Jeff Skinner won’t rush decision on re-signing with Sabres

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — As much as he enjoyed his season with the Sabres, forward Jeff Skinner isn’t going to rush into deciding whether to re-sign with Buffalo or pursue free agency following a career-best 40-goal year.

”No, I haven’t made any decisions. It’s a big decision, and it deserves a lot of thought, a lot of reflection on both parts, I think,” Skinner said Monday, when Sabres players cleaned out their lockers two days after closing the season by missing the playoffs for an eighth consecutive year.

”It’s going to take some time and it’s not going to happen in the first couple of days,” he added. ”But yeah, to answer your question, I like it here, I love it here. I like the guys. I like the city and I had a great time.”

The question, as it was when Buffalo acquired Skinner in a trade with Carolina in August, is whether the two sides can reach an agreement on a new deal before the ninth-year player is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in July.

They have been in talks since January, with both sides saying negotiations are still ongoing.

Aside from searching for a new coach after Phil Housley was fired on Sunday, re-signing Skinner is considered the Sabres’ top offseason priority in the team’s rebuilding plans and bid to appease a frustrated fan base. Buffalo finished 27th in the overall standings and closed the season winning just 16 of its final 57 games.

General manager Jason Botterill on Sunday said there remains what he called ”a 100% chance” of Buffalo re-signing Skinner.

”I can understand where fans are coming from. He’s a fun player. He’s an entertaining player,” Botterill said. ”I think the relationship for both sides, for the player and the team, has been a positive one. That’s why we’re trying to find a resolution.”

Skinner became Buffalo’s first player to score 40 goals since Thomas Vanek in 2008-09, and he finished third on the team with a career-high-matching 63 points in 82 games.

He was particularly productive when playing on Buffalo’s top line centered by Jack Eichel. The two combined for 68 of the Sabres’ 226 goals this season.

Eichel would love to have his linemate back, while acknowledging the decision is up to Skinner.

”The nature of the business is Jeff Skinner has to, at this time, worry about Jeff Skinner,” Eichel said.

”Obviously, we love Skins. I love Skins,” he added. ”I mean, we want him in this room just as much as you guys do. He’s really close with the guys. He adds a great dynamic to our team.”

Skinner enjoyed playing in Buffalo in part because it’s closer to his hometown of Toronto. That allowed family and friends to watch him play more frequently by making the two-hour drive to Buffalo as opposed to flying to Raleigh, North Carolina.

On the downside, Skinner has yet to make the playoffs in nine seasons, since being drafted in the first round by Carolina in 2010.

”It’s tough to really put a firm percentage on it. I think for me, I want to win,” Skinner said when asked how much making the playoffs factors into his decision.

And yet, Skinner went on to mention how much he believes the Sabres are headed in the right direction and spoke of how much he wants to help the team next year.

Skinner played down how often he has included himself when referring to the Sabres beyond this season.

”I’m a Sabre. I feel any interview I go through during the season, I think it’s a ‘we.’ That’s just the way it is,” he told The Associated Press.

”I mean, I don’t think it changes,” Skinner said, referring to his pending decision. ”It needs to be given the thought it deserves, the reflection it deserves. And that’s what we’ll do going forward.”

NOTE: Two people with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that former Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan is a candidate to replace Housley. The people, who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the Sabres are not releasing details of their search, said there is no timetable on how long it will take for Buffalo to complete the process.

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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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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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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.