Golden Knights make big gamble on Alex Tuch

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Last season, the Vegas Golden Knights didn’t just set themselves apart by being a hard-charging, hungry group that raised the bar for what an expansion team could accomplish in pro sports. If you’re a believer that “greed is good” in sports, then Vegas was Exhibit A, as the team flourished with a ton of players having a lot to prove.

Well, the days of this team having a remarkably clean slate feel just about over.

The latest long-term, Vegas gamble happened on Friday, as the Golden Knights handed a seven-year, $33.25 million contract extension to 22-year-old winger Alex Tuch.

Tuch is closing out his current contract at $925K, so his $4.75M cap hit will kick in starting in 2019-20.

Wow.

Before we get into the Tuch deal specifically, let’s consider the massive amount of money the Golden Knights invested in a growing group of players, between deals that have kicked in or will begin next season.

Active, mid-to-long-term deals:

Jonathan Marchessault, 27: $5M cap hit through 2023-24
Reilly Smith, 27: $5M through 2021-22
Shea Theodore, 23: $5.2M through 2024-25
Colin Miller, 25: $3.875M through 2021-22
Brayden McNabb, 37: $2.5M through 2021-22
Paul Stastny, 32: $6.5M through 2020-21

Hefty extensions beginning next season:

• Tuch, 22, $925K this season, $4.75M through 2025-26
Max Pacioretty, 29, $4.05M this season, $7M through 2022-23
Marc-Andre Fleury, 33, $5.75M this season, $7M through 2021-22

Phew, right?

Keep in mind that, heading into their first season, the Golden Knights only inherited one of the contracts above (getting Smith from Florida), while Marchessault and McNabb were extended during the season. Golden Knights GM George McPhee has been rolling the dice, then, by signing the majority of these contracts after the team enjoyed that stunningly successful run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

Committing to hot streaks can burn long-standing franchises, let alone one just beginning its second season in the NHL. While the Patches extension was more palatable term-wise than many feared, it’s still risky. The Marc-Andre Fleury extension, meanwhile, stands as a massive risk.

With MAF, the questions revolve around how much “The Flower” really has left. Conversely, we just haven’t seen much of Alex Tuch.

The Golden Knights are committing to Tuch three years into his UFA phase, and essentially until he’s 30, after seeing him play in just 84 regular-season games and 20 playoff contests at the NHL level. All of Tuch’s production came from last season, when he scored 15 goals and 37 points in 78 contests with Vegas (along with pitching in 10 games during that postseason run).

That’s not a lot of data to go off of, so the Golden Knights are taken a major leap that the best is yet to come from the big forward, who the Wild selected 18th overall in 2014.

The best-case scenario is that the Golden Knights will have answered many of their bigger questions contracts-wise, aside from that of William Karlsson, whose fuzzy situation was delayed with a one-year deal. There’s the possibility that Tuch will be almost as much of a bargain as Marchessault and Smith, who are giving Vegas quality work, in their primes, for just $5M per season.

The worst-case scenario is that Vegas robbed itself of a chance to see Tuch prove himself with one more season of work.

And, zooming out, the Golden Knights might be banking a little too much on rekindling at least some of the magic of their improbable, almost-impossible first season in existence.

To an extent, it’s a matter of human nature, and more foolish teams could have gone in even deeper, possibly maintaining all of Vegas’ additions while also keeping aging wingers James Neal and David Perron around. The Golden Knights showed at least some discipline – they also didn’t shoot themselves in the foot by possibly committing too much, too early to William Karlsson – but the question is, are they showing enough?

Tuch stands as one of the key test cases, but at least this risk allows people to make an array of bad Vegas/gambling jokes. (Hey, that’s human nature, too, really.)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.