It was a trade that flew under the radar, but Niklas Backstrom, the longtime Minnesota Wild netminder, was dealt to the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline along with a sixth-round pick in exchange for David Jones. And now, after more than a year watching from the sidelines, Backstrom is set to see some game action.
Backstrom, 38, last played an NHL game more than 14 months ago. While with the Wild, Backstrom allowed six goals against on 35 shots against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 51 minutes of action and he never saw the Minnesota net again. Instead, the Wild kept Backstrom up with the team, scratched him for each game and seemed content for the final season of his three-year, $10.25-million deal to tick off without him so much as seeing a single second of game action.
However, the trade to Calgary has offered Backstrom a new opportunity and it appears at least one more NHL game as the Flames are set to give him the start Sunday against the Montreal Canadiens.
“I give him credit,” Flames coach Bob Hartley told the Calgary Herald’s Wes Gilbertson earlier this month. “He had some bad injuries and the last couple of months have not been easy on him, but you can see he’s a pro. He still has the fire. He wants to play and we’ll put him in that situation.”
Backstrom’s start will come on the first game of the Flames’ upcoming road trip and it will be youngster Joni Ortio who gets the call for Calgary Friday evening against the Colorado Avalanche. Whether Backstrom sees more action beyond Sunday is likely to be determined by how he fares against the Canadiens, but the veteran netminder told Gilbertson he was looking forward to the challenge.
“As a player, you can only ask and hope for a chance,” Backstrom told Gilbertson. “I think it’s just for me to enjoy it, have fun. And for sure, when you come into a new team, you want to be there for the guys. You don’t want to disappoint them.”
If Backstrom performs well, there may be another start in it for him. If not, Sunday could very well be the final game of his NHL career. But regardless of how well he fares, there’s only a slim chance he stays in Calgary beyond this season anyway. Already he’s the oldest netminder in the league and his lack of action over the past two seasons doesn’t bode well for him landing another big league deal not just with the Flames, but anywhere.
Not to be lost in the news of Backstrom’s start, however, is that the writing on the wall for Jonas Hiller appears to be even bolder. Backstrom’s start over Hiller down the stretch all but solidifies that he will not be returning to the Flames next season. Hiller has had an incredibly disappoint season with Calgary — his 3.41 goals-against average and .883 save percentage are atrocious totals — and he has been nowhere near what the Flames were hoping he would be when they inked him to a two-year, $9-million deal.