Hedman hopes to play for Tampa Bay against Sabres in Sweden

STOCKHOLM — Victor Hedman has ample motivation to get his banged-up body ready for a regular season game that feels different from any he’s played before.

Hedman was racing against the clock to recover from a lower-body injury in time not to miss a possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play NHL games in his native Sweden.

Although he was not directly declared fit to play, the defenseman said he was ”hopeful” to be ready for a two-game series on Friday and Saturday between his Tampa Bay Lightning and the Buffalo Sabres in the Swedish capital as part of the 2019 NHL Global Series.

”The final decision is tomorrow,” Hedman said after practice on Thursday. ”We’ll see how it goes but (I’m) very hopeful.”

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper sounded positive.

”I’m hopeful he’ll be in tomorrow,” Cooper said.

A stalwart for Tampa Bay’s defense, Hedman missed the team’s first practice in Stockholm after arrival on Sunday after sustaining the injury on Oct. 29 against the New York Rangers, and things didn’t look good when he didn’t practice on Monday.

Cooper said it was critical for Hedman to start skating on Tuesday. And he made it, determined not just serve as a tourist guide to his teammates during the trip to his homeland as the lone Swede on the team.

”It hasn’t been easy since last week in New York. A lot of stuff has been going through your mind, it’s a lot of worries,” Hedman said. ”Obviously, I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made in the last couple of days. We’ll see what tomorrow’s gonna bring.”

His absence in the last two games was felt, with Tampa Bay allowing 11 goals.

Hedman had nine points – two goals and seven assists – in 11 games before missing games against the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders.

He was No. 2 pick in the 2009 draft for Tampa Bay, a year after the Lightning opened the season with two losses to the New York Rangers in in Prague.

The Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s top defenseman in 2018 might not get another chance to play at home, despite the NHL scheduling games in Europe regularly.

It’s the third straight year – and eighth overall – that the NHL returns to Europe to try to increase its local following in hockey-mad countries including Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic.

The Philadelphia Flyers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in their season opener in Prague on Oct 4.

Buffalo has five Swedes, including forwards Marcus Johansson, Johan Larsson and Victor Olofsson, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and goalie Linus Ullmark, while another one, defenseman Lawrence Pilut, was recalled for the trip from the Rochester Americans.

”You never even dream about that, playing an NHL game in Sweden and having all your family and friends there,” Johansson said. He played in Gothenburg, Sweden, for New Jersey last season against the Edmonton Oilers.

”I feel very fortunate to have done it and even more fortunate to get to do it again,” he said. ”It’s just something that doesn’t happen very often. It’s very special. I don’t think the guys over here get it. They play close to home a lot, but we don’t really get the chance to do it.”

Of the two teams, Buffalo, surprisingly, has been off to a stronger start this season.

Under new coach Ralph Krueger, who took over in the midst of an eight-season playoff drought – the NHL’s longest active streak – the Sabres opened with an 8-1-1 record to match their best start since 2009-10 and lead the Eastern Conference.

However, they are 1-3-1 and have been outscored 15-7 since.

”We’re expecting a real high-level battle from both teams,” Krueger said. ”Tampa’s certainly feeling the same thing as we are. That was our primary focus here. … Let’s use this space to really show the best Sabres hockey possible this weekend.”

The Lightning (6-5-2) are far short of last season’s standard, when Tampa Bay dominated the regular season and tied the NHL record with 62 wins.

”We’re staying positive here,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. ”We realize that with the group we have we’re going to continue to work hard. Hopefully, a trip like this can even bring us closer together as a group and maybe help us moving forward.”

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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.