Blackhawks can use cap space in quest to return to playoffs

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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Blackhawks enjoy an uncustomary luxury with space under the NHL’s $79.5 million salary cap.

So general manager Stan Bowman hinted Saturday on the second day of the team’s annual convention he could be in the market for a veteran player who might help the Blackhawks return to the playoffs.

Chicago’s roster is built on big-name stars including Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford who are locked into hefty long-term contracts. Those deals usually have forced Bowman to scramble to get his team under the cap.

But this year, the Blackhawks have between $5.5 million and $6.5 million of wiggle room according salary cap tracking websites CapFriendly.com and spotrac.com.

”This is the first year that I can remember where we’ve had this much cap room,” Bowman said. ”We have a bit more flexibility than we have had in the past.”

Most of that space opened when Bowman traded Marian Hossa and his $5,275,000 cap hit to Arizona earlier this month. The 39-year-old forward didn’t play last season because of severe side effects from medication to treat a progressive skin disorder. Hossa isn’t expected to play again, but he’s signed through the 2020-21 season.

Bowman didn’t mention players he might pursue, but he did specify a scenario.

Another team might have a young player who surprises with terrific training camp, earns a roster spot and makes an impact. As a result, that team might want to unload a veteran.

”If you want to get in the game there, you have to be under the cap and have some breathing room to add a player,” Bowman said. ”I’m not sure if that will materialize. It might, so that’s something that’s different for this upcoming season.”

The Blackhawks missed the playoffs last spring for the first time after qualifying for nine straight seasons and winning three Stanley Cup during that run. Team president John McDonough emphasized on Saturday that missing the postseason again is not acceptable.

Moreover, he expects the Blackhawks to bounce back and cement their place as an elite franchise over the long term.

”What we target every year is the Stanley Cup Final,” McDonough said. ”We were off the map for a pretty long period of time.

”The Blackhawks are not necessarily going to be measured in three-to-five year increments, or three Cups in eight or nine years, but we’re going to be measured in decades and decades.

”We want to keep moving forward as an organization.”

Beyond immediate help from three free agents signed earlier this month – goalie Cam Ward, defenseman Brandon Manning forward Chris Kunitz – Bowman expects young prospects to blossom and lift his team this season.

Bowman projects more output from speedy 22-year-old center Nick Schmaltz and 20-year-old winger Alex DeBrincat, both of whom the GM said just scratched surface in 2017-18. Schmaltz had 21 goals and 31 assists in his second NHL season. DeBrincat had 28 goals and 52 points as rookie.

Bowman told fans he expects three Swedes who spent parts of the 2017-18 season in Chicago to make bigger contributions. Defensemen Gustav Forsling, 22, and Carl Dahlstrom, 23, should compete for regular jobs. He called out Victor Ejdsell, a 6-foot-5 center, as ”someone to look out for” because of his great scoring touch.

Bowman also predicted 23-year old center Luke Johnson, who spent the last two seasons at Rockford of the AHL, would play in Chicago at some point.

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.