Red Wings face interesting questions regarding Zadina

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The Detroit Red Wings enjoyed quite the gift on June 22, as Filip Zadina – a prospect many expected to go third overall in the 2018 NHL Draft – instead fell to them at No. 6. Zadina, enjoyably, did his part by saying he’d avenge that slight slippage by filing nets with pucks.

With an entry-level contract already agreed upon recently, the question for 2018-19 is: where will Zadina fill nets with pucks?

That’s actually a multi-pronged question if the Czech winger cannot make the big club out of training camp.

As the Athletic’s Craig Custance (sub required) and Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James report, the Red Wings and the NHL believe that Zadina would be eligible to be sent to the AHL rather than the QMJHL if he doesn’t make the Red Wings. It’s a little head-scratching leafing through all of the loan-related details, but Zadina’s agent Darren Ferris told Custance that it’s probably a “moot point” since he believes Zadina will make the team.

And that, more than the slightly convoluted questions about the AHL vs. QMJHL, is where things get more intriguing.

Should the Red Wings actually want Zadina to jump straight from the draft to the NHL?

Personally, if I were running the Red Wings, I’d err on the side of letting Zadina develop elsewhere for a simple reason: Detroit could get better value out of Zadina’s entry-level contract if they let it slide for a season.

Frankly, few outside of the Red Wings organization believe that this team has a strong chance of competing in 2018-19. And, really, a strong rookie season from Zadina could actually land this team in unenviable hockey purgatory; if he sniped in, say, 25 goals, it might help Detroit be competitive enough to avoid the best draft lottery odds, but weak enough to miss the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Generally, that’s the worst of both worlds for a team that needs to rebuild.

It’s a significant consideration for a franchise that seemingly must be dragged kicking and screaming into truly embracing a rebuild.

The anticipation was that the Red Wings’ free agent plan would be at odds with a rebuild, and that essentially came to fruition when they re-signed Mike Green and gave Thomas Vanek some no-trade power with his one-year deal. The Detroit Free Press’ Shawn Windsor did a good job of capturing the frustrations of many Red Wings fans after those signings.

Really? The fanbase bemoaned. More veterans? More inexplicable use of cap space? More of the Wings getting in their own way?

Indeed, it’s easy to see why fans want fewer roadblocks for prospects to turn into more NHL-ready players. After all, is there really that much upside to signing Vanek, who’s already 34? Landing the sniper makes sense for a team that needs that one last, mercenary piece. It’s not as logical for the Red Wings, especially if they really can’t move him during the trade deadline.

So, that’s not so great for prospects trying to elbow their way in, such as Michael Rasmussen, a towering forward Detroit selected ninth overall in 2017. That said, it could be a blessing in disguise if Vanek’s presence helps the Red Wings take a slow-and-steady approach with Zadina.

From a pure team-building standpoint, the Red Wings would likely be best suited to see Zadina’s entry-level deal kick in starting in 2019-20. By then, they’d be that much deeper into their rebuild, with more clarity about aging veterans such as Henrik Zetterberg and more knowledge of what they have in the likes of Rasmussen. Perhaps they’d also add another blue chipper in the 2019 NHL Draft, and maybe a better one if they shipped Zadina to the AHL or junior, depending upon how all of that would shake out.

Of course, there’s another element to consider. When a team is rebuilding, it’s crucial to maintain hope for fans.

With a still-new-arena, Zadina could serve as a draw for fans, even those with low hopes for 2018-19.

Sure, people will share highlights of Zadina on social media, even if those clips are coming from a lower level. That’s already happening.

Plenty of people will prefer seeing those moments in the flesh, and against the highest level of opponents, so there’s also that to consider.

It’s not the easiest call to make. On one hand, the Red Wings made their bones by drafting and developing, frequently finding gems in later rounds. On the other, those days are feeling more and more distant, with recent history showing management decisions that leave a lot to be desired.

The good news is that Zadina might be the sort of prospect where even the wrong move wouldn’t sting too badly. It’s plausible that he’s just that good, and getting him to the NHL ASAP could work out perfectly well.

Either way, these are the types of questions the Red Wings need to be examining beyond mere gut reactions, unless they want this rebuild to drag on far longer than expected.

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

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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.