IIHF bans Russia, Belarus from play; 2023 World Juniors to be moved

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The International Ice Hockey Federation announced it has banned Russian and Belarusian national teams and clubs from participation “in every age category” and in IIHF competitions “until further notice.” They have also taken hosting rights away from Russia for the 2023 World Junior Championship, which was to be played in Novosibirsk and Omsk.

This decision comes a week after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.

“The IIHF is not a political entity and cannot influence the decisions being taken over the war in Ukraine,” said IIHF President Luc Tardif. “We nevertheless have a duty of care to all of our members and participants and must therefore do all we can to ensure that we are able to operate our events in a safe environment for all teams taking part in the IIHF World Championship program.”

Teams, tournaments affected by ban

As per the IIHF’s decision the following teams and competitions are affected:

• 2022 IIHF Continental Cup (4-6 March 2022) – Belarus club team HK Gomel would not participate

• 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship (21 April-01 May 2022): Russia and Belarus men’s U18 teams would not participate

• 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship (13-29 May 2022) – ROC and Belarus men’s national teams would not participate

• 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s Word Championship (Dates TBB) – Russia women’s U18 national team would not participate

• 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship (Dates TBD) – Russia men’s U20 national teams would not participate

• 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship (26 August-4 September 2022) – ROC women’s national team would not participate

Federations put pressure on IIHF

Switzerland and Latvia were among the federations that petitioned the IIHF to remove Russia and Belarus and move several tournaments, including the 2023 men’s Worlds, which is scheduled to be held in St. Petersburg, Russia. They had also asked the IIHF to not invite Russia to all upcoming international competitions.

Finnish federation head Harri Nummela said Russia was not welcomed at the 2022 men’s Worlds, which will be hosted by Tampere and Helsinki.

On Monday, the Swedish, Finnish, and Czech federations announce they would not be inviting Russia to the remaining Euro Hockey Tour tournaments, which will include women, men, and juniors.

NHL condemns the invasion

The NHL released a statement on Monday condemning Russia’s actions and suspending relationships with business partners in Russia.

From the NHL:

The National Hockey League condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and urges a peaceful resolution as quickly as possible. Effective immediately, we are suspending our relationships with our business partners in Russia and we are pausing our Russian language social and digital media sites. In addition, we are discontinuing any consideration of Russia as a location for any future competitions involving the NHL.

We also remain concerned about the well-being of the players from Russia, who play in the NHL on behalf of their NHL Clubs, and not on behalf of Russia. We understand they and their families are being placed in an extremely difficult position.

Hasek, Gretzky express strong opinions

On Friday, Alex Ovechkin, a Moscow native, shared his first comments on the conflict, calling for “no more war” and adding “we have to live in peace and a great world.”

The 36-year-old Ovechkin has expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin in the past, including being a part of PutinTeam, a social movement that began in 2017. As one of the country’s high-profile athletes, he has had a good relationship with Putin for a some time.

Dominik Hasek didn’t mince words in a short Twitter thread in response to Ovechkin’s comments. The Hall of Fame goaltender called the Capitals’ star “chicken s—” and a “liar” and then called on the NHL to suspend the contracts for all Russian players.

“Every athlete represents not only himself and his club, but also his country and its values and actions,” continued Hasek. “That is a fact. If the NHL does not do so, it has indirect co-responsibility for the dead in Ukraine. … I also want to write, that I am very sorry for those Russian athletes, who condemn V. Putin and his Russian aggression in Ukraine. However, at the moment I also consider their exclusion a necessity.”

Wayne Gretzky didn’t go as far as Hasek, but he did say that Russia should be banned from the World Juniors.

“Sports get zeroed in on. If we are going to send hockey players home we should send everybody home. It’s not just hockey players there is a lot of other people here who are making a living,” Gretzky said during TNT’s broadcast of the 2022 Stadium Series. “I think international hockey should say, ‘We’re not gonna let them play in the world junior hockey tournament. I think we got to, as Canadians, take that stance since the games are going to be played in Edmonton.”

The IIHF Council will meet in the near-future to discuss updated formats for the competitions affected by the ban. As far as a new host for the 2023 World Juniors, the IIHF said it will meet “in the coming months” to determine a new host.

Follow NBC News for up-to-date coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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.