Coyotes looking to build off first playoff run in eight years

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes achieved a long-awaited goal by reaching the postseason for the first time in eight years. They won a series, knocking off the higher-seeded Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup qualifiers.

Arizona’s first-round playoff series against Colorado didn’t go quite as well.

The Coyotes managed to keep the first three games close thanks to Darcy Kuemper‘s stellar goaltending but were viciously bounced out of the Edmonton bubble by a combined score of 14-2 in the final two games.

”We’ve got a long way to go,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said Wednesday after Arizona’s second straight 7-1 loss.

The lopsided losses will certainly leave a sour taste throughout the offseason, however long it lasts.

Longer term, the experience of playoff intensity could be a huge boost for a franchise that’s been trying to regain footing since reaching the 2012 Western Conference finals.

”Anytime you get playoff experience, it’s going to help you down the road,” Coyotes forward Derek Stepan said. ”Obviously, losing the last two games the way we did, I hope it sticks in their brain just how important every little play matters, every little detail matters this time of the year. If there’s any doubt, any questioning within your lineup, it exposes you.”

Arizona made the biggest splash of last offseason, trading for high-scoring forward Phil Kessel. The Coyotes landed another talented offensive player around the trade deadline, picking up Taylor Hall in another deal.

Arizona started the season strong and looked like a playoff team, but an injury to Kuemper sent it tumbling to 11th in the Western Conference when the season was halted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Coyotes earned a reprieve when the NHL expanded the postseason bubbles to 12 teams in each conference and they capitalized, knocking off No. 6 seed Nashville in four games.

Arizona then kept Colorado, one of the NHL’s highest-scoring teams, mostly in check through the first three games before being overwhelmed by an avalanche of goals to get bounced from the Edmonton bubble.

”It’s a great learning experience we got and hopefully we can carry it into next season and learn something,” Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson said.

REPLACING CHAYKA

One of Arizona’s top priorities of the offseason will be finding a replacement for general manager John Chayka.

Considered one of the NHL’s best GMs, Chayka resigned right before the Coyotes left for Edmonton after his relationship with owner Alex Meruelo soured.

Arizona promoted assistant GM and former player Steve Sullivan to interim general manager and will likely give him a long look for the permanent job. The Coyotes may also open up their pocketbook to try landing a top-name GM, something Meruelo has proved willing to do.

KUEMPER’S SEASON

Kuemper earned an All-Star nod last season and was one of the NHL’s top goalies early this season before a lower-body injury sidelined him in December. Kuemper thrived in the Nashville series and kept Arizona in the Colorado series almost singlehandedly the first three games.

The Coyotes left Kuemper alone on an island for much of the final two games and he couldn’t keep bailing them out.

An ugly ending, but Kuemper still had a strong season, finishing with 29 wins and a 2.22 goals-against average.

FREE AGENTS

Hall, Carl Soderberg and Brad Richardson will be free agents, so the Coyotes will have some key offseason decisions to make.

Arizona would love to re-sign Hall, a former Hart Trophy winner, and Meruelo already met with him at least once. Hall finished with 10 goals and 17 assists in 35 games with Arizona.

Soderberg was a steady influence for the Coyotes after being traded from Colorado prior to the 2019-20 season, finishing with 17 goals and 18 asssits.

Richardson has been a key cog in the desert when he’s been healthy the past five years, but turned 35 this year.

Vinnie Hinostroza, Christian Fischer and Ilya Lyubushkin are all restricted free agents.

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.