NHL teams making moves, not waiting for top free agents

Getty Images

Taylor Hall went unsigned during the first day of free agency. Same with Alex Pietrangelo and Mike Hoffman.

A handful of the top free agents are still available, but NHL teams aren’t waiting for those big fish to sign to make other moves. Boston paused its pursuit of Hall to sign big winger Craig Smith; Columbus shored up its center depth by inking veteran center Mikko Koivu while keeping tabs on other options and Carolina put its goaltending shopping on hold to add speedy forward Jesper Fast.

“Some of those players are very unique and high-level players and they’re probably searching for right opportunity for them,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said after giving Smith $9.3 million over three years. “And then when it comes, they’ll find their landing spot. I think all the other teams are doing the exact same thing. I think we’ll continue to have those conversations.”

Some conversations are happening by phone or video chat and others in person. Pietrangelo flew to Vegas on Saturday to visit the Golden Knights, who have been clearing salary cap space to try to accommodate the 2019 Stanley Cup-winning defenseman.

Vegas needs to make another move or two to fit Pietrangelo, and it’s not alone in clearing the books for a big move. Nashville, which bought out Kyle Turris and let Smith leave in free agency, traded forward Austin Watson to Ottawa for a 2021 fourth-round pick.

The Blue Jackets bought out Alexander Wennberg and made some other salary-saving decisions, but don’t expect them to go big name hunting. Koivu signed for $1.5 million for next season, and they need to re-up top center Pierre-Luc Dubois and other restricted free agents.

Columbus will also bide its time waiting out the market.

“There are teams that are in a little bit of dire straits or whatever you want to call it right now with their cap space,” GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. “There could be some opportunities down the line here if we keep that flexibility. Teams have to move money, and in order to move money, they might have to move some really good players.”

Some good free agents found new homes Saturday. Fast signed a $6 million, three-year deal with the Hurricanes, the Detroit Red Wings added goaltender Thomas Greiss and defenseman Troy Stecher and the Dallas Stars got good value with defenseman Mark Pysyk on a $750,000, one-year contract.

Stecher wasn’t the only defenseman to leave Vancouver, as Chris Tanev joined the Calgary Flames for four years and $18 million. Calgary spent even bigger in goal earlier Friday when it signed former Canucks netminder Jacob Markstrom to a $36 million, six-year deal.

The Buffalo Sabres signed center Cody Eakin to a $4.5 million, two-year contract, according to a person with direct knowledge of the deal. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the move had not been announced.

While Pietrangelo was traveling to Vegas, teams made a handful of smaller moves Saturday: Edmonton signed defenseman Tyson Barrie for $3.75 million and brought back goalie Mike Smith for $2 million, Winnipeg added former Philadelphia center Nate Thompson, and Pittsburgh took a flier on 2013 first-round pick Frederik Gauthier.

Barrie took less money than his old team in Toronto gave T.J. Brodie and joined the Oilers in lieu accepting a bigger offer.

“It wasn’t about money this year,” Barrie said. “It’s about reestablishing myself and show the league I’m still a pretty good player.”

With less money to go around because of the flat $81.5 million cap, many teams were focused on re-signing restricted free agents. Colorado gave forwards Andre Burakovsky and Valeri Nichushkin two-year deals, San Jose signed Kevin Labanc for four years and Minnesota signed Jordan Greenway for $4.2 million over two years.

More moves are coming in free agency and by trade to continue the leaguewide shakeup.

“We’re certainly exploring all the avenues,” Sweeney said. “We’re comfortable having conversations with the remaining free agents that we feel would help our club.”

Scroll Down For:

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    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

    austonmatthews
    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    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

    caufield surgery
    David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    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

    matty beniers
    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    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.