NHL, retired players reach $19M concussions settlement

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The National Hockey League announced a tentative $18.9 million settlement Monday with more than 300 retired players who sued the league and accused it of failing to protect them from head injuries or warning them of the risks involved with playing.

The lawsuit, consolidated in federal court in Minnesota, was by far the largest facing the league. The NHL, as it has for years, did not acknowledge any liability for the players’ claims in the proposed settlement and can terminate the deal if all 318 players or their estates don’t elect to participate.

The settlement is significantly less than the billion-dollar agreement reached between the NFL and its former players on the same issue of head injuries. Each player who opts in would receive $22,000 and could be eligible for up to $75,000 in medical treatment.

”The cash amount of $22,000, that’s small, but we were always looking for (medical) coverage to begin with,” said former player Reed Larson, who was among the first to sue the league over head injuries that could lead to the brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. ”The bottom line is this is monitoring, testing and hopefully help for players that will either have (CTE) now or could get it in the future.”

Players’ attorney Stuart Davidson said he knows there will be comparisons between the NHL and NFL settlements, even though they differ drastically.

”When you have a defendant who has spent millions of dollars litigating a case for four years to prove that nothing is wrong with getting your brain bashed in, you can only get so far,” Davidson told The Associated Press. ”I think it’s important for players who have an opportunity to settle their case with the NHL now to understand that before they get anything through a trial against the NHL it’s going to cost millions of dollars in experts to get there, and that’s going to have to be paid for before they see a penny from any recovery, assuming they win.”

An NHL spokesman said the league would not make any comment until after the opt-in period of 75 days for players. There were 146 players who added their names to the lawsuit as plaintiffs between November 2013 and this August and 172 more who joined as claimants.

In addition to the cash payment, the settlement includes neurological testing and assessment for players paid for by the league; up to $75,000 in medical treatment for players who test positive on two or more tests; and a ”Common Good Fund” for retired players in need, including those who did not participate in the litigation, worth $2.5 million.

Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby, who has dealt with concussion problems throughout his career but is not involved in the lawsuit that includes only retired players, told reporters after practice the league, Players’ Association and others must all have a role in the issue.

”It’s something as players that we know that risk,” Crosby said. ”Obviously we know a lot more now than we did before, even a lot more than we did when I had my first one. It’s something you hope they can mutually agree on. It’s something that I think is important from both sides.”

Retired player Daniel Carcillo, one of the plaintiffs, urged players not to accept the settlement. In a series of tweets , he said players would be forced to see the same NHL and NHLPA doctors to determine if they’d be eligible for treatment.

Carcillo also asked for Wayne Gretzky’s thoughts: ”I want him to use his platform to help the men who protected him throughout his career. Lack of pressure from former players is a direct result of this insulting attempt at a settlement.”

Charles Zimmerman, who was a lead attorney for players, said he was most disappointed the lawsuit couldn’t assure future benefits for all retired players like in the NFL.

”I think it’s a very appropriate result and a good outcome in a very contested, hotly litigated matter,” Zimmerman said. ”The main goal in the case was to get medical testing and treatment for the players, something that the NHL wouldn’t agree to for the four years that we’d been litigating and that’s what we achieved.”

The settlement comes four months after a federal judge denied class-action status for the retired players, a significant victory for the league in the lawsuit filed in November 2013. U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in July denied class-action status, citing ”widespread differences” in state laws about medical monitoring that would ”present significant case management difficulties.”

The bid for class-action status would have created one group of all living former NHL players and one group of all retired players diagnosed with a neurological disease, disorder or condition. Had Nelson certified the class action, more than 5,000 former players would have been able to join the case.

”It’s not surprising after the NHL prevailed on the class-action motion that there would have been movements in this direction,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr told reporters in Toronto. ”I’m glad for the parties that it’s all over. Hopefully people can go on with their lives and now we can perhaps deal with these issues with the NHL without having to worry about the effect on the litigation.”

Davidson called Nelson’s decision a ”watershed moment” for the case and that players lost leverage as a result.

”It severely limited the damages to the NHL owners and benefits to the NHL players,” Vanderbilt University sports economic professor John Vrooman wrote in an email to the AP. ”This decision essentially forced the 140 (plus) players involved in the suit to settle and prevented the participation of all other potential litigants. So it will seem that both sides ‘won’ in what was really a lopsided victory for the owners. It’s just that all of the owners won by gaining current and future protection from damages and a minor fraction of the players won something that they would have zero chance in obtaining in isolation versus the league.”

Settlement talks ramped back up in July with an agreement reached Nov. 7.

Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly have, on multiple occasions, said the lawsuit had no merit.

”When it comes to focusing on concussions and trying to understand them and how to treat them, we’ve been leaders in the field,” Bettman told the AP in May. ”And that gets completely lost in the rhetoric of the litigation, and I don’t like discussing the litigation. There is a sense because it gets sensationalized that the reality of our position with player safety is somehow at odds with the reality of the science and the medicine and it’s not true. We study it very closely.”

The NFL settlement covers more than 20,000 retired players, and lawyers expect payouts to top $1.5 billion over 65 years. As of last month , the NFL concussion lawsuit claims panel has approved more than $500 million in awards and paid out $330 million.

AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow and Associated Press Writer Amy Forliti contributed to this report.

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

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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.