It might be early, but so far the Kings look OK without Ilya Kovalchuk

On paper, adding Ilya Kovalchuk to the Los Angeles Kings seemed like a no-brainer. I still remember the general consensus: sure, it might make it tougher to retain the team’s second-tier young players (Drew Doughty wasn’t – and isn’t – going anywhere) but sometimes you have to break a few prospect eggs to make a 50-goal scorer omelet, right?

While I count(ed) myself among the few who considered Kovalchuk a risky gamble, even I thought that the high-scoring winger made some sense for the Kings. Well, as you probably know, the Kings lost out to the New Jersey Devils in the protracted “Kovalchuk Sweepstakes” and changed direction by adding wounded but talented shutdown defenseman Willie Mitchell as their Free Agent Plan B.

It might be a bit hasty to draw too many conclusions from the first couple weeks of the regular season, but Craig Custance of the Sporting News points out that the Kings are doing well (3-1 record, tied 1-1 with the Carolina Hurricanes as of this moment) while the Devils are dealing with a troubling start.

While the struggling Devils try to figure out where to fit all their high-end left wingers — not to mention maneuver around their impossibly tight salary cap situation — the Kings have quietly started the season 3-1.

They’re winning because Jonathan Quick arrived at camp in better shape, ready to fight off the talented Jonathan Bernier as the Kings’ starting goalie. So far, Quick is 3-0-0, with a 0.97 goals-against average and .963 save percentage.

They’re also winning because Plan B in the post-Kovalchuk recruitment might be better than Plan A.

Custance points out the perks of having Mitchell: it gives the Kings the opportunity to pair one, ultra-responsible stay-at-home defenseman with one gifted young blueliner on their top two D pairs. (Mitchell often skates with Drew Doughty while 2009 free agent signing Rob Scuderi usually watches Jack Johnson’s back.)

Of course, it’s not all as sunny as the weather in Los Angeles. There’s a reason the Kings targeted Kovalchuk, after all: their offensive depth is lacking. Beyond the underrated ace Anze Kopitar, the team sports some works in progress such as Wayne Simmonds, solid but unspectacular pieces including Dustin Brown and frequent IR inhabitants like Justin Williams.

On the bright side, Custance points out that the Kings possess something that makes them rare among predicted Cup contenders: cap space (I’d say around $6 million as their situation is a little muddy on CapGeek.com right now).

They’ll surely be in on the Brad Richards trade talk if the Dallas Stars decide they can’t afford to pay their center, who suddenly is being called the premier 2011 potential unrestricted free agent.

And if Jarome Iginla ever becomes available in Calgary? He might be the perfect fit.

It would be an awfully bitter pill for the Stars to swallow if they traded Richards to a division rival, especially if they continue their (slightly improbable?) playoff pace. Then again, in this cold money-driven/ cap-driven world, the Kings might be able to offer the best package of prospects. My guess is that Kings GM Dean Lombardi would want to sign Richards to a medium-sized contract extension if he decided to go that route, though.

Iginla would be an easier but probably lower-end “get” for the Kings at this point in his career, although his leadership would be nice in the locker room and his personality would be a great fit for the market. The problem with Iginla is that if his downward trend continues, he still has two more seasons and $14 million left on his contract (or $7 million per season through 2012-13).

Regardless, weighing the pros and cons of adding an aging star during the trade deadline is certainly a happier situation than wondering how you’re possibly going to get under the salary cap. It’s still early, but so far, it seems like Lombardi’s mostly slow-and-steady approach is paying dividends … even if Lombardi clearly wanted to compromise that tortoise pace for a hare who left him the dust for New Jersey.

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    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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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.