Carolina hopes strong defense brings end to playoff drought

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Carolina Hurricanes have assembled quite a crowd on defense.

The Hurricanes brought in two established defensemen this offseason – trading for Dougie Hamilton, and signing Calvin de Haan. That means seven players for six spots on game nights, and they hope the strength in those numbers will finally end the NHL’s longest active playoff drought.

And while No. 2 overall draft pick Andrei Svechnikov and 2017 first-rounder Martin Necas will draw much of the attention, the strength of this team could be a defensive unit that ranks among the best in the Eastern Conference.

”Being able to play with some of the talent on that back end was going to make my life a lot easier,” de Haan said Tuesday. ”And hopefully they can say the same thing about me one day.”

Carolina was the only team in the league last season to allow fewer than 29 shots on goal per game, but they were just 22nd in the league in goals allowed (253).

The additions of Hamilton and de Haan strengthens a young defensive group centered around Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin, both of whom last year signed long-term deals that will keep them with the Hurricanes well into the 2020s, and a series of offseason transactions left 26-year-old Justin Faulk as the group’s longest-tenured player.

”I’m the grayhair on the back end,” de Haan said, ”and I’m only 27.”

Carolina picked up Hamilton from Calgary in a five-player trade at the draft that cost the Hurricanes another young defenseman – Noah Hanifin – and signed former New York Islander de Haan to a four-year free-agent contract in July. All seven of the defensemen are under contract for the 2019-20 season, too, except for former first-round pick Haydn Fleury – who will be a restricted free agent, giving Carolina the right to match any offer he receives.

”I think we’re going to have a really young group of guys,” Hamilton said, ”and it’ll be fun to see where we can take it.”

Hamilton, who shared the NHL lead among defensemen with 17 goals last season and has had four straight seasons with at least 42 points, gives the Hurricanes some offensive punch from the blue line. Carolina’s top-scoring defenseman last season was Hanifin, who had 32 points. Meanwhile, de Haan looks to step right in and replace Hanifin on the left side.

Those two would appear to join Pesce and Slavin as the top four, with Faulk – whose plus-minus rating was a career-worst minus-26 and whose 31 points were his worst since 2012-13 – slipping to a lower rung along with Trevor van Riemsdyk or Fleury.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to bring an end to that pesky playoff drought.

The Hurricanes have made the playoffs just once – in 2009 – since they won the Stanley Cup in 2006. If they miss the postseason again this year, they’ll tie the NHL record for consecutive seasons without a playoff berth, a dubious mark set by Florida from 2001-11 and matched by Edmonton from 2007-17.

Carolina has ”a lot of talented, young guys in the system, and the guys we brought in are great players, so that will be exciting, make everybody better and push one another,” van Riemsdyk said. ”I think our D-corps looks really good, and it’s an exciting time to be in Raleigh and hopefully we can make that step and make the playoffs and make some noise this year.”

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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.