Return of the Hartford Whalers… Sort of

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hartfordwhalerssign.jpgLike a long dead television franchise or a band that broke up long ago that is looking to cash more checks, the Hartford Whalers will rise again. Before you get too excited and dust off that green Kevin Dineen jersey with “Pucky” the Whale on the shoulders, let’s just stress that this isn’t about the NHL coming back to Hartford.

I know, I know… It’s heartbreaking. Still, former Whalers owner Howard Baldwin in his efforts to bring professional hockey back to central Connecticut has scored a victory for the city of Hartford in his own curious kind of way.

Thirteen years after the NHL Whalers departed for North Carolina, the AHL Wolf Pack will be rebranded as the Connecticut Whale. Howard Baldwin, the founding father of the Whalers, announced Monday afternoon his Hartford Hockey LLC will take over marketing and sales operations of the Wolf Pack.

Early reports indicated the team would be renamed the Connecticut Whalers. But Baldwin’s group decided on “Whale” for a variety of seasons, including feedback from fans of the Wolf Pack and Whalers.

“I kind of like the idea,” said Al Victor, president of the Whalers Booster Club. “I was kind of put back because I always felt the Whalers name should be saved for the NHL. I like the idea of not going with the Whalers and saving it for the NHL. And they are paying tribute to the Whale with this name. This is a good compromise … we always called them the Whale.”

Said Baldwin: “For as long as the team has been in existence, people have affectionately referred to the team as ‘The Whale.’ ”

The Connecticut Whale doesn’t have the same ring to it as the Hartford Whalers did and that’s fitting since this is just a painted up new version of the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack. Trying to cash in on the nostalgia of the Whalers is something folks have gotten to be really good at in recent years, but making an honest effort to rekindle the love that many folks in New England had for hockey and the Whalers is truly a beautiful thing to see.

The logo won’t be the same, the brand of hockey won’t be the same, and the XL Center isn’t as goofy fun as it was when it was the Hartford Civic Center and you had to enter the arena by cutting through a shopping mall but if it’s something that makes the people in Hartford and the rest of Connecticut care for a team again, then that’s just perfect.

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.

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.