Author: Mike Halford

Boston Bruins v Washington Capitals

Backstrom (hip) hopes to be ready for Caps’ opener


After undergoing arthroscopic hip surgery in late May, Washington forward Niklas Backstrom says he’s targeting a return in time for the club’s season-opener on Oct. 10 versus New Jersey.

“I hope, of course, to be ready to start the season,” Backstrom said this week in an interview with Swedish radio station Sverigesradio.

In mid-June, a report from Swedish news outlet Gefle Dagblad suggested Backstrom would miss up to five months recovering from surgery, a procedure he required after playing most of the season in pain.

A five-month recovery period would, of course, be at odds with what the Capitals said following surgery:

“Based on the nature of this procedure we are confident that Nick will be completely healthy prior to the start of the 2015-16 regular season.”

Should rehab go five months, Backstrom would be on target for a late-October return, and could miss as many as 10 games. Washington opens the season with a four-game homestand, then goes on the road for a three-game Western swing through Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton before closing out October with dates against the Penguins, Blue Jackets and Panthers.

Related: Trotz: ‘Up in the air’ if Backstrom (hip) will be ready for opener

Now-retired St. Louis says teams were interested: ‘Do I think I can still play? Yeah’

New York Rangers v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Four

It was just two days into free agency when Martin St. Louis announced his retirement from professional hockey — and it turns out there were some suitors for his services during that 48-hour window.

“I knew there were teams interested,” St. Louis said on Monday, while meeting the media to formally call it a career. “I can sit here and be proud that my last year I scored 21 goals and the year before I scored 30, so do I think I can still play? Yeah.

“But it’s time to move on and do something else.”

It’s unclear which teams were interested in the 40-year-old Rangers winger, but it’s easy to see why some would be. Despite a “down” campaign offensively, St. Louis still scored more goals than Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Patrick Marleau and Bobby Ryan; it’s also possible a team would’ve looked to him as a mentor for some of its younger prospects, especially given St. Louis’ renowned physical fitness (I mean come on, look at those trunks.)

Geography, though, probably limited potential suitors, as part of St. Louis’ earlier move from Tampa Bay to New York was so he could be closer to his family. In fact, spending more time with his wife and children was something he referenced in explaining his decision to walk away from the game.

“My whole family has been so supportive of me and it’s been all about me a lot,” St. Louis said. “Now it’s time for it to be about someone other than me. My wife will be happy to have another full-time parent alongside her.

“The focus is on my kids, and I am excited about that.”

Related: Curtains on Broadway: Martin St. Louis calls it a career

Vegas, Quebec confirm expansion bids, Seattle reportedly out

Las Vegas

Las Vegas and Quebec are in.

Seattle’s not.

That’s what we know so far about the NHL expansion bid process — on Monday, both Quebecor and Bill Foley’s Black Knight Sports and Entertainment confirmed they’d officially filed applications for expansion with the league while other rumored bidders, including Seattle’s Ray Bartoszek, have reportedly declined.

Money appeared to be an issue for a number of expansion suitors, as $2 million of the $10M expansion fee is non-refundable.

Despite that, the fact there’s no Seattle-based bids is somewhat surprising, given the three different local groups interested in bringing the NHL to the Pacific Northwest: Bartoszek and his Tukwila arena project, Victor Coleman and his SoDo neighborhood project (who on Friday said they were out) and a third group linked to a team in Bellevue, Seattle’s largest suburb.

(The Star is reporting there remains a possibility that “one more city — perhaps Seattle — may backdoor its way into the process.”)

As for other rumored expansion suitors, Paul Allen’s Portland group said there was “nothing imminent” while Toronto’s Graeme Roustan — who said he would “definitely” apply for a second NHL team in the GTA — appears to have passed on the bid process as well.

The complete expansion picture should be clearer soon. Per the Star, the league is expected to make an announcement later in the week.

Related: Will the battered loonie affect Canadian teams’ budgets?

Veteran NHLer Willsie retires, joins Avs in player development role

Colorado Avalanche v Calgary Flames

Brian Willsie, who appeared in nearly 400 games over a 10-year NHL career, has retired from professional hockey to take a job with Colorado’s player development department.

The move, reported by Willsie’s last pro team — Orebro HK of the Swedish Hockey League — comes after the 37-year-old spent the last four seasons bouncing around Europe, playing in Finland, Switzerland and the KHL before finishing things off in the SHL.

Willsie, who scored a career-high 19 goals and 41 points in Washington during the 2005-06 campaign, was originally drafted by the Avs in 1996 and spent two tours of duty with Colorado during his playing career.

He will now reportedly work in a similar capacity to that of ex-Avs captain Adam Foote, currently serving as a defense development consultant.

Zubov named assistant of Russian national team

Sergei Zubov

Sergei Zubov, one of the greatest Russian defensemen in NHL history, has been named an assistant on head coach Oleg Znarok’s Russian national team staff.

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Zubov will help the national team in their preparation for the next IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships including the 2016 edition on home ice in Moscow and St. Petersburg, for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

He will specifically be responsible for defencemen and will combine his duties with the national team and his club team SKA St. Petersburg.

Zubov, 44, appeared in over 1000 NHL games over a 12-year career with stops in New York, Pittsburgh and Dallas. He won a pair of Cups with both the Rangers and Stars and is one of just a handful of defensemen in league history to record 70-plus assists in a single season — he recorded 77 during the ’93-94 campaign, 12th-most all-time.

This appointment promises to be a good one for Russia, which has struggled to produce NHL-caliber defensemen in recent years. Zubov, a Norris Finalist in 2006, will now get to work with a young, albeit small, crop of promising prospects and youngsters that includes Philly’s Ivan Provorov, Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov and Florida’s Dmitri Kulikov.