The Blue Jackets filled their vacant goaltending coach position on Wednesday, hiring former NHL goaltender Niklas Backstrom to replace Manny Legace.
This was one of the worst-kept secrets in the organization, a move that had been anticipated for the last little while. Backstrom had been handling the role of goaltending coach in Europe for the Jackets since 2019; helping develop team’s prospects overseas.
Backstrom will take on a much more important role in Columbus, where he’ll be tasked immediately with helping rejuvenate the career of Elvis Merzlikins. Merzlikins struggled hard last season, and aside from the improvements made to the roster and behind the bench, is the most important piece for the Blue Jackets to correct if they are going to get back towards being a playoff team.
The other important task at hand for Backstrom: helping develop Daniil Tarasov. Tarasov oozes potential, but has yet to put his game together consistently enough to stick in the NHL thus far. At 24 years old, he’s nearing the prime of his career, and now sitting on a one-way deal, has to be a difference maker in the NHL at this point. It’s a tall task for the new goaltending coach, but if anyone is up to it, Backstrom is the guy.
He’s a veteran of 413 career NHL games, spent mostly with the Minnesota Wild (409); beginning in the 2006-07 season. He added four games with the Calgary Flames in 2015-16, before bowing out and heading back to Europe, where he played pro for three more seasons. Backstrom posted a 196-144-50 record in the NHL, along with a career 2.49GAA and .914 save percentage. He retired from the crease in 2019 and was quickly hired by the Blue Jackets, who hoped having a quality guy in Europe would help with prospect development.
After the untimely death of Matiss Kivlenieks in 2021, it became increasingly difficult for both Elvis Merzlikins, and goaltending coach Manny Legace – who both witnessed his death. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for both of them, with a sense of guilt and tragedy looming over them. I can only speculate that objective coaching might have been a hard barrier to clear – so the hope here is that a new voice will help get things back on track for the talented Merzlikins.