Red Wings, Niklas Kronwall hope to get started on a new contract soon

While things might get a little complicated once the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after the 2011-12 season, the general rule is that it’s better for NHL teams to re-sign players before they hit free agency. That’s especially the case with players who are at least 27 years old because they can become unrestricted free agents and take advantage of weak markets to score bloated deals.

As Joe discussed in late July, the Detroit Red Wings’ next big salary cap commitment might be to hard-hitting defenseman Niklas Kronwall. The 30-year-old blueliner’s contract is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $3.75 million with a $3 million cap hit. The Swedish defenseman is coming off the second best offensive season of his career with 37 points in 2010-11 (he had 51 in 08-09).

While fellow Swedish blueliner Nicklas Lidstrom took home the 2011 Norris Trophy, Kronwall’s role with the Red Wings is slowly expanding. Kronwall was second to Lidstrom in ice time during the regular season with 22:52 minutes per game, but he surpassed Lidstrom in playoff ice time with a team-leading 23:04 minutes per game.

With the creeping inevitability of Lidstrom’s retirement in mind, the Red Wings’ defense could be in a serious state of flux after the 2011-12 season. Brad Stuart and Mike Commodore’s contracts will also expire in July 2012, which means that Jakub Kindl, Jonathan Ericsson and Ian White are the only defensemen who currently rank in the team’s top seven who already have contracts in place.

Of course, that situation becomes a lot more pleasant when you consider the possibility of adding a solid free agent or two (Ryan Suter, anyone?) or calling up one of the team’s prospects. The team will have a ton of cap space to work with with just under $35 million in cap commitments to 13 players as of this moment, so the situation isn’t dire – it’s just uncertain.

However they plan on filling some of those holes, it seems obvious that keeping Kronwall in the fold is still a smart plan for the team. That’s why the two sides are planning on hashing out the details soon, according to Ansar Khan.

“As an organization with the history and tradition of Detroit, I think anyone who is fortunate enough to have a chance to play here for many, many years would love to take that,” Kronwall said. “Hopefully, I can do the same.”

The Red Wings are likely to begin contract talks with Kronwall this month or shortly after the start of the season.

“Everyone knows I like it here a lot,” Kronwall said. “I want to stay. Hopefully, they want me to stay as well. So whenever they feel it’s the right time to start negotiating we’ll be ready for it.”

It would be pretty surprising if the Red Wings cannot come to terms with Kronwall, although there’s no guarantee that it will happen quickly. The one advantage to the situation dragging out a bit is that Kronwall would gain the natural boost of contract year inspiration, which might mean a big season. Of course, the double-edged sword to that situation is that a big season would give him a better chance at an even bigger payday.

Although Ericsson’s contract ranks as a rare exception, Red Wings GM Ken Holland is known for signing homegrown talent to enviably affordable deals. We’ll see if he can work his magic with Kronwall as well.

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    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.