Sid at 500; Crosby’s legacy defined by more than goals

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PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby felt the pressure. He always does. The Pittsburgh Penguins star could sense it as he crept closer and closer to 500 career goals.

In typical Crosby fashion, his concern wasn’t so much about his pursuit of a milestone only 45 other players in NHL history have reached, but how much it would inconvenience everyone else.

His parents, Troy and Trina, lived out of a suitcase while crisscrossing the Northeast in recent weeks in an effort to be on hand whenever their only son reached rarefied air. His teammates nearly tripped over themselves at times in an effort to force-feed him the puck.

Mentor and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux put together a videotaped congratulatory message for a moment that seemed uncertain a decade ago when the lingering effects of a concussion cost the game’s best player the better part of two seasons and clouded his future.

Crosby, who had a deep appreciation for the history of the game long before he became a prodigy tasked with reviving a moribund franchise nearly two decades ago, understood the outpouring that would accompany No. 500.

For a player whose default status is to deflect attention to others despite his considerable gifts, maybe that’s what made the organic celebration after his shot from just above the goal line Tuesday night handcuffed Flyers goalie Carter Hart and caromed into the net so sweet.

The men who have had the best view of Crosby’s Hall of Fame career spilled over the boards to meet their captain in the corner at PPG Paints Arena — the same corner where Crosby erupted in November 2011 after his 216th career goal, the one against the New York Islanders following a 10-month absence. That giddy moment proved fleeting. Crosby spent the rest of that season grappling with concussion symptoms while dealing with whispers he may never be the same.

Those whispers have long since been silenced, replaced by the kind of roar that few others can produce. It echoed from one end of the venue that he built to the other on Tuesday night, euphoria for a player who has defined a generation.

“He’s in very elite company,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “And he’s so deserving. His legacy I think speaks for itself. To see the reaction, just the raw emotion on the bench, it gives you goosebumps when you’re watching it up close like we were as a coaching staff. It was really just a cool experience.”

One that is likely to become increasingly rare in an era when scoring is at a far higher premium than it was in Lemieux’s prime 30 years ago. Only seven members of the 500-goal club have played in the last decade; Crosby and Washington rival Alex Ovechkin — long the primal counterpart to the cerebral Crosby — are the only two active players on the list (veteran forward Patrick Marleau with 566 goals is currently a free agent).

“It’s hard to put into words,” Crosby said. “I think just being able to be part of some great teams over the years, play with some great players. It’s a cool number. You look at the guys who score 500 goals, I think it’s just a privilege to be part of that company.”

Eight active players currently have 400 goals. Of that group, only a handful — Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos (461), longtime Crosby teammate Evgeni Malkin (429), Chicago’s Patrick Kane (416) and Dallas’ Joe Pavelski (415) — seem to have a legitimate shot at joining the club.

If given a chance, Crosby might have thanked all 107 of his teammates who have collected assists on his 500 goals — a list that ranges from superstars like Lemieux and Malkin to the likes of Micki Dupont, he of the three career assists, one of them to Crosby in a long-forgotten victory over Atlanta in 2006.

Crosby’s star was still ascending at that point in the city he’s called home from the moment the Penguins took him with the top pick in the 2005 draft. The sport is booming in Pittsburgh thanks in part to the thrills Crosby has provided so regularly for so long.

Even the Flyers, who have found themselves on the wrong end of Crosby goals (50 and counting) more than any other team, took a moment to acknowledge history. Several players tapped their sticks on the board in appreciation during an extended video tribute in the second period.

“Wish he did it against somebody else, or at least we got the win,” said Philadelphia coach Mike Yeo, an assistant coach for the Penguins when Crosby led them to the Stanley Cup in 2009. ”(H)e’s an incredible player and I’m definitely very grateful to have had the chance to coach him.”

Yet it’s telling of Crosby’s legacy that afterward, as much as he enjoyed a rare moment of pure joy in the middle of the unique grind that is an NHL regular season, he lamented a letdown that allowed the Flyers to rally and nearly pull off an upset.

As much as he’ll cherish the puck and the mob scene in the corner, Crosby remains defined not by the goals he scores but the wins they create. That relentless pursuit of team — not individual — success is part of what separates him from nearly everyone else.

“His humility, the way he carries himself, his work ethic, his team-first attitude and approach,” Sullivan said. “He leads by example. He represents everything that’s right about our game.”

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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.