A buyers’ market is bad news for veteran free agents

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If you’ve followed NHL off-seasons in the past several years, you’ve likely encountered certain tropes:

  • A player coming off of an injury-ravaged season is now in “the best shape of his life.”
  • Some guy on a bad team is super-optimistic about a playoff run this time around, everyone. (Taylor Hall mastered these proclamations before his naivete was shattered.)
  • After big names and trendy positional guys grab the mammoth deals in free agency, we start to see who’s losing this game of musical chairs.

Are we already at that point for mid-level, veteran free agents?

Josh Jooris gave that impression when he spoke to the Calgary Herald about signing with the New York Rangers.

“There’s still players on the market and teams are making decisions,” Jooris said. “It’s a buyers’ market so, at that point, the players don’t really have much pull. I wanted to get something done sooner rather than later.”

Good thinking, because time equals lost money for many free agents.

Losing the waiting game

Look at last summer, when guys like Curtis Glencross and Maxim Lapierre retired or went overseas after seeing their options rapidly evaporate. Lee Stempniak played great hockey even after having to carve out his own spot with a PTO.

Every year, it seems like highly overqualified players need to beg for roster spots.

It’s plausible that a dry market increased Brad Richards‘ odds of retiring, too.

When you look at a list of unrestricted free agents, it’s not exactly like there are only table scraps remaining, especially for teams that might be willing to forgive some flaws to grab some bargains.

Plenty of interesting names remaining

Yes, the likes of James Wisniewski and Dennis Seidenberg have seen better days, yet the desperate rush for defensemen makes you wonder if they can still land a decent payday.

Radim Vrbata and Jiri Hudler languished in their contract years, yet they both were prominent scorers. At 32, Hudler in particular seems like he should be able to find a nice home.

The way things are going, Kris Russell may stand above everyone else as the person who bluffed one too many times in the poker game of free agency.

(General Fanager’s list is handy for looking over other solid names waiting for a gig.)

Demanding times for those in low demand

Some of those guys might just need to ask for a little less money or term. Still, it’s not the greatest sign when The Hockey News is already listing five players who might have to battle for jobs at training camp.

It’s not even August yet. Yikes.

Again, this isn’t really a new thing. A salary cap that keeps limping along has been hurting free agents for some time. Such stories have been rolling in to PHT since the earliest days, too.

There are exceptions to the rule, but in most cases, offers become less desirable as time marches on.

Generally speaking, the real losers of free agency are the players waiting on the sidelines.

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.