Rob Blake is off to a solid start with the Kings

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Much like (another former Kings assistant GM) Ron Hextall with the Philadelphia Flyers, Rob Blake was handed quite a salary cap mess when he took over for former Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi.

It’s taken years for Hextall to wade through most of the Flyers’ issues, and so far, it seems like Blake is going to need to follow in similar baby steps. On the bright side, it seems like he’s doing just that.

Passing early – and easier – tests

While losing Brayden McNabb to the expansion draft really stings, the bigger picture so far is that Blake might be capable of making lemonade out of L.A.’s lemons.

Consider this: he re-signed Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson to bargain deals, and very well might have enjoyed a sneaky-great bargain in bringing Michael Cammalleri back to the franchise for just $1 million. Those three forwards cost less than $10 million combined.

Some snickered at the Darcy Kuemper signing, but considering the cheap price and his solid .910 career save percentage, it might be another incremental victory for Blake.

Time will tell how well he fared, yet it’s another promising sign that the Kings were frequently mentioned as “winners” of the 2017 NHL Draft.

Big decisions and challenges to come

Can the Kings rid themselves of albatross deals, particularly in Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik? Other contenders and rebuilding franchises have found ways to do that, so some might expect Blake & Co. to pull a rabbit out of a hat in such regards.

Blake will also need to ask tough questions about how wide open the Kings’ window really is.

Anze Kopitar either suffered from an “off year” or is headed for a rapid decline. Jeff Carter keeps scoring goals, but at 32, you have to wonder if he’ll slow down soon.

The biggest fork in the road might come with Drew Doughty; the 27-year-old boasts a (relative) bargain cap hit of $7 million, yet those savings evaporate after 2018-19. He’ll be a UFA and close to 30 heading into his next deal, so the Kings must decide if they want to stick with this mix or make some painful, drastic changes.

Right man for the job?

At least the early signs are that Blake is attuned to what makes this team work, and how the franchise might adapt to an evolving NHL.

Kings director of scouting Mark Yannetti told the Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott that Blake distinguishes himself with a patient approach, and he may very well need it.

“Dean is abstract and progressively thinking and there’s a James Joycean quality to the way Dean moves. It’s almost stream of consciousness. And Rob is very patient and measured,” Yannetti said after the Kings chose center Gabriel Vilardi with that pick. “They’re both extremely intelligent and they get to similar places with different routes … Rob was a very steadying and very calm influence at the table.”

Hey, it’s not every day that you hear an NHL GM compared to James Joyce.

With that in mind, Kings fans need to be patient with this process, though maybe not “reading Ulysses” patient.

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.