It’s Buffalo Sabres day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Buffalo Sabres.

[Three Questions | Under PressureBuilding Off a Breakthrough]

2017-18
Record: 25-45-12, 62 points. (8th in the Atlantic Division, 16th in the Eastern Conference, 31st in the NHL)
Did not qualify for the playoffs

IN:
Jeff Skinner
Vladimir Sobotka
Patrik Berglund
Tage Thompson
Carter Hutton
Conor Sheary
Matt Hunwick
Scott Wedgewood

OUT:
Ryan O'Reilly
Robin Lehner
Chad Johnson
Josh Gorges
Benoit Pouliot

RE-SIGNED:
Scott Wilson
C.J. Smith
Danny O’Regan
Justin Bailey
Nicholas Baptiste
Sean Malone

The best part of the Buffalo Sabres’ season last year was the day it ended and they had secured the highest odds for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft

And after winning the lottery with the best odds, the Buffalo Sabres went out and took defenseman Rasmus Dahlin to bolster their defense.

It’s a nice reward for a horrible season, where Buffalo finished dead last in goals-for with 198, the only team in the NHL not to eclipse the 200-mark, and gave up the third-most goals-against.

Their season was a tire fire that burned until for a good, long while.

The good news for Sabres fans is that’s all in the past now, and suddenly the team might just work itself in to — get ready for it — the playoff discussion.

Yes, general manager Jason Botterill has been hard at work trying to craft a better hockey team. Losing Ryan O’Reilly via trade to St. Louis stung, but they got three roster players in return in the deal, added Carter Hutton in goal to replace the outgoing Robin Lehner, and made a splash just this week to get Jeff Skinner to inject some offense into the team.

Botterill has a something that resembles a team now, and a future to go along with it as he’s cobbled together three first-round picks in the 2019 NHL Draft.

What the Sabres look like in terms of lines and defensive pairings remains to be seen, but rest assured, it has to look better than last season.

Prospect Pool:

Casey Mittelstadt, C, University of Minnesota – 2017 first-round pick

Mittlestadt had 11 goals and 30 points in 39 games in his first season of college hockey this past season, led the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships with 11 points, including four goals, as Team USA finished with a bronze medal and then scored his first NHL goal with the Sabres as he played in six games, amassing five points. Mittelstadt turned pro in March, signing an entry-level deal and looks poised to be a key contributor to the Sabres next season.

Brendan Guhle, D, Rochester Americans – 2015 second-round pick

Guhle had 26 points in 50 games in a solid first pro season in the American Hockey League. He also played 18 games with the Sabres, putting up five assists in that time. He didn’t look out of place during his time with the big club and will compete for a roster spot in Buffalo come training camp.

Alex Nylander, RW, Rochester Americans – 2016 first-round pick

Perhaps a bit of a polarizing figure in Buffalo as he hasn’t progressed as quickly as brother William has in Toronto. Still, it’s premature to label Nylander — who is only 20 — a bust. His eighth overall pick status in 2016 comes with certain pressure, sure, but Nylander improved in his second pro season despite beginning it injured. His 27 points were one fewer than his 28 from the previous year, but he played in 14 fewer games in 2017-18. He also had eight points in seven games as Sweden captured the silver medal at the World Juniors and scored his first NHL goal on April 6.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

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.