Under Pressure: Taylor Hall

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This is part of New Jersey Devils day at PHT…

When it comes to Taylor Hall, let’s start with this right up front: If you ranked the top-five left wingers in hockey, Hall should not only be somewhere on your list, he should very close to the top of it.

He is a dynamic forward with top-line ability (and the production to match it) that is right now in the prime of his career. So putting him in the “under pressure” category probably isn’t entirely fair. Especially when he has yet to actually play in a single game for the Devils and has had nothing to do with the past four years of disappointment in New Jersey. 

You know he is going to play well, you know he is going to produce.

But hockey, and the way we sometimes analyze it, isn’t always fair.

Hall is a fascinating case because he has had the misfortune of spending the past six years as the best player (a very good player! A top player in the NHL!) on the worst team hockey. That is the worst possible position for any player to be in during his NHL career. It can, and will, drag down their reputation through no fault of their own. When it comes to Hall, that kind of seems to be happening a little bit. 

Even though he has been one of the most productive left wingers in hockey since he entered the league as a No. 1 pick in 2010, he doesn’t always get a lot of credit for it.

Even worse, when a bad team like Edmonton trades a top player like Hall it is usually sold as “changing the culture” or some other argument that is usually framed around throwing blame at the top player for not single handedly lifting a bad team to success. That line was even starting to surface in Edmonton two years before this trade happened (and under Edmonton’s previous front office) when Dallas Eakins was fired and blame was starting to get assigned for what went wrong. 

Then when defenseman Oscar Klefbom made the recent comments about Hall and his teammates not playing well against top teams in bigger games, it ignited another round of debate about Hall’s impact and the type of player he really is. Klefbom later tried to clarify his comments, but by that point it didn’t really matter, the seeds had already been planted and the conversation raged on.

With Hall, there seems to be more focus on what his team hasn’t done (and lately who he does and does not score goals against) than the fact he has been one of the best players in the world at his position. 

When you combine those discussions with the fact that he is joining a Devils team that has desperately needed a forward with his type of game-breaking ability, it just seems like there is going to be a lot riding on Hall to have a big season.

Not only to provide the team with a top-line winger that has game-changing ability, but also so he can silence some of the doubts and criticisms that have surfaced about his play simply because he spent so many years playing on a bad team. 

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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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.