Josh Harding puts himself on potential starter radar

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After losing his 2010-11 season to an unfortunate injury, Josh Harding is enjoying one of the best spans of his career. The quality backup is on a four-game winning streak in which he’s allowed just three goals, including two wins against the Detroit Red Wings and one against the Vancouver Canucks.

In other words, Harding is nailing what is essentially a high-profile audition for the summer of 2012, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He’s been a well-respected backup for quite some time, but his fantastic start to the 2011-12 season should add him to a crowded field of backups who could be starters in the future.

Here’s a quick list of young goalies who might not be backups for very long:

Not in a contract year:

Sergei Bobrovsky
Michal Neuvirth
Jonathan Bernier

Contract year (restricted):

Tuukka Rask
Anders Lindback
Devan Dubnyk
Cory Schneider
Ondrej Pavelec (note: Pavelec is a starter, but if he has a bad season, many teams could look at him as a backup or a 1a/1b type)

Contract year (unrestricted):

Dan Ellis
Harding

Assessing Harding’s potential competition

It would be shocking to see Bobrovsky or Neuvirth get traded and The Kings would be wrong to trust Bernier at this point. Rask and Schneider are likely the most intriguing RFAs as far as offer sheets/etc. are concerned while Pavelec is an intriguing wild card.

A lot of teams won’t want to deal with the headaches of offer sheets, sign-and-trades and other RFA-related hassles, though, so Harding could very well assert himself as a prime candidate for a job opening – whether it be in Columbus, Tampa Bay or any number of other places. As far as UFAs go, it’s basically Harding vs. career backups such as Chris Mason.

Harding still has a long way to go to earn a shot at a top job

Naturally, there’s still a long way to go and five impressive games played won’t be enough to sway most (if not all) GMs. At the same time, it’s heartening that Harding is making such a showcase for his value after the devastating injury that derailed his 2010-11 season.