Will Avalanche be able to keep Brandon Saad beyond this season?

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We continue our look at next offseason’s potential free agent class by trying to project the next contract for some of the top players that could be available. Today we look at the Colorado Avalanche and forward Brandon Saad

The Colorado Avalanche put their open salary cap space to use this offseason by making a pair of significant additions in forward Brandon Saad and defenseman Devon Toews. Those additions should help make one of the league’s top Stanley Cup contenders even better.

Toews, a restricted free agent at the time of his acquisition from the New York Islanders, has already signed a new long-term contract to remain with the team and be a part of its impressive young defense alongside Cale Makar, Sam Girard, Ryan Graves, Conor Timmins, and 2019 No. 4 overall pick Bowen Byram.

Saad, meanwhile, is set to enter the final year of his current contract and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season.

Is there a way for the Avalanche to keep him as part of their core going forward? Or is this simply a one-year rental to try and win the Stanley Cup this season?

What do they have in Saad?

Saad is kind of a fascinating player because when you look at his overall production there is nothing that really jumps off the page at you in a meaningful way.

He never really became the All-Star level player he was projected to be when he was first drafted (or when he first entered the league), but he is still very good. You know every year he is going to score 20 goals, give you 50 points, and play sound defensive hockey. He is a legitimate top-six NHL forward on a contending team.

But he is also the kind of player that can bring a lot of hidden value to your team. He is a possession driver, and when put into a situation where he can play alongside talented players can really excel. It may not result in him scoring a ton of goals, but his line will score goals, and he can play a big role in that.

Adding that sort of player to a lineup that already has finishers like Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, and Andrei Burakovsky has the potential to be significant.

Can they keep him?

Even before he plays a single game in Colorado Saad has already said in interviews that he loves the city of Denver and is excited to be a part of such a talented team. There is almost certainly going to be some motivation there, especially if he plays well and the team succeeds.

The problem for the Avalanche is going to be the salary cap.

Their cap situation has been the best in the league for a couple of years now thanks to a couple of bargain contracts (MacKinnon and Landeskog) and some outstanding young players on entry-level deals. That is starting to change. Rantanen has already re-signed for big money, Landeskog is also a free agent after this season, and Makar is due for a significant raise in a year.

Add in the fact they have four other unrestricted free agents after this season aside from Landeskog and Saad (starting goalie Philipp Grubauer, defenseman Ian Cole, and forwards Matt Calvert and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) and that cap space is going to quickly disappear.

Kadri and Burakovsky will also be unrestricted free agents following the 2020-21 season.

What would it cost, and what should they do?

Unless he has some sort of monster season where he just absolutely lights up the stat sheet, I can not see a way that his next contract tops his current $6 million salary cap hit. You could maybe make an argument for matching it, or perhaps coming close to it, but anything above $6 million per year seems a lot and probably out of Colorado’s spending range given what else they have to do. Keep in mind players like Craig Smith, Tyler Toffoli, and Evgenii Dadonov all signed for between $3.1 and $5 million as unrestricted free agents this offseason. I think Saad is probably a little better than Smith and Toffoli, (Dadonov is the superior player offensively) but not by a massive margin.

If the Avalanche can get his price in the $5-$5.5 million range it might be doable, especially if they let some other players go elsewhere on the roster.

But he will also probably not be the priority. The priority will almost certainly be Landeskog (their captain and one of their franchise players) and the goalie situation (whether it is Grubauer or someone else from outside the organization).

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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.