Best bargains on day one of NHL free agency

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With all the money thrown around – often recklessly – in free agency, it’s probably tough to believe that you can find bargains. You know, aside from no-brainer deals like Toronto signing John Tavares.

Such a notion seems especially unthinkable during the first day of the open market, and that’s not just because the Vancouver Canucks continue to confound the hockey world with confusing contracts. It’s probably tempting for some fans to pool money for a billboard just to ask their GMs to wait until after July 1 to strike deals.

As tough as it might be to believe, there actually were a few contracts that look great, at least as of today.

(Injuries, clashes with coaching staffs, and plenty of other variables can make such praise seem silly in hindsight, however.)

These signings rank as the best of the bargain bin as free agency began.

[For a full list of free agent moves, including in the days leading up to today, click here]

Buffalo Sabres make a smart buy in net: Carter Hutton as a team’s top goalie is a risky proposition if he’s paid like a top goalie normally would be.

In the case of Buffalo, though, Hutton ranks as an expensive backup, pay-wise. Read this post for more on that.

Not a lot of cash for Riley Nash: The Columbus Blue Jackets landed a “Ri- Nash,” but not Rick Nash, on Sunday. There’s a strong chance that we’ll look back at that as a good thing.

TSN’s Darren Dreger and others report that Nash’s cap hit will be a meager $2.75 million through 2020-21. That could end up being a steal for a 29-year-old center who scored 15 goals and 46 points last season; he looked especially impressive for the Boston Bruins when he was pressed into top-line duty thanks to injuries to Patrice Bergeron.

At the moment, the Blue Jackets must feel limited in how they can spend, as both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky enter contract years in 2018-19. This signing improved Columbus’ scoring depth while leaving plenty of space for bigger names.

An affordable reunion for St. Louis: Yes, David Perron‘s bounced around the NHL quite a bit, and he didn’t end things all that well with the Vegas Golden Knights, as his offense dried up late in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It’s easy to forget just how integral the 30-year-old winger was to Vegas’ success during the regular season, though. Perron managed close to a point-per-game, as he generating 66 in 70 contests. He was “clutch,” too, as three of his four game-winning goals came in overtime.

Perron’s enjoyed plenty of success before, including during his previous tours with St. Louis. Read more about the Perron signing (and the more debatable Tyler Bozak deal) in this post.

Cheap gambles on goalies: Consider aforementioned bargain goalie Carter Hutton as the ace of a class of goalies who could deliver great puck-stops for the buck.

To put things mildly, Petr Mrazek‘s experienced a bumpy road the last few years, including erratic play in Detroit and then Philly last season. There’s been some distance between his best moments and today, which explains why he only commanded a one-year deal at a cheap $1.5M.

That said, his best days showed a lot of promise, including a 2015-16 season with the Red Wings when he managed a 27-16-6 record with a strong .921 save percentage. Carolina’s been the place where goalie stats go to die. What if, instead, Mrazek could revive his career with the Hurricanes? It’s worth a shot, especially if Scott Darling‘s own struggles aren’t a one-year headache.

The Blues lost Carter Hutton this summer, but they turned around and signed Chad Johnson, another goalie who’s seen some nice moments, to a one-year, $1.75M deal.

While Johnson suffered a lousy season with Buffalo, he’s shown multiple flourishes of being the type of backup who can hold down the fort with good-to-great numbers if a starter flounders. Jake Allen‘s faced his ups and downs since becoming the Blues’ top goalie, so Johnson’s presence may be crucial to St. Louis’ hopes of returning to the postseason.

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You can make some other arguments for bargains. If you stretch the rules and count extensions, Oliver Ekman-Larsson signing for almost $3M less per season than Drew Doughty could be a big deal for Arizona, particularly since the budget team is hoping to be competitive. As strange as this sounds, Tavares at $11M per year probably stands as a relative bargain, too.

What are some contracts that stand as steals to you? Do any of the listed bargains actually count as albatross deals? Do tell.

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.