Blackhawks should be a legit Cup contender next season, even with salary cap purge

blackhawksback.jpgWith all the Chicago Blackhawks Doomsday talk in the air, it’s easy to forget that the team still has some major talent in place. In fact, if the team is able to retain goalie Antti Niemi, you could make the argument that the core is still intact.

Seriously, just take a look at who’s left. At the forward position, they still have their very best players: Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp remain while a few leftover support players include Troy Brouwer and Dave Bolland. Their defense features important pieces such as Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and even highly paid Brian Campbell. The team needs to either retain Niemi or find a suitable replacement, but if they indeed ship Cristobal Huet to the minors they might be out of the salary cap abyss.

NHL.com looks at how the Blackhawks still might be one of the Cup favorites, even with all those changes.

Jack Skille doesn’t have to go far to hear about there being “no way” the Chicago Blackhawks will defend their Stanley Cup title after saying goodbye to multiple key players this summer.

All he has to do is answer his phone.

“I’ve got my own buddy saying that to me,” said the 23-year old Skille, a winger who will get his first shot to play a full NHL season in Chicago after being drafted in 2005. “I’ve got my best buddy since I was 6-years-old saying that to me. He’s like, ‘Nah, there’s no way. There’s no way.’ I get into arguments with him. I’ll say ‘Yeah … we will.'”

That’s because Skille, like his soon-to-be Hawks teammates, genuinely believes there is still enough talent left behind to remain one of the NHL’s top teams again. Judging by the noise level in the Chicago Hilton Friday during the opening ceremony of this year’s Blackhawks fan convention, many fans also are believers.

When you look at the list of players who were jettisoned, most were depth guys. Sure, Dustin Byfuglien rocked it on the first line with Kane and Toews during the playoffs, but he shuffled around the lineup plenty of times over the last couple years. Kris Versteeg possesses some solid offensive talent, but can you really say he was an essential player to Chicago?

Losing players such as John Madden will hurt, but it more or less makes the Blackhawks a “normal” NHL team instead of an embarrassment of riches. They won’t be able to bludgeon you with their absurd depth anymore, but Chicago still brings plenty to the table as a top-end team too.

In other words, don’t count out the ‘Hawks next season.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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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.

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    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.