Sam Gagner’s strange path to Vancouver Canucks

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This post is part of Canucks Day on PHT…

Plenty of free agents take winding paths, particularly when it comes to joining struggling teams like the Vancouver Canucks. Even by those standards, Sam Gagner‘s traveled a strange path.

His NHL career started off strong as the Edmonton Oilers made him the sixth pick of the 2007 NHL Draft. Gagner made an immediate impact, scoring 13 goals and 49 points as a rookie in 2007-08.

The high point of his Oilers run came in February 2012 when he became the first player since Mario Lemieux to generate an eight-point night. He also broke a Wayne Gretzky record during that stretch.

That’s not to say that it was all good times for Gagner in Edmonton. There were some freakish injuries and, naturally, the Oilers struggled on the ice.

2014-15

Things started to get weird when Gagner was traded twice on the same day on June 29, 2014. Gagner was sent to the Lightning and then to the Arizona Coyotes, with Tampa Bay essentially laundering $1.6 million of Gagner’s cap hit.

After some “tough years,” Gagner was hoping that he could take advantage of a clean slate with Arizona. That fresh start didn’t go too well, with a healthy scratch included.

2015-16

The Coyotes decided that Gagner just wasn’t working as a center and then decided to trade him to the Philadelphia Flyers in that odd trade that sent Chris Pronger’s contract to Arizona. Once again, Gagner was involved in teams dealing with odd salary cap machinations.

Once again, Gagner hoped to prove something, but he didn’t pull it off to the Flyers’ liking.

Along the way, there always seemed to be questions about his status, from buyout talk to AHL demotions. Gagner was also placed on waivers. He was occasionally bloodied and generally disregarded in Philly.

2016-17

Here’s how low his status dropped by last summer: he signed a bargain-basement one-year contract with a Columbus Blue Jackets team that came off an awful 2015-16 season. Gagner accepted a $650K “prove-it” salary.

And he did indeed prove it as the trigger on a shockingly effective Blue Jackets power play. His resurgence became one of the feel-good stories of last season.

In scoring 18 goals and 50 points, Gagner resurrected his career, earning a three-year, $9.45 million contract with the Canucks in the process.

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Rarely will you see such a combination of great bounces and lousy luck as Gagner’s experienced. He began as a high draft pick, broke some records in Edmonton, and eventually fell out of favor/was often a scapegoat with the Oilers. He was tossed around in trades and struggled to stick with teams. There was also a lockout run in Austria, a fight with Olli Jokinen, and some tough-luck injuries.

And now, after those twists and turns, Gagner finds what looks like stability in Vancouver.

Then again, it doesn’t look like Gagner has a no-trade clause, so who knows …

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.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.