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 .

Wings take one-year gamble on Vanek

Minnesota Wild left wing Thomas Vanek controls the puck during NHL hockey training camp in St. Paul, Minn., Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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The Detroit Red Wings are taking a one-year gamble on Thomas Vanek. They’ll pay the 32-year-old winger $2.6 million next season, in hopes that he’ll be able to regain the form that once made him an elite NHL sniper.

Vanek was recently bought out of the final year of his contract with Minnesota. He had 18 goals in 74 games last season. The Wild opted for “salary cap flexibility” over keeping him.

“He’s definitely going to bring some offense,” said the Wings’ other new forward, Frans Nielsen, per NHL.com’s Nick Costsonika. “He could be the steal of this free agency.”

Nielsen was the Wings’ biggest signing of the day, and he was no one-year gamble. The 32-year-old center left the Islanders for a six-year, $31.5 million contract in Detroit.

GM Ken Holland is banking on Nielsen to help fill the void left by the departure of Pavel Datsyuk.

PHT’s 2016 free-agent frenzy tracker

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 09:  Milan Lucic #17 of the Los Angeles Kings looks on during the second period against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on February 9, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Welcome to Thunderdome!

Come embrace the madness with us. Throughout today, we’ll be keeping tabs on all the UFA signings across the NHL, so check back regularly for all the biggest signings, trades and other acquisitions.

Friday, July 1

— Ottawa signs Mike Bluden: two years, $$1.475 million, $737,500 AAV

— Detroit signs Thomas Vanek: one year, $2.6 million (link)

— Minnesota signs Victor Bartley: one-year, $650,000

— Montreal signs Daniel Carr: two years, $1.45 million, $725,000 AAV

— Toronto signs Matt Martin: four years, $10 million, $2.5M AAV (link)

— Winnipeg signs Quinton Howden: one year, $650,000

— Tampa Bay signs Gabriel Dumont: one year, $575,000

— Nashville signs Matt Irwin: one year, $575,000

— Vancouver signs Philip Larsen: one year, $1.025 million

— Dallas signs Patrick Eaves: one year, $1 million

— Arizona signs Kevin Connauton: two years, $2 million, $1M AAV

— Carolina signs Viktor Stalberg: one year, $1.5 million (link)

— Carolina signs Lee Stempniak: two years, $5 million, $2.5M AAV (link)

— Nashville signs Yannick Weber: one year, $575,000

— Montreal signs Zach Redmond: two years, $1.225 million, $612,500 AAV

— L.A. signs Michael Latta: one year, $600,000

— L.A. signs Zach Trotman: one year, $650,000

— Winnipeg signs Shawn Matthias: two years, $4.25 million, $2.125 AAV

— Los Angeles signs Jeff Zatkoff: two year, $1.8 million, $900,000 AAV

— Washington signs Brett Connolly: one year, $850,000

— Colorado signs Fedor Tyutin: one year, $2 million (link)

— Colorado signs Patrick Wiercioch: one year, $800,000 (link)

— Colorado signs Joe Colborne: two years, $5 million, $2.5M AAV (link)

— New York Rangers sign Adam Clendening: one year, $600,000 (link)

— New York Rangers sign Nathan Gerbe: one year, $600,000 (link)

— New York Rangers sign Michael Grabner: two years, $3.2 million, $1.6M AAV (link)

— New Jersey signs Jon Merrill: two years, $2.275 million, $1.137M AAV (link)

— New Jersey signs Devante Smith-Pelly: two years, $2.6 million, $1.3M AAV (link)

— New Jersey signs Beau Bennett: one year, $725,000 (link)

— Dallas signs Dan Hamhuis: two year, $7.5 million, $3.75M AAV (link)

— Los Angeles signs Tom Gilbert: one year, $1.4 million (link)

— Philadelphia signs Dale Weise: four year, $9.4 million, $2.35M AAV (link)

— Montreal signs Alexander Radulov: one year, $5.75 million (link)

— Calgary signs Chad Johnson: one year, $1.7 million (link)

— Montreal signs Al Montoya, one year, $950,000 (link)

— Edmonton signs Jonas Gustavsson, one year, $800,000 (link)

— Boston signs Anton Khudobin: two years, $2.4 million, $1.2M AAV (link)

— San Jose signs David Schlemko: four years, $8.4 million, $2.1M AAV (link)

— Minnesota signs Chris Stewart: two years, $2.3 million, $1.15M AAV (link)

— New York Islanders sign Jason Chimera: two years, $4.5 million, $2.25M AAV (link)

— New Jersey signs Vern Fiddler: one year, $1.25 million (link)

— New Jersey signs Ben Lovejoy: three years, $8.1 million, $2.66 AAV (link)

— Arizona signs Jamie McGinn: three years, $10 million, $3.3M AAV (link)

— Boston signs John-Michael Liles: one year, $2 million (link)

— St. Louis signs Carter Hutton: two years, $2.25 million, $1.125M AAV (link)

— Minnesota signs Eric Staal: three years, $10.5 million, $3.5M AAV (link)

— Detroit signs Frans Nielsen: six years, $31.5 million, $5.25M AAV (link)

— Calgary signs Troy Brouwer: four years, $18 million, $4.5M AAV (link)

— Boston signs David Backes: five years, $30 million, $6M AAV (link)

— Vancouver signs Loui Eriksson: six years, $36 million, $6M AAV (link)

— Buffalo signs Kyle Okposo: seven years, $42 million, $6M AAV (link)

— Edmonton signs Milan Lucic: seven years, $42 million, $6M AAV (link)

— Florida signs James Reimer: five years, $17 million, $3.4M AAV (link)

— St. Louis signs David Perron: two years, $7.75 million, $3.875M AAV (link)

— New York Islanders sign Andrew Ladd: seven years, $38.5 million, $5.5M AAV (link)

— Pittsburgh re-signs Steve Oleksy: one year, $575,000 (link)

— Pittsburgh re-signs Tom Sestito: one year, $575,000 (link)

— Chicago signs Brian Campbell: one year, $2 million (link)

— Detroit re-signs Darren Helm: five years, $19.25 million, $3.85M AAV (link)

Previous deals of note

Steve Stamkos re-signs in Tampa Bay: eight years, $68 million, $8.5M AAV (link)

Trevor Lewis re-signs in Los Angeles: four years, $8 million, $2M AAV (link)

Drew Miller re-signs in Detroit: one year, $1.025M (link)

Jordie Benn re-signs in Dallas: three years, $3.3 million, $1.1M AAV (link)

Keith Yandle signs in Florida: seven years, $44.45 million, $6.35M AAV (link)

Kyle Brodziak re-signs in St. Louis: two years, $1.9 million, $950,000 AAV (link)

Scottie Upshall re-signs in St. Louis: one year, $900,000 (link)

Alex Goligoski signs in Arizona: five years, $27.5 million, $5.475M AAV (link)

Cam Ward re-signs in Carolina: two years, $6.6 million, $3.3M AAV (link)

 

 

 

Blues GM says he might just keep Shattenkirk

DENVER, CO - APRIL 03:  Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the St. Louis Blues controls the puck against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on April 3, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Blues defeated the Avalanche 5-1. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Granted, it might be a bluff. But according to St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong, the Blues are leaning towards keeping defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

“I think the Kevin Shattenkirk thing grew on a life of its own at the draft. What I’ve said internally here is that we’re excited to have Kevin Shattenkirk as a part of our team,” Armstrong told the NHL Network today, per CSN New England.

Shattenkirk has just one year left on his contract, and with Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko on the right side of the defense in St. Louis, many felt that the 27-year-old, right-shooting puck mover would be traded for a solid return.

That wasn’t just speculation either. In fact, Shattenkirk’s agent recently called a trade “inevitable.”

But Armstrong isn’t saying that now. Even if he can’t get Shattenkirk re-signed, it may be that the next pressure point is the trade deadline.

“If you get to a part of the year and you have guys that are unrestricted and your team is no good, then you make those decisions,” he said. “But if you have a good team and you have guys that are unrestricted, you just play it out.”

Again, he might be bluffing.

The Boston Bruins were one of the favorites to land Shattenkirk. Currently, their defense looks pretty much the same as it did at the end of the regular season, save for the subtraction of Dennis Seidenberg who’s been bought out.

Related: Neely says fixing the defense is “at the top of the list” for Bruins this offseason 

Leafs make splash, sign hard-hitting Martin to four-year, $10M deal

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 07: Matt Martin #17 of the New York Islanders gets the gloves up on Zack Kassian #44 of the Edmonton Oilers at the Barclays Center on February 7, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Toronto fired its first shot in free agency this afternoon, and it was a notable one — Matt Martin, the former Isles forward and a fairly coveted target, has inked a four-year, $10 million deal with the Leafs.

First reported by Sportsnet, the deal will carry a $2.5M average annual cap hit. Martin, 27, really upped his market value this past season by scoring 19 points — and a career-best 10 goals — while dishing out a NHL-leading 363 hits.

Martin is a physically imposing presence at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, and was a fan favorite in Long Island and Brooklyn during his seven-year stint with the Isles.

An Ontario native, this move will represent a nice homecoming. Martin hasn’t played in the area since his days with OHL Sarnia, where he was a former teammate of Steve Stamkos and eventually served as team captain.