CALGARY - The next stop on Mikael Backlund's whirlwind journey will be the Western Hockey League.
The Calgary Flames assigned the Swedish prospect to the WHL's Kelowna Rockets on Sunday.
Backlund, selected 24th overall in 2007, is coming off a big week - he played in the gold medal game at the world junior championship and made his NHL debut.
The 19-year-old began the season playing for Vasteras in the Swedish League before joining his country's world junior team. After winning a silver medal in Ottawa last Monday, he decided to remain in North America.
Backlund figured he'd join the Rockets but was instead summoned to Calgary as an injury replacement for Todd Bertuzzi. He was held pointless during a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday night.
As the trade deadline approaches, the likes of the Stars, Lightning, Red Wings, Canucks, and Sabres could all start selling off some attractive assets.
For weeks, the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche were the only clubs considered sellers in the NHL trade market. But with the March 1 trade deadline less than three weeks away, several clubs with fading postseason hopes could join them.
Among them could be the Dallas Stars. After topping the Western Conference standings in 2015-16, the Stars were eight points out of a wild-card berth as of Feb. 10. ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun believes the next couple of weeks will determine what action Stars GM Jim Nill takes leading up to the deadline. If they fail to gain ground in the standings, he could become a seller.
LeBrun speculates Nill could peddle some of his pending unrestricted free agents. Notables include forwards Patrick Sharp, Patrick Eaves, Jiri Hudler and Lauri Korpikosi. Of this group, Sharp and Eaves have the most value.
Sharp, 35, missed a significant chunk of this season to concussion symptoms. When healthy, however, he's a proven scorer with considerable playoff experience. Eaves, 32, is a versatile two-way forward who's flirting with a potential career-best 30-goal campaign.
Like Sharp, veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya has a solid postseason background. However, the 35-year-old is currently sidelined by a lower-body injury. That will hamper efforts to move him.
LeBrun also reports the Stars contacted the Pittsburgh Penguins regarding goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, but those discussions haven't gone far. It's widely assumed the Pens want to trade the 32-year-old netminder in order to protect young starter Matt Murray from the expansion draft in June.
If Fleury agrees to waive his no-movement clause to join the Stars, he might give them a much-needed goaltending boost to get back into playoff contention. Signed through 2018-19, he would be more than just a rental player.
Such a move, however, means shipping Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi to the Penguins or trading them to another club. Both have a year remaining on their contracts with no-trade clauses. Still, either guy might accept finishing this season with a Stanley Cup contender in Pittsburgh, even if it means being unprotected in the expansion draft.
The Tampa Bay Lightning could also go into sell mode soon. As of Feb.10, they were near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, six points out of a wild-card spot.
Considered a Stanley Cup contender entering this season, injuries hampered the Lightning for months. GM Steve Yzerman probably won't gut his roster because of one bad season, but he could look at moving out pending UFAs such as goaltender Ben Bishop and checking-line forward Brian Boyle.
Throughout this season, Yzerman's sought a top-four defenseman. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports the Bolts GM and Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic scouted last Friday's Anaheim Ducks game against the Florida Panthers. The Ducks are loaded with good young defenseman and Friedman speculates one of them could be dealt for a scoring forward.
The Ducks' biggest need is bolstering their scoring punch at left wing. With the Lightning carrying over $59 million in payroll for 2017-18 and left wingers Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin becoming restricted free agents this summer, perhaps there's a deal to be made There.
Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland could also become a seller by the deadline. His club is also mired near the bottom of the Eastern standings. Friedman thinks the Chicago Blackhawks might come calling if Holland puts winger Thomas Vanek on the trade block. The 33-year-old is on track for a 20-goal, 55-point season.
The Vancouver Canucks are another club that could join the deadline sellers. Earlier this season, Canucks GM Jim Benning said he wouldn't ask players with no-movement/no-trade clauses, such as goaltender Ryan Miller and winger Alex Burrows, to waive them. However, TSN's Bob McKenzie reports Benning might reconsider if there's interest in either guy.
Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray could also see an increase in trade inquiries over the next two weeks. There's talk pending UFA blueliner Dmitry Kulikov could attract attention from clubs seeking a skilled puck-moving rearguard.
Earlier this season, left winger Evander Kane was the subject of considerable trade chatter. That died down when the 26-year-old was sidelined by a rib injury. His improved performance in recent weeks, however, could rekindle that speculation. He's on pace for over 25 goals and 45 points.
Mike Harrington of The Buffalo Newsreports Kane's improvement is creating a dilemma for Sabres management. Do they keep Kane as a core player going forward, or take advantage of his improved play to sell high at the deadline in hopes of landing a top-four defenseman?
Kane's scoring skills and physical play could prove attractive. However, lingering off-ice baggage remains a serious sticking point.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
Chris Pronger is the last defenseman to win league MVP honors, and that was back in 2000. Since then these five defensemen came closest to cracking the Hart Trophy puzzle.
Brent Burns is on fire. The Sharks' defenseman is enjoying one of the best goal-scoring seasons by a blueliner in recent memory while leading his team to first place in the Pacific. He's emerged as the runaway favorite for the Norris Trophy. And now, he's even starting to get some Hart Trophy buzz.
He almost certainly won't win – this year's MVP vote has been shaping up as the first of many Sidney Crosby vs. Connor McDavid referendums. Barring an injury or something entirely unexpected, that won't change. It's Crosby vs. McDavid, and everyone else is gunning for third place.
But third place would still be a historic achievement for Burns. A defenseman hasn't been a serious Hart Trophy candidate since 2000, when Chris Pronger won. For whatever reason, blueliners just don't get much respect from Hart voters. Pronger remains the only defenseman to win MVP honors since Bobby Orr in the early 70s, and nobody since 2000 has even finished as a finalist.
That's kind of weird when you think about it. Ask any NHL GM about how to build a championship contender, and they'll rave about the importance of a blueline stud. But when it comes to naming the league's most valuable player, the entire position ends up being an afterthought at best.
So even if Burns won't win, just being in the conversation is impressive. As we watch his record-breaking season unfold, let's look back at the five defensemen who came closest to cracking the Hart Trophy puzzle in the years since Pronger took the trophy home.
No surprise here. Lidstrom was the runner-up to Pronger for the Norris Trophy as best defenseman in 2000, then dominated the voting for that award for most of the next decade, winning seven times.
What's somewhat surprising is that Lidstrom never came especially close to contending for a Hart Trophy, and he was only the top vote-getter among blueliners four times. In two of his Norris-winning years (2003 and 2011), MVP voters showed more love to someone else at the position. And one time, in 2002, nobody cast so much as a single Hart ballot for any defensemen at all.
Lidstrom's closest call to finalist status came in 2008, when he finished fourth. It wasn't an especially near miss – Lidstrom finished well back of Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla, neither of whom were close to threatening Alex Ovechkin's near-unanimous win. But Lidstrom did receive two first-place votes, tied for the most since Pronger's 25, and that fourth-place finish remains the only time since Pronger's win that a defenseman has even finished in the top five.
Karlsson has been the top vote-getting blueliner three times, trailing only Lidstrom in the post-Pronger era. That includes both of his Norris-winning seasons in 2012 and 2015. It also includes last year, when he finished ahead of Drew Doughty in Hart voting despite finishing behind him in a contentious Norris race.
That said, the Senators' star has never come all that close to the Hart Trophy conversation. He's never finished higher than eighth in the balloting, and he's yet to receive a first-place vote. That's despite owning the best offensive season by a defenseman since 2000 in terms of points scored, and three of the top seven. That could be a bad sign for Burns. Hart voters don't seem all that swayed by gaudy offensive numbers from the blueline after all.
Apart from Lidstrom and Karlsson, Chara is the only other defenseman since 2000 to top the position in Hart voting more than once. He managed it twice, in 2009 and 2011. That 2009 season was also notable for Chara joining Lidstrom as the only defenseman in the era to get multiple first place votes, he had two.
But much like Karlsson, Chara never really came close to MVP honors. He only finished eighth in 2009, and was all the way back at 12th in 2011. Still, he received at least one Hart vote somewhere on a ballot in seven of eight seasons beginning in 2004. That's not much to get excited about, but at least somebody somewhere was writing his name down. As far as the era's blueliner's go, that seems to be about all you can ask for.
While Niedermayer is now widely recognized as one of the best defensemen of his era, the truth is that for most of his career in New Jersey he played in the shadow of Scott Stevens. Heading into 2003-04, he'd only had one season in which he'd finished in the top ten in Norris voting, and that had come six years earlier.
But during that 2003-04 season, the normally indestructible Stevens suffered a concussion and missed half the year. That allowed Niedermayer to step into the spotlight, and he responded with a Norris-winning campaign that saw him dominate the vote. It would be the first of three straight first-team all-star seasons for Niedermayer, establishing his Hall of Fame credentials.
And through all of that, he still finished just ninth in Hart voting, one spot back of the legendary Marty Turco. It marked the only time in his career that he was the highest defenseman in MVP voting.
If your first memories of MacInnis are of him blasting holes through terrified goaltenders with his patented slapshot for the Calgary Flames in the 1980s, you may have forgotten that he was still going strong when Pronger was winning his Hart at the turn of the millennium. In fact, the two were teammates at the time, with MacInnis winning his only Norris Trophy the year before at the age of 35.
He very nearly won another in 2002-03. At 39 years old, MacInnis finished second to Lidstrom in that year's Norris voting. But he edged out Lidstrom in MVP voting, finishing sixth. It was the highest of his three top-ten Hart finishes, and was also his last. MacInnis played just three games in the following season before suffering a career-ending eye injury.
Those five names comprise the entire list of defensemen since Pronger to lead the position in Hart voting while also finishing in the overall top ten. If you're wondering, three more players have led all blueliners while finishing outside the top ten – P.K. Subban (13th in 2013), Mike Green (14th in 2010) and Duncan Keith (15th in 2014).
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
There's no "generational talent" at the top of the draft this season, but there is a nice battle for the top spot between Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.
It’s time for draft rankings, people, and it’s getting very interesting out there.
The 2017 draft class has already been pilloried quite a bit this season, but I think we just have to appreciate it for what it is: a chance for teams to get better. We’ve been spoiled by “generational” talents such as Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews lately, but that can’t happen every year. Instead, we have a nice little battle shaping up at the top between Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier. And don’t be surprised to see even more movement as time goes on.
I have Timothy Liljegren third, but I’m kinda conservative when it comes to moving top players down. Recognize that he may slide as other blueliners make their cases, or if it appears we’ll have another run on centers at the top this summer in Chicago. Whatever happens, here’s the first round as I see it right now.
1. Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon (WHL): Back from injury and from all appearances, not suffering. Patrick has the size, skill and all-around game to be an instant NHLer
2. Nico Hischier, C, Halifax (QMJHL): The high-end skills and smarts are so tantalizing. Hischier is certainly giving Patrick a run for his money and surpassing the Wheat King is not out of the question.
3. Timothy Liljegren, D, Rogle (SHL): Liljegren seems to be back on track after illness and a loan to Timra. His skating and offensive instincts are excellent and he’s getting some nice responsibility with Rogle.
4. Gabe Vilardi, C, Windsor (OHL): Skating is the knock, but scouts are already downplaying it by hyping up his other skills. Vilardi is big, smart and talented and really, the speed isn’t that bad right now.
5. Owen Tippett, RW, Mississauga (OHL): A weaponized winger with size, speed and a big-time shot, Tippett doesn’t have the versatility of Vilardi, but the physical tools are beguiling.
6. Klim Kostin, RW, MVD (Rus.): Surgery ended his nightmare season, but Kostin is enough of a known quantity thanks to earlier international duty. He’s a big, powerful kid with loads of talent.
7. Casey Mittelstadt, C, Eden Prairie (Minn. HS): The Minnesota commit wanted one more shot at a state title, so Mittelstadt is currently laying waste to high schoolers with Eden Prairie. Tons of skill and he put up numbers in the USHL, too.
8. Michael Rasmussen, C, Tri-City (WHL): Starting off with his nearly 6-foot-6 frame, there’s a lot to like about Rasmussen. Naturally his reach is good, but his hands are also pretty sweet and he can play with an edge.
9. Eeli Tolvanen, LW, Sioux City (USHL): A wicked shot in a smaller package. The Boston College recruit is a pure goal-scorer and draws penalties with his skill. Mixed opinions out there on his feistiness.
10. Miro Heiskainen, D, HIFK (Fin.): Smooth-skating defensemen are in and Heiskanen may even challenge Liljegren for draft stock. Some scouts thought he was Finland’s best blueliner at the world juniors.
Eric Staal on life in the NHL before the 2004-05 lockout, and which human body parts he has autographed.
What was your favorite NHL team growing up?
The Leafs. I grew up in Thunder Bay, and it’s mostly Leaf Nation up there, too.
Who did you model your game after?
One of my favorite players was Joe Sakic, because of his clutch ability and because he played at both ends of the rink really well. He’s a good all-around player but was clutch.
Your ‘welcome to the NHL’ moment?
My first year was before the 2004-05 lockout, so any time I got near the net I took about eight cross-checks and slashes. I had a lot of those moments my first year at 18. It was a lot more physical before they changed the rules after that lockout.
First splurge purchase after signing an NHL contract?
I bought a Cadillac Escalade my first year once I knew I was staying and signing in Carolina. I needed a car, and my parents helped me, and I went and got one of those. It didn’t have spinning rims or anything like that, but it was nice.
What’s your favorite way to score?
I like to score from anywhere, but the fun ways to score are the one-timers or a sweet play. But most likely for me scoring, it’s going to be a quick-release shot. It’s going to be five-hole or low blocker. Those are my go-to.
What’s your craziest fan interaction?
I’ve signed people’s body parts. This one guy in Carolina, the whole team that won the Stanley Cup, he had everybody’s name tattooed to him. So he went around and basically got everybody that was on the team to sign, I think it was his leg or his calf or something, and he ended up tattooing everyone’s signature to his body. Hey, whatever you want to do. That was interesting.
Best thing about being an NHLer?
The fact I get to play a game for a living. How many people get to say they play a sport for a job? If I didn’t have this for a job, I would love playing beer-league pickup hockey with my buddies, because I love the game. I get to do that and get paid to do it, so there’s nothing better than that.
Worst thing about being an NHLer?
Travel. When you have a wife and kids, it’s hard being away. It’s hard for your wife when you’re busy and the kids are in school and hockey and everything else. It’s no fun being away. You always want to be around and be a part of everything, but the reality is we play 41 games on the road. That’s the hardest part.