Tyler Myers needs to live up to big free-agent contract

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.

As last season progressed, it became more and more clear that the Canucks needed a lot of help on their blue line. Not only was the overall talent level not good enough, they also couldn’t stay healthy.

Believe it or not, Vancouver had just one defenseman play more than 70 games last season and that was Troy Stecher, who skated in 78 contests. Ben Hutton (69 games), Derrick Pouliot (62 games), Erik Gudbranson (57 games but was traded to Pittsburgh), Alex Edler (56 games), Chris Tanev (55 games) and Alex Biega (41 games) all missed time for various reasons.

Clearly, that’s not a recipe for success. It wasn’t surprising to see that general manager Jim Benning wanted to make changes to his defense this summer.

Hutton and Pouliot weren’t given a qualifying offers and Gudbranson was traded at last season’s trade deadline. Hutton averaged over 22 minutes of ice time per game last year, while Gudbranson and Pouliot were both over 17 minutes per game. That’s a lot of minutes to replace in one offseason.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Three Questions | X-Factor]

So, what did Benning do? He went shopping!

He re-signed Edler to a two-year, $12 million deal. He brought depth defender and hometown boy Jordie Benn into the fold with a two-year deal and he signed Tyler Myers to a huge five-year, $30 million contract.

If top prospect Quinn Hughes can make the leap straight to the NHL, he’ll add another explosive dimension to the Canucks blue line, but that isn’t a given at this point. So a lot of the improvements the defense makes will fall on Myers’ shoulders.

“In Myers, you’re adding a guy who has played a while in this league, a big guy with a lot of range,” head coach Travis Green said, per Sportsnet. “You’re adding a top-four defencemen, which are hard to find. And I think in Benn you have a veteran guy who understands the value of defending. And I think he’s got some sneaky offensive parts to his game that people don’t think about: his shot, moving the puck out of his zone.”

At $6 million per year, the Canucks will need Myers to replace Hutton’s minutes and he’ll have to do it at a much higher level. Is Myers still capable of playing at that level? In Winnipeg, he was just one of the guys on a very good team. In Vancouver, he’ll need to be a top-four defender night-in and night-out.

During his final season with the Jets, the 29-year-old had nine goals and 31 points while averaging 20:21 of ice time per game over 80 contests. One of the reasons Myers played so much last year was because Josh Morrissey and Dustin Byfuglien both missed time. Had they been healthy, he probably wouldn’t have averaged 20-plus minutes. Since his trade to Winnipeg, Myers saw his average ice time drop every year (he went from 23:49 in 2014-15 to 20:21 last year).

Myers has good offensive instincts, as he posted back-to-back 30-point seasons over the last two years, but his defensive play lacks consistency. Can he be the veteran blue liner the Canucks need him to be and are paying him to be?

Yes, Benning just got an extension from the organization, but you can’t help but feel like this is a signing people will look back on and criticize him for if it doesn’t work out the way he expects.

There’s a lot of pressure on Benning, Myers and the Canucks. It’s time for them to show some significant improvement. Last year, expectations were low, but now they have a good group of young forwards and they’ve spent money to improve an average defense.

Did they spend wisely? We’re about to find out.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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.