After a decade in the NHL, Niklas Backstrom is heading back to Finland.
Liiga’s HIFK announced Friday they have signed Backstrom, 38, to a one-year deal for the 2016-17 season, which will mark the first season the veteran goaltender has played in Finland since the 2005-06 campaign with Karpat. The signing doesn’t just signal a return to Finland for Backstrom, though, as it’s also undoubtedly the end of Backstrom’s career as an NHL netminder.
Though the final few seasons of Backstrom’s career were less than satisfactory, to say the least, he was at one time a standout netminder for the Minnesota Wild during the franchise’s early years. Upon arriving in Minnesota on a one-year deal in 2006, Backstrom, then a 28-year-old first-year NHL netminder, posted a stellar 1.97 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in 41 games. He finished sixth in Vezina Trophy voting.
His phenomenal season would land him a two-year extension, and Backstrom would become a fixture between the pipes for the Wild for the next six seasons.
Never again did Backstrom recapture the level of play he achieved during his freshman campaign, however. Over the next two seasons, he would again be in the Vezina running, finishing sixth in 2007-08 and third in 2008-09, but age would begin to take a toll on Backstrom as he entered his 30s. Following the 2008-09 season, Backstrom never again started more than 58 games and his number of starts slipped year over year until this past season when he failed to start even a single game in Minnesota.
Unfortunately for Backstrom, with the Wild in the playoff hunt and his play slipping, he wasn’t able to be relied upon any longer. However, a deadline deal sent Backstrom to Calgary where he got one more chance at the net as a member of the Flames. In Calgary, Backstrom would suit up in four games, and he had a fitting last hurrah.
On April 9, as a member of the Flames, Backstrom played his final game. It was against the Wild in Minnesota, and the one-time star Wild netminder posted a 35-save, one-goal against gem to lead the Flames to a 2-1 victory. Backstrom was named the first star, received an ovation from the Minnesota fans and was emotional post-game.
"If this is the end, it's a great way to end,” Backstrom said.
Over his NHL tenure, Backstrom posted a 194-144-50 record with a .914 SP, 2.49 GAA and 28 shutouts. His performance in his first season saw him, along with Wild goaltender Manny Fernandez, earn the William M. Jennings Trophy. Backstrom has appeared at two Olympics, winning bronze and silver, and four World Championships, where he has two bronzes and one silver.