After trying to trade him, Golden Knights getting bailed out by Evgenii Dadonov

Evgenii Dadonov Vegas Golden Knights
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If the Vegas Golden Knights had their way Evgenii Dadonov would be playing for the Anaheim Ducks right now.

Just before the NHL trade deadline on Monday they attempted to trade him — the trade was actually announced — to the Anaheim Ducks in a salary cap-clearing more that would have seen them take back the remainder of Ryan Kesler‘s contract for this season. It would have saved the Golden Knights precious salary cap space this season to eventually get their roster back to full strength, and would have saved $5 million against the cap next season by getting rid of Dadonov’s remaining deal.

That trade was ultimately invalidated by the league because of a mix-up on the status of Dadonov’s no-trade clause that prohibited from being traded to the Ducks. So after an awkward few days, Dadonov had to remain with a Golden Knights team that tried to get rid of him.

That subplot is what makes the past couple of games so absurdly funny.

The Golden Knights picked up an absolutely massive two points on Saturday afternoon against the Chicago Blackhawks, rallying for a 5-4 overtime win that saw them erase a three-goal deficit in the third period.

The overtime goal scorer? Dadonov, for his 17th goal of the season. He also had an assist on Chandler Stephenson‘s goal early in the third period to start Vegas’ rally.

He also scored a goal and had two assists on Thursday night, his first game back in the lineup after the potential trade was undone.

Overall, he has scored a goal in each of his past four games for Vegas (five goals total in that stretch) and is one of their top goal-scorers for the season. Since the beginning of March no player on the team has more goals than his seven, despite the fact he has only played in 13 of the 15 games.

Vegas’ approach to roster building, where it goes after every big ticket trade and free agent player that it can (most recently Jack Eichel), has created one of the league’s most precarious salary cap situations. It forced them to give away Marc-Andre Fleury for nothing after a Vezina Trophy winning season, and necessitated the attempted Dadonov trade.

[Related: NHL invalidates Golden Knights-Ducks Evgenii Dadonov trade]

Dadonov has handled the tough situation about as well as could be expected. After Saturday’s win he said it would be best if everybody stopped talking about it (good luck with that!) because he is just trying to help the Golden Knights make the playoffs.

Here is coach Peter DeBoer on Dadonov’s response, via Golden Knights beat writer Jesse Granger.

“What a response. You talk about character, and how character is measure, and it’s usually in your lowest moments not in your highest moments, and how you respond to that. I don’t htink that guy could have a lower moment than having to move on, knowing he was traded and he’s got aa young family at home. The character in his response, I think says everything about him.”

So what does this all mean for the Golden Knights playoff chances? Well, for now it just means they still have them. The Golden Knights have almost no margin for error right now, mainly because all of the teams they are competing with for a playoff spot have so many more games in hand (the Dallas Stars, for example, have five games in hand as of Saturday evening).

Assuming it takes 97 points to get in the playoffs in the Western Conference (typically a safe number to get in, and the current projection needed) the Golden Knights would need a 10-3-1 record the rest of the way (at a minimum) to give themselves a chance. That is still asking an awful lot right now, especially with an injury situation that has them playing without Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Reilly Smith, and their top two goalies (including starter Robin Lehner). Bringing Stone back is going to be a problem given the salary cap situation.

If Vegas can find a way to get in the playoffs it could still be a legitimate contender if and when all of their top players can return. The salary cap goes away in the Stanley Cup Playoffs so they could, in theory, have a full lineup for the playoffs if they can get in and everybody is ready. They have to get there first, and if they do, it might be a player that was supposed to be playing for somebody else that helps get them there.


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

Andrei Kuzmenko
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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.