Gionta, Wisniewski could be NHL-bound right after Olympics

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) The next flights Brian Gionta and James Wisniewski take could land them back in the NHL.

As the longtime NHL veterans try to win a medal for the United States at the Olympics, their agents are talking to teams about getting them contracts once the tournament is over. Gionta and Wisniewski will have about a day and a half to sign between the end of the Olympics and the deadline to be eligible for the playoffs. They are ready to jump back in.

“If somebody wanted me, I’m ready to go,” Wisniewski said Monday. “Hopefully I can come out here and have a great Olympics. It’s not like I’m going to be expensive. You don’t have to give up future considerations. I’ve played in the highest level for over a decade and now playing in the Olympics, so it’s not like I haven’t been playing good, competitive hockey.”

Not far removed from the NHL, Gionta and Wisniewski are drawing interest to sign for the rest of this season. Gionta could give a contending team some scoring in a top-nine role on right wing, and Wisniewski is a right-shooting power-play defenseman who, correctly, would come cheap.

“Gio, he looks like hasn’t missed a beat,” forward Brian O’Neill said. “He hasn’t played that much hockey this year, but he looks as sharp as ever. It’s a testament to their work ethic, and it’s not a coincidence they’ve had such great careers. They take their health, their fitness, extremely important and they’re ready to go and James Wisniewski’s in the same boat as Gionta. … I’m sure they’ll have a couple of offers once the Olympics are over.”

Gionta played the most recent of his 15 seasons in 2016-17 and has been practicing with the American Hockey League’s Rochester Americans. Wisniewski was limited to 15 NHL games since March 2015 because of knee injuries and has since played in the minors, Russia and Germany.

Neither player feels ready to call it a career, and neither looks finished. Wisniewski might not have the burst of his youth, but coach Tony Granato said the 33-year-old “can still shoot it,” and the 39-year-old Gionta is zipping around in practice with the U.S. college kids.

“He looks pretty young,” 21-year-old forward Ryan Donato said. “He’s one of those guys that although he may have a lot of NHL experience and played in the league for a long time and played with my dad even, he’s one of those guys that always keeps the energy up and is flying around during practice and probably is one of the guys that’s still in the best shape out of all of us, too.”

Gionta feels fresh and in game shape after playing in the pre-Olympic Deutschland Cup in November and one game for Rochester. The U.S. captain has been planning for the Olympics since the summer but has spoken with agent Steve Bartlett to prepare for the tight turnaround to try to get something done before the afternoon of Feb. 26.

“We have been in touch with a few teams that have expressed interest, but they know my main focus is over here and we’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it after the tournament’s over,” Gionta said. “This is the focus now, and when this is over, I’ll look to that.”

Wisniewski has been looking to get back since the Carolina Hurricanes bought him out in the summer of 2016. Three ACL tears in his right knee and most recently one in his left knee slowed Wisniewski but didn’t stop him, and he said playing in Germany and preparing for the Olympics brought back his passion for the game.

“Finally it paid off,” Wisniewski said. “If I would’ve had to hang `em up on that, it would’ve been pretty disappointing, but now it’s a dream come true for me.”

As Wisniewski lives out the dream of being an Olympian, he certainly sees it as a showcase for NHL scouts and has thought about what the 36 hours after the final could be like.

“Hopefully we’re playing for the gold medal and then what a better way than to sign another NHL contract,” Wisniewski said. “It’s really up to me. I’ve got to show that I can play and catch somebody’s eye.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP Olympics: https://wintergames.ap.org

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.

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.