LA Kings looking at long rebuild with McLellan as coach

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LOS ANGELES — Todd McLellan wants to make the Los Angeles Kings playoff contenders again. He faces an uphill climb in trying to make that happen.

McLellan, who was named coach on April 15, inherited a roster with five players age 32 or older that had the fewest points in the Western Conference last season, scored the second-fewest goals in the league and was 29th out of 31 teams in penalty killing.

That’s why McLellan has modest expectations for what will be considered a success this season.

”Growth. Everyone has to improve in every facet of the game,” McLellan said early in training camp. ”I think I’ve said this before. Old dogs have to learn new tricks, and the new dogs have to be prepared and open to absorb and be professional.”

McLellan spent most of training camp trying to get all his players on the same page. They have spent as much time in front of the white board as they have skating.

McLellan, who had previous stints with Pacific Division rivals San Jose and Edmonton, wants the Kings to be more aggressive on the forecheck and also to be quicker to the puck. Whether that can work with one of the league’s oldest lineups, remains to be seen.

Early reviews by players about McLellan have been positive. Ilya Kovalchuk said the Kings are hoping to exceed expectations even though many think LA’s best days are behind it.

”I believe we still got it. In this league you never know,” he said. ”You see the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup, they were the last team in the whole league by Jan. 6 or something. So you just have to work hard and together as a team cause you can’t just be bunch of individuals. We have some new guys coming, but we have a core that knows how to win and that’s most important.”

WHO’S HERE: Defenseman Ben Hutton was signed Sept. 18 with Derek Forbort (back) and Paul LaDue (knee) likely not ready for the start of the regular season. Hutton spent four seasons with Vancouver. He had 20 points in 69 games last season but also posted a career-worst minus-23 rating, which is why he wasn’t extended a qualifying offer. Fellow defenseman Joakim Ryan, who spent his entire career with San Jose, also provides some experience. The Kings also added forwards Mario Kempe and Martin Frk, but they might have a tough time breaking into the lineup.

WHO’S NOT: The Kings bought out veteran defenseman Dion Phaneuf while forward Brendan Leipsic signed with Washington. LA dealt some prospects near the trade deadline for draft picks.

KEY PLAYERS: F Anze Kopitar scored 60 points last season, which was a 32-point decrease from 2017-18. He is expected to bounce back and have increased production this season, but probably not on the level of two years ago.

Kovalchuk had a nightmare return to the NHL last year, with just 34 points and at one point being demoted to the fourth line. McLellan has lauded the Russian during training camp, saying he is more engaged and buying into the new system.

Goaltender Jonathan Quick was hampered by injuries and was in net for only 46 games. This could be the year he is traded after Jack Campbell was signed to a two-year extension prior to the start of training camp

OUTLOOK: Los Angeles is looking to avoid missing the playoffs in multiple seasons for the first time since 2008-09 but has an aging roster with large contracts, which doesn’t give the Kings much salary cap flexibility.

Veteran defenseman Drew Doughty knows the team is in a rebuilding phase. ”It’s just what we got to do,” he said. ”We’re a new team, we’re rebuilding, we’re going to be younger. We shouldn’t be surprised if we make trades this year. We just got to be better.”

PREDICTION: The Kings should improve on last season’s point total but are expected to miss the playoffs and be near the bottom of the Western Conference. The most interesting month of the season figures to be February as they’re likely to be in the trade market again and making the slow steps necessary to rebuild the roster.

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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.