NHL evolves its plan, prep for terrifying cardiac events

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The horror that swept across the NFL when Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin collapsed and went into cardiac arrest during a game this week in Cincinnati was all too familiar to members of the hockey community.

Five players in the NHL over the past 25 years who collapsed during a game – terrifying scenes that stopped play while people scrambled to help – were diagnosed with a heart-related issue of some kind.

Big defenseman Chris Pronger went down after taking a puck to the chest. Jiri Fischer, Rich Peverley and Jay Bouwmeester all collapsed on the bench. Ondrej Pavelec went down on the ice.

All recovered – a couple of them went on to play for years – and the incidents prompted the NHL to adjust procedures to prepare for and handle cardiac events, rare as they may be.

“It allows you to make sure that your protocols are working,” said Pronger, who suffered from the condition commotio cordis when he took a slap shot to the chest during a playoff game in Detroit in 1998. “You’re able to kind of see where things went right, where things went wrong and you’re able to really kind of dig in and enhance or say, `No, this is exactly what we planned for, this is exactly what happened and this is how we’re supposed to manage and take care of these situations.”‘

Hockey has had enough of these situations to make doctors and trainers ready for handling the next one.

The NHL’s emergency action plan requires at least three physicians, two ambulances and automated external defibrillators (AEDs) at all arenas, which now have removable benches to clear space for medical attention.

It’s a plan that has evolved: electrocardiogram (EKG) tests first became mandatory for players in 1998, and in 2005 a doctor was simply required to be within 50 feet of the benches and AEDs to be in close proximity.

After Peverley collapsed during a game in Dallas in March 2014, the NHL required the doctor on hand to be an active, trained specialist in emergency management. In the years since, there have been enhancements in cardiac life-support capabilities and additional provisions for CPR and cardiopulmonary rehearsals involving paramedics and arena staff.

“The single most important thing is that everybody involved in either a practice or a competition is aware of an emergency action plan, and that includes an ability to recognize a cardiac arrest, to initiate CPR as quickly as possible and to get access to an AED as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Ben Levine, a professor of internal medicine and cardiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center who treated Peverley. “The quicker you can initiate that cascade of events, the more likely there is to be a successful outcome.”

University of Alberta Dr. Terry DeFreitas said 2 minutes is the ideal response time to begin CPR and the use of an AED. She said she believes it helps medical personnel to know the arena and for ambulances to be close to the ice.

“That doesn’t give you a lot of time at all,” DeFreitas said.

Quick work from trainers like the Blues’ Ray Barile with Pronger and again with Bouwmeester in February 2020 and Detroit’s Anthony Colucci with Fischer may have saved the players’ lives. Now there’s a blueprint for how to respond within seconds.

Retired defenseman Mathieu Schneider, who was next to Fischer when his teammate collapsed in 2005, said medical staffs deserve a lot of credit.

“I really think we’re at a place, a point in time now, where we’re prepared for almost anything that can happen within a game situation,” said Schneider, who serves as special assistant to the NHLPA executive director.

The Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League in 2008 saw 19-year-old New York Rangers prospect Alexei Cherepanov die of heart failure during a game. At the time, there was no ambulance on site and no working defibrillator. Afterward, the league took steps to mandate not only those changes but require comprehensive physicals for players and more.

“The KHL certainly learned lessons there, especially if they were going to get players at that point in time to come over there,” said John Davidson, who has spent nearly five decades in hockey and is now president of hockey operations for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Davidson took plenty of pucks to the chest and neck as an NHL goaltender from 1973-82 and was a broadcaster at the game when Pronger was struck. Davidson has grown to appreciate the amount of work that goes into protecting players.

“It’s a major part of what we do,” Davidson said. “We don’t just show up, drop the puck, play the game and go home. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes, and I feel very comfortable with the standard of safety that we have with the NHL.”

The NFL will now look at how Hamlin’s cardiac arrest was handled, much like the NHL studied its cases to see what can improve.

“That’s the key to doing anything well,” Levine said. “See what happened in your event or another event, ask, `What do we do, and can we do that better?”‘

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.