James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
AP

Report: NHL locks up Gary Bettman through 2021-22

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Bad news for Gary Bettman’s haters: it doesn’t sound like he’s hanging up the loafers anytime soon.

The NHL signed its commissioner to new contract that goes through the 2021-22 season, according to Sports Illustrated’s Michael Farber. In case you’re wondering about the timing, that deal runs through the league’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHLPA.

Farber didn’t specify the financial terms, so we can only imagine if his “cap hit” exceeds that of the $10.5 million pulled in by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. (There’s a decent chance, as it was last reported at $9.6 million.)

This new contract is not official via the NHL, mind you; Bettman deflected the question when Farber asked him:

(Yes, it’s too early to worry about another lockout … but no, you’re not alone in doing so.)

Anyway, no unrestricted free agency for Bettman. In case you’re wondering, he’s not exactly in a rush to make sweeping changes to the sport.

Tkachuk shines as Team Orr edges Team Cherry (again) in prospects game

via Calgary Hitmen
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Bobby Orr nabbed $100 from Don Cherry for the sixth straight time at the CHL’s Top Prospects game, not that their friendly bet was the most important factor.

(Granted, Cherry didn’t look happy – at first at least – clutching that losing money.)

Nope, this was a showcase for a variety of 2016 NHL Draft hopefuls, including Mathew Tkachuk. Again, Orr’s group edged Cherry’s team by a score of 3-2.

Check out some quick stats at a glance:

The in-game results aren’t as crucial as the overall impressions, so let’s focus on some of the sensory details.

Plenty of scouts were on hand, to say the least:

There were some echoes to past events, as well:

Was this a make-or-break night? Probably not for top prospects such as Tkachuk, but it may have been more important for less obvious players, and it sounds like many made good impressions.

Are injuries a valid excuse for your team? Let’s see …

AP
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In an ideal world, every NHL team would succeed or fail based on pure merit. Imagine, for a second, if hockey teams could turn off injuries like a video game come true.

That’s obviously not the case, and All-Star weekend seems like a logical time to check in on the teams that are hit the hardest (or least often) by injuries.

Man Games Lost is a site devoted to measuring exactly that, both in simple terms and the sort of info that can make you wrinkle your brow.

Conveniently enough, they posted their findings as recently as today, so we can get a few bits of insight. (The full post is absolutely worth reading, though.)

Some takeaways:

  • The Edmonton Oilers (214) and Buffalo Sabres (212) lead in man games lost. The Oilers topped another ranking ( “greatest cumulative impact of injured forwards or defensemen”) by way of the ITT metric. You were probably already aware that they’ve been hit hard with serious injuries to Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
  • The St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils deserve credit for staying in their playoff hunts by weathering some significant issues, based on a couple different measures.
  • On the other end, the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals have dealt with the least about of man games lost.
  • To little surprise, Carey Price‘s injury was the biggest loss among goalie injuries.

Again, more context can be found here.

Long story short, it’s tough to totally dismiss the teams at the extremes of each side. It also adds merit to the thought that the Blues and Devils have been pretty resilient.

Want to see where every team stands? Man Games Lost has a handy visual aid for that:

Any surprises?

Love mascots? 2016 NHL All-Star weekend has you covered

via Blackhawks/"Tommy Hawk"
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With the possible prerequisite of actually enjoying hockey,* the 2016 NHL All-Star weekend provides a little of everything for visitors.

There’s even a cheese fountain.

Some people just can’t get enough of mascots, and those individuals are in for quite a blast.

Read the full details of the second “Mascot Showdown” here.

For the skimmers out there, a few daily highlights:

Tonight: Musical chairs and bowling

Friday: Summer camp-style activities like a three-legged (or hooves/whatever would be appropriate for said fake-animal) and a tug-of-war

Saturday: Broomball and dodgeball

Sunday: Dance competition!

(It was tough to resist exclamation points for all these activities, but dance competition was just too much.)

You can already watch the introductions via this NHL periscope.

* – Although, there are probably enough side attractions to appease those blasphemous puck-haters, too.

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 .