Backstrom finalist for Vezina; Aeros to play Game 7 tonight; Two big NHL Game 6′s tonight; GM search continues

Posted on April 27th, 2009 – 11:17 AM
By Michael Russo

Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, rehabbing in Vail from Friday’s hip surgery, is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender. The other two finalists are Boston’s Tim Thomas and Columbus’ Steve Mason.

The GM’s vote for the Vezina. The winner will be announced in Las Vegas on June 18.

Here’s the graph on Backstrom from the press release: After nine seasons honing his craft in Europe and two earning increased playing time in the NHL, Backstrom established himself as the Wild’s go-to goalie this season, appearing in 71 games. He ranked among the League’s top five goaltenders in goals against average (2.33, third), save percentage (.923, fourth) and shutouts (eight, third) and his 37 wins were a franchise record in addition to being the NHL’s fifth-highest total. Backstrom established a club record with 149:19 of consecutive shutout goaltending Dec. 31-Jan. 8. 

Backstrom won the 2007 Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award for best SV pct. (.929) in the NHL, and teamed with Manny Fernandez to win the 2007 William M. Jennings Trophy, given to the goaltenders for the team with the fewest goals scored against it.

Backstrom joins Jacques Lemaire and Wes Walz as members of the Wild to be designated a finalist for a voted-upon NHL end-of-the-year award. Lemaire won the Jack Adams Trophy as the league’s top coach in 2002-03, the same season Walz was a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward.

Tonight, in Peoria, the Houston Aeros play Game 7 due to Saturday’s 2-1 Game 6 loss. Here’s the link for some game notes and other AHL playoff notes.

This is the best note: Houston head coach Kevin Constantine has won three Game 7’s as an NHL head coach, all three on the road.

In the NHL, tonight’s Game 6 of the Calgary-Chicago series and Anaheim-San Jose series. The home team has won every game in the Calgary-Chicago series, so there’s a great chance this is going back to Chicago for Game 7. As for Anaheim-San Jose, Game 5 was a great game. It’s always nice to see Joe Thornton, well, try. He finally instilled a little effort and anger into his game, and helped send the series back to Anaheim.

Tuesday night, there will be two Game 7′s: Rangers at Washington, and Carolina at New Jersey.

I can’t see at all how the Rangers win this series now. Boy, Rangers coach John Tortorella put this series in a whole world of hurt for the Blueshirts. As I mentioned on the blog a few days ago before it happened, I would have also considered scratching Sean Avery, but only if they actually lost Game 4.

But he scratched Avery in Game 5. The Rangers didn’t show up, then Tortorella gets himself suspended for Game 6. Plus, Avery returns and is a shell of his former self. As color analyst extraordinaire Ed Olczyk telestrated during one sequence, Avery was so trying to behave, he intentionally was refusing to even check anybody.

Honestly, one has to wonder if Tortorella takes the blame if they lose this series. There’s only one team in the league that could afford to sign a coach to a three-year deal in the middle of the season and still can him. And hey, Craig MacTavish is out there, and we all know he’s got ties to Glen Sather, and the Rangers for that matter.

Speaking of Olczyk, he deserves some kind of award for the job he did during the Penguins’ eliminaton game of the Flyers. Before the gloves of Maxime Talbot and Daniel Carcillo were even picked up off the ice, EdZo was singing Talbot’s praises and ripping into Carcillo for the idiocy of fighting with a 3-0 lead and how that’s the very thing that could swing the momentum in that game.

Seconds later, Evgeni Malkin cut the deficit to 3-1 and the rally was started.

As for the Wild’s GM search, I hear Craig Leipold has more than 25 applicants, and he’s weeding out some names currently.

I also hear the interview process has begun, but I won’t start throwing names on unless I get it 100 percent confirmed that they’ve met. I am pretty sure one (Irish) bigwig that I’ve quoted in the past week was in town, but like I said, unless I find out that he was 100 percent in town to meet with the Wild, I’m not going to assume why he was here.

But you know things are getting down to the nitty gritty because suddenly candidates either don’t return calls or are hesitant to speak on the record. That typically means the process has reached a stage where everybody thinks they’ve got a chance for the job and don’t want to say anything to spoil their chances at it.

Leipold is declining comment throughout the process, which is understandable.

I’ve also heard a couple other names throughout the weekend that are very interesting, but like I said, I need to confirm before I throw them out there.

Lastly, here’s a disturbing story in the N.Y. Daily News regarding an Arizona businessman allegedly scamming hockey players out of millions. You’ll see a familiar name in there. This guy Phil Kenner worked for a money management group that I happen to know worked very closely with a former agent and his clients, meaning a lot more players could have been affected than the handful mentioned in this story.

Here’s a small profile on Kenner written by cnnmoney in 2001.

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