Playoffs seem like a long shot for Coyotes, but they are building something special

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This is part of Arizona Coyotes day at PHT…

Even though they should be a better team in 2016-17, the Arizona Coyotes are still going to have a pretty tall mountain standing between them and the end of their current four-year postseason drought.

They finished the 2015-16 season 20 points back of the third place in the Pacific Division and nine points out of a wild card spot. The latter number isn’t a huge gap to make up, but you also can’t expect the second wild card team in the West to only finish with 87 points again as the Minnesota Wild did. To secure a playoff spot Arizona is probably looking at a 17 or 18 point improvement (that would put them at 95 or 96 points).

That is asking a lot in one year, even in a division that isn’t particularly strong and should have a few of the NHL’s basement teams in it.But whether or not they make it all up this season is not quite as important as what the Coyotes are starting to build in Arizona and what it means for the long-term outlook of the team.

It is not about making the playoffs in one year, losing in the first round, and then just maintaining that status quo in future seasons. It is about building a consistently competitive team that has a core of players that can maybe compete for a championship. And for the first time in a long time, the Coyotes seem to have that hope for the future.

In Oliver Ekman-Larsson they have one of the NHL’s elite defenseman. A game-changing player on the blue line that can play in all situations and is still in the prime of his career.

They have a young duo in Max Domi and Anthony Duclair that has already shown it can play at a top-line level in the NHL and were among the top rookie scorers in what was one of the best rookie classes in recent memory.

They have another wave of talent reading to break through into the NHL this season, including a potential No. 1 center in Dylan Strome (perhaps their best young player), another talented young forward in Christian Dvorak, and had two of the top-16 draft picks in 2016.

What should be most encouraging about this group for hockey fans in Arizona is that they not only represent what might be the best young collection of talent the organization has had since the franchise arrived from Winnipeg two decades ago, but they have the ability (the potential, anyway) to play a style of hockey that can actually get more people interested. Not only has Arizona missed the playoffs in four straight seasons, but they really haven’t been that interesting to watch, either. And that was even true when they were making the playoffs between 2010 and 2012. They were winning, but the style of hockey kind of … stunk.

But with Domi and Duclair consistently making highlight reels last season, and Ekman-Larsson being one of the most dynamic defenseman in the league, you started to see the seeds being planted for what this group can be capable of.

It is only going to get better when players like Strome and Dvorak get an opportunity of their own.

The Coyotes have been a punchline in the hockey world for years and the regions ability to sustain a hockey team is always called into question. But the sport can work anywhere if you give people a competitive team that plays an exciting brand of hockey. The Coyotes have not always done that.

They might finally have the team to help change that.

It may not happen overnight this season, but the foundation is definitely in place.

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    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.

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    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.”

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    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.