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Nicklas Backstrom admits it’s nice to finally be an All-Star

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Nicklas Backstrom is the point-a-game playmaker who toils in the large shadow of Washington Capitals teammate Alex Ovechkin, goal-scoring rock star and a constant headliner on the NHL’s marquee.

So, it’s not surprising the unassuming Backstrom has never really gotten more attention for his accomplishments.

“Nicky is the quietest superstar in the league,” Capitals forward Brooks Laich said. “Great players make other people look better, and I think Nicky is the king of that.”

Backstrom flies under the radar like no other current player with 600 career points. Only six active players have more points a game since he entered the league and they’re the best of the best: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan Getzlaf and Patrick Kane.

Yet somehow this weekend will be Backstrom’s first All-Star appearance.

“Is this his first All-Star Game?” incredulous former linemate Mike Knuble. “It is, really? Holy cow. That’s crazy.”

Believe it. Backstrom has never wanted the attention and wanted to make it clear that he didn’t ask his coach, Barry Trotz, to go on an All-Star campaign for him.

Perhaps it’s the Swede in him that makes him want to go about his business without the fanfare or the thirst for attention. Maybe it’s just the 28-year-old’s humility, but he’s honored his coach and teammates have taken a stand to bring him the deserved recognition.

“It’s nice to kind of get appreciated, maybe?” Backstrom said. “But at the same time, it’s not that I haven’t gotten any recognition at all. I’m happy with the way it was or is.”

The way it is, Backstrom dazzles teammates every day in practice. When stay-at-home defenseman Karl Alzner is afraid to mess up a drill, he sees Backstrom fire a backhanded saucer pass 50 feet across the ice. When Laich works on the penalty kill he sees how Backstrom moves opponents around to exactly where he wants them.

Opponents don’t get too close to Backstrom because they know he’s can make them look bad.

“He knows how far everybody’s going to come out to challenge him,” Knuble said. “He’ll go right up to the edge like a dog on an invisible fence. He knows where that line is where they won’t cross.”

Around the league Backstrom has a reputation as a very good player. But the true appreciation of Backstrom comes from seeing him up-close.

“I watched him before, too, and I knew he was great,” said Vancouver Canucks forward Daniel Sedin, who played with Backstrom at the Sochi Olympics. “But I didn’t think he was (that good). He was so much fun to play with on the same line – great passer, great vision. Just the way he skates and moves, he’s easy to play with.

“He’s up there in the league for sure among centermen.”

Likewise, Trotz gained a better appreciation of Backstrom’s brilliance when he witnessed it from behind the bench every game. Now it bothers him that Backstrom is constantly overlooked, whether it be as an All-Star, a candidate for the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward, or simply as an elite talent.

“When you have a player of his caliber, to not be recognized I think it is a little bit of a travesty in some ways that he hasn’t got the attention that he deserves,” Trotz said. “People are missing that moment where they recognize a great player playing on a nightly basis and not really pay attention to it. I think Nick’s OK with it, but I wasn’t.”

Neither are the Capitals.

Knuble likened Backstrom to a less physical Peter Forsberg, a Hockey Hall of Famer. Backstrom’s career might be one better understood when he hangs up his skates and his stats speak for themselves.

“You’re going to look back at his whole career and see how many points he gets, and it might be the quietest Hall of Fame number of points that you might see in a long time,” Trotz said.

Backstrom is only nine years into his career, but talk of the Hall of Fame is not far-fetched considering Ovechkin’s the fifth-fastest player to 500 goals and that he did it alongside Backstrom.

Ovechkin said Backstrom makes him better every day. Their chemistry has led the Capitals to seven playoff appearances with an eighth looming, and the Ovechkin-Backstrom duo could go down as one of the best in hockey history.

“It’s just a perfect match,” Laich said. “You’ve got an all-time shooter with an all-time passer.”

Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SWhyno .

Weight hopes Eberle can re-discover ‘eye of the tiger’ with Islanders

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This post is part of Islanders Day on PHT…

Jordan Eberle had a difficult season at times in 2016-17.

Yet he still managed to score 20 goals, hitting that mark for a fourth consecutive season and fifth time in six years. (He put up 34 goals in 2011-12.)

You can understand why having a skilled winger to perhaps play alongside center John Tavares — at least that’s the expectation prior to training camp — would be intriguing for head coach Doug Weight as the new season approaches.

“Jordan, to me, is really, really exciting,” Weight recently told the NHL Network.

Eberle’s first foray into playoff hockey was a struggle, as he recorded only two assists in 13 post-season games and the Oilers made it to the second round.

And that is where Weight’s extended comments get interesting, because it sounds like the 27-year-old forward’s confidence took a bit of a hit during his final campaign in Edmonton and, in particular, during the playoffs, when his offensive production wasn’t there and the public scrutiny intensified.

Several weeks later, Eberle was traded to the Islanders.

“I want him to come in with that eye of the tiger; that fire back that sometimes gets lost,” Weight continued. “It’s tough. You can get cemented in certain roles, you can have some tough times. But Jordan still produced. He’s a helluva talent and I’m excited to get that confidence back in him and excited for him to get here.”

It didn’t take long after the trade for discussions about a possible Eberle-Tavares reunion to begin. Playing for Team Canada, they combined for a thrilling tying goal against Russia in the dying seconds of the 2009 World Juniors semifinal.

One of the Islanders’ top priorities is to get Tavares secured to a new contract, as he enters the final year of his current deal.

Adding a proven scoring winger to Tavares’ line may also help the team’s captain rebound from a season in which his bottom-line production dropped as well, which would certainly boost the Islanders’ chances of getting back to the playoffs.

“[Eberle’s] bringing a right-handed shot as a forward that can obviously shoot and score from anywhere,” Islanders forward Anders Lee recently told NHL.com.

“He’s a playmaker out on the ice and sees the ice extremely well. He can add some extra threats for us on the power play that can really help elevate us.”

Report: Rangers among ‘final two or three teams’ in running to sign Kerfoot

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One of the big issues facing the Rangers this offseason was about depth up the middle.

New York could take a step in addressing that, with a potential solution in college free agent Alex Kerfoot, the former New Jersey Devils draft pick who decided to test the open market.

From the New York Post:

The Rangers are among the final two or three teams under consideration by Harvard free-agent center Alex Kerfoot, The Post has learned.

J.P. Barry, the 23-year-old center’s agent who confirmed the parties’ mutual interest, told The Post that Kerfoot likely would reach a decision no later than Tuesday following a weekend of reflection.

The Rangers traded Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes and lost Oscar Lindberg in the expansion draft, leaving them in a difficult spot at center heading into the summer months.

Now 23 years old, Kerfoot played four years at Harvard University — the same school as Jimmy Vesey, who became a college free agent last summer and signed with the Rangers — and had a terrific senior year. He put up 16 goals and 45 points and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

The Rangers are facing competition to land Kerfoot, who is from Vancouver and played his junior hockey in nearby Coquitlam. The Canucks are reportedly still in consideration, as well.

According to agent J.P. Barry, Kerfoot and the Canucks management group reportedly had a “productive” meeting last week.

Luongo: ‘I haven’t had any issues’ in return from injury

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Roberto Luongo continues preparations for the upcoming season, after an injury cut his 2016-17 campaign short.

Luongo’s last game was on March 2. He didn’t play again after that due to reported aggravation of a previous hip injury that had required surgery.

However, per the Miami Herald on Monday, the 38-year-old netminder has returned to the ice. Luongo then gave a promising update on his status with training camp approaching in a few weeks.

“It’s good to be able to get back to my regular summer training program. This is my second week … everything feels great and I haven’t had any issues. That’s good,” Luongo told the Miami Herald.

“It’s comforting mentally to know I can go through a rigorous workout and go all out and not have any issues nor think about it. That’s a big first step for me after going through the ups-and-downs of having to deal with my issue last year. It’s nice to have that piece of mind.”

Luongo appeared in 40 games for Florida last season. He still has five years remaining on his contract, which carries an annual cap hit of $5.333 million, per CapFriendly. James Reimer, in his first season with the Panthers after signing there for five years and $17 million, played in 43 games with a sound .920 save percentage.

Once heavily relied upon as a workhorse netminder, starting a career high 75 games one year in Vancouver, the reality is Luongo has a lot of mileage on him and is approaching 40 years of age. As he comes back from this latest injury and considering his age, it will be interesting to see exactly how many starts he gets and who will emerge as the No. 1 goalie in Florida over the course of this upcoming season.

“Listen, this has always been his team,” Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas told the Miami Herald. “But everyone these days has to manage time better, not just us. Roberto can’t play 60, 65 games a season any more. Reimer shouldn’t either. It only gets tougher every year.”

Islanders face critical time on and off the ice

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This post is part of Islanders Day on PHT…

There is quite a bit on the plate of the New York Islanders. On and off the ice.

That includes steps toward finding a permanent home.

That is especially the case given reports last month that this ongoing arena situation — moving from Nassau Coliseum to Barclays Center in Brooklyn to possibly being on the move again to another local destination — is apparently a factor in the delay of getting star forward John Tavares signed to a contract extension.

Tavares has one year left on his current six-year, $33 million contract. The face of the franchise since the day he went No. 1 overall to the Islanders in 2009, Tavares is a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, provided he doesn’t ink a new contract by then.

Read more: Poll: Will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?

On the arena front, the Islanders have made their interest in building an arena on land at Belmont Park well-known — a scenario that Tavares believes has “great potential there.” However, it’s been previously outlined that this is a scenario that will still take some time to finalize.

From Newsday Long Island: 

Tavares said he is waiting to see what comes of the Request For Proposals issued July 30 by New York state regarding the Belmont Park development. The Islanders, along with the owners of the Mets and a Madison Square Garden-backed sports arena consortium Oak View Group, are expected to pitch building an arena on the 43-acre lot.

It’s not clear whether the state will select a winner before Tavares would hit unrestricted free agency next July. All bids are due by Sept. 28 and Empire State Development, the state’s primary business development agency which is handling the RFP, has declined to set a timeline after that.

Of course for Tavares, with an eight-year deal in the offing, he would love to know where he’ll be playing.

Contract negotiations with star players — especially one that is moving closer toward unrestricted free agency — can provide enough tension for fans. The Islanders are not only facing such a negotiation, but an ongoing arena situation as well, and reports suggest the latter may be complicating the former.

Meanwhile, the Islanders have won only one playoff series in the eight seasons Tavares has been with the club. They missed out on the postseason earlier this spring.

Even with a player like Tavares, the Islanders have yet to truly challenge for top spot in the Eastern Conference. For this upcoming season, head coach Doug Weight put onus on the organization to put their star in a position to win and win right now.

They need to sign their star. They will eventually need to settle their arena situation. And there is added pressure to win as Tavares enters his final year of his contract.
It’s shaping up to be a critical few months for the Islanders.
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