It appears that Josh Harding, 30, is finally being forced to hang up his skates, almost three years after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
The Minnesota Star-Tribune's Michael Russo reported Tuesday morning that Harding, who was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the second round, 38th overall, of the 2008 draft, is expected to announce his retirement this off-season. Set to become an unrestricted free agent on June 30 when his contract with the Wild expires, Harding has played just two games this season following his demotion to the AHL in November, where he was forced out of action due to dehydration stemming from MS.
“I wouldn’t want to speak for him, but he has bigger issues than just hockey,” Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said Tuesday.
The MS diagnosis, which came months following him signing a new deal with the Wild, shocked the hockey world and gave cause for concern about if, or for how long, Harding's career could continue.
"I had a couple days where I felt bad for myself, but no more," Harding told Russo at the time of the diagnosis. "There's things in life that happen. Sometimes you can't explain it. You deal with it."
The result has been three trying seasons for Harding, who has battled valiantly against a disease that attacks the central nervous system. Since being diagnosed with MS, however, Harding had played some of the best hockey of his career. After a five-game stint in the lockout-shortened season after the late-2012 diagnosis, Harding was awarded the Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication to the game. Then Harding came back in 2013-14 with a vengeance.
Over the course of 29 games, Harding posted an 18-7-3 record -- the most victories in a season of his career -- with a .933 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average. Unfortunately for Harding, his Dec. 31, 2013 appearance would be his last in the NHL, as his symptoms worsened and he was unable to play the remainder of the year. At that point, he was one of the frontrunners for the Vezina Trophy as the league's best netminder.
Harding, who had previously battled with hip and knee injuries, missed the remained for the 2013-14 season due to complications with the disease. Heading into the current campaign, he was sidelined late in the off-season with a broken foot resulting from an off-ice incident. The injury and Harding's actions ultimately led to a team suspension from the Wild. Upon returning to full health, Harding was demoted to the AHL's Iowa Wild, where he spent the final two games of his career.
The Regina, Sask., native suited up for 151 games with Minnesota, posting a 60-59-11 record with a 2.45 GAA and .918 SP.
"Even if it changes one person's life to show that I'm not letting (MS) come between me and my goals, that would be awesome," Harding told Russo in 2012. It's not hard to believe he's done just that.