Tavares’ path to free agency is not yet a road for NHL stars

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CHICAGO — When John Tavares decided to pass on signing an extension with the New York Islanders and test free agency, he became the most interesting man in hockey.

NHL stars don’t ordinarily get to that point, and it led to Tavares going home to Toronto to sign a $77 million, seven-year contract with the Maple Leafs. Fellow players were watching closely, too, and wondering what the long-term impact might be.

”Even if we weren’t directly affiliated with it, it would’ve been interesting to follow because you don’t see it that often,” Islanders winger Anders Lee said. ”Who knows if it’s going to set a precedent or not or anything like that.”

The early returns are mixed. Tyler Seguin hopes a long-term deal can get done with the Stars before the regular season begins next month, while Ottawa Senators forward Matt Duchene started wondering about what could be. Seguin said he hasn’t gotten that far to imagine himself in Tavares’ shoes.

”I didn’t look into it really too much because my goal has still been to be a Dallas Star,” Seguin said Friday. ”That plan hasn’t changed.”

A lot of times there isn’t a plan yet. While Seguin said there has been positive dialogue between his agent and the Stars in recent days, Duchene hasn’t talked to the Senators about an extension and Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson is the constant subject of trade rumors with one year left on his deal.

Duchene feels better than at the start of previous seasons when he was less than happy in Colorado and didn’t know where he’d be next. Only this time, his uncertainty doesn’t feel so bad after watching Tavares get to free agency and have the chance to pick his destination.

”It gives you something to think about because you want to make the best decision for yourself,” Duchene said. ”Sometimes the way a team does things can trigger a different response from the individual and vice versa. It’s not a cookie-cutter thing.”

Tavares understands that. He had to weigh nine years with the Islanders against recent struggles to make the playoffs and the potential offered by teams like the Maple Leafs and Sharks.

His situation was so often compared to that Steven Stamkos – who re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning on the eve of free agency in 2016 – that Tavares doesn’t expect Seguin, Duchene or anyone else to feel the same ways he did.

”Once I got through the regular season and kind of decompressing after a while and started kind of getting closer obviously to July 1, I realized that this might be my really only chance to go through something like this and have this opportunity to see what else is out there,” Tavares said. ”It obviously led to me making a change. I think it just depends on the type of person and the situation and I guess kind of the optics or the circumstances in that situation.”

Karlsson could go the Tavares route next summer, though any team that deals for him between now and the trade deadline will likely want to lock him up long term. That could be the case for Duchene, too.

Seguin, who last week expressed concerns that a new contract with Dallas wasn’t done yet, is far more likely to sign in the coming weeks in large part because of the talent the Stars have around him and the potential they have to contend. Captain and linemate Jamie Benn is signed through 2024-25 and doesn’t feel like he has to sell Seguin on staying or give him any advice about going through the negotiation process.

”The contract will sort itself out,” Benn said. ”People think it’s more complicated than it already is … but he’s earned every amount of money that he’s going to get and he’s well-deserving of it.”

Seguin, Karlsson and Duchene are going to get paid by some team over the next 10 months, as Tavares was. Oilers captain and Art Ross Trophy winner Connor McDavid went the more common route signing the longest-possible deal in Edmonton for the highest average salary in the league, and even he was watching the Tavares saga and came away glad it happened.

”Hockey’s kind of always been the ‘I do what I’m told’ and ‘I kind of go where I’m told’ and whatnot, but he was one of the few guys that took his matters into his own hands and you really respect that,” McDavid said.

”He could’ve signed the security deal and signed a long-term deal or a lot of money and never would’ve thought about it again. But he decided that he wanted to go a different route and live out his childhood dream and play in Toronto and you can’t really blame him for that.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

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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.