Boughner’s ‘passion knocked us out of the park’ during interview, says Panthers GM

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Bob Boughner believes that he’s ready to finally be an NHL head coach.

The Florida Panthers agree.

Boughner is Florida’s new coach, introduced at a news conference Monday afternoon. The former NHL defenseman becomes the 15th coach in the franchise’s 24-year history, and its fifth since 2011.

General manager Dale Tallon said Boughner sees the game in a modern way and is the right leader to get the Panthers back toward competing for the Stanley Cup. Tallon said Boughner blew away the team with his interview late last month.

“Of all the interviews and of all the people, Bob Boughner impressed us like no one else,” Tallon said. “All the years I’ve been in the business interviewing coaches, firing coaches, meeting coaches, Bob was the most prepared and his performance, his preparation, his passion knocked us out of the park.”

Read more: Boughner ‘definitely ready’ to become an NHL head coach

Boughner spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach in San Jose under former Panthers coach Peter DeBoer, who said the Sharks hate to lose him given his contributions.

“This is a terrific opportunity for Bob to become a head coach in the National Hockey League and one that he deserves,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said.

Boughner is the fifth coach to be hired since the regular season ended, a list that includes the Vegas Golden Knights choosing Gerard Gallant as their first coach. Gallant was fired by the Panthers early this past season, getting replaced by then-general manager Tom Rowe. But Florida never found the same form it had a year ago on the way to the Atlantic Division title, and missed the playoffs by 14 points.

That led to the Panthers going back to what has worked in the past: Tallon squarely in charge again as general manager, and his first major move of the offseason is bringing in a 46-year-old — he shared the ice with Panthers free agent forward Jaromir Jagr both as a teammate and an opponent — to take over a team that believes it should be right back in the playoff mix next spring.

“I’ve been a player, I’ve been an owner, I’ve been an executive, I’ve been a head coach, an assistant coach,” Boughner said. “I know this league and I know the game and I’m ready for this challenge.”

Boughner’s only previous experience as a head coach came in the Ontario Hockey League with the Windsor Spitfires, over two stints spanning eight seasons. He led Windsor to a pair of Memorial Cups and he was twice selected as the OHL’s coach of the year. He also spent the 2010-11 season as an NHL assistant in Columbus.

He now takes over a team with a young core led by one of Windsor’s favorite natives – Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, a 21-year-old who has already been an All-Star and is one of the biggest keys for Florida’s hopes over the next few seasons.

“I think we have a lot of great pieces here to build something special here in South Florida,” Boughner said. “Their setup here for the future is unbelievable.”

Boughner’s hiring follows a formula that the Panthers have used quite often in recent years: Bring in a coach who has never been in charge of an NHL team. Of the Panthers’ last six coaches, five – DeBoer, Kevin Dineen, Peter Horachek, Rowe and now Boughner – were not previously NHL coaches before getting the chance to take the reins in Florida.

For now, Boughner is one of only two true first-time coaches in the NHL. Vancouver’s Travis Green was hired in April, and he’s never before coached in any league higher than the AHL.

Tallon described Boughner as adaptable and willing to incorporate outside the box ideas into his coaching saying, “Don’t let the fact that he was a tough player fool you as far as the analytics and the style of play that we’re going to incorporate.”

Boughner played in 630 NHL games with Colorado, Carolina, Calgary, Pittsburgh, Nashville and Buffalo. He also played in the Panthers’ organization, though only in the minors and never actually appeared with Florida.

 

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    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.