NHL’s training camps advantage for coaches hired midseason

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Play a game, head for the airport. Take a day off, play another game. Squeeze in a practice when you can.

The pace of a regular NHL season is challenging enough, but coaches who take over in the middle of a season are forced to play catch-up, making changes in meetings while mostly using video to help make their points.

The NHL’s delayed restart has given six coaches hired or promoted during the season a chance at a fresh start with a training camp they never got with their current teams. The time is invaluable since all 24 teams jump right into the playoffs beginning Aug. 1.

John Hynes (Nashville), Geoff Ward (Calgary), Rick Bowness (Dallas), Sheldon Keefe (Toronto), Peter DeBoer (Vegas) and Dean Evason (Minnesota) have the chance to show what they can do with a couple of weeks featuring nothing but practices, meetings and scrimmages.

”The sole focus is on your installation, your execution, your attention to detail, your practice habits, your systematic details without having to have a ton of compete against other teams,” said Hynes, who was fired by New Jersey on Dec. 3 and hired Jan. 7 by the Predators. ”So that should help,”

Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm said players have to get used to a different voice, even if there’s not much difference in the systems being used.

”And now we really get a chance to look at the full package of what his philosophy is, how he wants us to play,” Ekholm said. ”So I think for us, that’s a really big advantage.”

Calgary forward Sean Monahan agreed, noting the Flames were learning as they went with Ward following Bill Peters’ abrupt resignation amid allegations of mistreating players.

”So to have this training camp and get familiar with some changes, and obviously doing it on the ice, that goes a long way,” Monahan said.

Having previous connections to the franchise helps. At least that’s what Ward, named interim head coach of the Flames on Nov. 29, thinks of himself, Keefe, Evason and Bowness.

”You sort of know how the players fit together, what their personalities are, what they bring to the table as a group,” Ward said. ”But sometimes you can’t always get in everything you need to because practice time is so short during an NHL season, especially in the second half.”

Keefe coached the Toronto Marlies to their first AHL Calder Cup championship in 2018. The Maple Leafs hired him to replace Mike Babcock in the first coaching change of the season back in November. Even with his familiarity with Toronto, Keefe sees having a camp now as a great advantage.

”We didn’t have much time to really sit down and tackle all the different areas we wanted to improve upon,” Keefe said.

Toronto defenseman Jake Muzzin thinks Keefe has taken advantage of this July training camp after being able to analyze how systems work with the Maple Leafs.

”He’s been able to, and all the coaches, have been able to look at tape and study video, and what works best for us, what we need to get better at, and we’re doing that here in camp right now,” Muzzin said.

Bowness was in his second season as an assistant with Dallas when the Stars fired Jim Montgomery on Dec. 10 for an off-ice issue and named him interim head coach for the rest of the season. Goalie Anton Khudobin sees having a training camp now as a break for the Stars.

”Oh for sure,” Khudobin said. ”He has more time to get ready.”

Bowness believes he already had an advantage: The Stars had won seven of eight when he was promoted so ”we didn’t have to make a lot of changes.”

Evason took over a Wild team that had won seven of 11. He went 8-4 after taking over and started this training camp by having the interim tag taken off while being given a two-year contract extension.

Vegas had only lost four straight when Gerard Gallant was fired on Jan. 15. DeBoer had a training camp with San Jose before being fired Dec. 11.

Now the slates are clean and the stakes simple with the NHL’s expanded playoff format to be played in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta. The replacement coaches have healthy rosters and more time in amp before even an exhibition to space out and focus on preparation.

”All those things, I think for guys that come in halfway through the year have been an advantage for sure,” Ward said.

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.