Flyers wisely take wait-and-see approach with Giroux’s future

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There’s a bleak scenario where the Flyers would panic about Claude Giroux‘s contract year. A foolish GM might believe that the Flyers either need to trade Giroux before he walks for nothing, or sign him to a contract extension.

Luckily, Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher indicated he’ll take a more cautious approach regarding Giroux’s future contract status.

“I’ve had good conversations with Claude and with Pat Brisson, his agent, and at this point our plan is to play the season out and we’ll talk at the end of the season,” Fletcher said, via NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman. “We’re both comfortable with that. Claude’s our captain, he’s a great player, and I anticipate that we’ll find a way to continue that relationship going forward.

With all other Flyers’ risks, a Giroux contract extension would be dicey

On Thursday, the Flyers rolled the dice by signing Sean Couturier to an eight-year contract extension. There are scenarios where Couturier’s $7.75 million cap hit could be very team-friendly, especially early on.

Still, Couturier turns 29 on Dec. 7, months before his eight-year extension even kicks in. It could work out, but it can also go really bad.

As this post details, Couturier is far from the only risky contract for Philly. Some risks are muted (Carter Hart could be a short-term bargain if he rebounds), others are mixed (Ivan Provorov), and some are just rough (Kevin Hayes‘ deal).

But you stack all of that up, and it seems like a lot of gambling for a team that missed the playoffs by a heavy margin. Fletcher saying the 2020-21 season took “a year off of his life” only makes you wonder more about how willing this franchise might be to gamble even more.

So, overall, it’s a relief that the Flyers are at least being cautious with Claude Giroux, who turns 34 in January.

[More on the risks and rewards of the Couturier extension]

Again, some might view trading Giroux as “proactive.” That ignores something that must be stated: Giroux can still play.

We’re no longer in a time when even Giroux’s own coach would call him “the best in the world,” but Giroux’s all-around impact might actually sneak up on some.

Flyers wisely take wait-and-see approach with Giroux's future Hockey Viz
via Hockey Viz

Along with those underlying stats, Giroux still puts up pretty impressive offense. That includes last season, when the Flyers’ captain scored 43 points in 54 games. Heck, by Evolving Hockey’s GAR metric, Giroux might have even been the Flyers’ best player.

Flyers wisely take wait-and-see approach with Giroux's future GAR Evo
via Evolving Hockey

(If you prefer xGAR, Giroux finished second only to Couturier in the expected version of that metric.)

So … you could pretty comfortably argue that Giroux remains an $8.25M player to the Flyers, even at this stage of his career.

With that in mind, it would be foolish for a Flyers team to trade Giroux unless they know they’ll be out of the mix. If they’re able to prove last season was a mere glitch in the system, then Giroux would be a big part of such a rebound. If not, his veteran savvy and all-around usefulness could make him a serious 2022 NHL Trade Deadline target.

And, if the Flyers want to stick with Giroux after 2021-22, maybe he’d take a Tuukka Rask-type discount? Like Rask, Giroux’s only played for one team his entire career (in his case, since 2007-08). With 943 regular-season games under his belt, Giroux could pass 1,000 games with the Flyers this season. It would be understandable if he didn’t want to leave all of that behind, especially if Philly trends back up in 2021-22.

One similar decision the Flyers should make

Along with Giroux, PHT advised against another possible Flyers contract extension: one for Rasmus Ristolainen.

So far, the Flyers haven’t tipped their hands about Ristolainen’s contract future, as he could sign an extension, or play out at least part of his contract year. (Ristolainen’s cap hit will be $5.4 million for this season, then he can become a UFA.)

Consider this a quick point/counterpoint for the Flyers when it comes to a Ristolainen extension.

Point: The Flyers already gave up a surprisingly strong trade package to land Ristolainen from the Sabres.

Counterpoint: We’ve seen teams burned by signing midrange defensemen to contract extensions right after trading for them. Merely ask the Blues and their fans if that was the right call with Justin Faulk.

Point: Fletcher & Co. likely believe that they’re right about Ristolainen, while the “fancy stats” are wrong. Or if they’re right, maybe Philly can provide a nuturing atmosphere as opposed to Buffalo. The 26-year-old is a pending UFA, so if they’re right, maybe they should get out in front of this? Just look at some of the wild defensemen deals from this offseason.

Counterpoint: What if they’re wrong?

If the Flyers don’t sign Ristolainen to a contract extension, then they can walk away. Sometimes you take a chance on a player, and it doesn’t work out. It could be a mistake that costs a year and some picks. If you sign him longer, though, then you risk a mistake that stings you year after year.

(Flyers fans have an uncomfortably long list of examples of such contracts.)

Considering their age, positions, and diverging analytical profiles, Giroux and Ristolainen present very different contract extension questions for the Flyers. Even so, they both inspire the same answer: wait and see.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.