Blackhawks’ Dominik Kubalik keeping quiet about free agency


CHICAGO — Heading into his rookie season with the Chicago Blackhawks, Dominik Kubalik just focused on making the team.

Now his contract situation is one of the biggest questions for the Blackhawks.

Kubalik is eligible for restricted free agency after he led NHL rookies with 30 goals this season. He also had 16 assists in 68 games, making a smooth transition to Chicago after playing in Switzerland the previous season.

Negotiations between Kubalik’s representation and the Blackhawks could be tricky. The 6-foot-2 winger turned 25 last week, and his breakout performance in his only year in the league makes for an unusual case.

Plus, goaltender Corey Crawford, forwards Dylan Strome and Drake Caggiula, and defenseman Slater Koekkoek also are eligible for free agency, and the Blackhawks have salary-cap issues they have to work out.

Kubalik, a finalist for the Calder Trophy awarded to the NHL’s top rookie, said Thursday he hadn’t thought about free agency just yet.

“The season just ended, so I’m really happy to be home,” he said in a video conference call from his native Czech Republic. “It’s going to be probably a conversation with my agent in the next couple days and weeks.

“After this year, hopefully, I’m confident that I’m on a good way and I would love to stay in Chicago. So that’s probably all I can say about it right now.”

Chicago acquired Kubalik in a January 2019 trade with Los Angeles for a fifth-round pick. He was drafted by the Kings in the seventh round in 2013, but he never played for the team.

He made the Blackhawks out of training camp, making his NHL debut in Prague, and scored his first goal in his second game. But he really started to hit his stride toward the end of 2019, collecting 13 goals and six assists in a 15-game stretch from Dec. 19 to Jan. 19.

“When you start feeling more and more comfortable then you’re starting reaching your goals and then you still want more and more,” he said. “So I think that’s normal and obviously that’s what I want right now for next year. Obviously I want to get better. I need to get better, that’s for sure.”

Kubalik and the rest of Chicago’s young players got a closer look at what they need to do to improve when the Blackhawks made a surprising playoff appearance after the NHL season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kubalik had three goals and three assists as Chicago eliminated Edmonton in the qualifying round in four games. But he was held in check in the first round of the playoffs, finishing with just two points in a five-game loss against top-seeded Vegas.

“The hockey level was obviously higher than the regular season, and that’s great,” Kubalik said. “That’s where you can get more and more experiences and you can learn way quicker. So I’m really happy that we got a chance, an opportunity to be there.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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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

caufield surgery
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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

matty beniers
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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.