“But you promised!” Mike Ilitch says Gary Bettman promised him Detroit would move East

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The NHL is going to be jumping into realignment next season in one form or another. Three teams want to move to the Eastern Conference from the West because the travel is a righteous pain in the rear-end and, let’s face it, having teams like Detroit, Columbus, and Nashville in the Western Conference makes as much geographic sense as having Winnipeg in the Southeast Division.

Detroit owner Mike Ilitch apparently has the inside line on what’s happening with the Red Wings in the realignment puzzle because he knows people, mainly NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. He believes the Red Wings are moving to the Eastern Conference no matter what next season. How is he so sure? Ilitch told Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News in a Q&A session why he knows what’s up.

Q . OK, once and for all, are you gonna get the Wings out of the Western Conference or not?

A . The commissioner (Gary Bettman) promised me I was next. We even had a meeting over lunch this past season, and he had all his people here, and he goes, ‘Yeah, I promised Mike he’d be the next one to go in the Eastern Conference.’ So I expect to be in next year. Jimmy D (Devellano) is on the phone every other week reminding them.

To call this a game changer would be a massive understatement. With Detroit in the Eastern Conference, old rivalries with original six teams like Boston, Montreal, New York, and Toronto are back on in a big way. Throw in a regional foe like Buffalo and put the Wings in battles more often with the likes of Philadelphia, Washington, and Pittsburgh and the Eastern Conference becomes a nightly must-see war zone.

Moving Detroit out of the West does have one downside though as the Red Wings rivalry with Chicago that was reignited the last few seasons now gets kicked in the teeth. There is one saving grace to that situation, however, and it’s one that makes an conference changing easier to stomach: The rumored return of the balanced schedule. Fox Sports Tennessee’s John Manasso dug in about that topic with Predators GM David Poile.

However, there is a way of possibly making all three happy and it seems to be gaining currency. Predators general manager David Poile said as much on Thursday.

“We’re happy with where we are,” he said. “We’re open-minded to working with everybody in the league to do what’s best for the league. We’re always conscious, being a Western team, that there could be, in our minds, a more balanced schedule. Regardless of whether we stay or move, there could be a more balanced schedule. That’s an aspect I’m pretty sure you’d hear that from other 14 teams in our conference.”

Spreading out the travel burden to make those eastern-located teams that may get stuck in the Western Conference helps make it easier to stomach. It also can help to save that Chicago rivalry with Detroit by guaranteeing two games between the teams each year with one in each city.

If it’s true that Detroit comes to the East, however, how does that affect Columbus? The Blue Jackets also desperately want to move to the East and, let’s face it, they could use the assistance in trying to improve their shot at getting back to the postseason. Are they left out in the cold now or will the NHL have a realignment model in place that gets both teams into the East? It’s all part of the puzzle that waits to be figured out. A decision on how to realign will likely come by the end of December when the NHL Board of Governors meets to get the ball rolling for how things will go next season.

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.