Report: Rangers appear hesitant to give Brandon Dubinsky $5M per year

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When you consider the absolutely bonkers money that the New York Rangers hand out to unrestricted free agents, it seems a bit odd that they end up using unthinkable measures such as “care” and “discretion” with their restricted guys. Wouldn’t you expect them to spend more on guys they know rather than blind gambles … or are they instead seduced by hypothetical gains?

Either way, the Rangers still have two crucial restricted free agents headed for possible salary arbitration hearings: Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. If GM Glen Sather cannot come to terms with Dubinsky soon, he might be the first NHL player “on trial” this summer; the two-way forward’s hearing is set for Thursday, July 21.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post breaks down the impasse in the simplest of terms: it’s all about money. Simply put, the Rangers aren’t totally comfortable with giving Dubinsky the a five or six-year contract worth $5 million per year. Brooks reports that they’re offering a $4.5 million average annual salary.

The 25-year-old winger is two years away from the unrestricted age of 27, although Brooks points out that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement could change that scenario. Brooks makes an interesting comparison to two other restricted free agents who recently signed deals.

For the sake of comparison, Winnipeg winger Andrew Ladd just signed a five-year deal worth $4.4 million per year. The Rangers would not trade Dubinsky for Ladd. On the other hand, Anaheim winger Bobby Ryan is entering the second year of a five-year deal worth $5.1 million per. The Ducks would not consider dealing Ryan for Dubinsky.

Brooks notes that fellow heart-and-soul winger Callahan might make the discussions a bit more complicated, too. While Callahan isn’t quite as prolific as Dubinsky, he’s considered nearly as valuable because both players impact games in ways that go beyond traditional box score numbers.

Brooks provides an estimate of what Dubinsky might receive in arbitration and some of the other effects.

The Rangers, whose case will be presented by newly installed assistant general manager Jeff Gorton, should be careful not to make their presentation an attack on Dubinsky. Indeed, the best plan would be to submit their numbers and comparables while otherwise remaining silent. The 25-year-old winger is, after all, an integral part of the team and the program.

It is believed Dubinsky will earn between $3.8 million to $4.4 million through arbitration in a system where the arbitrator generally comes as close as possible to splitting the difference between the team’s and player’s submissions. The absence of either/or baseball-style arbitration allows the respective parties to be unrealistic in their submissions. Neither side should take it personally.

The Rangers have the option of electing a two-year award, but there is a sense the club may go for a one-year award, though it is unclear what advantages this strategy would yield.

Obviously, that $3.8-$4.4 million range would provide short-term savings for the Rangers, but they might risk losing Dubinsky for nothing if he becomes an unrestricted free agent once the shorter deal expires.

Perhaps this is an example of oversimplification, but would the two sides be satisfied if they took the “King Solomon” approach and split the difference? Maybe a six-year, $28.5 million deal with a $4.75 million per year cap hit would do the trick.

For all the hubbub about adding Brad Richards (and how he might resurrect Marian Gaborik’s career), Dubinsky and Callahan were the team’s most valuable forwards in 2010-11. If the Rangers hope to be a contender, they need to keep both of those spirited wingers in the fold.

If all else fails, maybe someone can hypnotize Sather into thinking that they’re both unrestricted free agents with a ton of hype. My guess is that they’d have new contracts by the end of the business day if that happened …

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.