NHL Rink Wrap: Avalanche, Wild stay red-hot; jersey retirements

NHL Rink Wrap: Avalanche, Wild stay red-hot; jersey retirements
Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Top players from Friday in the NHL

Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche

As one of the NHL franchises that seems most ahead-of-the-curve, the Avalanche seemed like a team that might not risk the dreaded “aging curve” with Gabriel Landeskog in free agency. Maybe that fear never really cropped up. Or perhaps that created a subtle reluctance that at least got Landeskog’s cap hit to a relatively reasonable $7 million. (The term’s still a little scary for a power forward. The rugged Swede is 29, and his contract runs through 2028-29.

Whether that contract eventually looks bad or Landeskog ages more like a Brad Marchand, he’s delivering outstanding value this season.

Truly, it’s surprising to see that Landeskog is topping his contract year, at least in points per game. In 2020-21, Landeskog scored 20 goals and 52 points in 54 games. He’s almost to those totals already this season. Through 34 games, Landeskog’s already generated 18 goals and 44 points. (Landeskog already matched his 2019-20 season total of 44 points, which he produced in 54 contests.)

Quite a nice way to soften sticker shock.

Landeskog enjoyed one of his best games of the season during the NHL action on Friday, collecting two goals and one assist. That rugged part came into play, too, with four hits.

NHL highlights from Friday

To save you a click, here’s that jersey/number retirement video for Henrik Lundqvist:

And also for former Stars defenseman Sergei Zubov:

The real highlight might have been Henrik Lundqvist’s play-by-play. Right after saying “don’t let that guy score” about his buddy and former teammate Mats Zuccarello, the beloved former Ranger did exactly that:

Impressive save by Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith. The Red Wings ended up winning in the shootout anyway, however.

Considering Charlie McAvoy‘s injury history, a fight with Antoine Roussel is a loss even before the actual lost fight.

Friday NHL Takeaways

Oilers, Evander Kane hold a press conference

After weeks of reports connecting Evander Kane and the Oilers, the team signed him on Thursday. So, Friday ended up being the time for Evander Kane, Ken Holland, and Dave Tippett to address the decision the Oilers made.

Not that this will be the last time that people question the decision.

Generally speaking, everyone said about what you’d expect (in other words: nothing likely to change anyone’s mind). Do note that both Holland and Tippett flanked Kane during this Oilers press conference. If this goes bad — as every Evander Kane stop has so far — there will be plenty of photos and quotes to reference as seals of approval.

(The key quote, likely, is Ken Holland noting he did his “due diligence.”)

With the Oilers riding a three-game winning streak, Kane is expected to suit up on Saturday.

Avalanche win ninth in a row; MacKinnon injury update

Unfortunately, the Avalanche are fairly familiar with navigating injuries. Those hurdles allow Landeskog and Nazem Kadri (1G, 2A on Friday) to shine.

But there’s only so much of a positive spin you can put on Nathan MacKinnon dealing with a facial fracture and a concussion. The Avalanche shared some fallout from the brutal hit Taylor Hall delivered on MacKinnon. The speedy Avs center will miss the remainder of the Avalanche’s games through at least the 2022 NHL All-Star break (now two more games at minimum).

Now, MacKinnon could also miss more, as he’s considered out indefinitely. It’s often difficult to put a timetable on how long a player might struggle with concussions.

On the bright side, the Avalanche extended their winning streak to an NHL-leading nine games on Friday. At 65 points in 42 games played, the Avalanche lead every other Central Division opponent by at least seven points.

[Avalanche top PHT Power Rankings]

As Peter Baugh notes, the Avalanche’s hot streak goes beyond just winning nine games in a row. They’ve really been on a roll in January, in general:

At this rate, maybe the biggest question is if they can enter the playoffs on a roll — and reasonably healthy.

Wild are almost as hot

Again, the Avalanche are the hottest team in the Central, and the NHL. But the Wild aren’t all that far behind them.

Take it from Michael Russo:

Saturday’s big story

Kane likely to debut for the Oilers vs. Canadiens

Right now, the worst team in the NHL race is a split decision between the tanking Coyotes and the crumbling Canadiens. The Habs are positively ice-cold, with a four-game losing streak and a single win (1-6-3) in their last 10 games.

For an up-and-down Oilers team (three-game winning streak preceded by a seven-game skid), losing to the lowly Canadiens would be a sour way for Evander Kane to debut. Assuming that there aren’t any hiccups with him getting to play on Saturday, mind you.

It’s a long season; upsets can happen. Still, it would look really bad for Edmonton to drop this one.

If you want a Saturday NHL game with more stakes for both teams, check out the Golden Knights (25-16-3) vs. the Lightning (29-10-5).

NHL scores from Friday

Red Wings 3, Penguins 2 (SO)
Wild 3, Rangers 2
Avalanche 6, Blackhawks 4
Capitals 5, Stars 0
Bruins 2, Coyotes 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    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

    avalanche injuries
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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

    Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

    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

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

    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.