Josh Harding has shown immense character and resolve throughout his entire career, and especially over the past few months. Harding recently found out that he suffers from MS (multiple sclerosis). Assuming he is able to continue on as an NHL goaltender, what does the future hold?
Harding has vowed publically to go about honouring his newly inked three-year extension with the Wild in the same manner as he would’ve prior to the diagnosis. Then again, he’s always shown plenty of character and integrity, such as in his off-season decision to not pursue greener financial pastures outside of Minnesota, despite sharing the crease with an already established star in Niklas Backstrom. The excitement surrounding owner Craig Leipold’s significant financial commitments in the double swoop free agency splash of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter intrigued him enough to stay on board despite the potential of starting goal for another team.
Let’s take a closer look at the in ice performance of Josh and how he projects to perform in the next NHL campaign.
Given that he has never been a surefire starting goaltender in his NHL tenure (save for long injury spells to Backstrom) I’ll attempt to qualify the results achieved in his limited starts from the 2011-12 campaign. Of all netminders who had played at least 20 games last season, Harding finished in the top 12 in Save Percentage and 14th in Average Shots Faced per Contest. This amounts to more validation in his positive results. Naturally, the more quantity of challenges faced, the more challenges denied, and the better the sample size.
The quality of shots faced by goaltenders is another topic to discuss. For years Chris Osgood (arguably) was saved from a true glut of prime scoring opportunities with such defensive dynamos as ‘Saint’ Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios and to a lesser extent Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, and Mathieu Schneider patrolling the lanes in front of him. With Detroit’s legendary defensive core boxing out forward group after forward group coming to town or on the road, the quality of shots faced by Osgood were often lower than his contemporaries, enabling him to make easier saves. Harding clearly has not had anywhere near the same level of blueline wizardry blocking off angles in the slot as Osgood, or most recently Jimmy Howard, thus making his year after year of solid results even more impressive with higher quality shots being tossed his way.
The chart below dictating the highest save percentage in the league from the range of 30 to 45 feet away from goal shows a middle ground, in that he (and coincidentally teammate, Backstrom) finished in the top four in SV % from an imposing distance. Given that the distance from the blueline to the goal line is approximately double the distance of this range, we’re not exactly talking the quantity of shots drifted in from the point here – more accurately the top of the circle. This is a credible vantage point for any goaltender to be making save from, particularly from the slap shot nature. More so if screened from that distance.
Expect Harding’s proven ability to be dependable in these sorts of situations to carry forward, providing no or very little effects of his MS diagnosis are found to affect his game in the coming three plus years.
Considering the Wild had Harding signed to an extremely cap friendly $1.5 salary last season while he performed at a high level for nearly half a season’s slate of starts, it can be argued he was certainly one of the best bargain goaltenders in the league. Thanks to www.capgeek.com, See the below salary hierarchy for goaltenders in the NHL based on 2011-2012 season earnings.
For someone who got paid the 36th highest amount in the NHL to finish well within the top 15 in performance for his position is impressive. Harding conceivably got paid less than all 30 starters in the league plus another five backups. This should not go unnoticed, especially since he figures to only move up slightly in terms of pay, with the very modest raise of $400,000 he received in his new deal. Therefore you can bank on him to seriously challenge for his bargain goaltender crown during each of the next three seasons; health permitted of course.
I’ll be rooting for him….and keeping a close eye on him in my mid-to-late round draft sleepers. and even more so in a couple deep keeper pools.
Here are a few reads on Harding’s MS diagnosis:
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