St. Louis signs David Backes to five-year, $22.5 M extension

The St. Louis Blues might be without one of their best young forwards for three months, but they won’t have to worry about losing one of their other ones until 2016 at the earliest. That’s because the team signed David Backes to a five-year, $22.5 million extension that will constitute a $4.5 million annual salary cap hit beginning next season.

The 26-year-old forward would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency once the last year of his current contract expired after this season.

Backes brings a nice mixture of elite size (he is listed at 6’3″, 225 lbs.), mean-spirited play (439 PIM in 296 career games) and offensive prowess to the table. He scored a career-high 31 assists but only scored 17 goals for 48 points last season after his breakthrough 2008-09 campaign in which he scored 31 goals and 23 assists for 54 points while compiling 165 PIM. So far this season, Backes scored two goals and four assists for six points in 14 games while earning 32 PIM. His most memorable achievement might be the fact that he made the 2010 U.S. Olympic hockey team, though.

His game reminds me quite a bit of Vancouver’s Alex Burrows, though I don’t think Backes is quite the “pest” that Burrows is. He’s also not going to be quite the bargain, either; that $4.5 million contract will make Backes the Blues’ second most expensive player behind Andy McDonald next season. (McDonald’s annual cap hit is $4.7 million until it expires after the 2012-13 season.)

Here is a quick comment from Backes regarding the signing.

“I am ecstatic to have this deal signed and to be a Blue for many years to come,” Backes said. “My wife and I love this city and these fans have been nothing but great to us. This is a great organization to play for, from top to bottom, and we expect to be a top team in this League.”

The Blues are banking on Backes becoming one of the league’s top power forwards as this deal kicks into gear next season and beyond.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.