Cam Tucker

Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (32) of Finlandskates around during a timeout during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Anaheim Ducks in St. Paul, Minn., Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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Report: Former Wild goalie Backstrom signs one-year deal in Finland

Niklas Backstrom, the former Minnesota Wild goalie and franchise leader in numerous statistical categories at that position, is on his way back to Finland.

Now 38 years old, Backstrom still leads the Wild franchise with 409 games played, 194 regular season wins and 28 shut outs. He was traded from the Wild to the Calgary Flames, who absorbed his contract, at the deadline this year.

In March, with his new team, Backstrom recorded his first win in a 15-month period.

His best season with the Wild was in 2008-09, when he had 37 wins and a .923 save percentage.


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    Stars re-sign Ritchie to one-year deal

    Pittsburgh Penguins v Dallas Stars
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    The Dallas Stars have re-signed forward Brett Ritchie, the club’s second-round pick from 2011, to a one-year contract extension.

    The 22-year-old forward has spent most of the last four seasons in the American Hockey League, with the Texas Stars, where he had 14 goals and 28 points in 35 games this season.

    He played in eight games for the NHL’s Stars during the 2015-16 regular season, recording one assist. He also appeared in two playoff games for Dallas.

    Ritchie’s season started late due to a wrist injury that required surgery as per an announcement from the organization in September. Stars GM Jim Nill said the prospect forward would be out three to four months.

    As a result of the injury, Ritchie’s first game in the AHL this season was in early December.

    Pending UFA Lucic willing to listen if Canucks are interested

    GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 26:  Milan Lucic #17 of the Los Angeles Kings during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 26, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Kings defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    The beginning of free agency is just over three weeks away, and among the most interesting players who could potentially be available on July 1 is Milan Lucic.

    A pending unrestricted free agent, he’s gone on record as saying he wants to remain with the L.A. Kings. However, a deal has yet to get done and the days are ticking away. With free agency approaching, there have been reports that locations like Vancouver and Edmonton could be a fit for the bruising power forward.

    It’s no surprise that Vancouver is being mentioned as a possible destination.

    Lucic is from Vancouver and played his junior hockey there. Canucks GM Jim Benning was with the Boston Bruins when Lucic was with that NHL club, winning a Stanley Cup in 2011 — in Vancouver.

    On Tuesday, Lucic spoke to News 1130 Sports about the possibility of coming to Vancouver.

    However, is one of his desires — going to a team that can win a Stanley Cup — in line with what the Canucks are going through right now?

    The days of the Canucks dominating the old Northwest Division and winning the Presidents’ Trophy (twice in a row) are behind them. With an aging core, they finished 28th in the overall standings in 2015-16 and now go into the upcoming draft with the No. 5 overall pick.

    The Canucks traded one of their young forwards in Jared McCann for defenseman Erik Gudbranson with the hopes of strengthening their blue line, specifically the top four.

    (Interesting timing with the trade.)

    The Canucks have good young players on the team with Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat, Ben Hutton and Jake Virtanen, and in the organization with Brock Boeser and goalie Thatcher Demko, who they feel could be a potential No. 1 for them in the future.

    But there may yet be more difficult times ahead for the organization before it’s realistically ready to be competitive in the West.

    If — IF — Lucic does go to free agency, and if the Canucks are interested, could management convince him they’re quickly on the road to the ultimate prize?

    The Great One: Crosby ‘just took his play to another level’


    Sidney Crosby isn’t leading the NHL in points this post-season. In fact, he’s gone the last two games — both in San Jose, where the Sharks may have been able to get the match-up they wanted — without a point.

    Nonetheless, the Penguins have surged ahead to within one win of the Stanley Cup, and Crosby, with 17 points in 22 playoff games this year, has been a catalyst for their drive.

    His play in this series, and throughout the post-season, has garnered plenty of attention, from the opposition to the media. At times, he’s been faced with criticism, particularly his leadership during the conference final, and accused of cheating in faceoffs — that has quickly went away — but his supporters, like Pittsburgh’s head coach Mike Sullivan, have also let their opinions be heard.

    Count Wayne Gretzky among the supporters Crosby has based on his play late in the regular season and into the playoffs.

    “Personally I don’t worry if a guy goes two or three games without a goal – it’s how he’s performing and how he’s playing to help his team be successful and he’s definitely done that,” Gretzky told Sportsnet.

    “He’s been, I think, terrific. (Chicago Blackhawks winger) Patrick Kane had one of those special years and he’s definitely deserving of all the accolades that he’s getting, but I also felt that the last 40 games (of the regular season) Crosby was again the best player in the NHL.

    “He just took his play to another level.”

    Gretzky, speaking separately on the Dan Patrick Show, also addressed the pressure Crosby faces to win a championship and if there are any parallels between that pressure and what LeBron James faces in the NBA.


    Sullivan pushing all the right buttons with Penguins one win away from the Stanley Cup


    PITTSBURGH — There is no magic button, even if the correlation between Mike Sullivan’s deft attempts to a get player’s attention and that player almost immediately elevating his game is unmistakable.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins coach insists he’s just doing his job, one that has brought the underachieving team to within three periods of a Stanley Cup that seems as inevitable now as it seemed unlikely when he took over in mid-December.

    Pittsburgh headed home Tuesday with a firm 3-1 lead over the San Jose Sharks in the tightly contested but ultimately one-sided best-of-seven after Evgeni Malkin picked up a goal and an assist in a 3-1 victory on Monday night. Malkin’s performance came barely 36 hours after Sullivan praised the star center for his hard work while adding the team needed even more from him if the Penguins wanted to close out the franchise’s fourth title.

    Related: Sullivan excited to work with Penguins stars Crosby, Malkin

    And just like that, it happened.

    There was Malkin getting the secondary assist on Ian Cole‘s opening goal. There was Malkin redirecting Phil Kessel‘s pass from the circle into the net for a 2-0 advantage. There was Malkin skating with purpose, breaking up passes on one end of the ice and looking for his shot at the other. His first goal of the Cup final came when he darted for the far post on the power play and found himself all alone when Kessel threaded it to him.

    “It’s not like great goal, but it’s just go to net, you know, and stay close to net and try play around net,” Malkin said. “When I have puck, I’m try shoot. It’s simple game tonight for me.”

    A vintage one too. Ditto Sullivan, whose knack for drawing the best out of his players during Pittsburgh’s thrillingly arduous playoff run is becoming so frequent it’s tempting to ask him for lottery numbers.

    He noticed rookie Conor Sheary looking fatigued during the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay and sat him for Game 5. Sheary, rested and still confident after a brief talk with Sullivan, returned to his pest-like self and has scored twice during the Cup final, including the overtime winner in Game 2.

    Sullivan pulled struggling defenseman Olli Maatta in the second round against Washington yet stressed to the 21-year-old Maatta he would eventually get another chance, one that arrived when Trevor Daley went down with an ankle injury. All Maatta has done since his return is become the best Pittsburgh defenseman not named Kris Letang.

    A sluggish night by rookie goaltender Matt Murray in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals led to Sullivan’s most risky decision. He awarded the Game 5 start to veteran Marc-Andre Fleury, a move he made after taking 10 minutes to explain the reasoning behind it to Murray. It made all the difference. When Fleury slipped late in an overtime loss, Sullivan went right back to Murray. The 22-year-old is 5-1 since returning to the lineup.

    “Every player goes through their ups and downs, times when they’re at the top of their game, and times where it can be a bit of a challenge,” Sullivan said. “I think that’s just human nature. Our players are no different. It never changes our opinions of these guys or how we feel about them. It’s our responsibility as their coaching staff to try to help them through the process.”

    A responsibility that Sullivan takes seriously. The hyper-competitive forward who spent 11 seasons grinding out a career developed an appreciation for coaches who didn’t mince words. He places a premium on transparency. There is very little guessing about what’s on his mind, mostly because he doesn’t hesitate to say what needs to be said and if you don’t like the tone, well, that’s on you though Sullivan makes it a point to never make it personal.

    “When he needs to he can call you out and tell you that he wants more from you,” Murray said.

    And no one is immune, regardless of status. When Malkin failed to register anything on the scoresheet through the first three games of the Cup final, Sullivan decided it was time to speak up.

    “He’s been a big part of this playoff success,” Sullivan said. “But certainly I know that there’s another level that he has to help us win.”

    The comments came only after Sullivan spoke to Malkin, the new father – his daughter Nikita was born last Tuesday – well aware of his own inability to transfer his power and creativity into points. Given an opportunity to lift Pittsburgh to the cusp of a title, Malkin looked like the force of nature who bulled his way to the Conn Smythe Trophy the last time the Penguins won it all in 2009.

    “When he turns it on, obviously what he can do for us is huge for our team,” Cole said.

    Then again, in Sullivan’s mind that makes Malkin no different than any of the other 20 guys in black-and-gold. He tries to work phrases like “play the right way” and “our group” in to nearly every answer. His team’s rise over the last six months is a collective effort, not a star-driven one.

    “I’ve told these guys from day one that we believe in this group,” Sullivan said. “We believe in our players, and we know when the stakes are high, they’re going to be at their best.”

    No magic button required.