Free Agent All-Star team: Unrestricted

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Thumbnail image for nabbyandmarleau.jpgFor some hockey fans, reality might have set in late Wednesday last week or perhaps last Thursday morning. But it might not truly set in until the Monday of the first full week of the off-season. So, as we gather ourselves on this bittersweet day, preparation for the 2010-11 season is already underway.

To tackle the process of free agency, we’ll be putting up all kinds of posts leading up to July 1. First, indulge me in this fun little exercise of selecting the “First All-Star Team” of unrestricted free agents. I believe there will be a list for the restricted ones, too.

Left Wing

Ilya Kovalchuk

While I’m skeptical about Kovalchuk being worthy of a significant raise, there’s no doubt that he’s the biggest name in free agency … probably in the post-lockout era. Few players in the NHL score goals like him, year in and year out. He’s the biggest story of this summer, beyond Chicago’s crisis.

Center

Patrick Marleau

My guess is that, if he can have things his way, Marleau will stay in San Jose – maybe with a Marian Hossa-type deal. If not, he could be a highly sought-after center thanks to his speed, versatility and undeniable skill.

Right Wing

Teemu Selanne

The list of right wings is pretty slim; it’s also true that Selanne’s choice might be between Anaheim and retirement. So, if you want to count left winger Alex Frolov as the “third” forward or go to Miroslav Satan as a Plan B, that’s fine.

Defensemen

Scott Niedermayer, Sergei Gonchar

Niedermayer is in the same boat as Selanne, being just as likely to retire as he is to stay with the Ducks. If Niedermayer decided to test the open market, though, he’d receive some serious interest.

I discussed possible suitors for Gonchar in late March. He was the best defenseman on a Stanley Cup champion, one of the league’s most prolific offensive blueliners and logged big minutes. He stands to make big money unless he wants to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a discount.

Goalie

Evgeni Nabokov

Nabby is the opposite of Marleau: he’s more likely – in my opinion – to leave the team than stay. Another difference: while I think Marleau can fit in almost anywhere, I wonder if the Russian goalie would be as successful playing for an inferior team. Still, no unrestricted free agent goalie put up numbers like Nabokov, so he stands to make a lot of cash. Whether that’s in the NHL or KHL remains to be seen.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

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.