Can David Backes bounce back in 2017?

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Entering the second year of a five-year contract signed last summer in free agency Boston Bruins forward David Backes is feeling some pressure heading into the 2017-18 season.

Backes struggled so much through his first year in Boston that team president Cam Neely had to publicly defend the deal.

This past week it was Backes’ turn to talk about his first season in Boston and what he has to prove heading into a new season.

He spoke with Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe and talked about the adjustment process of going to a new city and a new team after spending the first decade of his career with the St. Louis Blues.

“I feel I’ve grown in a lot of different ways, having the challenges of change,” Backes said. “Different personnel, different area, different streets, and a way of life — everything that’s gone into change from St. Louis to here. Looking forward to having a year where I can just play hockey, come to a house that’s set up, just move my family and dogs and cats in, start living life, and really be able to focus on playing the game and helping our team win. That’s what I’m most optimistic about.”

He also talked about focussing his offseason training on improving his agility, quickness and explosiveness over power. That would certainly be a change from the type of player Backes has been for most of his career, but in today’s NHL speed and quickness seems to be the desired approach for teams over strength. For the most part.

It remains to be seen what sort of impact all of that will have on Backes’ season. The concern for Boston has to be the fact that for as much talk as there has been about his adjustment to Boston and the struggles that came with it his performance in his first year with the Bruins really wasn’t all that different from his final year in St. Louis.

The production — both traditional numbers and underlying advanced metrics — were not only similar, but in some cases better with the Bruins.

There was only a slight drop in his goal scoring and point production (he had four fewer goals and seven fewer points in five fewer games while getting less ice time per game) while his ability to generate shots and drive possession actually increased with Boston, as did his production on a per-minute basis.

It is entirely possible that what the Bruins saw from Backes in 2016-17 is what they should probably be expecting in the future as he is at a point in his career (entering his age 33 season) where his production is only going to continue to go south. Sometimes you simply can not fight father time. This is also the problem that teams run into in free agency. You have to pay a player top dollar, probably more than they have ever made in their career, based on the production they had for another team. A lot of times that does not work out for the team.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.