Will Chris Pronger or Daniel Briere end up being captain of the Flyers?

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When the Flyers traded away Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings, it not only shook up the Flyers locker room, it changed the leadership dynamic in Philadelphia. With Richards out, the Flyers are in need of a new team captain and a guy able to handle the stresses of playing in hockey-mad Philly, dealing with media and fans that are demanding, and capable of dueling with some of the snarkier reporters.

Mike Richards had his troubles in handling at least one part of that equation and now the duties of being the face of the Flyers will fall to someone else. But who? Looking at the roster that’s a mix of young and old, a pair of names stand out immediately: Daniel Briere and Chris Pronger.

Briere was a co-captain during his time in Buffalo with the Sabres while Pronger has been a captain with the Anaheim Ducks. With those two having the history of being a captain and strong, established careers you wonder if it will be either of those two chosen to wear the “C” in Philly.

CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio asked Briere his thoughts about what he feels about the vacant captaincy and Pronger’s presence in the room. Given what Briere says, Pronger might already have the lead on being the next captain of the Flyers.

“It would be an honor,” said Briere of a potential captaincy. “Is it something that matters? No. That I have a letter or not, I won’t change the way I play or act in the dressing room. If I have something to say, I don’t need a letter to stand up and say to guys, ‘this is the way I see it.

“When you look around the room and the old captains and the name on that board, it would be a tremendous honor, but it’s not something I need. I think Chris Pronger felt the same way. Everyone saw Chris as one of our leaders last year.”

Was Pronger the de facto captain?

“Yeah, definitely,” Briere replied. “Richie wore the letter and was the captain but he wasn’t by himself.”

While Briere is a leader himself and is more than capable of handling questions about the team and dealing with the media, you get the feeling that Pronger embodies the vision people have as a captain. Pronger is a hulking menace on the ice that leads the team by example through physical play and sticks up for his teammates all over the ice. Pronger’s ability to intimidate opponents often ends a potentially ugly situation before it develops. We can only imagine the sort of direction Pronger provides in the locker room when it comes to getting the team’s head screwed on straight.

As for Briere, you don’t always see him as being the leader-type, but yet he’s the guy leading the way offensively and doing a lot of the same things Pronger puts a stop to by agitating opponents and not letting his smaller stature be a factor in how he plays the game. Briere’s a feisty guy that keeps at it regardless of the size of the opponent.

These are two worthy candidates and two guys that can handle the added workload. While it’s a big deal for fans to know who “their guy” is when it comes to captaincy, Briere notes that it’s a bigger deal for fans and media to have someone to point to as the guys in the locker room will rally together and help out.

If you’re looking for a guy that best represents what the Flyers have been about historically then Pronger is the guy. If you’re in need of a guy to show the ropes to the new group of younger players in Philly, then Briere might be better suited. All of that said, you can’t help but think that Pronger is going to be the man. It seems too natural of a thing to end up happening and with Pronger having many years left to go in Philly on his contract, it makes even more sense to have him be the face of the franchise.

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

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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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David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
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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.