Striking while the team’s hot: Lightning reportedly sell twice as many season tickets for 2011-12

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If you ask me, there’s really only one reasonable excuse why a Tampa Bay sports fan wouldn’t support the Lightning at this point: they don’t like hockey.

Beyond that obvious possibility, how could you not be enticed by this team? They have three star players in Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier (even if Lecavalier could probably justify his star status with a little more production). The team has a wily veteran in net in Dwayne Roloson and a possible defenseman of the future in Victor Hedman. Oh yeah, they also have Steve Yzerman as their GM, Guy Boucher’s James Bond scar on the bench and an owner who’s focused on giving hockey people what they need to win as opposed to the duo who seemed too distracted by cross-promoting hackneyed horror movies with goalie masks.

With Stamkos signed for the medium-term future and all of their free agent questions answered, the Lightning look like they have the right ingredients for another promising season. The Yzerman era is off to a bright start off the ice, too, judging by St. Pete Times Forum’s $35 million facelift and an intangible sense of excitement around almost every area of the club.

Of course, all of these great developments would be meaningless if the team fails at the box office. That doesn’t seem to be the case, as Damian Cristodero passes along these promising sales figures from Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke.

The Lightning, coming off its first playoff appearance in four years, has sold more than 10,000 full season tickets for next season, CEO Tod Leiweke said, doubling last season’s total of 5,000.

“We’re right at 10,000, maybe 10,005,” Leiweke said. “We feel good about that.”

Leiweke said renewals are running at about 90 percent, which means about 5,500 new subscribers have signed up. When yet-to-be-sold partial season tickets are factored in, Leiweke said he hopes the season-ticket base will be about 12,000.

“Our job is to sell out every game,” he said. “We still have work to do to get to that. But to say we’d be at 10,000 right now, that’s a heck of a target.”

Cristodero reports that sellouts won’t be quite as difficult to reach thanks to some of the changes made by that $35 million facelift. The addition of a pipe organ, a party deck and the elimination of a few sections and suites will remove 718 seats from a building which boasted a hockey capacity of 19,758 before. That being said, Cristodero points out that the forum could hold more than 20,000 people if you factor in standing room, lounges and restaurant audiences as well, which isn’t that hard to imagine if the Lightning put together another big run in the playoffs.

In other words, things are looking great for the Lightning on the business end. Considering the near-instant success the team has enjoyed since Yzerman took over, it only seems fair. We’ll see if this organization can keep the positive momentum going in 2011-12, though.

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.