Niklas Backstrom

Leipold: Wild ‘not uncomfortable’ with Backstrom as No. 1 goalie


Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold thinks quite highly of goalie Niklas Backstrom.

But as for bringing back the 36-year-old pending UFA?

Well, you be the judge.

In an interview with the Minnesota Star-Tribune, Leipold explained his thoughts on retaining Backstrom, who’s been with the Wild since 2006.

“Last year was not one of his best years and we think we may have overplayed him,” Leipold explained. “But he’s a good goalie. There’s a lot of teams in this league and a lot of teams in these playoffs that would like to have him.

“We know Niklas is available and we know exactly what kind of player he can be and we know what he can do. He keeps himself in incredible shape. We are not uncomfortable with Niklas Backstrom as our No. 1 goalie.”

Okay, so not exactly a ringing endorsement.

But also not writing off Backstrom entirely.

The issue, it would seem, is money. The Finnish netminder has been well compensated over the last four years — $24 million, an annual cap hit of $6 million — and, despite 2013 being “not one of his best years,” Backstrom still tied for the NHL lead in wins, with 24.

While he probably won’t get a $6-million-per-season payday this summer, he could score a nice-sized deal from a team looking for veteran goaltending, a potential No. 1 or someone to platoon in goal.

Minnesota, meanwhile, has some cap issues.

The Wild are roughly $6.7 million under the ceiling with 19 players signed, but still have decisions to make on RFAs Cal Clutterbuck, Justin Falk and Jared Spurgeon, and UFAs Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Cullen.

Further complicating things is the health status of compliance buyout candidate Dany Heatley. His shoulder ailment could prevent Minnesota from buying him out, as injured players are not eligible.

Leipold admitted it’ll be tough for the Wild to do much when free agency opens on July 5.

“The cap situation certainly does limit us,” he explained. “The moves that we made last summer were strategic and long-term. No one can make those kind of splashes unless they just like to make splashes.”

Report: Kings, Richards nearing settlement

Mike Richards
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The Los Angeles Kings and Mike Richards may be nearing a settlement in their dispute over Richards’ terminated contract, TSN’s Bob McKenzie is reporting.

You can read the report for all the details, but we’re sure curious about this part:

If a settlement is reached, there’s no word yet on what salary cap penalties the Kings would still face. There’s bound to be something, but not likely as onerous as the full value of Richards’ contract, which carries with it a cap hit of $5.75 million. If there’s a settlement, Richards would undoubtedly become a free agent though there’s no telling at this point what monies he would be entitled to from the Kings in a settlement.

The issue here is precedent, and what this case could set. The NHL and NHLPA can’t allow teams to escape onerous contracts through a back door, and many are adamant that that’s what the Kings were attempting to do in Richards’ case.

Bettman to players: Don’t screw up ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ with drugs

Gary Bettman
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The NHL wants to take an educational approach — not a punitive one — to deter its players from using illicit drugs like cocaine.

“My interest is not to go around punishing people,” Bettman told Sportsnet today.

“My interest is getting players to understand the consequences of doing something that could jeopardize this great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they’ve been given, to play in the NHL.”

While some players have expressed surprise at hearing that cocaine use is growing, the anecdotal evidence of substance abuse has been very much in the news, from Jarret Stoll‘s arrest to Mike Richards’ arrest to, more recently, Zack Kassian‘s placement in the NHL/NHLPA’s treatment program.

“We don’t have the unilateral right to do things here. We need the consent of the Players’ Association,” Bettman said. “It’s not about punishment. It’s about making sure we get it to stop.”

Related: Cocaine in the NHL: A concern, but not a crisis?