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Updated: September 25th, 2010 10:30pm
Now what? Wild ponders life without Josh Harding

Now what? Wild ponders life without Josh Harding

by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Less than 24 hours after backup goaltender Josh Harding's season likely ended, Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said a few "well wishers" from other NHL teams have already called.

With teams cutting their training camp rosters and plenty of capable goaltenders heading to the waiver wire, more than one rival general manager is looking to trade, and wondering, like thousands of Minnesota hockey fans: what will the Wild do now?

Saturday morning, the team confirmed that Harding suffered two significant torn ligaments in his right knee, after a St. Louis Blues player was checked into the goaltender, and fell on Harding's right leg. Fletcher said doctors will wait a few weeks until the swelling goes down, then perform surgery, and evaluate from there. He acknowledged that it's quite a blow for the team, and for Harding, who saw a little more than 13 minutes of game action after having hip surgery in April.

"I think the timetable for these injuries is pretty standard. I don't think you can rule out Josh coming back this year," Fletcher said prior to the Wild's 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. "But clearly it's a significant injury and a devastating setback for him personally after a long summer of rehab from his hip surgery."

So Fletcher spent part of the day fielding calls from colleagues looking to peddle goalies that are likely headed for the waiver wire if they do not end up with another team. But he's not biting at the trade bait they're dangling, at least not right now.

"That's the nature of the game. There are a lot of people watching the wires," Fletcher said. "But this is not a situation where we feel we have to rush out and do anything."

While not officially designating anyone as the next in line behind Niklas Backstrom, who had 18 saves on Saturday, Fletcher seemed to hint that 24-year-old Russian Anton Khudobin is in line to fill Harding's spot in the lineup for now. Khudobin was 2-0-0 with the Wild last season, but spent most of the winter with the minor league Houston Aeros, appearing in 38 games and winning 14.

"He was East Coast League goalie of the year, he's been an American (Hockey) League all-star. He's played well here when we've asked him to play," Fletcher said. "He's a young goalie and doesn't have that proven track record behind him, but he's shown at various levels that he can win games. We're very confident in him."

Khudobin is confident in himself as well.

"I work hard and I've worked for three years to get to this level, so I'm pretty sure I'm ready to go," said Khudobin, who will get the start on Sunday night in Montreal, as the Wild play the third game in as many nights.

"Right now we've got three guys," Wild coach Todd Richards said, offering his own hints that there might still be a battle between Khudobin and Matt Hackett for the job backing up Backstrom. "Nik is our guy going forward, and Anton has...showed us that at this level he can have some success."

Barring an acquisition, either Khudobin or Hackett (who replaced Harding in Friday night's 5-0 loss in St. Louis and finished with 23 saves) and Josh Tordjman will split time in Houston. Also waiting in the wings is Dennis Endras, one of the top goalies in the German professional league and the most valuable player of the 2010 World Hockey Championships, who signed a free agent contract with the Wild over the summer. Endras may meet up with the Wild on its trip to Finland early next month, but Fletcher said he will not bring Endras to this side of the Atlantic Ocean this season.

"We're hopeful that we can have him come join us for three or four days in Finland and be our third goalie," Fletcher said. "But the plan all along has been for Dennis to play in Augsburger this year. We made a commitment to the team and to the owner and we intend to keep that commitment."

Notes: Saturday's announced attendance of 16,742 marked the beginning of a new streak. After selling out all 409 of their games since 2000, the Wild have now had tickets available for two games in a row. ... Defenseman Brent Burns left the ice gingerly in overtime after delivering a booming hip check on the Flyers Darroll Powe. Richards said Burns fell awkwardly on his right hip and his leg went numb. Burns, sporting an ice pack on his hip, said he was sore after the game.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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