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Brian Duff's Blog: Searching for an affordable No. 1 goalie

Josh Harding #29 of the Minnesota Wild looks on in warmups before a game against the Edmonton Oilers on March 22, 2009 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images)

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Josh Harding #29 of the Minnesota Wild looks on in warmups before a game against the Edmonton Oilers on March 22, 2009 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images)

If someone were to ask you - name one team that needs a goaltender for next year - which team would you pick?

For me, the answer is pretty obvious: the Colorado Avalanche.

Hey, I like a feel good story as much as the next guy, so I was kind of hoping the Peter Budaj/Andrew Raycroft tandem could pull off a miracle this year.

Didn't happen.

Now the Avalanche must act, and here's where their search should start and end.

Minnesota.

Josh Harding is coming up on his 25th birthday, is a five-year pro and has no chance of starting in Minnesota for the next four years thanks to the recent contract extension signed by Niklas Backstrom.

Harding is a restricted free agent so the Avs (and any other interested parties) have two options. Make a draft day (or thereabouts) deal to get him or attempt to get him signed to an offer sheet.

If I'm in the Harding camp, I'm in no hurry to re-up with the Wild.

And one would have to think it wouldn't take much to put Harding out of reach for Minnesota. Would they really pay Harding $2 million or more to sit on the bench behind a $6 million dollar starter?

Could be a nice coup for an aggressive GM. We'll see if anyone fits the bill.

Now, should Harding be given an opportunity to be a No. 1 goalie somewhere, he would definitely fall into the category of "Players I Can't Wait To See Next Year." And that list is growing by the day.

In Anaheim, Bobby Ryan and Andrew Ebbett. In Atlanta, Bryan Little, Rich Peverley, and the incredible-to-watch-in-person Zach Bogosian.

Blake Wheeler in Boston and Tuomo Ruutu in Raleigh. Can the latter build upon his career year? He's only 26 and this could turn out to be one of Jim Rutherford's finest deals.

Young Jackets Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek and Steve Mason.

James Neal in Dallas; Ville Leino in Detroit.

The Kings dynamic defense duo of Drew Doughty and Kyle Quincey.

Steve Sullivan and Joel Ward - great stories in Nashville and both of them UFAs.

Zach Parise in Jersey - next year and forever after!

New Yorkers Kyle Okposo and Ryan Callahan.

Phantom turned Flyer Claude Giroux.

Miroslav Satan...just kidding.  

T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund in St. Louis. Steven Stamkos in Tampa. And, of course, Mike Green's encore in Washington.

Moving on to goaltender interference.

It wreaked havoc at times with the conference and Stanley Cup final last year and on many nights right now, it's an issue.

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It's probably the most delicate and difficult call the referees have to make. There have been a number of times lately where it appears the interference is missed altogether or the call nullifies a goal, but doesn't result in a penalty, even though the act appeared deliberate.

The league says there is no appetite among the GMs to go back to the old days of video review for such potential indiscretions, but it's hard to imagine (especially with Sean Avery back in action) that this won't be a major sore spot for teams who end up with the wrong result on the scoreboard during game nights in April, May and June.

Perhaps then the GMs, the competition committee and the governors will push for a clearer, zero tolerance approach to crease crashers. In the meantime, netminders can take solace in knowing that Ryan Smyth will be elsewhere this spring.

And lastly, don't let the numbers fool you.

Rod Brind'Amour may be 38 and he may have the second worst plus-minus in the NHL at minus-23, but he is absolutely not the player now that he was in the first three months of the regular season.

While many players today are returning to action as early as six months after reconstructive knee surgery, those who've been through it will tell you it takes 9-12 months to get back to full strength.

Brind'Amour underwent the operation in February of 2008 and then had another procedure in September, just a few weeks prior to the 2008-09 season opener.

Since the calendar turned to 2009, the Hurricanes captain is a plus-3.

In his past 10 games he's posted five goals and 13 points.

And through his 73 games, he leads the league in faceoff winning percentage at 60.6 percent.

Impressive stuff, and just one reason why the Hurricanes should not be marked as an easy target in Round 1 of this year's playoffs.

Brian Duff is a host of On The Fly on the NHL Network. Like his minor hockey days (playing goalie, defense and forward) his broadcasting career has been all over the map. In radio and TV from Medicine Hat to Edmonton, Toronto to Ottawa and back, Brian has been with the NHL Network since 2007 and has been covering the game for nearly 15 years. Read more of his THN.com Blog HERE.

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