Sharks’ Labanc bets big on himself with team-friendly extension

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For all the talk of potential offer sheets this summer, if you were making a list of prime candidates to sign one and ensure a big raise Kevin Labanc of the San Jose Sharks would be on it.

The 23-year-old Labanc is coming off his third NHL season, one in which he increased his goals and points totals yet again. He’s gone from 8 to 11 to 17 goals and 20 to 40 to 56 points since breaking into the league in 2016-17. He also played well under the spotlight during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs scoring four times and recording nine points in 20 games. Entering restricted free agency this summer, you figured he wasn’t going to break the bank but he was certainly going to earn a nice bump from his $742,500 salary this past season.

Instead, Labanc decided to bet on himself for a one-year term worth $1 million. It’s a head-scratcher of a deal every time you read it. Just last week Timo Meier, who has 108 points in 193 games with the Sharks, signed a four-year, $24 million extension as an RFA. Labanc has 116 points in 214 games and is taking a big risk not cashing in now. Another strong season and he’ll certainly get a longer-term, bigger-money extension next summer as he’ll remain an RFA with arbitration rights, but one year? One million dollars? Just odd.

“It was, I think, just the best decision for myself and for the team,” Labanc said on Monday. “I’m just looking forward to the enhanced role and the upcoming season, and I believe my best hockey is ahead of me.”

“The combination of betting on himself with the situation he’ll be in next year, and the belief he has in himself, that’s exciting to us,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson. “We have no problem taking care of our own guys as they grow and evolve.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Stranger was the fact that Labanc, who said he was “comfortable” and “confident” with the contract, added that he was not approached by any NHL teams about signing an offer sheet. He would have had to have been interested in signing one, of course, but surely you would have thought many teams would have been calling his agent to offer a contract with a longer term and bigger dollars. 

According to the 2019 offer sheet compensation requirements, a deal signed with an average annual value of between $2,113,717 and $4,227,437 would require a team to surrender only one second round pick. An AAV offer in the $4,227,438 to $6,341,152 range would cost one first-round pick and one third-round pick. Labanc would have surely fallen somewhere between those two areas if a team really want to try and pry him out of San Jose.

As we wait to see if Joe Thornton will decide to come back on another one-year deal, the Sharks are a little more than $5 million under the salary cap ceiling, per Cap Friendly. Take Jumbo’s AAV, add that to the likely deals for RFAs Dylan Gambrell and Antti Suomela, and the probable return of Patrick Marleau, and it’s going to be a tight fit. Labanc’s team-friendly deal helps a lot here.

“It’s an important contract for us, but also a great opportunity for a guy whose game is just going to grow,” said Wilson.

With Joe Pavelski off to Dallas and Gustav Nyquist heading to Columbus, the opportunity is there for more ice time for Labanc. He averaged 14:01 a night last season and he’s part of a young core of Sharks forwards who will continue to develop together.

“I definitely see myself taking a bigger role,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunity up there, and I think last year was a stepping stone for me to kind of prove myself that I can handle that top-six role. I’m looking forward to next season and I’m looking forward to be one of the top players on the team.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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.