Alexei Kovalev officially headed to KHL

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There were plenty of rumors that Alexei Kovalev was headed to the KHL this summer. Now, we have official word that former Penguins’ skilled winger is headed to Atlant Mytishchi in Moscow. The newly signed deal will send Kovalev to his native Russia for the next two seasons and very likely could spell the end of his North American career. Some would say a year or two too late.

Kovalev was acquired by the Penguins midseason in hopes that he would inject some offense into a team that was replacing the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. In 20 games down the stretch, Kovalev only scored a pair of goals and five assists as he failed to meet short-term expectations in the Steel City. Atlant’s General Director talked about the move to bring Kovalev to Moscow (via Google Translate):

“We have long fought for Kovalev and we’re very glad that we could still come to terms with such a talented striker. We hope that Alex can reveal a wealth of potential in the Kontinental Hockey League, and thereby help to Atlant to fight for the highest places in the next championships.”

If this is truly the end of the NHL line for Kovalev, he’s had a great career in North America. Taking a brief look back, the insanely talented Russian has put up 428 goals and 596 assists in 1,302 regular season games. After bouncing between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins a few times, he ended up in Montreal for parts of five seasons, Ottawa for parts of two, and finally back to Pittsburgh for his last 20 games. The 38-year-old was drafted 15th overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers and broke into the league during the 1992-93 season. Over the course of his career, he scored 20+ goals in twelve separate seasons including a 44 goal, 95 point campaign in 2000-01. For a man known for his inconsistency, he consistently put up goals just about everywhere he went.

It was no secret that the Penguins weren’t interested in bringing Kovalev back for the 2011-12 season. He was a disappointment for the Ottawa Senators for the majority of his two years in town and continued the trend when he reached Pittsburgh. He’s been on the free agent market since July 1st but there hasn’t been much interest in North America—and if there was, they weren’t willing to spend the same amount of money that the KHL offering.

He’ll be remembered as one of the most skilled players over the course of his career. Hockey fans would be hard pressed to come up with too many players who had more pure talent than Kovalev. Hopefully he’ll be able to regain the fire with Atlant Mytishchi.

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.