Minnesota Wild: Josh Harding returns to ice

Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding, undoubtedly the team’s most important player over the first half of the season, strapped on the skates for the first time in over two months this morning. Harding, who had been dealing with complications from multiple sclerosis, has yet to play in 2014 and has since relinquished the starting position to Darcy Kuemper. It’s uncertain what exactly this means for Josh Harding’s playing prospects, but it is a step in the right direction.

It’s no secret that goalie has been most uncertain part of the Wild’s season thus far. Four goalies have started and two others have dressed as backups for the squad to this point. Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper have obviously been the most consistent, with Harding locking down the position during 2013 and Kuemper in 2014. Even with the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov to primarily hold the backup position, the Wild would be better off having Harding assume that role if he is healthy come playoff time.

Bryzgalov started his first game on Sunday against the St. Louis Blues and his struggles began quickly. Two shaky goals in the opening frame turned into a shutout performance until the shootout. No one is expecting Bryzgalov to play a significant role the rest of the way for the Minnesota Wild. He was acquired simply as a Band-Aid for the backup role with Harding’s uncertainty and Niklas Backstrom’s season likely being over. He won’t be resigned in offseason; therefore the role should go to Harding if he is healthy.

Regardless of his future with the franchise, Josh Harding is a much more viable option short term in comparison to Bryzgalov. He is capable of being one of the best goalies in the league when healthy and comfortable. He has about 20 games to regain his strength and dominant form present in the beginning of this season before the playoffs begin. Kuemper is clearly the guy moving forward, but Harding is deserving of at least a backup role if capable.

Here is a short package of what Harding did prior to his injury:

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In other news, the Wild look for the season sweep of the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday evening. They have dominated every game in which they have faced off and there is no excuse for not doing it again against a team facing chaos unlike any other in the NHL. In addition, Minnesota needs to have a rebounding performance after losing two straight and leaving the door open for Dallas and Phoenix, who are 4 and 5 points behind in the playoff chase respectively.