Not long after the Wild announced that it had signed All-Star goaltender Niklas Backstrom to a four-year contract, Wild.com sat down with Assistant General Manager/Hockey Operations Tom Lynn to talk about why the "commitment is so important."
Q: Were there any ghosts, such as previous players who have come or gone, that played into the process of signing Niklas Backstrom?
: I guess, for me, a little bit because the best deals we've done are the deals we didn't do. This year in particular we let a couple guys go and replaced them with free agents who have been much more successful than [Pavol] Demitra and [Brian] Rolston have been this year as far as points gleaned.
So, given that, and given a couple other players who have left in the past, it was, like, "It's always been good to us in the past ... Do we really want to do that?"
Having Owen Nolan and Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen and Marc-Andre Bergeron and Marek Zidlicky has been just very good for the team.
That was my only nervousness; if we lock in here, are we preventing someone from coming here and making us better?
In the end, Nik's personality and his position were probably the overarching things.Q: He does offer a nice combination of an even keel and a focus.
: He's such a great, solid, predictable personality, and a competitor, and his position is a singular one that is so important.
Nik is an interesting paradox of the best things for a goalie. You want goalies to be phlegmatic, very even-tempered, not bothered by anything. Just play your position, don't get distracted. At the same time, you want them to be competitive. The best goalies are competitive, they step up in the big games, they make the big save. Those aren't exactly in accord with each other. So, to find someone who seems to embody both at the same time is very difficult -- not to be bothered by anything, but still to be very, very competitive.Q: Contract negotiations are likely as varied as the people involved, so can you characterize the nature of this negotiation and its timing?
: It's a lot of money. We knew it was a lot of money. We've talked for some time, and there were issues to be worked out.
Issues of term and the no-trade provisions were the things we worked on for quite some time. I think we probably were close for a while and just needed something to trigger the deal, and the trade deadline was probably the fulcrum.
We wanted to see if we could get it done on its own and not be balancing it too much against potential trade value.Q: Can you characterize your relationship with his agent, Don Baizley?
: It's a very cordial relationship with Don. He's polite, respectful, gentlemanly and one of the top agents in the business. He's kind of a visionary and he's also pretty firm. Q: What is the no-trade provision, specifically?
: He has a no-trade for two years and his no-trade continues as long as he's basically our No. 1 goalie as far as his stats go. So it's not a high bar. Those were the issues we were working out.Q: How complicated is the contract relative to those that are signed these days?
: Well, the no-trade was complicated. That was a little bit tricky. Interesting.Q: Have you noticed Backstrom stepping up his game over the past year or so? He seems to be serving more often off the ice as a voice of the team.
: The first year is just trying to get comfortable. After that, he's become more comfortable each year. Now he's going to be in the top half in terms of tenure on the team.
Also, the reporters are going to him more. And now that he's Nik, ranked No. 2 by The Hockey News in their most recent issue on goalies in the league, reporters are going to him for comment.Q: On the ice, have you seen an improvement to his game?
: He works hard at his game. Very hard. I think the most telling statistic is the shootout. The first year, he was the worst in the league in shootouts. This year, he's the best. Why is that? Because he went home all summer and worked on it -- watched video, worked on it with players, worked on everything he could to get better in shootouts.
If you want a symptom of how Nik is such a super competitive goalie, it's going from worst to first in the shootout.Q: This, to many, is an interesting signing in that there is no more tacit approval than a club signing a player, even if he is set to become a free agent. What do you say to anyone who might take a cynical approach on this story?Lynn
: First of all, the players make the decision, not the team -- unless we don't offer a contract, which is rare. This player chose to stay, and the team, for its part, recognized that he's successful.
We want to make sure we're good in goal and good defensively. That's why this commitment is so important.Q: Personally, is there a part of you that appreciates the tale here?Lynn
: Only to the degree that I like Nik personally. In terms of business, once the number was presented, we were already trying to figure out next year, where the rest of our players fit in, where we could improve the team, where the cap might go. It was more mechanical.
The good part about this one is I like Nik very much personally. Other people like him. He's good to have around the team. So, in a personal sense, it was an accomplishment. In a business sense, he got the right number, a market-value number.
The positives are that he's a good guy in a an important position to solidify.
Nik, in the case of coming out of nowhere, to come to Minnesota and become an All-Star -- not just a flash in the pan; this is his third year running as one of the top goalies in the league -- and to be a good person and a humble person, a person people can be proud of ... I think he's become part of the spirit of the Wild that will live with us long after his career is over because of the way he carries himself.