Tom Wilson’s undeniable impact on Metropolitan Division

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When the Capitals signed Tom Wilson to six-year, $31 million contract in 2018 it raised some eyebrows. That was a significant deal for a player that, at the time, had scored more than seven goals in a season just once in five years, topped 30 points only one time, and was mostly a role player on a team full of All-Stars.

As the years have gone by, though, it has become apparent that even with his flaws, and even with the inevitable significant suspension always lurking around the next corner, he is still worth every penny to the Capitals.

Not only because his offensive game has evolved into him being a 20-25 goal scorer who can also defend, but because he continues to have an undeniable impact on Metropolitan Division opponents. It is not a good impact for those teams.

There is a pattern of events that transpires here.

  • Tom Wilson does something that angers a team.
  • Team gets criticized for not doing enough to deter Tom Wilson or answer him.
  • News cycle explodes talking about it, whether he will get suspended for it, and if the suspension is enough of a punishment (or outrage and anger over why there is no suspension).
  • Team spends next offseason bringing in people to deal with Tom Wilson.
  • Team does not get better because of it.
  • Tom Wilson does something else to anger that same team.
  • Repeat all of the aforementioned steps.

It was the Penguins a few years ago when former general manager Jim Rutherford became obsessed with finding an answer for Wilson, and then getting increasingly angry, frustrated, and outrageous when he could not figure it out. We outlined part of that here, and the negative impact it had on the overall quality of the team. The Penguins have won just a single playoff round since then.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

The Islanders had somewhat similar (but not as significant) concern when Wilson hit Lubomir Visnovsky during the 2014-15 playoffs.

Now it is the Rangers’ turn.

The Rangers have not yet made the big offseason splash many expected them to make this offseason, but they have made some eye opening moves in signing defenseman Jarred Tinordi and on Thursday night trading for tough guy Ryan Reaves.

There is only one reason a team like the Rangers makes those moves.

It is this.

That was quite the talking point for a few days during the season, and so far the Rangers’ offseason has seen them trade away a highly skilled, highly productive top-six winger (Pavel Buchnevich) and bring in a lot of grit and toughness. Including two players that have rather noteworthy run-ins with Wilson.

They probably will not be every day players. They will definitely not be significant players. But they are taking roster sports, and they are taking salary cap space (about $2 million between them), and you can be darn sure that they will be two of the 18 skaters that dress in the three games the Rangers play against the Capitals this season.

[Related: Rangers trade for Ryan Reaves, get toughness]

That is something the Capitals are probably perfectly happy with. They probably welcome it.

The truly wild thing about all of it is none of it will have the impact anybody thinks it will.

Wilson is not going to change the way he plays. He is not going to stop doing the things he does because, well, that is what he does. That is his game. You do not deter players like that. You are not going to scare them or intimidate them. All you are doing is willingly weakening your team, even if for a few games, so you can make yourself feel better for getting your own pound of flesh after the fact.

You also cannot just find another Tom Wilson to counter him because there is not another player like him in the NHL.

One of these days teams will figure that out and stop altering their roster in meaningful ways to deal with a pretty good, but frustrating player.

This does not appear to be that day.

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.