Three reasons the Rangers could be deadline players

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1. Everybody’s already discussing it. Brough alluded to the Rangers’ interest in welcoming Mike Santorelli to the trade rumor mill, and over the weekend all the local rags — Post, Daily News and Record — had some variation of the same story, playing off this quote from head coach Alain Vigneault:

“If we can improve ourselves and become a better team, we’re gonna do that. We’re no different than any other team now. But so far, I’ve liked the way our team has progressed. I’ve liked how certain individuals have progressed.

“We’ve got a little bit of time here to sort things out, and that’s what we’re gonna do.”

The talk, primarily, is about strengthening New York’s center position, specifically the third-line role currently filled by rookie Kevin Hayes. Depth down the middle has been an issue for this club this season, especially after losing Brad Richards and Brian Boyle during the summer, though it’s fair to suggest the Rangers could be primed to do more than add a bottom-six center. Why? Because…

2. GM Glen Sather has a history of big deadline deals. Last year Slats co-orchestrated the Martin St. Louis-for-Ryan Callahan blockbuster, which continued in his string of significant moves; the year prior, he flipped Marian Gaborik to Columbus for a trio of players that included Derick Brassard, and also acquired Ryane Clowe from San Jose.

Sather also has a few assets to deal. Teams looking to acquire young defensemen might look the way of Brady Skjei or Dylan McIlrath (though it’s tough to gauge the latter’s market value, given he’s yet to establish himself at the NHL level.)

3. The Rangers are in go-for-it mode. The window is now, and it’s open. The reigning Eastern Conference champs are probably more aware than anyone that the east is up for grabs; last season, the Rangers made it to the Stanley Cup Final despite heading into the playoffs as the “five” seed (Boston, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Montreal all finished with more points) and parity appears to be almost equal this season.

So, who are the Blueshirts going to target?

One would have to think Coyotes center Antoine Vermette is at the top of their wist list. He’d be an ideal addition down the middle and would have some chemistry with Brassard and Rick Nash, his former Blue Jackets teammates (from 2009-12). The Vermette bidding war is expected to be high, however, and the Rangers are at a disadvantage without a first-round pick at the ’15 Entry draft, sent to Tampa Bay in the St. Louis deal.

David Legwand could be another name to keep an eye on. The veteran center seems to have fallen out of favor with new Ottawa head coach Dave Cameron, and Sens GM Bryan Murray admitted Legwand could be on the move. At 34, Legwand has the veteran experience Vigneault likes; Vigneault would also be familiar with the ex-Predator from his coaching days in Vancouver (most notably the ’11 playoffs, when the Canucks ousted Nashville in Round 2.)

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.