Power Rankings: Harding spearheads Wild turnaround

by | CBSSports.com NHL Blogger

Niklas Backstrom (left) congratulates his fellow goalie after Josh Harding shut out the Wings 1-0. (AP)  
Niklas Backstrom (left) congratulates his fellow goalie after Josh Harding shut out the Wings 1-0. (AP)  

Updated Nov. 7

One of the biggest stories in the NHL this past week: The Minnesota Wild winning four games in a row, and doing so with "backup" goaltender Josh Harding in net for all of them. And it's not like the Wild were playing against sub-par competition. Two of those wins came at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings and one from the defending Western Conference Champion Vancouver Canucks.

Now, granted, those teams haven't quite played up to their talent level so far, but it's not like we're talking about a couple of lottery teams here. These are legitimate contenders in the West, so it's certainly an impressive run for the Wild, and Harding in particular.

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Not only is Harding getting four straight starts over Niklas Backstrom kind of a big deal simply because Backstrom has been the unquestioned No. 1 in Minnesota for the past four years. It's also great news considering the 27-year-old Harding is coming back from missing all of last season with a torn ACL and MCL suffered in a preseason game against the Blues.

In his six appearances this season, Harding has allowed just six goals and recorded a .965 save percentage. For a goaltender coming off a major injury, it's a fantastic start. Heck, it's a fantastic start for any goaltender. Especially when you consider he's currently playing in a contract year and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer if he doesn't re-sign with Minnesota.

In recent years, goaltenders have had a hard time finding big money deals on the open market, in large part because there's been more supply than demand. Looking ahead to this summer's group of free agent goaltenders, the talent pool is definitely on the shallow side. Tomas Vokoun, currently playing on a one-year contract with the Washington Capitals, could again be available. But after that? Harding is looking to be the most attractive option for a team searching for a goaltending upgrade.

Unless, of course, the Wild see him as their new starter for the future.

In other news, there's not much of a change at the top or the bottom of this week's rankings with Washington, Pittsburgh and Dallas rounding out the top-three, and Winnipeg and Columbus still hanging out at the bottom.


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