Blackhawks look to return to playoffs after active offseason

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CHICAGO — Seth Jones spent the first few days of training camp trying to stop Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.

It was just like old times.

“It’s not that fun,” a grinning Jones said.

At least Jones won’t have to chase Kane around during games anymore, not after Chicago acquired the 6-foot-4 defenseman in a blockbuster trade with Columbus in July — part of an active summer for the Blackhawks that ramped up expectations for coach Jeremy Colliton’s fourth season in charge.

Jones, who agreed to a $76 million, eight-year extension after the deal, takes over as Chicago’s No. 1 defenseman.

“Just bring the work ethic every night. I may not be perfect, but I’m going to give it my all,” Jones said, “and hopefully guys can follow that, too.”

With Jones in the fold, general manager Stan Bowman continued to make over the roster. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and forward Tyler Johnson were acquired in two more July trades. Jake McCabe, another veteran defenseman, signed with the team in free agency.

Fleury is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner after he went 26-10-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .928 save percentage with Vegas last season. Johnson helped Tampa Bay win the Stanley Cup each of the last two years.

“I think, you know, from last year — we’re in a rebuild or whatever it was — coming into this year, I think we have a good team and I think we can do something special with these guys,” said Alex DeBrincat, who scored a team-high 32 goals for Chicago last year. “Definitely fun getting all those big-name players and seeing the team shape up.”

Jonathan Toews also returns after the captain missed last season with what he described as chronic immune response syndrome. The center also had COVID-19 at one point.

Even without Toews, the Blackhawks were in the mix for a playoff spot before fading at the end of the year. This time around, Kane and company want more.

The front office “did a great job,” Kane said. “Obviously made some big moves to make us a relevant team again.”

WHAT’S UP, DACH?

The Blackhawks are looking for a breakthrough season from center Kirby Dach, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft.

The 20-year-old Dach had eight goals and 15 assists in 64 games in his first season with the team. But he fractured his right wrist while playing for Canada’s world junior team in December 2020.

Dach had surgery and returned in March, but he still had some wrist pain after he started playing again.

“I feel 100%,” Dach said Tuesday. “I haven’t had any problems. Once I got back here in August is kind of when I felt really good.”

A healthy Dach could take over a top-six role, adding depth to the Blackhawks’ group of centers.

WORTH WATCHING

It’s a big season for Dylan Strome, who had just nine goals and eight assists in 40 games last year. The No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft was a healthy scratch for four of the team’s last 10 games.

The 24-year-old Strome has looked more comfortable at center, but that’s a crowded spot for the Blackhawks with Toews’ return and the addition of Johnson.

There also is some intrigue surrounding Alex Nylander after the 23-year-old winger missed last season with a left knee injury. Nylander, who was selected by Buffalo with the No. 8 pick in the 2016 draft, had 10 goals and 16 assists in his first season with Chicago.

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

Lukas Reichel might be able to help the Blackhawks this year. The 19-year-old forward is pushing for a spot after he was selected by the team in the first round of the 2020 draft.

Henrik Borgstrom also is hoping to create some tough decisions for Bowman and Colliton. Borgstrom is looking to return to the NHL after spending last season in Finland. A former standout at the University of Denver, the 24-year-old center has nine goals and 10 assists in 58 career NHL games, all with Florida.

IN GOAL

Fleury and Kevin Lankinen could form one of the NHL’s best tandems in goal. The 26-year-old Lankinen is coming off a solid rookie season, going 17-14-5 with 3.01 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.

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.

Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

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SUNRISE, Fla. — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season.

They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up.

“We’re still in a good position – that’s the way we look at it,” Cassidy said. “There’s not too many teams that can cruise home the last 30 games in this league, and we’re certainly not one of them.”

Cassidy’s old team, the Boston Bruins, probably could. They’re atop the NHL and running away with the Atlantic Division.

With 39 wins and 83 points through 51 games, Boston is on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history. The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Boston in seven games in the first round last year, are next in the standings at 76 points.

“Top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

The Bruins are in a class of their own, but the playoff races behind them in the East and West should be hot down the stretch with roughly 30 games to go before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

The Hurricanes rode a seven-game winning streak into the break, putting some fear into the Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage through the postseason. Winger Max Pacioretty re-tearing his right Achilles tendon five games into his return didn’t slow them down, and if their goaltending holds up, Carolina stands a good chance of reaching the East final.

“This team, it’s a special group of guys,” said Brind’Amour, who captained Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and is in his fifth year as coach. “We kind of show that nightly. It’s just very consistent, and they take their job real serious. They do it right.”

The second-place New Jersey Devils are contending for the first time since 2018. Bottoming out the next season helped them win the lottery for No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, a two-time All-Star who has them winning ahead of schedule.

“Much better than being out of the mix,” Hughes said. “We’re really excited because it’s going to be a lot of important hockey, and it’s going to be really competitive and we’re really pumped to be where we are.”

They’re followed by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. All three New York-area teams could make it, which was the expectation for the Rangers after reaching the East final last year.

“I think the run last year really taught us a few things and stuff that we obviously could build on for the rest of this year,” 2021 Norris-Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox said.

ATLANTIC

The Rangers lost to the Lightning in six games last spring, when two-time champion Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season before getting beat by the Colorado Avalanche.

The Lightning are almost certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs – who haven’t won a playoff series since the NHL salary cap era began in 2005 – in the first round and remain a threat to the Bruins.

But Boston has separated itself despite starting the season without top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have lost only 12 games under new coach Jim Montgomery.

“You just keep winning,” said All-Star right winger David Pastrnak, who’s tied for third in the league in scoring. “Every single line and every single guy is going and it obviously builds our confidence. It’s funny sometimes what confidence can do in hockey.”

The Islanders should have some more confidence after acquiring 30-goal scorer Bo Horvat from Vancouver, but still need to make up ground to get in.

CENTRAL

Defending champion Colorado climbed in the standings – winning seven of eight going into the break despite an injury-riddled first half of the season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog still has not made his season debut since undergoing knee surgery. It would be foolish to bet against the Avs coming out of the West again.

“It’s up to us: We control our own fate,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We need to definitely keep playing the way we were before the break. No matter who’s in the lineup we were playing well, playing hard, so it would definitely help with healthy bodies.”

They still trail the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild in the Central, and the Nashville Predators are on their heels. Only the Stars and Jets are essentially guaranteed a spot.

“Every point, you grind for it,” Stars leading scorer Jason Robertson said. “Every point’s going to be a dog fight, so it’s going to be a fun 30 games down the stretch.”

PACIFIC

Undisputed MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the West final, have a little bit of catching up to do in the Pacific Division.

The top spot is held by the Seattle Kraken, who surprisingly are on pace to make the playoffs in their second season but still need to fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

Edmonton – and the Battle of Alberta rival Calgary Flames – have the talent to not only get in but make a run. McDavid leads the league with 41 goals and 92 points, 16 more than No. 2 scorer and teammate Leon Draisaitl, and is producing unlike anyone since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s.

Now he’ll try to carry the Oilers into the playoffs and beyond.

“It hasn’t been easy at all for our group. We’ve kind of had to battle for everything that we’ve got,” McDavid said. “We’ve always been a second-half team for whatever reason. Even since my first year, we’ve always been better in the second half, so we’ll definitely look to continue that. That being said, we’re not going to hang our hat on that and expect that to carry us to the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Capitals sign Sonny Milano to 3-year, $5.7 million extension

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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Washington Capitals signed winger Sonny Milano to a three-year extension worth $5.7 million.

General manager Brian MacLellan announced the contract, adding to an already busy All-Star break for taking care of future business. The Capitals extended forward Dylan Strome for five years, $25 million.

Like Strome, Milano has fit in as a new addition for Washington. He’s now set to count $1.9 million against the salary cap through the 2025-26 season.

The 26-year-old Milano has been a near-perfect bargain signing for the Capitals after joining them on an NHL veteran one-year deal after this season got underway. He has eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points in 40 games since getting called up from Hershey of the American Hockey League.

Originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets 16th in 2014, Milano split his first eight seasons in the league with them and the Anaheim Ducks. He went unsigned as an unrestricted free agent last summer despite putting up 34 points in 66 games with Anaheim.