Pre-game reading: Analyzing the Minnesota Wild ahead of the expansion draft

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— Up top, the “Road to the NHL Outdoor Classics” looks at the St. Louis Blues, who will host the Blackhawks Jan. 2 at Busch Stadium. The Blues have never won the Stanley Cup, but they’re again one of the contenders this season.

— Pierre LeBrun takes a look at the Minnesota Wild ahead of the expansion draft. It will certainly be interesting to see if GM Chuck Fletcher moves one of his defenseman before Vegas gets its chance to pick. Don’t be surprised if the Edmonton Oilers, who’d still like to improve their back end, come calling on a guy like Matt Dumba. The Wild have to protect Ryan Suter, who has a no-movement clause, and they’ll likely choose to protect Jared Spurgeon. That may only leave them with one additional d-man to put a wall around. (ESPN)

— Speaking of Vegas, here’s Golden Knights GM George McPhee on the challenge of preparing for the expansion draft: “Things change. There is going to be a redistribution of players a few weeks before the deadline and there will be some trades as well so we have to know everyone in an organization. … You have to walk away with a good understanding of who those players are and what they can do on the ice because it’s going to matter in six months.” (NHL.com)

— Which coaches are on the hot seat coming out of the Christmas break? Yahoo Sports has come up with a list, and it starts with Dan Bylsma in Buffalo. We wrote about the Sabres today, and how they’ve failed to live up to their own expectations. Injuries have hurt them, but more and more people are wondering if Bylsma is the right man for the job. (Yahoo Sports)

Zack Kassian doesn’t drink anymore, and that more than anything has helped save his career. “When (Oilers GM) Peter Chiarelli made the move to pick me up, I knew it was going to be a long haul to get back to the NHL and to earn Peter’s trust back and to earn everyone’s trust back. I knew it was nothing but uphill. I just took it a day at a time. If you look at it now, a year later, I think things are slowly trying to turn around. Peter, I think, has gained a little more trust in me. And I think that’s all I could really ask for.” (Edmonton Sun)

— The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur, on the pressure the Canadians have to shoulder every year at the World Juniors: “This is Canada’s tournament, but let’s be clear what we mean when we say that. Nobody loves the world junior hockey championships like we do. It has become tradition. The young men lucky or unlucky enough to play know the pressure, know the glory, know the crushing disappointment. They, like so many of us, have watched it all happen on TV.” (Toronto Star)

Enjoy the games!

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.