Did the Panthers make the right moves at the NHL trade deadline?

Florida Panthers Trades
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The Florida Panthers were one of the most active teams at the NHL Trade Deadline, making significant additions to what is already one of the best rosters in the league. They acquired Claude Giroux from the Philadelphia Flyers to make an already imposing offense even more dangerous, and then added to their defense by trading for Ben Chiarot from the Montreal Canadiens and Robert Hagg from the Buffalo Sabres.

The Giroux addition speaks for itself. He is still a top-line player, and in only giving up Owen Tippett and a future (two years from now) first-round draft pick the cost was surprisingly cheap, even for a rental. Giroux only wanting to play for Florida certainly helped there.

It is the defense changes that are a little more curious.

If this Panthers team has had a weakness this season, its defensive zone coverage might have been at the top of that list. And that was even before Aaron Ekblad went down with an injury. His absence only increased the need for help on the blue line. The question is did they get the right help for the way they play?

The Panthers are an offensive minded, aggressive, fast-paced team that can come at opponents in waves and overwhelm them on the forecheck. They are one of the best offensive teams in the league has seen in decades, and while they do have some muscle and toughness in their lineup, they are constantly on the attack. They will outscore you, and when they are at their absolute best are capable of completely embarrassing opponents.

Chiarot and Hagg do not really fit that style of play, and it is worth wondering if adding players like that to their blue line might have have the potential to hold them back a little. (That does not even get into the question of why the two players, who are very similar, were acquired at wildly different costs; Chiarot for a first, a prospect, and another pick, while Hagg only cost a sixth-rounder).

[Related: Trade: Panthers acquire Claude Giroux from Philadelphia Flyers]

Chiarot was one of the most talked about defenders leading up to the deadline (and went for one of the highest prices), primarily because he plays a physical game, is regarded as a “stay-at-home” defender that teams like in the playoffs, and because he played a lot of minutes for Montreal on its surprising Stanley Cup Final run a year ago.

From a numbers perspective, neither stands out as an impact player while both of their teams were badly out-chanced, out-shot, and even out-scored when they were on the ice this season. In fairness, both players played for bottom-tier teams that get badly out-chanced, out-shot, and out-scored no matter who is on the ice for them. The Panthers are not only wildly better than both Buffalo and Montreal, they have also had a knack with this current team for getting the most out of pretty much every new addition they bring into the mix. Brandon Montour, for example, has looked like a very different player since joining the Panthers at the deadline a year ago. If anybody can get the most out of these guys, it might be this Panthers team.

But even in the context of those particular teams, they both did worse with Chiarot and Hagg on the ice than they did with other players.

Sometimes the playoffs, and especially an individual playoff series, come down to matchups and one team being able to exploit another team’s weakness.

Last year’s playoff run for Montreal was driven primarily by a superhuman performance by Carey Price in net(not to mention the Canadian division and the one-year playoff format that got Montreal into the playoffs in the first place), as well as a great playoff run from Shea Weber. Chiarot spent a lot of time in the postseason playing alongside Weber during that run. Even so, the Canadiens were badly outscored during Chiarot’s minutes, and especially so when he was away from Weber. This was especially the case during the Stanley Cup Final series against Tampa Bay.

[Related: Trade: Panthers pay steep price for Ben Chiarot]

The Lightning outscored Montreal by a 7-2 margin when Chiarot was on the ice and held a commanding shot and chance lead in those minutes, regardless of who his defense partner was. When Chiarot was away from Weber, the Lightning outscored Montreal 6-0 and were even more dominant in the shot and chance category.

Chiarot will be playing with better players in Florida, on a better team, in a better system, and almost certainly with a better coach. Not all of those numbers were 100 percent on any one player. It is a totally different environment and a new year, and all of that needs to be taken into account. But the fact remains that was an individual matchup Tampa Bay badly exploited, as did Vegas in the semifinals to a lesser extent. In total, over the last two rounds against the two elite teams Montreal faced in the playoffs, the Canadiens were outscored 15-6 with Chiarot on the ice and 8-0 when he was on the ice without Weber. That is not ideal. For Florida to get through to the Stanley Cup Final it is going to have to get through teams like Tampa Bay, Toronto, Carolina, Pittsburgh, and/or Washington that have offenses that can exploit individual matchups like that. When almost everything is equal (as is the case with a lot of these Eastern Conference contenders) one little matchup like that can be the difference in a series.

We saw the new-look Panthers for the first time on Thursday night against Montreal (Chiarot’s former team) and the results were very promising. Florida had another four-goal game, Giroux contributed a pair assists, and both Chiarot and Hagg posted fantastic underlying numbers. Definitely a great start, and hopefully for the Panthers a sign of things to come.

The competition, though, is going to get a lot tougher over the next couple of months.

They are still going to be a fierce team to contend with in the East and they were right to go all in with this roster at the trade deadline. When you have a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup, you go for it. But it is still worth asking if Chiarot and Hagg are the right fit for the way this team plays and where it wants to go.

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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

    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

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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.