O’Reilly trade makes sense for Habs, even if it costs too much

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It’s easy to understand why trading for Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly could be too rich for many tastes.

Even just directly, the 27-year-old costs a lot by way of his $7.5 million cap hit, which doesn’t expire until after the 2022-23 season. That actually is a pretty fair rate for a quality player at a coveted position, but smart NHL teams try to find bargains whenever they can. O’Reilly is, instead, earning his market value, and the term means that a prospective buyer really needs to commit to him.

Of course, O’Reilly isn’t on the free agent market. Instead, he’s the subject of trade rumors, and it sounds like the Sabres are asking for quite a bit. Here’s a guess from The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun (sub required for the full article):

My sense of the Buffalo ask right now for O’Reilly is this: a first-round pick, a good prospect and a second-round pick.

Not cheap. LeBrun adds an interesting caveat that also spotlights how ROR is far-from-cheap: one of the stumbling blocks is that O’Reilly has a $7.5M bonus coming. Remarkably, the Sabres at least claim that they’d want more after July 2. One understands why they’d say so, but how much more could they realistically expect to get for ROR? Or is it true that the Sabres realize they’re better off not trading away a proven talent and merely want to force “an offer they can’t refuse?”

(As you can see from his contract terms via Cap Friendly, his deal is heavy on signing bonuses and low on base salary. The nice thing, then, is that his actual salary sinks to a more affordable $6M from 2019-20 to 2022-23; the 2018-19 campaign comes with a $8.5M total price tag.)

LeBrun and others tab the Montreal Canadiens as a leading candidate for ROR, and it makes a lot of sense.

Here’s a quick rundown of why this could work from Montreal’s perspective.

Money burning a hole in Bergevin’s nicely tailored pockets

The Canadiens’ failed 2017-18 season was frustrating for many reasons, including the fact that, despite having high hopes, the Habs weren’t exactly spending to the cap ceiling. (A similar feeling rubbed extra salt in the wounds of Oilers fans.)

With GM Marc Bergevin’s seat only getting hotter, it would be surprising to see Montreal make that same call twice.

(Unless they decided to do a soft rebuild, which is a – valid – debate for another time.)

By Cap Friendly’s estimates, the Canadiens only have $60.88M devoted to 21 players, giving them about $18.61M in space. They have other needs they’d hope to address, but not many raises to worry about beyond the modest bump coming Phillip Danault‘s way.

If any team can afford to take on ROR for futures, it’s the Canadiens. They might even decide it’s worth it to eat that $7.5M bonus. Either way, they’re in a position to stomach that cap hit, and they don’t need to move salary the other way to do it.

Plugging the talent leak

Simply put, the Canadiens have been bleeding talent in recent years, thanks in large part to Bergevin losing trades in often dramatic ways. It sure seems like they’ll lose an additional key piece in Max Pacioretty, too.

[More: Canadiens slowly but surely decline under Bergevin]

Again, you can make the argument that the Canadiens might be better off following the Rangers’ lead and doing a soft-rebuild, yet it doesn’t seem like that’s the case.

With that and all the lost talent in mind, adding O’Reilly for futures could really help stem the tide.

ROR wouldn’t be the top center in every situation, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea for Montreal to trot him out as a tough matchup guy. He certainly has the two-way acumen to provide an upgrade at center, where the Canadiens have been weak for … a decade? More?

It would be especially enticing if ROR could take on the tough assignments while opening up cushy offensive zone starts for Jonathan Drouin, who generally struggled mightily as the go-to guy. It’s plausible that the duo would serve as a 1a/1b situation, but the point is that there could be a domino effect that helps Drouin out, in particular.

(You could make a similar comparison in Buffalo, as Rasmus Dahlin may eventually make life a whole lot easier for Rasmus Ristolainen, who’s arguably been exposed when asked to do too much.)

Clock’s ticking

The clock is ticking, and not just on Bergevin’s run as GM.

If the Canadiens want to enjoy a big rebound, ROR could be essential. Don’t forget that Shea Weber is 32, and probably a beaten-up 32 considering his rugged style and many years of heavy use. Carey Price is 30 and his injuries have really been stacking up.

O’Reilly won’t make those contracts suddenly look wise, mind you, but in the reasonably likely instance that both rebound for at least a little while, ROR could help Montreal make the most of those windows.

A (darkly) amusing possibility

Imagine if the Canadiens land ROR, trade Pacioretty away, and end up looking smart by drafting center Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Go really wild and imagine that Drouin finds his footing as a center once he’s placed in extremely favorable situations.

After years of saying “If only we could improve at center,” the Canadiens could very well be deep and dangerous down the middle … while being shaky-to-putrid just about everywhere else.

Such a scenario would be very hockey and very Canadiens.

***

O’Reilly isn’t a perfect player, and he doesn’t own a perfect contract. The Canadiens could very well end up “losing” another trade if they acquired ROR.

Sometimes it’s OK to overpay for that $5 shake, though, and that might just be the case with O’Reilly and the Habs.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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.