Flames’ Gaudreau, Tkachuk show value as extension decisions loom

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After a little bit of a slump through December and the early part of January (with some game postponements thrown in) the Calgary Flames have started to get back on track in recent games with some truly dominant performances.

On Wednesday night they systematically dismantled the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 62-shot rout to give them their third win over the past four games. It is a stretch that has seen them outscore Florida, St. Louis, Edmonton, and Columbus by a 21-7 margin to help them keep pace in the Pacific Division playoff race. By points percentage, they have the second best mark in the division behind only the Vegas Golden Knights.

Leading the way offensively has been the Flames’ two-headed monster of a top line that is centered around Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. They have been one of the the league’s best duos this season and are continuing to pile up impressive numbers both individually, and collectively.

Tkachuk is having a breakout season offensively and on track for the best individual season of his career. With 20 goals and 44 total points in 38 games he is on a pace for 38 goals and 95 points over a full season. Both numbers would be career highs.

Gaudreau, meanwhile, is on a 110-point pace that would also set a new personal best.

The timing of these seasons is pretty significant for both players and the Flames as an organization. Both of them will be in need of new contracts after this season as Gaudreau is eligible for unrestricted free agency, while Tkachuk is entering his final year of restricted free agent eligibility. Neither contract will be cheap.

Gaudreau’s future with the Flames has been a talking point for a couple of years now as his name has occasionally surfaced in trade speculation. But given the limitations of his no-trade clause (giving him a lot of control over where he goes), his overall play this season, and the Flames’ place in the playoff race there is virtually no chance he gets moved prior to the trade deadline. That is going to put a ton of pressure on the Flames to get something done contractually because the alternative is losing him for nothing in free agency. That would be a pretty devastating blow for the Flames’ offense because Gaudreau, 28, is still one of the best offensive players in the league and should still have several productive years ahead of him. His current contract carries a salary cap hit of $6.75 million per season, and there is little doubt given his play that his next deal could take him to the $8-9 million range.

Tkachuk, whose current bridge deal carries a $7 million salary cap number, is almost certainly going to be in the same price range.

The Flames currently have around $32 million in salary cap space to work with this offseason (give or take $1 million or so depending on any slight cap increases) with only 11 players under contract for next season. If they are able to re-sign their top duo, that is going to take around $18-20 million of that available salary cap space, while also still having to re-sign restricted free agent Andrew Mangiapane who is having a great season on his own.

The importance of the Gaudreau-Tkachuk duo should be obvious to anyone that has even remotely followed the Flames this season, as no two players have done more to carry them outside of maybe the goalies.

Gaudreau and Tkachuk have spent more than 492 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey on the ice together this season, with the Flames holding a commanding 38-8 goals edge during that time. They have done that while also controlling more than 62 percent of the total shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances, and expected goals. They have been a force to be reckoned with.

When only one, or neither, is on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Flames get outscored by a 45-54 margin, including a 39-48 margin neither is on the ice.

Over the past four games alone the goal differential with the Gaudreau-Tkachuk duo is a whopping 10-0 with a nearly 70 percent shot attempt share.

In the end it is going to be a significant few months for the Flames’ front office and how they juggle this scenario. If they can get both signed long-term it keeps a great foundation in place. Combined with strong goaltending and Darryl Sutter’s defensive structure and it could remain a very competitive team for the foreseeable future. But if they can not make that happen and ultimately lose one (or both) over the next year or two and it sets things back pretty much to the ground floor.

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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.