NHL Free Agency: Trocheck to Rangers, Copp to Red Wings; Blues pay Thomas

NHL Free AGency
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Two of the top centers on the NHL’s free agent market (Vincent Trocheck and Andrew Copp) signed long-term deals with the New York Rangers (Trocheck) and Detroit Red Wings (Copp), while the St. Louis Blues locked up one of their top young players (Robert Thomas) to a maximum term contract on Wednesday.

Let’s take a look at each deal and what they mean.

Trocheck gets a seven-year deal from the Rangers

With Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp on the move in free agency, the Rangers’ most glaring need was at the second-line center spot and they were able to fill that by signing Trocheck to a seven-year, $39.3 million dollar contract. That comes out to a salary cap hit of $5.6 million per season.

Trocheck is a really good player that fits nicely as a No. 2 center on a contender, but there is always an element of risk with a long-term contract in free agency for a player that is not a superstar. He is coming off a 51-point performance in 81 games for the Hurricanes. He is also a solid two-way player and can play on the penalty kill.

[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

In the short-term, it’s a fine deal, but it is worth questioning how much better the Rangers are in the end. He is a good player, but they are not simply adding him to the roster that reached the Eastern Conference Final last year. Strome, Copp, and Frank Vatrano (three really good players for them late in the season and playoffs) are now gone, while they still have some pretty significant concerns on defense.

After signing Trocheck and Jaroslav Halak to be their new backup goalie they have roughly $3 million in salary cap space, still need to sign restricted free agent Kaapo Kakko, and fill out the rest of their forward lineup.

And, again, improve their defensive play.

There is still some major work to be done there.

Andrew Copp goes to Red Wings

The other big free agent center move involved the Red Wings landing Andrew Copp on a five-year deal worth $28.1 million. That comes out to a salary cap number of $5.6 million per season.

It is very similar to the deal Phillip Danault signed with the Los Angeles Kings a year ago, which makes sense since they are similar players going into similar situations with rebuilding teams ready to take a leap forward.

[Related: Ottawa Senators land Claude Giroux on three-year deal]

Copp started to breakout offensively two years ago and has scored at a 20-goal, 50-point pace the past two seasons. Add in his defensive play and he is a really valuable player to add to the middle of a team’s second line. He is also not only a year younger than Trocheck, his contract is two years shorter in term while still having a similar salary cap hit. Given the market, that is a fairly strong deal for a Red Wings team that is assembling some real talent.

Blues extend Robert Thomas

In non-free agent news, the St. Louis Blues made sure to keep one of their top players by signing Robert Thomas to an eight-year, $658 million contract extension.

Thomas still has one year remaining on his current deal (with a $2.8 million salary cap number), meaning he is slated to be a Blue for the next nine years.

Thomas, 23, had a breakout year in 2021-22 and has quietly blossomed into one of the best playmaking forwards in the NHL. He scored 20 goals to go with 57 assists (77 total points) in 72 games this past season.

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    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.