Bruins address Marchand licking, future plans

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The Boston Bruins’ brass addressed the media on a wide range of issues Wednesday. If you want to keep your humor Brad Marchand-topical, you might call it an appetizer for the offseason.

After at least one lick/personal bubble-bursting moment in each round of their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs run (Leo Komarov and Ryan Callahan ranking among his … run-ins), Marchand eventually got a talking-to. Management addressed as much today, and they generally kept it from getting too salty.

“Brad should be contrite,” Cam Neely said (see around the minute mark). “ … He’s gotten to the point now where his game on the ice – without the antics – should speak for itself.”

You know it’s a serious headache – not just a punchline and strange routine – when Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs needs to weigh in. His comments give the impression that Marchand doesn’t have much of a margin of error.

More teaching, less licking

As refreshing as it is to discuss “Zen and the Art of Licking,” some might view it as empty calorie content.

Luckily, the Bruins also shed some light on how they view the 2017-18 season (mostly positive, especially when it comes to integrating young talent, while the ending was bittersweet) and how they might approach free agency and the summer. If you’re the type who shuddered at the idea of targeting a Rick Nash upgrade in free agency – and the comments indicate that quite a few people did – then you’d probably be glad to hear some of the reactions.

Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs spoke highly of players who could make a future impact on the B’s (“from Providence and Europe”), so Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy might be tasked with much of the “teaching” Cam Neely spoke of today.

Backup plan

Curiously, as NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty points out, the Bruins might make the backup goalie position an area they’re aiming for improvement with.

There are a few factors to consider in that regard.

For one thing, Anton Khudobin‘s $1.2 million contract expires. The 32-year-old played well enough at times – finishing with a nice-for-backup .913 save percentage – to drum up some minor goalie controversies (depending upon who you asked during 2017-18) when Tuukka Rask struggled. The Bruins are committed to Rask at $7M through 2020-21, yet they might want to at least attempt to get a No. 2 who could moonlight as a No. 1.

Beyond perusing trade opportunities, free agency, or even bringing back Khudobin, you wonder how long of a look the Bruins might give Zane McIntyre as Rask’s backup in 2018-19. After all, McIntyre’s already 25, and could be feeling a little restless (after a dominant AHL season in 2016-17, his numbers were solid but a bit more modest last season).

Other considerations, and a warning

There were discussions of other possible tweaks, such as possibly adding more size at the left D position behind Zdeno Chara. Even then, you wonder how deeply they’ll probe in that area; after all, Torey Krug had a strong season and Matt Grzelcyk came along nicely.

Broadly speaking, it sounds like the Bruins will lean more toward “improving from within” instead of pursuing more established players. Considering the way GM Don Sweeney’s been drafting and the team’s been developing lately, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

Then again, perhaps some bolder opportunities might surface? As promising as some of the future pieces in Boston seem to be, the B’s must also realize that the window could start to close on their core. Zdeno Chara’s in the clearest battle with Father Time at 41, but sometimes the aging curve can dilute the dominance of guys like Patrice Bergeron (32) and Brad Marchand (30) with troubling speed. Considering how frightening Bergeron and Marchand were on most nights alongside young stud David Pastrnak, a slip – even from “elite” to merely “quite good” – could alter Boston’s trajectory, or force them to lean on younger talent even more.

***

So, there are some factors to juggle, but can you really blame management for feeling so optimistic compared to the mixed feelings that were likely on display during last year’s pressers regarding the team’s outlook?

Jacobs himself spoke of the Bruins being spry in keeping up with league trends, and justifiably so. If the NHL’s smartest teams continue this rapid evolution, then Boston must remain just as nimble this summer. At least if they want to maintain their status as a revitalized heavy-hitter in the NHL.

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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.

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

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
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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.