The Wild’s owner is thrilled with their success, but realistic about their Cup chances

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When the Minnesota Wild only lasted one round of the 2016 playoffs, they looked to many observers like a team on the decline.

And when GM Chuck Fletcher hired Bruce Boudreau to be the head coach, it looked to those same observers like a last-gasp effort to get an aging core over the hump.

Well, it’s only been half a season under Boudreau, but the Wild’s 25-9-5 record does not suggest decline. In fact, Minnesota is on pace for 116 points, which would blow away its 87-point total of last season.

As for that aging core? It’s sure looking a lot younger these days. Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker are all on pace to set career highs in points. Heck, even the future core looks more promising, as evidenced by the performances of Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson-Ek, Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin at the World Juniors.

For owner Craig Leipold, it’s all been a joy to watch.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys that, in the past, have played well, but, in our opinion, hadn’t played to their potential,” Leipold told the Star Tribune on Sunday. “And now we’re seeing it. They’re difference-makers. We’re in a window right now where our experienced players and our young players are all starting to play at the peak of their performance.”

Leipold also loves the job Boudreau has done, and he thinks the addition of Eric Staal was a savvy way to capitalize on a player who had a ton to prove.

That being said, Leipold isn’t sure the Wild have what it takes to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

“I don’t know, they could surprise me,” he said. “But I don’t think we’ve got that type of team. We haven’t built it yet. We’ve got some guys coming up who within a couple of years of being in this league can start to make a difference in the weakness that we have, which is the size of our players — although we’re better than we were last year.”

Leipold is only being realistic. The Wild have definitely overachieved in the first half of the season. They’ve had a red-hot Devan Dubnyk between the pipes, and every puck they shoot seems to go in. On top of that, most of their key players have been healthy for all 39 games.

But even if their luck runs out a little in the second half, they’ve put themselves in solid position to make the playoffs for a fifth straight time. It would take a gigantic collapse to miss the postseason, and after how their season ended last year, it’s hard to imagine how things could be going much better.

Related: Boudreau doesn’t believe superstars are needed to win

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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Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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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.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.