UFA of the Day: Kris Russell

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Every day until June 30, we’ll write about a pending unrestricted free agent. Today’s UFA of the Day is …

Kris Russell

Kris Russell often feels like the inkblot test of NHL defensemen; opinions vary on him to a remarkable degree.

Around trade deadline time, TSN’s Bob McKenzie believed Russell could command a cap hit exceeding $5 million. Not longer after, when the Dallas Stars made the divisive trade to acquire Russell, some wondered if he was even superior to Jyrki Jokipakka (who was just a piece in the swap):

Some call him “incredibly overrated” and point to sometimes-horrific possession numbers, yet the talking points in his favor can generate a beefy contract: he scores some points, blocks shots and moves the puck.

“He just always seems to make the right play,” Alex Goligoski said shortly after the trade, according to Sportsnet. “There’s not a team in this league that guy wouldn’t help. So it’s a great pickup for us.”

Indeed, there are marketable qualities, yet even traditionalists will find him puzzling. He blocks shots like a stay-at-home defenseman, but he’s short of stature and was exposed badly in his own end during the playoffs.

Defending Big D captured that experience in a post that is relatively kind to Russell:

Russell and his partner that series, Jason Demers, were brutally victimized at the hands of the Blues. St. Louis had an obvious gameplan from the get-go, to use their big size and heavy forecheck to inflict punishment on the small Stars defenders, and it worked to perfection against the Russell-Demers duo. Dallas’ blueline had effectively countered heavy forechecks all season long by using speed, smart puck movement and proper defensive-zone positioning to get themselves out of trouble, but Russell had serious trouble executing all of these key points once the chips were down.

If there is one consensus, it’s that he’s headed for a raise above his $2.6 million cap hit. Some may wonder if he’ll be worth the raise, but it’s coming.

The first place to look is Dallas. The Stars paid a price for Russell and have a serious need on defense.

That said, Dallas is eyeing a youth movement on defense, especially with Alex Goligoski’s rights shipped off to Arizona. GM Jim Nill could very well allow Russell, Jason Demers and Jordie Benn to leave town, too.

Demand is strikingly high for defensemen who can keep things moving, so Russell would likely draw secondary interest for any team in that market.

The Boston Bruins seem like a reasonable mention in any of these discussions. Maybe the New York Rangers view Russell as a cheaper version of Keith Yandle. Russell makes sense as a Plan B for defense-starved teams that aren’t quite as swayed by possession stats.

Russell serves as a fascinating litmus test.

Click here for all our 2016 UFA profiles.

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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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.