Carp's Foster is back on the ice

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

ST. PAUL, MINN. -- Kurtis Foster is on the comeback trail.

The Carp native has returned to the ice with the Wild's AHL affiliate in Houston almost a year after the 27-year-old blueliner broke his leg in a collision with the Sharks' Torrey Mitchell while trying to beat an icing call on March 19.

The Wild doesn't have a timetable for Foster, who's on a two-week conditioning stint with the Aeroes. But coach Jacques Lemaire hasn't ruled out Foster playing for the Wild this season.

"All he has to do is be better than one of our players and he'll be in the lineup," said Lemaire. "He will have to come back with us and practise and then we'll get a good look at how he manages himself before trying him in games."

Foster had surgery to insert a steel rod in his femur to keep it in place.

Off the glass

The Wild wants to move RW Marian Gaborik before the March 4 trade deadline, but the belief is the club won't find any takers. Gaborik had hip surgery in January and isn't set to resume skating until March 20 at the earliest. Gaborik, who celebrated his 27th birthday yesterday, made a huge tactical error when he turned down a seven-year, $56-million (all terms US) offer at the start of the season. He likely won't get offered that again because he hasn't shown he can stay healthy. So he might have to take a short-term deal and pay cut elsewhere ... Former Senators D Lance Pitlick stopped by the club's St. Paul hotel for dinner Friday. Pitlick, who played for the Senators from 1995-99, lives in a suburb of the Twin Cities, but hasn't left the game behind. He works with youth groups, sells stick-handling aids on his website, sweethockey.com, and will launch another hockey training venture next month. "I'm busier now than I was when I was a player," said Pitlick. "I miss Ottawa, I have a lot of fond memories from there. It was a very special place for me."

Around the boards

Wild assistant GM Tom Thompson told Sun Media that club officials will sit down with 67's D Tyler Cuma (Minnesota's first-round pick, 23rd overall, in the 2008 draft) in the next few days to decide where he'll do his rehab after knee surgery here Friday to repair loose cartilage. The surgery likely ended Cuma's season since he won't be ready to return to the ice for eight weeks. Cuma was hurt during world junior selection camp in December, and aggravated the injury last weekend. "It's unfortunate because speaking with people involved with (Team) Canada, I know he would have made that team. He's such a talented player and this is tough for him," said Thompson. "The injury he suffered was hard to detect because of where it was. I told Tyler that (Wild C) Mikko Koivu went through a similar circumstance when he was injured and missed the world juniors. (Cuma) will come back and he'll be stronger. It was just important to get him completely healthy as quickly as possible." ... Lemaire offered an explanation why experienced but unemployed coaches such as Bob Hartley, Marc Crawford, John Tortorella and Pat Quinn are being left aside as teams promote coaches within their own systems, such as Cory Clouston in Ottawa and Bruce Boudreau in Washington. "The GMs are always going to look at people they know to coach their team," said Lemaire, who is in his eighth season with the Wild. "After GMs go through older guys, they look for guys they know again and that's usually the guy in the minors. That's why he moves up." Both Clouston (Binghamton) and Boudreau (Hershey) had success at the AHL level before getting promoted to the NHL.

The morning skate

It was a happy homecoming for Senators D Brian Lee. A native of Moorhead, Minn. (about four hours from St. Paul), Lee made his pro debut at the Xcel Energy Center last night. But it wasn't his first time playing in the building. The 21-year-old played in three Minnesota high school championship tournaments in front of sold-out crowds. Lee's team (the Moorhead High School Spuds) lost in the final twice, but he still has fond memories. Lee said he got off easy because he only had to buy nine tickets for last night's game. "It's going to be a blast," said Lee, who was named Minnesota's Mr. Hockey in 2005. "Hockey's really important here," said Lee. "It's pretty similar to Canada because hockey is life here. That's the way I like it." ... The Oilers are looking for a blueliner for the rest of the season and might try to rent the Senators' Filip Kuba. But Kuba has a no-movement clause and wouldn't have any reason to waive it to go to a team like the Oilers, who are fighting for a playoff spot. If Kuba is to be traded, it would make sense for him to go to a contender.

Buzzer beaters

NHL executives are keeping a close eye on the Niklas Backstrom situation in Minnesota. The all-star goalie could become an unrestricted free agent in the off-season and GM Doug Risebrough has a policy not to negotiate during the season. The 31-year-old Backstrom, who is making $3.1 million this season, has been one of the big reasons why the Wild is in the playoff hunt. He was signed by Minnesota as a UFA in June 2006 after playing in Finland. Guess which team discussed signing Backstrom, but decided to pass? Then-Senators GM John Muckler wanted Martin Gerber instead.

BRUCE.GARRIOCH@SUNMEDIA.CA


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