ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Wild traded for goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov on Tuesday in conjunction with their decision to shut down ailing veteran Niklas Backstrom.
The Wild sent a fourth-round draft pick to Edmonton to complete the deal one day before the NHL trade deadline.
General manager Chuck Fletcher said the team must assume that neither Backstrom nor Josh Harding will be healthy enough to mind the net again this season. Rookie Darcy Kuemper has been stellar in their absence, but with a finishing stretch of 20 games in 37 days starting Saturday, he's not enough.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us to get where we want to get to, but clearly having two quality goaltenders was very important," Fletcher said.
Kuemper has started 15 straight games, so Bryzgalov is more for insurance, though he's certain to have his time, too. The Wild are 14-4-2 in 2014 and in firm control of the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference playoff race.
"I will do my job as best I can. Making the decisions on who is supposed to play is not my job," Bryzgalov said on a conference call. He added: "I look at this as a great opportunity for me to play, and yeah it's like a new challenge."
Backstrom has been bothered by injuries all season, most notably to his midsection that will probably prompt surgery, and the 36-year-old has a career-worst 3.02 goals-against average over 21 games. Fletcher told him Monday of their preference to hold him out until training camp.
"His pain threshold is tremendous," Fletcher said. "He's a competitive guy and I know he's really disappointed because the team has taken a really strong step the last couple months. He's been through some of the lean times, and I know he wants to be a part of it but our goal for Nik is to get him healthy."
Harding was superb early in the season, but the 2013 Masterton Trophy winner — for sportsmanship, dedication and perseverance — has not played at all in 2014 due to illness related to medication for multiple sclerosis. With not much more than a month left in the regular season and Harding not yet ready to resume skating, Fletcher said he's probably finished until the fall, too.
The search for a replacement intensified in the last couple of days. Martin Brodeur and Jaroslav Halak also were potentially available via trade, but their price was far higher than what it took to nab Bryzgalov.
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