Avs governor: “It really bothers me when people say we don’t care about hockey”

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Colorado Avalanche governor Josh Kroenke wants fans to know he cares about the local hockey team.

In an interesting interview with Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post, Kroenke addressed complaints that he and ownership are cheap and don’t care about the Avalanche — but also owned up to making mistakes in rebuilding the team.

“I don’t want to say it so bluntly that it offends the fans. But they got spoiled the first few years the Avalanche were in town,” Kroenke said. “We won two Stanley Cups during the first five or six years we were here in Denver. Then we had stars retire and we came into a new system of doing business in the league.

“Could management have done a better job transitioning into the new system? I think that’s fair to say.”

Most of the criticism fired at Kroenke and Co. stems from the low numbers in the wins column — the Avalanche are tied for 13th in the Western Conference — and low numbers on the payroll. Only three teams are spending less on player salaries this season; the Avs are operating at $13 million under the cap ceiling.

Another big issue is the rudderless front office. Longtime executive Pierre Lacroix has experienced serious health issues (his body rejected the adhesive used in his artificial knee; doctors feared his leg might have to be amputated) and while he’s now on the road to recovery, things have been rough without him.

General manager Greg Sherman orchestrated three bizarre transactions — trading Craig Anderson for Brian Elliot and letting Elliott walk; giving up two young talents (Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk) for one (Erik Johnson), sending a first-round pick to Washington in exchange for unproven goalie Semyon Varlamov — and franchise icon Joe Sakic is still learning the executive side of the game.

Kroenke, meanwhile, admits he’s not a hockey guy by nature.

“I never played hockey. I wasn’t around the game growing up,” said Kroenke, who played basketball at the University of Missouri. “So I have to put a certain element of trust in the guys who make the hockey decisions. I think they feel pretty good about the young corps we have. Are we going to take a few on the chin in the meantime, while these players grow up? We might.”

That quote highlights another major criticism — that Josh and his father, owner Stan Kroenke, are much more interested in their other major property, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets. (The Nuggets just signed center Nene to a five-year, $67-million deal, so you can see why Avs fans would be irate.)

That said, Josh remains adamant he and the Avs are on the right track.

“It’s going to take time. That’s the tough part,” he said. “Everybody wants to win now. I understand that. I’m one of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet.”

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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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.