Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--F, Evan Rodrigues

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-23-2018


Forward--Evan Rodrigues
DOB:  July 28, 1993 (Age, 24)
Draft:  Undrafted
How acquired: 
Signed by Buffalo April 22, 2015
Last contract signed:  July 27, 2017, 2yr./$1.3 million
Final year of contract:  2018-19



2017-18- Stats:  48 games played | 7 goals | 18 assists | 25 points | -10 | 13:56 ATOI
Buffalo Career Stats:  80 games | 12 goals | 21 assists | 33 points | -15 | 13:30 ATOI


What we wrote preseason:  "Although a tad small at 5'10" 183 lbs., the 24 yr. old native of Toronto, Canada has displayed the hockey smarts, skating and skills to make it in the NHL while his shot may keep him climbing up the ladder on the depth chart. His versatility won't hurt either.

"(last season) Rodrigues played 30 games for the Sabres in a bottom six role scoring four goals and adding two assists while averaging 12:56 of ice-time. And he did so while playing both center and wing, sometimes within the same game. With obvious weakness on the Sabres left side, there's a huge opportunity for Rodrigues to land a spot at left wing in Buffalo if that's where new head coach Phil Housley sees a fit for him.

"Rodrigues is a player that skates very well, has the hockey sense to get to open ice or find a teammate in open ice and has a quick and accurate shot while also showing the versatility to play wing or center. About the only thing Rodrigues doesn't have is loads of NHL experience, which he seems to have earned while working his way up the ranks in Rochester."


What we wrote mid-season:  "Rodrigues is another player who helped solidify the top-nine for Housley as he gives the Sabres a strong top-three down the middle. In six games Rodrigues has three points (2+1) but it's the way he approaches the game which makes a difference. Rodrigues is in constant motion on the ice and his play without the puck has put him in favorable on-ice situations. Although he's always played that way, it's good to see that he fit right in with the Amerks after returning from injury and that the style he's accustomed to playing is transferring to Buffalo."


Impressions on his play this year:  Simply put, he looked much better at center than he did on the wing. Rodrigues wasn't bad playing on the left side as he moved up and down the lineup, but his skating ability, smarts, positioning and stick work made him more of a factor covering the middle of the ice. He recovered well from an injury that put the kibosh on his early-season NHL development dominated for a quick stint with Rochester (five goals and five assists in eight games) and was back up with Buffalo. Although not eye-popping, Rodrigues had good numbers on a last place team with a coach that moved him all over the place during his 48 games.


Questions moving forward:  Is GM Jason Botterill comfortable enough with a center trio of Jack Eichel/Casey Mittelstadt/Rodrigues to move Ryan O'Reilly? If not, who moves to the wing, Mittelstadt or Rodrigues? If moved to wing, will he get a shot on Eichel's wing? Is doubling his production in a full NHL season asking too much of him?






Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Thoughts on owner Terry Pegula's letter to Sabres' season ticket holders

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-21-2018


On February 22, 2011, billionaire Terry Pegula sat in front of the media as owner of the Buffalo Sabres and boldly declared, "Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres' reason for existence will be to win the Stanley Cup." For those in attendance at his inaugural press conference and Sabres fans everywhere, having those words came from a billionaire who was in it to win it was music to their cost-constrained ears.

Fast forward seven years and Pegula's Buffalo Sabres are no nearer to their "reason for  existence" then they were back in 2011. In fact, it's gotten progressively worse after the Sabres finished in a playoff spot that season with one of the big reasons being a two-year tank-job from 2013-15. Since their last playoff appearance Buffalo has finished no higher that 23rd in the league and have finished dead last in three of those seasons.

According to G. Scott Thomas of bizjournals.com that poor performance has translated into the worst record in the entire NHL over that span. "Their record of 197-273-70 during the ensuing seven seasons was far and away the worst in the league," wrote Thomas. "The Sabres earned 464 points in that span, while every other team picked up at least 499 points.

"The Sabres also finished last in the seven-season rankings of goals scored (1,262) and goal differential (minus-372)."
 
KeyBank Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres, was like a morgue this season as the team put on an awful display of hockey that lead to one of the worst home records in franchise history. They won a total of 11 times on home ice and their 89 goals scored at home gave fans little to get excited about.
 
It's been a depressing situation for everyone involved with the Sabres, from the fans who booed or worse sat in apathy, to the players caught in an Eeyore-fest at locker cleanout, to Pegula who wrote the following letter to season ticket holders:
 
I’m not happy and I am sure you aren’t either.

I’m sending this letter so that I can personally tell you that we will not be raising Season Ticket prices this year. You’ve been loyal to us in one of the most difficult times in franchise history and you deserve better.

When we decided to go through our rebuild, the expectation was that we would be competing for a playoff spot by now. That simply hasn’t happened. I bear my share of responsibility. Mistakes have been made along the way, but I’m not here to rehash those or make excuses. I’m here to tell you I watch the games too and the standard of the Buffalo Sabres must change.

I’ve challenged everyone in the organization to be better. Every single person, including me, needs to improve on everything we do.

As disappointed as I am in the season, the part of me that’s a fan like you is still excited for the future. We have players in our system at all levels of the organization – NHL, AHL, juniors, European leagues and the NCAA – and I’m confident they will make us consistently competitive.
This may not mean much. Until we win, it is just words. I just want you to know that I’m in it with you.

Terrence M. Pegula

According to John Vogl of the Buffalo News, the Sabres have raised ticket prices every year (around 4%) since Pegula took over with the price of tickets being markedly higher since 2011. For instance, a 200 Club-level seat went from $88 for the 2010-11 season to $121 last season. The least expensive seats in the 300s went from $22 to $30.

Although Buffalo sports fans get inflation and that tickets typically rise, especially for some of the cheapest tickets in the NHL, the driving force behind the annual increase looked to be more about Buffalo tapping into the NHL's revenue sharing program. This redistribution of wealth (along with the salary cap) allows smaller market teams to remain competitive with the larger markets.

Under previous owner B. Thomas Golisano, who's creed was "just break even," it was a necessary tool for icing a competitive product. Yet for a billionaire like Pegula who boldly stated at his presser that he's "taking off the financial chains" while also stating that if he wanted money "he drill another gas well," it's strange that he'd be on social assistance from the NHL.

The argument for Pegula's need for revenue sharing is sound in that you'd be a fool not to take free money. But at what cost? With a product so bad over the last seven seasons, it's very hard to justify even that to the Buffalo ticket-buying public.

Pegula still has a long road to hoe if he wants to get back into the good graces of the Buffalo hockey community. He threw money around like a drunken sailor which got the club nowhere, then signed off on their two-year tank leaving a messy front office situation which included a GM who threw around picks and prospects like...a drunken sailor.

Nobody expected last season to be as bad as it was. Then again, with the way Pegula and his charges have acted in the past, there's a contingent out there who believe that last season was a stealth tank to get another high draft pick. And there's a larger contingent in Sabreland who are still mad at him for enabling the two-year tank in the first place.

However, what's done is done, however, and it's time to move forward. Pegula seems to have done well in hiring Jason Botterill as his general manager and despite the awful season, some of the things the first-time GM has done look very promising. Botterill spent 10 years in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization and has a good feel as to what it takes to build a winning organization. Actually doing it is the hard part.

For his part, Pegula's decision was the right one and hopefully it puts an end to a seven-year cycle filled with bad karma. His letter with it's vague apologies and promises, won't appease everyone but with the Stanley Cup as far away from Buffalo as ever, hopefully it can be looked at as a good start to get the team moving forward.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Amerks in playoff action tonight with some insight from Don Stevens.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-20-2018


Usually when I'm talking with Rochester Americans broadcaster Don Stevens at this time of the year, we're doing a recap on the season. Rochester hasn't made the playoffs since the 2013-14 when they dropped a five-game series to the Chicago Wolves (STL) with names like Phil Varone, Luke Adam, Chad Ruhwedel, Brayden McNabb, Joel Armia and Mike Zigomanis on the roster.

It's been all downhill for Rochester since that playoff loss as the parent-club Buffalo Sabres went through a scorched-earth rebuild that burned them as well. Since then they've finished in 28th place followed by consecutive 26th place finishes before they headed into this season with a new front office beginning this season.

"It's been a long dry spell," Stevens told me yesterday prior to joining the team on the bus ride to Syracuse where Rochester begins their five-game series with the Crunch (TBL) tonight. Stevens, "The Voice of the Rochester Americans" for over 30 yrs. called this season a "great turnaround" and a "fun year" as the new regime lead by Buffalo GM Jason Botterill and his assistant Randy Sexton iced a competitive team that "made the games exciting."

The Amerks hit the ground running with consecutive wins before going on a three-game losing streak and getting outscored 12-3 in the process. But they caught fire after that with points in 23 of their next 28 games (17-5-6) to finish out the 2017 portion of the schedule knocking on the door of first place in the North Division. A mid season rough patch saw them losing games but still getting points in the extra sessions. In all the Amerks would tie an American Hockey League record by playing in 29 overtime games in a season (12-17.)

Regardless of the tough stretch, the Amerks came on near the end of the season going 7-2-1 including a 4-2 win at Syracuse in the season finale. In all Rochester went 4-5-1 against the Crunch.

Stevens sees a pretty even matchup between the two clubs. Overall the teams were separated by more than two goals only once (a 4-0 Crunch win,) six games were decided by one goal with three of those in the extra session.

Rochester and Syracuse are 90 miles with proximity breeding a good rivalry. The Crunch has had much more success as of late with playoff appearances in now five of the last seven seasons and Stevens sees this series as a "spirited one" maybe because of chip Syracuse might have from the last time they met. Back in 2004 the Amerks defeated the Crunch on the road in of Game-7 when Norm Milley scored in overtime. Botterill was on the ice at the time (in the crease after crashing the net hard) and current Amerks head coach Chris Taylor was also a part of that team. Syracuse blew a 3-1 series lead and at the time was only the fourth team in AHL history to blow that lead and lose a Game-7.

Lindsay Kramer of Syracuse.com called it a "painful memory" and began her piece on that playoff series by writing, "Playoff revenge has been 14 years in the making for the Syracuse Crunch when it comes to their long rivalry with the Rochester Amerks"

The two teams have met only three times in the Calder Cup playoffs with the Amerks winning all three series while sporting an 11-4 record in those games. The first time they met was in 1996 and the Amerks beat them 3-1 while on their way to the Calder Cup Championship. The two teams met the following year with Rochester sweeping Syracuse 3-0 (for a recap of those visit Let'sGoAmerks.com.)

Amerks captain Kevin Porter is no stranger to the Calder Cup playoffs. The 32 yr. old has played in 30 AHL playoff games and was an Amerk the last time Rochester was in the postseason. Porter and Botterill spent the last two seasons in the Penguins organization and the new general manager, who was intent upon fixing the mess in Rochester, brought Porter in from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization to help guide his AHL club. He finished the season with 17 goals and 25 points on the season.

Porter was an obvious move for Botterill as he knew that bringing him in would not only add experience, but he was also bringing in a winning mindset from Pittsburgh.

But that was just one of the moves the team made. They also brought in the Amerks center Colin Blackwell who's been hot down the stretch with 28 points (13+15) in his last 25 games including goals (10) in seven of his last 10 games. He was voted as this year's Unsung Hero for the Amerks. Veteran defensemen Zach Redmond and Stuart Percy were also brought in by the club and anchored Rochester's defense through the early part of the season while a group of youngins were getting their feet wet.

Amongst those youngins was forward CJ Smith who was voted as the team's Rookie of the Year and first year pros Brendan Guhle and Sean Malone. Defenseman Guhle plied his trade mostly in Rochester but also got a good taste of the NHL while playing in 18 games for the Sabres. West Seneca native Sean Malone was a healthy scratch for the first three games of the season but never missed a game after that and was named the team's most improved player.

In between the vets and the first year players are forwards Nick Baptiste, Justin Bailey and goalie Linus all of whom have spent most of their three pro seasons in Rochester. Baptiste has played in 157 AHL games total and split this season between Rochester (36 games) and Buffalo (33 games.) Bailey has played in 159 AHL games and has appeared in 52 games for Buffalo.

Goaltender Ullmark has been the Amerks No. 1 goalie for the last two seasons and was named Team MVP in both. "He's been huge (for Rochester,)" said Stevens of the 6'4" 221 lb. netminder, "not only in stature, but he's come up with some tremendous saves at the right time."

Stevens talks about the matchup between these two I-90 rivals as one that should be fast-paced and pretty spirited. He pointed out that the two teams have the same goals-for on the season but that Syracuse had the better goals/against this season and he also pointed out that the Crunch lead the league in times shorthanded. Syracuse was shorthanded 376 times during the regular season but were saved by their third-best 84.8% kill rate. The Amerks had the 12th-best powerplay unit in the league.

The Amerks also had very balanced scoring. As pointed out by Stevens, they did not have a 20-goal scorer yet they finished 10th in the league with 234 goals. Rochester was lead by another vet, Sahir Gill, with 18 goals on the season. Blackwell, Smith and Porter all had 17, Redmond, Seth Griffith and Kyle Crisuolo had 15 each while Malone and Hudson Fasching tallied 12 goals for the Amerks.

It's playoff time in Rochester and the city is geared up. Three years is a long time to be struggling like the Amerks have and it's good to be talking playoff hockey instead of doing a season recap.





Friday, April 20, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--RW, Jason Pominville

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-19-2018


RW--Jason Pominville
DOB:  November 30, 1982 (Age, 35)
Draft:  2001, 2nd Round (25th-overall,) Buffalo
How acquired:  Trade with Minnesota, June 30, 2017
Last contract signed:  October 3, 2013, 5yr./$28 million
Final year of contract:  2018-19



2017-18- Stats:  82 games played | 16 goals |18 assists | 34 points | -17 | 14:54 ATO
Buffalo Career Stats:  660 games | 201 goals | 289 assists | 490 points | +24 | 18:09 ATOI


What we wrote preseason:  "The 6'0" 180 lb. Repentigny, Quebec native ended up having a steady 578-game career in with the Sabres that included dependable play where he missed only nine games in the six seasons before the trade (to the Minnesota Wild.) Those Minnesota years are now over as he was the secondary part of a trade that brought him back to Buffalo along with defenseman Marco Scandella. The Wild needed to clear his $5.6 million cap-hit for the next two seasons so Pominville became a necessary piece for the Wild in the deal.

"Pominville exudes professionalism on the ice and in the dressing room...It's not that hard to fathom Pominville with a letter, but one would think that the Sabres might be ready to move on from that quiet, professional, aged veteran wearing the 'C' and may be more inclined to look towards a younger captain.

"For (probably) the next two seasons we'll be seeing him ply his trade on the right side of the forward group taking players like Sam Reinhart, Johan Larsson, Evan Rodrigues, Nicolas Baptiste and C.J. Smith under his wing and teaching them the finer points of playing the game. They'll be able to learn a lot from him and one would think that the Sabres will be a better team because of it."


What we wrote mid-season:  "Has been a fixture on Eichel's right wing for a good majority of the season thus far. Pominville started out on fire but has cooled considerably and at 34 yrs. old, has looked his age on more than one occasion. Ideally he'd be on the third line playing in a veteran leadership role similar to Brian Gionta last season, but right now he's in the top-six. Pominville seems always available for post-game interviews and unfortunately he's being asked the same questions about team failures now as were asked of him five-plus years ago when he was a key component, and one-time captain, of Darcy Regier's core. Which isn't a good sign. Pominville carries a $5.6 million cap-hit through 2018-19 and right now is the third-highest paid player on the team."


Impressions on his play this year:  What a start for the 34 yr. old who was on his second tour of duty in Buffalo. He scored the Sabres' only two goals in the season opening shootout loss to Montreal and had 12 points (6+6) in his first 12 games back in the Blue and Gold. Then it hit. In the next 48 games Pominville registered three goals and six assists and suffered a 20-game goalless drought. Tucked within that drought was a 17-game pointless streak. Pominville did well to finish out the season, but what happened in the middle?

The Sabres were not a "better team" because of the leadership he was supposed to bring. In fact this team may have been better off having Brian Gionta, who's playing with the Boston Bruins in the playoffs right now, back in the fold for that role. 

Pominville had some spurts of really good play for the Sabres this year, but he disappeared way too much for being a high paid leader and in looking at the raw numbers, you might say that he had a good season for a player his age. But save for a moment or two, he really didn't have any kind of impact. It was just a typical vanilla year for him, one we'd seen many years prior to his trade to the Wild back in 2013. He is what he is and what he always was.


Questions moving forward:  Can GM Jason Botterill move a bottom-six/fourth line player with a $5.6M cap hit at or before the 2019 trade deadline? Can the team finally move on from all vestiges of Darcy Regier's Core?



Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.

Pominville's locker cleanout interview via sabres.com:


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--G, Robin Lehner

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-18-2018


Goalie--Robin Lehner
DOB:  July 24, 1991 (Age, 27)
Draft:  2009, 2nd round (46th-overall) Ottawa
How acquired: 
June 26, 2015 Draft-day trade with Ottawa
Last contract signed:  1yr./$4 million
Final year of contract:  2017-18 (RFA)



2017-18- Stats:  53 games played | 14 wins | 26 losses |  9 OT | 3.01 GAA | .908 SV% | 3 shutouts
Buffalo Career Stats:  133 games | 42 wins | 61 losses | 22 OT | 2.77 GAA | .916 SV% | 6 shutouts


What we wrote preseason:  "It all began at the 2015 NHL Draft when the Buffalo Sabres sent the 21st overall pick to the Ottawa Senators for Robin Lehner. The trade was somewhat of a gamble in that it's not too often that at team trades a first-rounder for a goalie, but it wasn't without precedent. It was also a gamble for the Sabres in that Lehner was still an unknown quantity who was coming off of a season shortened by a concussion.

"With the deal consummated, Lehner entered the 2015-16 season as the undisputed No. 1 goalie in Buffalo. One first round pick and one full year later, the Sabres still didn't know if they had a No. 1 goalie (because he injuries limited him to 20 games played.) Lehner started 59 games last year for Buffalo and compiled a 23-26-8 record with a 2.68 GAA and .920 Sv%, thus proving he could handle the workload of a No. 1 goalie.

“'I've got nothing to prove to you,' Lehner told the gathered media after a recent workout in Buffalo (prior to the season.) 'Since I came here there have been some ups and downs. I've been injured, but I've been a steady over 92 percent (Sv%) and its something I want to keep improving on.' Lehner has been all that, all while facing the third most shots in the league last year (1,910)...but he looked shaky in odd-man situations and did let in more than his fair share of softies. Lehner's Achilles heel last season, however, was the shootout. He did not stop a single opponent in eight opportunities nor, in a weird oddity, did any of the shooters he faced mishandle the puck or shoot wide."


What we wrote mid-season:  "The 26-yr. old native of Gothenburg, Sweden boldly proclaimed that he 'had nothing left to prove' as he signed his one-year contract extension. And he ended up eating a lot of those words early on. Lehner has been great as of late, but prior to this six-game run of good solid team play, he sported a 5-12-3 record, a 2.98 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage. And he lost another shootout. Still plenty to prove and if the Sabres ever want to really turn this season around, he needs to continue his recent strong play. It should also be noted that his name has come up in the rumor mill."


Impressions on his play this year:  Regardless of his "nothing to prove to you" quote, Lehner needed to prove that he could help bail out a struggling team when they truly needed it. Those words seemed to weigh on him as he lost the season opener in the shootout and got pounded in the next game at the NY Islanders allowing four goals on 16 shots. His first win finally came on October 21 in his sixth appearance. By then the Sabres were 1-5-2 and falling hard with their starter looking like he either didn't have the wherewithal to bail his team out, or was seemingly disinterested amidst the chaos surrounding him.

The Sabres were a mess this season and you can't blame Lehner entirely for the worst goals-against average and save percentage since he came to Buffalo. Often times, it would seem as if there was a lack of trust on both ends of the defensive equation, with him unsure of what his d-men would do and them seemingly trying to do too much for him. Lehner looked like a rookie on more than one occasion as he flailed around trying to stop the puck. It didn't work and it looks like the trade for him by former GM Tim Murray didn't work either.

New GM Jason Botterill said at his season-ending presser that they're "very excited about Linus Ullmark being one of our two goalies next year and we'll make a decision in the next couple of months who the other goalie will be in that situation."


Questions moving forward:  Where will he end up?



Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--D, Rasmus Ristolainen

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-17-2018


Defenseman--Rasmus Ristolainen
DOB:  October 27, 1994 (Age, 23)
Draft:  2013, 1st round (8th-overall)
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  October 11, 2016, 6yr./$32.4 million
Final year of contract:  2021-22


2017-18- Stats:  73 games played | 6 goals | 35 assists | 41 points | -25 | 26:30 ATOI
Buffalo Career Stats:  346 games | 31 goals | 120 assists | 151 points | -102 | 24:09 ATOI


What we wrote preseason: "Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen came in at No. 23 on NHL.com’s list of the top-20 defensemen in the league. To Sabres fans, Ristolainen is the team's No. 1 defenseman who was a workhorse under previous head coach Dan Bylsma while averaging an NHL fifth-best 26:28 minutes per game last season.  However, there's a quibble over Ristolainen's effectiveness as a defenseman, whether or not he should be viewed as a No.1 or even a top-pairing d-man, and where his place should be in the pecking order of NHL defensemen.

"The quibble is based upon the analytics community busting out their spread sheets and concluding that Ristolainen isn't all he's cracked up to be. There is truth to both statistical sides. He's still weak in areas but taken as a whole, he's been progressing nicely."

What we wrote mid-season:  "The 23 yr. old Ristolainen is still anchoring the Sabres defense and logging tons of ice-time which right now is at a career-high of 26:55/game (second in the league.) There's a group in Sabreland that no longer see him as even a top-pairing defenseman while others believe he is such and is still evolving. There's no doubt that Ristolainen struggled mightily at times this season but we've also seen spurts of a mobile power game from him on the backend, just not enough. His stat-line through 24 games is zero goals, nine assists and a minus-10 rating. Ristolainen was injured for a nine-game stretch (Nov.5- 22.) In his absence the Sabres went 1-6-2 scoring 18 goals and allowing 31. Although not untouchable, rumor has it that Botterill would only trade Ristolainen for a big return."

Impressions on his play this year:  Yet another slow start from a player who was to be part of Buffalo's core. In the last three seasons Ristolainen has averaged no less that 25:17 of ice-time and played in no less than 73 games in those years but had his share problems this season. One of the things that jumped out early in the season was his stick. He just couldn't get it working as he didn't score is first goal until December 29th and the puck bounced over his stick on numerous occasions at the point leading to golden opportunities and shorthanded goals against.

The Sabres drafted Ristolainen when their focus was "bigger, stronger, faster." He has great mobility for player of his size but at times looks like a muscle car amidst a group of Ferrari's. He had trouble getting rolling on offense and on defense he often times had trouble with speed. There's a lot to like about him, especially the edge he plays with, something that truly annoys the opposition but today's game has been challenging for him.

Ristolainen is reaching his prime having played for three general managers and four coaches
and seems to be the poster child for the losing culture in Buffalo. Despite all that turmoil, when asked by the gathered media about lots of changes coming, Ristolainen replied, "I hope so, there needs to be changes" and later said that he didn't think it should be in the coaching ranks. "We need changes," he said, "and the changes are not with the coach, it's the responsibility of the players, we need to change."


Questions moving forward:  Is he a product of a losing culture or is he one of the reasons for a losing culture? Has he plateaued in his production? How much of a mental toll has five consecutive losing seasons taken on him? Will the changes that are coming include Ristolainen being moved? Should the Sabres be able to draft Rasmus Dahlin, is Ristolainen a part of the future of the d-corps? And if so, where do they slot him in? If they don't draft Dahlin, is he once again logging over 26 minutes/game as a Buffalo Sabre? If traded, will he be able to reach his full potential in a different environment?



Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.

Ristolainen's locker cleanout interview via sabres.com:


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--RW, Kyle Okposo

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-16-2018


Right Wing--Kyle Okposo
DOB:  April 16, 1988 (Age, 30)
Draft:  2006, 1st round (7th-overall,) NYI
How acquired:  2016 FA
Last contract signed:  July 1, 2016--7yr./$42M
Final year of contract:  2022-23


2017-18- Stats:  76 games played | 15 goals | 29 assists | 44 points | -34 | 17:01 ATOI
Buffalo Career Stats:  141 games | 34 goals | 55 assists | 89 points | -41 | 17:55 ATOI


What we wrote preseason:  "At the time it seemed as if it wasn't much of a big deal. Right wing Kyle Okposo was a late scratch for Buffalo as the Sabres travelled to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets." So began the preseason piece that focused mainly on Okposo's wild and scary medical journey that began in March 2017. It began a concussion on a hit at practice but ended up with a trip to ICU after an averse reaction to sleep medication. The 29 yr. old veteran of 10 NHL seasons spent last summer trying to work his way out of that dark time and into game shape.

During the 2016-17, "Okposo created great chemistry with center Ryan O'Reilly throughout the season despite the fact that they didn't play a full compliment of games together because of injuries to both players. That O'Reilly/Okposo duo was the most consistent forward pairing for Buffalo [that] season and there's no reason to think that new head coach Phil Housley will deviate from that. Especially when Okposo will need some time to acclimate himself back into the NHL game."


What we wrote mid-season:  "Although it sounds like an excuse, it might not be too far-fetched to believe that the late-season/off-season health issues he recovered from actually took a lot longer than anyone thought. And it showed in his early season struggles as Okposo didn't score his first goal until the 11th game, and has had a couple long stretches where he didn't hit the score sheet. But as of late it looks like he's found his legs and his shot. Housley has been moving him up and down the lineup but he and O'Reilly seem to always end up on the same line."


Impressions on his play this year:  It wasn't a good start for Okposo. At the time of the mid-season piece he had only 13 points (4+9) in 30 games. At locker cleanout Okposo told the gathered media that "the training wasn't there" over the summer, and that he felt "disjointed" because he "didn't have the base, didn't have the mechanics." He did get his feet under him finishing with 11 goals and 20 assists in his final 46 games. That stretch equates to a .674 points-percentage which is one point below his career .684 average. Adding to those production troubles was his minus-34 rating which was worst on the team and second worst in the NHL last season.

But for Okposo, just getting back on the ice for a full season seemed to be "I just need to get back to having a good summer of training. Last year I didn't...and there's a lot of reasons why. Looking back to where I was a year ago, all things considered, I'm pretty happy that I played a full season. I didn't know if I was going to be able to at this time last year and I wasn't even thinking about hockey."

It's easy to root for Okposo who, from everything that's said and written about him, seems like one of the good guys. He's got plenty to work on this summer which includes getting back to his regular off-season training regimen while also, admittedly, focusing on his skating, which is good to begin with. Okposo has seen difficult on-ice years with the NY Islanders, but he's never been through a health issue like he did last year. Next season will be telling for him and the team.


Questions moving forward:  Will Okposo start next season fully healthy? Can he play without fear? Will Housley find a sweet spot in the lineup for a 55 point player making $6 million/season? Will it be with O'Reilly, if he's still around? Can Okposo at least hit those career averages of 21 goals and 34 assists per 82 games? With a dearth of talent at left wing, would a move to his off-wing be possible? Will the next hit to his head be his last as an NHL player?



Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.

 Reinhart's locker cleanout interview via sabres.com: