Can Cam Barker get his career back on track in Edmonton?

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The Chicago Blackhawks parted ways with a lot of talent after they won the 2010 Stanley Cup, but there was one should-be “star” who didn’t even make it that far: Cam Barker.*

The Blackhawks wisely got rid of the so-so offensive defenseman’s pricey $3.08 million cap hit by trading him to the Minnesota Wild for what amounted to an expiring contract in Kim Johnsson on February 12, 2010. After putting up 40 points in just 68 games played 2008-09, Barker’s play was already slipping a bit in Chicago; he managed 14 points in 51 games before that trade. His game really fell off the map in Minnesota, though, as he only scored seven points in 19 games to finish the 09-10 season and was downright pitiful in 2010-11 (five points in 52 games with a -10 rating).

Rather than stomaching the final year of that weighty contract, the Wild opted to buy out Barker during this off-season. Barker and the Wild can sugar coat that decision by saying it was “just business” but the ultimate message is that the defense-starved franchise paid Barker to go away.

Luckily for Barker, the hockey world tends to give top-five draft picks a chance or two at redemption (at least when they’re still young – Barker is just 25 years old). The even more defensively decrepit Edmonton Oilers decided to take a short-term risk on Barker, signing him to a one-year, $2.25 million contract.

I must admit that I snickered at the idea on first impact, especially since Barker is known for being a bit of an … adventure in his own end. The dollar amount seems a tad bit high for a player whose stock is at an all-time low, but the one-year deal makes it an intriguing gamble for Edmonton. Let’s not forget that Barker hasn’t had a lengthy fall from grace; he’s only two seasons removed from being a fairly prolific contributor on the Blackhawks blueline. Barker also dealt with some injuries last season, so it’s possible that a cleaner bill of health might help him rebuild his career.

This Winnipeg Sun piece reveals that Barker is optimistic about bouncing back during what could be a pivotal season in his still-young career.

“You’re hurt, you’re coming back from injuries, it’s really tough to get the ball going,” he said. “And I didn’t start off the season that well. A lot of contributing factors, but I’m feeling healthy now, completely good to go.

“It (being released) worked out for the best, for me anyway. I end up in a great place in Edmonton.”

(snip)

“It’s a huge year for me,” he acknowledged. “It’s when I reestablish myself and get back to where I was two, three years ago.”

While I’d wager that Barker probably won’t heal many of Edmonton’s wounds, it’s not outrageous to wonder if they might benefit quite a bit from the gamble. If nothing else, Barker will get every opportunity to sink or swim on a threadbare Oilers defense.

* -Scoff all you want at the notion that Barker should be a star, but he bares the weighty historical burden of being drafted right after Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin in 2004.

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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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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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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Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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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.