Russian men’s hockey team expects a ‘gold medal, nothing else’ at Olympics

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BEIJING — Vadim Shipachyov was pleased to carry the Russian Olympic Committee flag at the opening ceremony.

It’s quite possible he will have to carry the Russians on the ice, too.

The Russians are the defending champions and favored to win gold again at another Olympics without NHL players. But they don’t have Kirill Kaprizov, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk or any of their goaltenders back from 2018, so Shipachyov will be expected to lead the way for a team that does not lack confidence.

“We’re here to get the gold medal — nothing else,” longtime NHL forward Artem Anisimov said.

The roster is so deep with KHL talent that Anisimov is in the mix but arrived late to Beijing and may not start the tournament on the 25-man roster. That group is led this time by Shipachyov, who has come a long way from a very brief, ill-fated move to the NHL and the Olympics four years ago when he was a nonfactor.

Now 34, Shipachyov is the KHL’s leading scorer and the Russians’ captain.

“Right now I think he is growing up, and he is playing more consistently every season,” coach Alexei Zhamnov said. “I think he is the leader of the national team right now. This Olympic Games is big opportunity for him to be the leader on our team.”

No one was following Shipachyov as recently as a few years ago.

In 2017, he signed a $9 million, three-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights and scored one goal in three games before he was sent to the minors. Shipachyov refused the assignment to the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves, had his contract terminated and returned to Russia.

Months later, he made the roster for the Olympic Athletes from Russia and should have played a prominent role. Instead, he was a healthy scratch for all but one game while Kaprizov and others led the team on a dominant run.

Shipachyov has since been more than a point-a-game player in the KHL. He has 67 points in 48 games with Dynamo Moscow.

“Obviously he’s done a lot of things for the national team and in the KHL, so everyone’s looking up to him,” forward Mikhail Grigorenko said. “He’s one of the best passers in the world and obviously the captain.”

Anisimov called Shipachyov a game-changer who can “create a moment from nothing.” If they win gold, Shipachyov would be the first Russian or Soviet hockey player to win a gold medal after carrying the flag since Vladislav Tretiak in 1984.

While Grigorenko said “that’s not up to us to decide” if the Russians are favored, they are indeed the top betting choice on FanDuel Sportsbook.

“I think we’re probably one of the favorites, I would say,” Grigorenko said. “There’s a lot of guys who played in the NHL and played at the national team level.”

Canada captain Eric Staal played against several of the Russian players in the NHL, including defensemen Slava Voynov and Nikita Nesterov and forwards Nikita Gusev and Sergei Plotnikov, and he expects them to be competitive.

“We’re aware of the type of players they have in Russia,” Staal said. “We’d like to think pressure’s on them to defend.”

Zhamnov, who played more than 800 NHL games with Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Winnipeg, said there is pressure on Shipachyov to prove what he can do at the Olympics while younger players are looking up to him. With the three goaltenders from 2018 not around, that youth includes Timur Bilyalov, Ivan Fedotov and Alexander Samonov — all in their mid-20s.

From the net out, this is a proving ground for the Russians, who under various names and flags won eight of the previous 10 Olympic men’s hockey tournaments without NHL players. The Russians have high expectations but know they have not won anything yet.

“We have a lot of experience here and also a lot of new faces, a lot of new guys, so I think everyone still has to prove ourselves,” Grigorenko said. “It’s a lot of pressure, but I think we can handle it.”

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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.