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

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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.

More hockey news

NHL Rink Wrap: Bennett, McDavid enjoy Saturday hat tricks Injuries a big problem for Golden Knights with Pacioretty, Stone out Dylan Larkin suspended one game for roughing Mathieu Joseph

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.

NHL injury/news updates: Eichel, Kucherov, MacKinnon, Matthews originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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