NHL All-Stars sad to miss Olympics, but happy to be in Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Most of the world’s best hockey players are spending this weekend in opulent hotel suites in one of the planet’s top party towns instead of being confined to modest Olympic accommodations in freezing-cold Beijing.

The NHL All-Stars still aren’t happy about missing their chance to compete for gold medals, but nobody was complaining Friday morning about the consolation prize of a sunny weekend in Vegas.

“It’s disappointing, because you realize you never know when you’re going to get an opportunity to go to the Olympics,” said Pittsburgh left wing Jake Guentzel, a probable member of the U.S. team. “It’s something you dream about, and it’s disappointing that it didn’t happen. But it’s not too bad to be in Vegas. This is a great spot to have it, and I know a lot of guys are excited.”

With the skills competition Friday night and the game Saturday, the NHL’s top talents are set to light up the Strip in a city that has become a vital part of the hockey landscape in less than five years.

The league had to skip its All-Star festivities last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. They’re back in full force this week at T-Mobile Arena, which will be packed with its usual menagerie of Nevada’s rabid hockey fans.

But the All-Stars can’t help feeling bittersweet about the weekend when they see footage of the Olympics on television, or when they see their countrymen at All-Star events.

“Yeah, it’s a disappointment,” said Nashville captain Roman Josi, who was headed to his second Olympics after playing for Switzerland in Sochi. “It was an amazing experience in 2014, and I think it’s something every athlete wants to do. I wish we could have found a way to play in the Olympics.”

Josi will watch the Swiss team in Beijing from afar, although he isn’t sure how the time difference works. That’s one of the many reasons the NHL passed on on playing in an Asia-based Winter Games four years ago and was a factor again this year before the pandemic forced the league to pull out.

“That’s something that a lot of guys were really looking forward to,” said Toronto star Auston Matthews, who would have made his first appearance for the U.S. team. “I know I definitely was. It’s too bad. It’s just the circumstance we’re in. Hopefully we’re able to get a best-on-best tournament at some point here, just because there’s so many good young players, and the league is in such a good place right now with the amount of talent and skill that’s in it.”

Matthews was alluding to the open secret that the league and the players’ union are in discussions about bringing back the World Cup of Hockey in 2024, perhaps in February during the NHL season.

The last World Cup was held in 2016, with Canada winning it. Most of the world’s best players haven’t represented their countries since then.

The league and the players seem to be definitely committed to the 2026 Milano Cortina Olympics, but these All-Stars know the future is unpredictable. Not everybody here will be in the running four years from now, so their absence from Beijing stings despite the clear drawbacks.

“That was a huge opportunity for me,” said Tampa Bay goalie Andrey Vasilevskiy, who would have played for Russia. “I’ve played in the world championships, but it’s obviously not the same. Unfortunately we won’t be there, but I hope in four years we’ll be able to do that. It will be pretty cool to try it.”

NO OVI

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin will miss the weekend festivities after entering the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols on Wednesday. The 12-time All-Star selection would have been the captain of the Metropolitan Division team, and he was likely to participate in the Hardest Shot competition Friday.

SIN CITY

The hockey world already knows plenty about Las Vegas thanks to the immediate success of the expansion Golden Knights, but the weekend allows their town to do what it does best: Throw an expensive party.

“I never would have guessed there would be hockey in Vegas 10 years ago, and here we are,” Knights All-Star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “The response we have around the city is awesome. They love having us here, and we love being here. People have been wanting to have this weekend in town for a while now.”

Vegas jumped the line last year to host All-Star weekend because the NHL wanted its players on the West Coast so they could fly to Beijing immediately after the game.

VETERAN FLAVOR

Dallas’ 37-year-old Joe Pavelski is the oldest All-Star since Jaromir Jagr in 2016, while Minnesota’s 34-year-old Cam Talbot is the sixth goalie to become a first-time All-Star at 34 or older (Johnny Bower did it at a record 36 in 1961).

LIGHTNING STRIKES

With all 32 NHL teams required to have one representative on the All-Star rosters, nobody has more players in Vegas than the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who sent Vasilevskiy, Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase our game in a great city,” Hedman said. “I know most of the guys here wanted to be playing in the Olympics, but it didn’t happen, so we’re happy to be here and show what our game is about.”

Scroll Down For:

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
    2 Comments

    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

    austonmatthews
    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    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
    David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    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.