Familiarity and respect among coaches left in NHL playoffs

When Barry Trotz’s Washington Capitals knocked out Jon Cooper’s Tampa Bay Lightning on the way to the Stanley Cup in 2018, the two coaches talked that summer about how it all went down.

A similar conversation happened last fall after Cooper and the Lightning went through Trotz’s New York Islanders to win the Cup.

“(We) spoke about our teams and what we did well against each other, what we didn’t,” Cooper said. “You don’t usually get that with a ton of coaches, but Barry is a pretty open guy and for the most part I guess I am too, and we’re not afraid to share stuff with each other.”

They share the experience of attending the same Canadian prep school in a tiny Saskatchewan town (several years apart), but Trotz is a hockey lifer and Cooper was an attorney before switching professions. Vegas coach Peter DeBoer and Montreal’s Dominique Ducharme have very different levels of NHL experience but each came from junior hockey.

The four coaches left in the playoffs have meaningful connections but all took different paths to get to this point — a handful of wins from hoisting hockey’s holy grail.

“I’m always looking at the other guys and trying to pick up as much as I can everywhere,” said Ducharme, the least experienced of the quartet as a midseason replacement when the Canadiens fired Claude Julien. “(Coaching is) just about dealing with people. (Players are) older, more experienced, the dialogue might be different, but the goals and the ways to do it remain similar.”

The similarities between the coaches facing off in the semifinals are striking. Cooper and Trotz beam with pride about playing for the Notre Dame Hounds, while DeBoer and Ducharme have bonded over coaching in the Canadian Hockey League and being on world junior staffs with Canada.

Even though DeBoer is now on his fourth team in 12 years in the NHL, he and Ducharme have talked about what they have in common and swapped some ideas along the way.

“The one thing about coming up the way we both have, you have to learn to teach and communicate: If you coach junior hockey for an extended period, I was almost 15 years, and I think Dom was at least 10, you’re dealing with young kids, and the messaging has to be simple and straightforward and has to get to the point,” DeBoer said. “Those are tools you take with you when you move on to the NHL. I’ve got a lot of respect for guys that kind of pay their dues on the way up, and he’s one of those guys.”

Trotz certainly paid his dues, going from an assistant at the University of Manitoba through scouting and into the American Hockey League before getting his first NHL head job with expansion Nashville in 1998.

Cooper was still practicing law at that point. It wasn’t until 1999 that he moved into coaching full time at the high school level, and much like Trotz, climbed the ladder through the AHL until Tampa Bay promoted him in 2013.

“He’s an excellent coach,” Trotz said of Cooper. “I think with Jon, his path’s a little different, obviously. He was a lawyer and was coaching hockey as well and had to make, I’ll say, a life decision or a career decision and he’s chosen well. Obviously, he can always go back to law if he ever decides not to coach.”

Don’t expect that any time soon, not after leading the Lightning to the championship last season and having the deep, talented team rolling toward another final. Tampa Bay is a polar opposite of Montreal, which may not have made the playoffs if not for Ducharme, who has fans all over the NHL.

“I know how good a coach he is,” said Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon, who worked alongside Ducharme on Canada’s staff at the 2016 world junior tournament. “I’ve followed his career since then. I was super excited for him to get the opportunity with the Canadiens and not surprised the impact that he’s had.”

Ducharme and the Canadiens are a surprise contender, but Vegas isn’t. DeBoer has taken two other teams to the final — New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016 — but is looking for his first title, which would tie Trotz and Cooper. All four coaches are candidates for Canada’s Olympic staff next winter in Beijing.

That would only cement the connections they have in a coaching fraternity that is already very close.

“I have the utmost respect for Barry,” Cooper said. “Take all the coaching stuff aside, the X’s and O’s and all that stuff, you just have respect for good people, and Barry’s good people.”

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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.