Unique World Cup format allows ‘more of the very best players’ to participate

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COLUMBUS — It’s official. They’re actually going through with it.

The 2016 World Cup will include six national teams — Canada, the United States, the Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden and Finland — plus two other squads, Team Europe and Team North American Youngstars.

It’s a unique format, and one that’s drawn criticism from those who like their international hockey in its purest form — country versus country, just like it’s always been. No Team Europe. No Team North American Youngstars.

But the NHL and NHLPA, the co-organizers of the tournament that will take place September 2016 in Toronto, believe the format will create the best competition, with added intrigue.

“Our objective is to have a tournament as competitive as can be,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

“A North American Youngstars team and a team of the best NHL European players from outside the Big Four European countries enables us to include more of the very best players in the world who might otherwise have been left out of the competition.

“We have concluded that this will provide the most compelling format and the most competitive and entertaining hockey, with great storylines.”

NHLPA chief Don Fehr concurred, predicting the 2016 World Cup would be the “most competitive tournament of its type ever played.”

The fans played a role in all this, too, according to Bettman.

“Of all the alternatives for teams seven and eight, this solution was overwhelmingly the most positive,” he said, citing fan polling in Canada and the United States.

“People are intrigued by this. There are going to be great storylines. But most importantly, these seventh and eighth teams are going to be incredibly competitive.”

That remains to be seen, particularly with regards to the Youngstars team. Hockey may be a young man’s game, but the “23 and under” squad will be decided underdogs.

At any rate, this may be only the beginning when it comes unique tournament formats. According to the Canadian Press, the “NHL’s long-range plan includes a Ryder Cup-style North America vs. Europe series in 2018 and a more expansive 2020 World Cup that could feature North American players with German, English, Irish, Italian or French heritage playing for those countries to grow the game in those nations.”

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.