Interim CWHL head says single women’s league a priority

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CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — The interim commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League says finding a way to unite the CWHL and the U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League into one premier North American women’s hockey league is a priority for her.

”That’s the goal: to get to a point where we have all the players in one professional league,” Jayna Hefford told The Canadian Press. ”Without too much detail, I think the NHL being involved is the best-case scenario. How soon that can happen … I don’t know if that’s a one-year thing, a two-year thing.”

Playing women’s hockey professionally in North America isn’t lucrative enough to be a full-time job, except perhaps for the U.S. and Canadian Olympians who earn money from their national federations. After of the U.S. winning gold at the Winter Games in February, a number of players have called for one professional league.

The CWHL, which is heading into its 12th season, has seven teams split between the U.S., Canada and China. The NWHL began in 2015 and has four U.S.-based teams. Both have different salary and bonus structures, and the nonprofit CWHL has partnered with NHL teams in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary on some of the logistics.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has not indicated the NHL will be proactive in helping set up a single league.

”Having two leagues makes it more difficult for us to get involved,” Bettman said earlier this year on Calgary’s 960-Radio. ”If there were no leagues, we’d probably start one under the NHL umbrella, and I’ve told both leagues that. But I have no interest in competing with the existing leagues.”

NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan has said only that she is always interested in discussing any proposal to improve women’s hockey.

The outgoing CWHL commissioner, Brenda Andress, said she always wanted one league and predicts it will happen.

”There’s been a ton of discussions behind the scenes,” she said. ”Those are the talks that will continue.”

”The public has to understand that Dani and I have always had conversations,” Andress added. ”You can’t fault an entrepreneur from owning her own league and from going out and working night and day just like we did of trying to make it survive. She’s a for-profit and we’re a not-for-profit, so it’s not as easy as everybody says.”

Hefford played 14 seasons for the Brampton Thunder and the CWHL trophy given to the most valuable player is named after her. She ranks second all-time in scoring behind Hayley Wickenheiser on the Canadian women’s team with 157 goals, 134 assists in 267 games. Hefford won a combined 11 gold medals appearing in five Olympic Games and 12 world championships before retiring in 2015. She will become the sixth woman in hockey’s Hall of Fame in November.

She has indicated she wants the commissioner’s job as she picks up the task of trying to combine the two leagues.

”I just want to see the sport at a place where I think the athletes deserve it to be,” she told CP. ”The players have the power. If they want to be in the same league, then we’ve got to find a way to make that work.”

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.