Jason Brough

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 17:  David Backes #42 of the St. Louis Blues looks on in Game Two of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 17, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

UFA of the Day: David Backes

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Every day until June 30, we’ll write about a pending unrestricted free agent. Today’s UFA of the Day is…

David Backes

Blues GM Doug Armstrong has called re-signing the 32-year-old captain a “priority,” and Backes has said there’s “no question” he wants to stay in St. Louis.

So how come there hasn’t been an extension yet?

In a nutshell, the Blues are wary of signing Backes to a contract that could turn into a liability.

“There’s things I can potentially do with roster players here to open up some space,” Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch. “But I think what you’ve seen around the league, too, is if you get too aggressive, those contracts are sometimes difficult to maneuver around.”

He added, “I thought this year for sure, the NHL got faster. It just seemed like I came to the rink one day and it was fast, and it seemed to get quicker and quicker. So I think it’s trending into a younger-leg game.”

It’s a tough decision for the Blues, since losing their captain would hurt in the short term, and they’re still in their Stanley Cup window. Backes had 45 points (21G, 24A) in 75 games during the regular season, then added 14 more (7G, 7A) in 20 playoff contests. Remember that St. Louis could also lose Troy Brouwer to free agency, so there’d have to be confidence that a youngster like Ty Rattie could step in and fill the void.

If Backes hits the open market, he’ll garner interest no question. Teams will still have the same worries that the Blues have, but all it takes is one with the cap space and urgency to make a big offer.

“I think David’s got a lot of good years left in him,” said Armstrong. “I’d love to keep him here, but it has to work out for David and his family first and foremost and then it has to work into our math equation.”

Click here for all our 2016 UFA profiles.

The hockey world has gathered for Howe’s funeral

DETROIT — Gordie Howe has drawn some of the biggest names in hockey, including Wayne Gretzky and Gary Bettman, to the Motor City to celebrate his life and legacy.

Howe’s funeral was to begin at 11 a.m. Wednesday in a packed Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Thousands of people, famous and relatively anonymous, paid respects to Howe at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday. He died Friday at the age of 88.

The home of the Detroit Red Wings, Howe’s team for more than two decades and four Stanley Cup championships, was opened at 9 a.m. and was scheduled to close at 9 p.m. – for No. 9, of course – but so many people showed up that the visitation lasted longer than planned.

Paul Snapp was ready and willing to wait as long as it took to honor his hero.

The 66-year-old Snapp was one of more than 100 people waiting outside to get in Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday afternoon. Inside, a longer line snaked through the darkened arena.

“I wouldn’t have missed this opportunity to see him one more time for anything in the world,” said Snapp, sporting Howe’s No. 9 Detroit Vipers jersey from his one-game stint as a 69-year-old forward during the 1997-98 International Hockey League season, his sixth decade of professional hockey.

Howe broke records, threw elbows and fists and became an idol to Gretzky and many others while elevating the profile the NHL had in the U.S. With strength, speed and grit, he set NHL records with 801 goals and 1,850 points – mostly with the Red Wings – that stood until Gretzky came along.

Gretzky said he was “embarrassed” to break Howe’s records because he played in an incomparable era.

The Great One wore No. 99 in a tribute to Howe, a man he got to know when he was a kid.

“Not everybody gets to meet their hero or their idol,” Gretzky said. “And sometimes when you meet them, it wasn’t as good as you thought it would be. I got so lucky that the guy I chose happened to be so special.”

Howe had bulging muscles – unlike many players in his day – on his 6-foot, 205-pound frame and had a great shot both with his fist and stick.

“He had so much power,” said Scotty Bowman, who won an NHL-record ninth Stanley Cup as a coach with the Red Wings in 2002. “He was perfect. If you were going to make a mold of a player, you would want to make it of Gordie.”

Related: Howe visitation draws thousands

UFA of the Day: Dan Hamhuis

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 31: Dan Hamhuis #2 of the Vancouver Canucks in action against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on March 31, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Every day until June 30, we’ll write about a pending unrestricted free agent. Today’s UFA of the Day is…

Dan Hamhuis

It was only a couple of years ago that Hamhuis was part of the best blue line in the world. Though he didn’t play a ton in Sochi, simply being named to Team Canada’s Olympic squad was a significant feather in his cap.

Ever since, it’s been a tough go for the 33-year-old defenseman. He’s struggled to stay healthy, and his play — like his team’s — has been inconsistent. In 2015-16, he had just three goals and 10 assists in 58 games.

In December, Hamhuis suffered a frightening facial fracture and missed 21 games as a result. When he returned in February, the biggest question was whether he’d be traded at the deadline.

He wasn’t traded, of course. The Dallas Stars made Kris Russell their priority, and Canucks GM Jim Benning was left to explain how Hamhuis was still a Canuck.

Benning has since said that he’d like to re-sign Hamhuis, but not at any cost. After Ben Hutton‘s surprising rookie season, and following the acquisition of Erik Gudbranson, unless Hamhuis is willing to take a fairly considerable hometown discount, the Canucks may feel his cap space could be better spent elsewhere.

So, where could he end up, if not back with the Canucks?

A better first question might be, where would he be willing to go? Hamhuis, a British Columbia native, has become a big part of the community in Vancouver. Though the trade deadline had him and his family considering their options, for the most part he’s been adamant about his desire to stay.

What about the Edmonton Oilers? They need defensemen badly, and Edmonton is about as close as it gets to Vancouver. Perhaps that could be a fit. Unless the Oilers are wary of signing a defenseman that will turn 34 in December. Recall that Andrew Ference was 34 when he signed with them in 2013, and that didn’t turn out so well.

Make no mistake, Hamhuis can still play. In March, when the Canucks were decimated by injuries, he was logging well over 20 minutes a night.

“Pretty tough year, but pretty remarkable story,” coach Willie Desjardins said at the time. “When he was going through the injury and all the breaks, we’re going like, he’s probably done for the year … Since he has come back he has played his best hockey, so not only did he overcome it, he kind of rose above it.”

At the end of the day, there are plenty of teams that would do well to add a player like Hamhuis, at least in the short term. He may not be in the mix to make Team Canada anymore, but provided he can stay healthy, he can still contribute. It all depends where he’s willing to go, how much money he wants (and for how long), and what kind of role he expects to play.

A comparable contract could be the four-year deal that Paul Martin, then 34, signed with the Sharks last summer. Martin’s cap hit is $4.85 million.

Click here for all our 2016 UFA profiles.

Canucks name Cloutier goalie coach; Melanson to remain in development capacity

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The Vancouver Canucks announced today that Dan Cloutier has been named the team’s goaltending coach.

The Canucks also confirmed that their outgoing goalie coach, Roland Melanson, will remain with the club in a development capacity. In his new role, Melanson will work with the organization’s prospects, a group that includes highly touted Thatcher Demko.

“Our team and goaltenders have benefited from some of the best coaching in the league and we’re very grateful to continue that tradition with Dan and Rollie in their new roles,” said GM Jim Benning in a release. “Dan has been instrumental in the development of our goaltending prospects over the past four seasons and will now work with our NHL team on a daily basis in his new role.

“We are also very pleased to have Rollie continue to work closely with our talented, young goaltending prospects. His hard work over the past six years contributed significantly to our franchise having some of the best goaltenders in the NHL. With both Dan and Rollie, we’re confident our goaltending will continue to be a position of strength for the future.”

Cloutier, of course, tended goal for the Canucks during the West Coast Express years. Though things did not always go well when he was a player…

…as a a coach, he’s been credited, along with Melanson, for the resurgence of Jacob Markstrom, who went from clearing waivers at the beginning of the 2014-15 season to starring in the AHL to pushing Ryan Miller for the starting role in Vancouver.

Report: NHL picks Vegas for expansion

Gary Bettman, Bill Foley

The Associated Press, citing a “person with direct knowledge of the NHL’s decision,” is reporting that the league has picked Las Vegas for an expansion team.

From the Associated Press:

The person spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because details have not been released by the league ahead of its Board of Governors meeting on June 22. Quebec City was also considered for expansion.

A second person who had been briefed on the decision said Las Vegas was a “done deal” following the recommendation of the NHL’s executive committee. 

The 2017-18 season would be the earliest the league would expand.

Assuming the report is accurate, this is the avenue most expected the NHL to choose — expand to Las Vegas, hold off for now on Quebec City.

As mentioned, the Board of Governors is set to meet June 22 in Las Vegas, before the NHL Awards. That’s when commissioner Gary Bettman has said to expect the official word on expansion.

Related: Bill Foley is ‘9.5’ out of 10 confident that NHL will expand to Vegas