Matt Bradley assesses Washington Capitals, says former teammate Alexander Semin ‘just doesn’t care’

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There are a lot of players in the NHL who become lightning rods of criticism, whether it’s fair or not. Washington Capitals sniper Alexander Semin might just be the poster child for the “enigmatic, super-talented Russian winger” now that Alexei Kovalev is sequestered in the KHL.

There aren’t many people in the hockey world who hold Semin’s attitude in high regard, even if almost everyone makes sure to throw in the caveat that he possesses world-class skills. (It’s the hockey equivalent to “having said that …” in “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”)

The latest person to throw Semin under the bus is Matt Bradley, a particularly relevant commenter since the two forwards were in the same Capitals locker room for six seasons. Lindsay Applebaum of Capitals insider transcribed a startlingly honest interview Bradley (now a member of the Florida Panthers) conducted with Ottawa radio station Team 1200. The 33-year-old forward spoke his mind regarding his former team in a way that his flat-out unusual for NHL players who usually seem like graduates from the University of Cliches.

First, let’s get to the juiciest bits in which he singles out Semin.

Asked to describe the discipline problems without naming names:

“I don’t mind saying Alexander Semin’s name, because he’s one guy who has so much talent, he could easily be the best player in the league, and just for whatever reason, just doesn’t care.

“When you’ve got a guy like that, you need him to be your best player, or one of your best players, and when he doesn’t show up, you almost get the sense that he wants to be back in Russia. That’s tough to win when you’ve got a guy like that who’s supposed to be your best player not being your best player, or one of your best players.”

Ouch. It’s one thing to hear an armchair NHL head coach say those types of things about Semin at a bar, but it’s stunning to realize that such a sentiment is shared by a teammate (especially a long-time one such as Bradley). It’s not as if Bradley was ripping apart all of his former colleagues, either; he was mostly positive about Alex Ovechkin.

“I never worry about Ovi. He’s an all-in guy. He’s young, he makes his mistakes, the same as anyone would. I often try to put myself in his position. And you’ve got to remember, he’s 25 years old, he’s got a guaranteed $120 million, he’s on top of the world, and he still for the most part makes the right decisions. I don’t worry about him, I don’t worry about most of the guys on that team. That’s why I think in the end they’ll do well.

“Ovi has some growing up to do as far as taking care of himself and things like that, but as far as his want to win, he really does just want to win the games, and he doesn’t care if he scores or not. That isn’t an act. He’s a great guy, great player. I’d never say anything bad about him.”

Bradley was outspoken on a range of subjects. He shared his big picture praise of Bruce Boudreau, but also stated that the personable coach relied on his big money players even when they weren’t producing (another dig at Semin, maybe?). That was also the common theme of his discussion of the Capitals’ second round sweep to the Tampa Bay Lightning, saying “our locker room was maybe a little bit too nonchalant, and guys weren’t disciplined the way they should have been.” (One interesting note is that I didn’t come across any direct criticisms of Mike Green, which seems like an uncommon occurrence.)

As fun as it is to linger on the Semin comments, it’s important to note that Bradley also voiced the sort of critiques that have been levied at the franchise before. Are the Capitals really nonchalant during the playoffs? Does Boudreau lean too heavily on star players, even if they might be underachieving? In the grand scheme of things, those are more important questions to answer than the idea that a millionaire doesn’t care about the sport that allows him to make millions.

Much like Japers’ Rink, I agree with some of the criticisms regarding Semin’s game but think that some of the character issues are a bit overblown. Do you think that Bradley’s criticisms of Semin – and the Capitals in general – are fair? Let us know in the comments.

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.