What they’re saying about St. Louis’ return to Tampa Bay

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Tonight, Martin St. Louis will return to Tampa Bay for the first time since his stunning departure last spring.

The explanation for his trade demand has always been unclear — a nebulous, blanket statement of “family reasons” was most prevalent — and so too have the responses; onlookers seem torn between acknowledging the tremendous things St. Louis accomplished during his improbable 16-year career, and accepting the ugly way he ditched the Lightning organization (while serving as captain, no less).

Here’s what some notable pundits are saying in anticipation of tonight’s affair.

Tom Jones, Tampa Bay Times

You could boo him. That’s certainly your right.

You could bring his old jersey to the game and use it to clean the nacho cheese off your fingers. That, too, is your right.

You could bring a sign telling him to go back to New York and take his no-good, stinkin’ Rangers buddies with him. All of that is fair game.

But here’s what you should do tonight when Marty St. Louis takes the ice at Amalie Arena for the first time since being traded in March from the Lightning to the Rangers:

You should get up out of your seat, put your hands together and show him the appreciation and respect for everything he did for you, Tampa Bay and the Lightning organization.

“I’m expecting the worst,” St. Louis said, “and hoping for the best.”

He deserves your best.

Martin Fennelly, Tampa Tribune

The Lightning will show a video tribute to honor their former captain. How 19,000 people react will be fascinating. My guess is that No. 26, this time around, gets treated more like a sinner than a saint.

“People are entitled to their opinion and I respect it,” St. Louis said. “I know a lot of them probably will heal with time. It is what it is. I’m expecting the worst, hoping for the best.”

A night like this was always going to happen. We’ve known that, Marty has known that, since last March, when he demanded a trade and Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman sent him to the Rangers for their captain, Ryan Callahan. The wound is still too fresh for some. There are fans who feel betrayed. To them, St. Louis deserted his team.

“Some people can live with that, some people can move on, and some people are going hold that to their grave, probably,” said St. Louis’ friend and former teammate, Steven Stamkos. “I think Marty understands that. I think everyone in here understands that there are probably going to be mixed emotions from the fans. We’ll see how it goes.”

Get it out of your system, folks.

Boo your lungs out.

Andrew Astleford, Fox Sports Florida

This is his life. It was his choice to leave a team high and dry that tapped him as the franchise’s ninth captain. It was his choice to act in a way that made him an instant villain to many.

Tuesday, it was easy to sense some regret from St. Louis with the way he made his former home a speck in the distance. He said he never had a chance to say goodbye. He said the whiplash nature of those whirlwind hours was hard.

“That was the toughest part,” he said.

But again, this is his life. Joe Maddon’s choice to opt out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays in October offers a chance to revisit St. Louis’ choice with a different perspective.

A man should be free to make his way in the world however he desires. Life is larger than team legacy. Life should be about more than stats, trophies and the roar of a crowd as “Louie Louie” plays.

Life, after all, can be too short.

St. Louis’ former coach in Tampa Bay, Jon Cooper, has a fairly good handle on the situation — and what to expect tonight.

“He does have probably a pretty in-depth relationship with the fans, and sometimes family members get in a fight and I think that’s what happened,” Cooper said, per TBO. “Sometimes they make up, sometimes they don’t. And this is a pretty big family, so the chances of them all forgiving are probably not there. So, I’m sure he’s probably going to hear it at both ends of the spectrum.

“All that I ask is people should remember what he did for the organization, because he did a lot of great things.”

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.