Gallant, Maurice took long road to lead Golden Knights, Jets

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Gerard Gallant and Paul Maurice do not know each other well despite having their NHL coaching careers overlap for several years.

The men behind the benches for the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets, though, both have led their teams into the Western Conference final after following long, winding paths.

”It’s quite a story for both of them,” Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman said in a telephone interview.

Gallant was fired by the Florida Panthers with a winning record just 21 games into the 2016-17 season, leaving him to catch a cab outside the arena in Raleigh, North Carolina, after his belongings were unloaded from the bus.

Maurice was fired by the Carolina Hurricanes twice. The second time was after just 25 games of the 2011-12 season.

They will match wits Wednesday night in Game 3 when Vegas hopes home ice gives it an advantage in the deadlocked series.

Gallant was infamously relieved of his duties with the Panthers, a season after being a finalist for coach of the year, because of philosophical differences between analytics-minded management and the old-school coach.

”He was left on the curb,” Golden Knights forward James Neal said.

Vegas center Jonathan Marchessault was on the bus when news broke that Florida had fired its coach.

”It was kind of out of nowhere,” he recalled.

And it worked out very well for Gallant and a team that also came out of nowhere.

The coach discarded by the Panthers has led a collection of castoffs to a stunningly successful expansion season.

”It’s a perfect fit,” Marchessault said.

If the straight-shooting coach can help Vegas win three more games, he’ll join Scotty Bowman as the only coaches to lead a first-year expansion team to the Stanley Cup final. Bowman did it 50 years ago with the St. Louis Blues, and the Hall of Famer is rooting for Gallant.

”It’s a nice story because he deserved a better fate in Florida,” Bowman said. ”People felt bad for him the way it happened in Carolina. I know there were some teams thinking about hiring him before Vegas did.”

Gallant won a career-high 51 games this season, his seventh in the league.

Likewise, Maurice had his best season with what he said has been his best team. He won a career-high 52 games in his 20th year as an NHL coach. He’s three wins away from advancing to the Stanley Cup final for a second time. In 2002, the Bowman-led Red Wings beat Carolina and hoisted the Cup.

Maurice broke into the league as a coach in 1995 with the Hartford Whalers, who moved to Carolina two years later. After he was fired the first time by the franchise, he lasted just two seasons and was 10 games over .500 in a pressure-cooker job with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Winnipeg hired him to lead its franchise with 35 games left in the 2013-14 season. The Jets were patient enough to let him guide a young team he took to the playoffs only once – without winning a game – before their breakout performance this season.

When Winnipeg opened the postseason with a win over Minnesota, it was Maurice’s first victory in the playoffs since 2009 during his second stint with the Hurricanes. It reinforced a perspective he gained with two decades in the world’s top hockey league, knowing very well how hard it is to win in a league that may have more parity that any other in North American professional sports.

”What I’ve learned – the short answer is – it’s special,” Maurice said.

Maurice is as much of a student as a teacher, evolving as a communicator after having language barriers with players while coaching in Russia and learning to show perhaps 10 video clips to his players instead of 100 after coaching in the World Cup of Hockey.

”He’s intense in games, but when we aren’t playing he’s pretty laid-back,” Winnipeg forward Andrew Copp said. ”He’s been in a pretty good mood, cracking some jokes in meetings lately. It shows his confidence in our team. It’s nice to have a coach behind the bench who doesn’t panic. He has an air of confidence and we carry that mentality, too.”

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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.