an issue with his right elbow has kept the veteran goaltender on Minnesota’s roster – at least temporarily.
Backstrom revealed in an interview with Finnish television station MTV 3 that he suffered nerve damage late in the 2014-15 season that prohibited the use of his right hand for certain actions, such as holding a phone and driving a car. He aggravated the elbow injury, which he sustained in September during the preseason, in the spring and was unable to move two of his fingers around the time of the Wild’s Western Conference semifinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“It was a bit scary situation,” Backstrom told MTV 3. “It happened pretty fast. All of a sudden, two fingers are not working. Even in rest, two fingers were motionless.
“There’s a lot of stuff that’s happened during my career, but this really made me stop and think. You need your hand for the rest of your career. I’m right-handed.”
The 37-year-old underwent surgery in May and won’t be cleared to resume hockey activities until training camp at the earliest. The injury prevented the Wild from buying out his contract in June and likely will do so again during this month’s buyout window.
@ToddHolmslice Cooke played in the playoffs and was cleared medically. Backstrom had offseason surgery and is not cleared as of yet
— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) June 19, 2015
Backstrom appeared in only 19 games for the Wild this past season, the last being on January 13, and went 5-7-3 with a 3.04 goals-against average. He has seen action in a total of 40 contests over the last two campaigns, posting a 10-18-5 record.
Signed by Minnesota on June 1, 2006 after spending the previous 10 seasons in Finland and Sweden, Backstrom began his NHL career as Manny Fernandez’s backup before taking over as the starter in his first season due to injury. He went on to share the William Jennings Trophy with Fernandez that campaign and took over as the team’s top netminder soon thereafter.
In 2008-09, Backstrom was an All-Star and named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, losing out to Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins. He set single-season franchise records by recording 37 victories and eight shutouts, but after a few more campaigns, Backstrom’s play started to decline and he began to become beseiged by injuries.
The Wild’s all-time leader in wins with 194, Backstrom is slated to be their third goaltender in 2015-16 behind Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper if he remains with the club. He cannot be sent to the minors due to a no-move clause in his contract, so a trade is basically Minnesota’s only option to part with him.
Backstrom remains hopeful of continuing his NHL career. Whether or not it will be with the Wild remains to be seen, but he is intent on making a full recovery from his injury.
“We are moving forward step by step,” he said. “It affects a bit on training. I haven’t had a chance to play any sport with (a) stick or racquet, and it’s going to take time until I’m ready to play.”