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Wild re-sign goalie Niklas Backstrom to US$6.2-million, two-year contract

The Wild announced Thursday that they had signed Niklas Backstrom to a US$6.2-million, two-year contract, but that doesn't mean Manny Fernandez is going anywhere.

General manager Doug Risebrough plans to keep both goalies around even though Fernandez expressed a desire to be traded a little over a week ago.

During a conference call to announce Backstrom's signing, Risebrough was asked if it was possible to go through another season with two top goalies splitting time.

"It's possible," he said. "I don't know how it'll work out, but it's certainly possible . . .

"That is the attempt to what we're trying to do right now."

Backstrom's contract includes a no-trade clause for the first season and a partial no-trade after that. Fernandez has two years remaining on a deal that counts $4.33 million against the Wild's cap annually.

Both goalies were in Ottawa during the Stanley Cup final last week to accept the Jennings Trophy for having the lowest goals-against average in the NHL and looked slightly uncomfortable while on stage together.

The award presentation had come just days after Fernandez told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he was eager to be traded to "break free of these chains" that had been placed around him.

Backstrom said Thursday that he wouldn't mind having Fernandez back in Minnesota alongside him.

"You have to fight for your spot," said Backstrom. "You have to earn your playing time.

"That's the only thing I can control is in how good of shape I'm coming to training camp and how ready I'm going to be to fight for that spot."

The 29-year-old earned the spot last year when Fernandez injured his left knee in late January. Backstrom made the most of the opportunity.

Backstrom tied a Wild franchise record with five shutouts and he did it in just 41 games. He finished the year with a 23-8-6 record and led the entire league with a 1.97 goals-against average.

He also started all five of Minnesota's playoff games.

Not bad for a guy who spent a decade playing in his native Finland before signing a $750,000, one-year contract with Minnesota last June.

"I have to pinch myself, it's like living a dream," said Backstrom. "I was surprised how fast and smooth everything went last season.

"It's really easy to say that I was a lucky goalie who got the chance to come to the right team."

It's been a little less ideal for Fernandez.

He's an original member of the Wild, having been acquired in a trade from Dallas at the 2000 draft. Fernandez split time with Dwayne Roloson for five years before Roloson was dealt to Edmonton in March 2006.

He entered this season as the No. 1 goalie and had pretty good numbers before suffering his injury. Risebrough says Fernandez has always been ready to play when needed.

"I think he's a different guy to manage," said Risebrough. "He's a competitor. He's an emotional guy. That just means different things, but Manny's just as proud about being a goalie . . .

"When you look at his record, his stats, this is a guy that is an effective player at his position."

Constantly having another good goalie on his team has made the 33-year-old Fernandez better during his career, according to Risebrough.

He thinks that Fernandez will accept sharing the crease with Backstrom next year.

"I think Manny's felt the benefits of competition," said Risebrough. "It's probably not something that he envisioned a year ago, but it's a decision that I've made and it's a decision that I think is in the best interest of the team.

"And Manny's part of this team."

The Wild also have 22-year-old Josh Harding among their stable of goaltenders.

Risebrough likes the idea of having two solid goaltenders in case of injuries like the one Fernandez suffered last season.

"I've always been amazed that teams would have one good goalie and how little vulnerability they've had," said Risebrough. "Ironically, it did happen to us.

"Fortunately, Nik rose to the occasion."


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