Eric Staal eager to stay with Wild, ready for Central Division battle

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CHICAGO — There’s a new boss in Minnesota and general manager Paul Fenton is taking his time reshaping the Wild roster. While Zach Parise may have expected more changes to happen over the summer, Eric Staal understands why the off-season was spent with extensions and adding depth.

“I guess you’re always thinking there could be, but also at the same time I think it’s difficult for a new guy to come in when he’s invested in another team for a number of years,” Staal told Pro Hockey Talk during the NHL Player Media Tour on Thursday. “He’ll need to really feel out what we have and what certain guys are. So I guess at the same time it’s not that surprising because I’m sure he wants to get his hands in there a little bit more with our group and see where we’re at, especially the start of the year. We’ll see what happens.”

Despite reaching 100 points in three of the last four seasons, the Wild have been bounced from the playoffs in the first round three straight springs. Pieces have been added over the years but owner Craig Leipold’s goal of winning a Stanley Cup after handing Parise and Ryan Suter those massive contracts in 2012 has yet to be realized. 

Last season the Wild dealt with numerous injuries that sidelined Parise for nearly half the season, as well as Jared Spurgeon, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle for a while. On top of that, Suter underwent season-ending ankle surgery just before the playoffs in April.

In the postseason they were bounced by the Winnipeg Jets in five games after nearly making it a series following a Game 3 victory. But Connor Hellebuyck‘s back-to-back shutouts closed out the series and sent the Wild into another early summer.

“The first round against Winnipeg had moments in it where we’re hoping it was going to tilt in our favor and our direction, but ultimately just didnt have enough to be able to get enough winners,” Staal said. “Obviously missing Ryan was huge. He’s our best defenseman and a player that we definitely missed.”

What can be better this season, putting aside all the injury issues?

“We’ve got younger guys that will take another step forward and grab larger roles this coming season,” said Staal. “Again, another tough year with some great teams in our division and we’re going to have to be very good to make sure we’re there at the end of the year.”

For his part, Staal didn’t miss a game and had his best offensive year in nearly a decade. His 42 goals were tied for fourth in the NHL and his 76 points were his highest since the 2010-11 season while a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Staal, who will be 34 in October, has found the fountain of youth since signing in Minnesota in 2016. He’s scored 70 goals over the last two seasons, and as he enters the final year of his contract he’d be happy to stay with the Wild. 

Fenton was hired in May and Staal understands that the new GM has been a bit busy examining his new team and figuring out plans for the future, while also re-signing key pieces like Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba. Extension talks will come at some point.

“We had some kind of conversation as far as we’ll kind of approach it here once we get rolling in the season and go from there,” Staal said. “I’d like to [stay]. I like it. Minnesota’s been a great fit for me and I enjoy playing there, but that isn’t a secret. But those are things that we’ll discuss and figure out as we move forward in the next couple of months.”

MORE PHT WILD COVERAGE:
Under Pressure: Bruce Boudreau
Three questions facing the Wild

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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.