NHL injury/news updates: Eichel, Kucherov, MacKinnon, Matthews

During the first week of the 2021-22 NHL season, there are injuries, players trying to recover from injuries, and other bits of news. Let’s round up some of the most noteworthy updates on Jack Eichel, Nikita Kucherov, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, and more.

Report: Sabres don’t want to retain salary in an Eichel trade

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek provided some interesting details about Jack Eichel, John Klingberg, and others.

Both Eichel and Marek noted the Golden Knights and Avalanche at points showing at least some interest in Jack Eichel. Yet, the parameters of a trade set up a wall: the Sabres reportedly don’t want to retain salary in an Eichel trade.

They might be amenable to taking back money in the form of other contracts to make the Eichel contract work, however. Some supplementary thoughts:

  • Most immediately, Vegas has injury worries that would make an-already-cap-challenging Eichel trade tough to even imagine. Could there be room for some creativity, particularly if they moved Eichel onto LTIR?

Two contracts stick out: Evgenii Dadonov ($5M cap hit for two more seasons) and Reilly Smith ($5M, expires after this season). Tough to imagine the Golden Knights pulling off an Eichel trade. That said … they’ve pulled off bold, cap-defying moves before.

[Rink Wrap: catch up on Saturday’s NHL action.]

  • Ultimately, the lack of salary retention might matter most to the Avalanche. That’s because Nathan MacKinnon’s hyper-steal $6.3M cap hit evaporates after 2022-23. Managing everything with Eichel at full freight ($10M through 2025-26) would be difficult with MacKinnon’s raise, alongside big deals for Gabriel Landeskog, Cale Makar, and Mikko Rantanen.

That said, there are some deals that could be moved. Some expiring contracts stand out (Andre Burakovsky, $4.9M; Nazem Kadri, $4.5M), at least if you mix in some two-year commitments (Erik Johnson at $6M; J.T. Compher at $3.5M). But would the Avalanche risk that much future flexibility? Sounds like the answer is no, at least without salary retention.

  • To some, this provides added motivation to gripe about the way the Sabres do business. To an extent, that’s fair.

However, at least some people may not consider that, if the Sabres retained salary for Jack Eichel, it would be for the five remaining seasons of his deal. Eventually, they’re hoping to compete; if they’re paying Eichel $1-$2M to compete for someone else, that’s wasted.

Yes, it’s part of doing business. Teams feel the same sting with a costly buyout. But the Sabres balking at salary retention in an Eichel trade isn’t totally out of bounds. At minimum, it should drive the asking price up considerably.

Interesting Stars – Klingberg rumblings

In that same Sportsnet segment, Marek and Friedman also discussed the expiring contract of Stars defenseman John Klingberg.

After watching other defensemen cash in, Marek reports that Klingberg wants a deal that could fall in the eight-year, $62-$66M range. That hypothetical contract would carry a cap hit between $7.75M – $8.25M.

It’s an interesting situation, overall.

On one hand, Klingberg’s raise is a long time coming. He’s been underrated for years, and also underpaid — his current $4.25M cap hit has been in place for seven seasons. That said, Klingberg is 29, and will turn 30 before his next contract begins (Aug. 14).

By a variety of metrics, there are red flags that Klingberg could go from underrated and underpaid to overpaid. Consider his SPAR (standings points above replacement) chart from Evolving Hockey:

Klingberg SPAR EVO NHL injury news trade updates
via Evolving Hockey

No shame in going from great to good, but teams should be picky when handing out max term and big salaries.

Also, even if Klingberg returns to his previous borderline-Norris level, he might run into something Dougie Hamilton experienced. Sometimes, a team just isn’t convinced you’re an $8M-ish defenseman.

  • Last season, Klingberg averaged less time on ice (22:42) than Miro Heiskanen (24:58) and Esa Lindell (23:11).
  • That also happened in 2019-20, with Lindell (23:25) managing a slightly larger gap (Klingberg – 22:10). Klingberg last topped the Stars in ice time in 2018-19, Heiskanen’s rookie season.
  • If the Stars view Klingberg as their third defenseman, that price tag would already be a hurdle. There’s also the larger question of the direction of this team. In the event that they miss the playoffs in 2021-22, would they really want to pay top dollar for Klingberg? Was the Ryan Suter signing already a signal that they’re moving on?

No doubt, if the Stars don’t sign Klingberg, he’d get a lot of attention on the trade and/or free agent markets.

NHL injury/COVID news: Kucherov, Matthews, MacKinnon, and more

  • The Maple Leafs received a mix of good and bad injury news.

The bad news is that Petr Mrazek is expected to miss about two weeks with a groin injury. Toronto will likely roll with a Jack CampbellMichael Hutchinson combo in Mrazek’s absence.

On the bright side, Auston Matthews is slated to make his season debut against the Rangers on Monday. After that, the Maple Leafs face a back-to-back set on Friday and Saturday.

  • Speaking of the Rangers, they placed Kaapo Kakko on injured reserve.
  • Unfortunately, Nathan MacKinnon still tested positive for COVID. The Athletic’s Peter Baugh reports that MacKinnon won’t travel on at least the first portion of Colorado’s upcoming road trip. It’s a three-game trip (at Washington on Tuesday, Florida on Thursday, and Tampa Bay on Saturday). Overall, the Avs play four of their next five games on the road.
  • Nikita Kucherov left Saturday’s OT win with an injury the Lightning said “didn’t look good.” Steven Stamkos said they’re praying Kucherov is OK, according to Joe Smith of The Athletic.

Sometimes a minor-looking exchange can result in an injury:

For even more player news, check out NBC Sports Edge.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Merzlikins most important game; Night of injuries

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.

• Recapping an historic night for the Seattle Kraken as they get their first ever win. [Seattle Times]

• How the Kraken won their first game. [The Athletic]

• Ottawa reaction to Brady Tkachuk‘s new seven-year contract. It took a while to get there, but the Senators finally made it happen. [Silver Seven Sens]

• How the Tkachuk contract finally came together. [TSN]

• Kings of the podcast welcomes Los Angeles Kings head coach Todd McLellan. [Mayor’s Manor]

• An emotional night in Columbus as the Blue Jackets win big over the Arizona Coyotes and also honor Matiss Kivlenieks. Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins called it his most important game. [Sportsnet]

Mark Stone exited the Golden Knights’ 6-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night with an apparent leg injury. [Las Vegas Review Journal]

• The good news for the Dallas Stars is they were 3-2 overtime winners against the New York Rangers. The bad news is defenseman John Klingberg and starting goalie Braden Holtby both exited the game with injuries. [Defending Big D]

• The Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Ottawa Senators, 3-2, and lost goalie Petr Mrazek to an injury. [Toronto Star]

Anze Kopitar with a five-point night, including a hat trick, for the Los Angeles Kings. Have a look at the highlights here.

Seguin, Radulov returns could make Stars under the radar contender

Dallas Stars fans will get a welcome sight on Thursday night when Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov will be back in the lineup together on the team’s top line.

They are slated to skate alongside Jamie Benn in their season opening game against the New York Rangers, reuniting one of the league’s best lines for the first time since the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Their return is a big reason why the Stars might be an under the radar contender for the 2021-22 season.

After making consecutive deep playoff runs in 2019 and 2020, the Stars took a major step backwards this past season and missed the playoffs entirely. The absence of Seguin and Radulov, the two best offensive players on the team, were a major reason why.

Injuries limited Radulov to just 11 games, while Seguin played in only three (the last three games of the season). They never played a single game together. In the 42 games the Stars played without both they were just 16-15-11, which comes out to about an 83-point pace over an 82-game season. Not very good. Also about what you would expect for a team that is playing without two thirds of its top-line and by far its two best offensive players. That had a devastating effect on a Stars team that still did a lot of things right last season.

Defensively, the Stars were one of the absolute best teams in the league during 5-on-5 play finishing in the top-five in shot attempts against per 60 minutes (48.6; third), expected goals against per 60 minutes (1.84; second), scoring chances against per 60 minutes (21.5, second), high-danger scoring chances against per 60 minutes (8.29; third) and goals against per 60 minutes (2.02; fifth). Shutting teams down at that level usually makes you a Stanley Cup contender and had the Stars sitting with teams like the New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche, and Boston Bruins. With Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg still leading that blue line, and now adding Ryan Suter to it, they should still be one of the toughest teams in the league to generate chances against.

[Related: Dallas Stars 2021-22 NHL Season Preview]

There were two things that held them back a year ago: An inability to score goals at even-strength, and the fact they had an absurd, almost unbelievably bad record in games that went beyond regulation going 6-14 in overtime and shootout games. The 14 overtime/shootout losses is a ridiculous number on its own. Since the NHL went to the three-point game format during the 2005-06 season there have only been 43 teams that lost that many overtime/shootout games in a single season. Nobody lost more than 18. All but one of those teams reached those numbers in a full 82-game season (the 2019-20 Columbus Blue Jackets lost 15 such games in 70 games). The Stars reached that number in a 56-game season. That means a quarter of their games (literally 25 percent) ended with them losing in overtime or a shootout. It almost defies all reasonable logic.

There has to be an element of bad luck to be that bad in those situations. That bad luck can include the fact your two best offensive playmakers — players who, theoretically, would excel in 3-on-3 and shootout situations — were not available almost all season. If the Stars simply go .500 in those overtime games they make the playoffs. That also does not even get into the seven one-goal games they lost in regulation due to a lack of offense.

Seguin and Radulov are so important to the Stars’ offense that they are still two of the top-three scorers on the team since the start of the 2018-19 season even though both missed nearly an entire season of games during that stretch. And other than Benn, there is not another forward on the team that has even been close to them. Now the Stars are getting them back to go with an outstanding defense and deep goaltending position that includes Anton Khudobin, Braden Holtby, Ben Bishop, and Jake Oettinger.

With their defense and goaltending the Stars do not need huge offensive numbers to contend. They just need to be a little better than they were a year ago. The returns of Seguin and Radulov to go with Jason Robertson coming off of his monster rookie season, Roope Hintz‘s breakout, Joe Pavelski‘s continued excellence, and Denis Gurianov‘s potential they should be able to achieve that and get back to the playoffs. The past two times they were there with this group they were a double overtime in Game 7 away from the Western Conference Final and then in the Stanley Cup Final. Not a team to take lightly this season.

NHL Power Rankings: Top storylines for 2021-22 NHL season (Part 2)

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we continue counting down the 30 biggest storylines to watch across the league for the 2021-22 season.

We are looking at 10 storylines each Monday until the start of the season. We continue today with storylines 20-11, including looks at the Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, the top rookies, pending free agents, the salary cap, and new Stanley Cup contenders.

[You can read Part 1 here]

What stories make the list this week?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

20. The Philadelphia Flyers offseason. Now this is the type of offseason you expect from the Flyers. Big moves! Bold moves! Maybe even crazy moves! The trades for Ryan Ellis and Cam Atkinson have the potential to be huge additions, but the Rasmus Ristolainen trade is a little difficult to figure. Do they think they can turn his career around? Of course, all of these moves will be rendered pointless if Carter Hart does not play better in goal this season.

19. What do the Montreal Canadiens do for a repeat? The Canadiens shocked the NHL by making a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final. Carey Price found the fountain of youth and helped lead them to upsets over Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vegas before running into the Tampa Bay Lightning buzzsaw.

They are bringing back a very different roster, however. Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are gone, Tomas Tatar left in free agency, Shea Weber will not play this season, while Mike Hoffman, Christian Dvorak, and David Savard join the team. They are also getting Jonathan Drouin back after he missed most of the 2020-21 season and all of the playoffs. They also have potential breakout seasons for Nick Suzuki and Cole Caulfield to look forward to. But is this roster good enough to even get back in the playoffs in a tough division?

18. The salary cap situation in the NHL. We are still looking at a situation in the league where salary cap increases are going to be minimal in the coming years. There are obvious ramifications for contending teams close to the cap and with pending free agents to sign. It could also make more players available in trades and allow teams with excess salary cap space to utilize that in trades.

17. Potential unrestricted free agents. A lot of significant players are entering the final year of their contracts this season with Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Alexander Barkov, Filip Forsberg, Tomas Hertl, John Klingberg, Johnny Gaudreau, Morgan Rielly, Ryan Pulock, Patrice Bergeron, Claude Giroux, Mattias Ekholm, P.K. Subban, Marc-Andre Fleury, Darcy Kuemper, and Mika Zibanejad leading the way. Many of those players will re-sign with their current teams. Some might even retire (Fleury? Bergeron?). But there are a few players that they could end up changing teams, including Forsberg, Hertl, Gaudreau, and maybe even Rielly.

16. The rookie of the year race. Always one of the more intriguing individual award races because it highlights new stars coming into the league. This year’s favorites have to include Caufield in Montreal, Spencer Knight in Florida, Moritz Seider in Detroit, Quinton Byfield in Los Angeles, and Vasili Podkolzin in Vancouver.

[NHL Power Rankings: Calder Trophy candidates for 2021-22 season]

15. Can Islanders break through to the Stanley Cup Final? It has been three decades since the New York Islanders played in a Cup Final, but they are getting closer every year. They just can not seem to get over the final hurdle that is the Lightning, having lost to them two years in a row in the Eastern Conference Final/Semifinal round. They are bringing back mostly the same roster, but will have a full season of Kyle Palmieri, a returning Anders Lee, and the offseason additions of Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara. Not to mention one of the league’s best coaches and a sensational goalie duo with Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin.

Their regular season performances never look impressive. But they are probably one of the last teams you want to see in a best-of-seven series in the playoffs.

14. New York Rangers changes. The Rangers’ rebuild was not going fast enough for ownership, so a lot of changes were made this offseason in the front office, coaching staff, and even on the roster. Chris Drury takes over for Jeff Gorton in the GM chair, Gerard Gallant replaces David Quinn behind the bench, and the team attempted to get tougher this offseason by trading Pavel Buchnevich, while also acquiring Ryan Reaves, Patrik Nemeth, and Barclay Goodrow. It is the Tom Wilson impact. The Rangers can say it is not all about Wilson all they want, but it is pretty clear that is what this is about. Is that the right step for a team that has a Hart Trophy candidate (Artemi Panarin), a Norris Trophy-winning defender (Adam Fox), and an impressive collection of young talent? We are about to find out.

In the end, though, the success or failure of this season will depend on the development of Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, and Igor Shesterkin. If that quartet becomes impact players, the Rangers will be very good. If they do not, the Rangers’ rebuild will remain stuck in neutral.

13. Panthers becoming a Cup contender. This might be the first time ever that the Florida Panthers are entering a season with real, championship level expectations. This is a really good roster with a couple of All-Stars at the top of it (Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau) coming off the best regular season in franchise history They also added Sam Reinhart to the mix this offseason. If Spencer Knight can take over the goaltending job and play to his potential this could be a sleeper Cup team.

12. Can Avalanche get through Second Round ceiling. On paper the Colorado Avalanche might have the best team in the NHL. They are loaded from top to bottom with a deep, talented group of forwards, an excellent defense with young stars, and a strong goalie with the offseason addition of Kuemper. They have been Cup contenders and favorites for a couple of years now. But they remain stuck in the Second Round, having lost their three years in a row.

When a team like this can’t get through a particular round, or can’t take that next step, it is easy to get frustrated and think that some kind of change needs to happen. We heard it constantly with the Washington Capitals and how they needed to change and who they needed to trade. We heard it all the time with the Lightning. Eventually talent breaks through and wins. The Avalanche have the talent to get there. They just need to be patient and stick with the process and talent they have. It is championship caliber, and still has its best days ahead of it.

11. Can the Oilers finally take advantage of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid and Draisaitl are the two best offensive players in the world. They are both league MVPs, winning the award in three of the past five seasons. Most teams will go decades, maybe even their entire existence to this point, without getting one player like this, let alone two of them together at the exact same time. You can not waste that luck. The Oilers are wasting it. Badly.

They made some significant changes this offseason with the additions of Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele, Duncan Keith, and Cody Ceci. But even with that depth still looks suspect, as does this defense (largely due to the changes there with an aging Keith and Ceci replacing Ethan Bear and Adam Larsson), and they are counting on a 39-year-old Mike Smith to have another strong year when he has only had one good season in the past three seasons. Still a lot that can go wrong here, even with two megastars at the top of the lineup.

Dallas Stars 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Dallas Stars.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 23-19-14 (60 points); fifth place in Central Division
• Postseason: Did not qualify for playoffs; drafted Wyatt Johnson in first round of draft
• Offensive leader: Joe Pavelski (56 games, 25 goals, 26 assists, 51 points)

• Free Agent Additions: Ryan Suter, Luke Glendening, Michael Raffl, Braden Holtby
• Free Agent Subtractions: Jason Dickinson (trade to Vancouver Canucks), Jamie Oleksiak (Seattle Kraken)

Biggest question facing the Dallas Stars?

• How much of a difference will a healthy Tyler Seguin make?

Not to mention a healthy Alexander Radulov as well. The biggest issue for the 2020-21 Stars was the fact their two most dangerous offensive players — Seguin and Radulov — were limited to just 14 total man games for the entire season. Radulov played 11 games, Seguin played three games, and they played exactly zero games together.

Over the three years prior to that those two were by far the most productive players in the Stars’ lineup and a major part of their offense. Take them away and what was an already thin offense gets even thinner.

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

There should be little doubt that those injuries kept the Stars out of a playoff spot. They fell just four points shy while losing 14(!) games in overtime or a shootout, the most in the NHL. Given how good Seguin and Radulov are, and how good they have been in overtime for the Stars in recent years, it is not a stretch to think that their presence could have made a difference in a handful of those games. Not to mention any other game over the course of the season.

What’s the salary cap situation?

It is extremely tight, and while they do have a lot of money coming off the books after this season there are a lot of players they are almost certainly going to want to re-sign. That includes Radulov, Joe Pavelski, and defenseman John Klingberg.

Pavelski’s age (he will be 38 next season) might push him out the door which could clear $7 million in cap space, but you have to figure Klingberg and Radulov will be priorities given their production and importance to the lineup. The Stars have three NHL caliber goalies under contract with Holtby, Ben Bishop, and Anton Khudobin, with the latter two signed through the end of next season at a combined salary cap hit of over $7 million each year. With the presence of Jake Oettinger in the system it stands to reason that one of those two could be traded to create even more space.

Along with the unrestricted free agents, they also will have to deal with significant raises for Jason Robertson and Denis Gurianov after this season. They have a lot of significant contracts to take care of over the next year and limited salary cap space to make it work.

Breakout Candidate

• Denis Gurianov

Maybe you want to say that his breakout season already happened (he did score 20 goals as a rookie and has been one of the more efficient 5-on-5 goal scorers in the league so far in his career) but there still seems to be another level he can reach. Whenever he is on the ice good things seem to happen for the Stars and he always seems to be at the center of it. The Stars’ top players are starting to get older, but with Gurianov, Roope Hintz, Miro Heiskanen, and Jason Robertson they do have another wave of potential impact players coming along.

Best-Case Scenario

The best-case scenario is that the return of a healthy Seguin and Radulov make a significant difference in all of those one goal games, Robertson repeats his great rookie season, and players like Gurianov, Hintz, and Heiskanen all take big steps forward. If that happens, combined with the level of goaltending they should be able to get behind what should be a strong defense, this could be a playoff team and one that could do some damage when it gets there. Between 2018-19 and 2019-20 the Stars won more playoff games than any team in the NHL and were knocking on the door of the Stanley Cup. Injuries derailed their chances a year ago and held them back.

Worst-Case Scenario

The worst-case scenario would be that a lot of the players they are counting on start to show their age, slow down, and do not make the type of impact that is expected. Seguin, Pavelski, Radulov, Jamie Benn, Ryan Suter, and the goalies are all over the age of 32, while the roster itself has 12 players over the age of 30 (and a couple of 29 year olds as well). Eventually those players will start to slow down. It is an older team overall and while it is a group that has had recent success, it is not a roster that has much margin for error. A mediocre offense and any kind of a slip up in goal could lead to a repeat of the 2020-21 season instead of the 2019-20 season.

PointsbetDallas Stars Stanley Cup odds

+3000 (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)