Friday, May 26, 2017

Evander Kane dilemma a tough one, but it can work in Buffalo

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 5-25-2017


Buffalo Sabres winger Evander Kane's NHL career has spanned eight seasons in three cities for two franchises. As a fourth-overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft expectations were high for the Vancouver native and product of the hometown Vancouver Giants and after hitting a career high in goals those expectations got even higher.

In three seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers, Kane's production rose to a 30-goal, 57-point season (in 70 games) and he was heralded as a premier powerforward that could skate, score, hit and fight. Those traits lead to Kane cashing in on a rather lucrative six-year, $31.5 million contract of which he has one year remaining.

Kane entering the final year of his contract poses a dilemma for the Sabres as his many positives on the ice are offset by his troubles away from the rink. Part of those troubles revolve around the image he likes to exude which at times resembles that of a sharp, well-dressed playboy with a touch of gansta. It landed him in hot water in Winnipeg after the Atlanta franchise moved there and he just finished a stint on probation in Buffalo for an incident last summer.

Such is the dichotomy of Evander Kane.

As we move further into the 2017 off-season, once again Kane's name his making the rounds in the rumor mill. Elliott Friedman (via WGR550) was on CHED 630 in Edmonton saying, according to GR, "it's now or never for a Kane trade." And it's true, with his contract running out after next season and with Kane coming off of a 28-goal campaign, if they aren't able to come to terms on a contract extension, now is the time to trade him.

But who wants Kane? At what price? And what does it do to the Sabres roster?

TSN's Darren Dreger was on MSG's The Instigators and had this to say about Kane and possible destinations, "Keep in mind that general managers, because of the salary cap really not going up much on an annual basis, they’re wary. They’ve very careful in how they spend their dollars and when you’re bringing in a contract you’ve got to be absolutely rock-solid sure that this is a player that is going to be worth it. That he’s going to give you whatever edge you need, who’s going to make you better to be a playoff contender or a Stanley Cup contender. If that team is out there, then what is the market for him. What is the rate of return. It’s going to be a fairly substantial draft pick, I would say, certainly upwards of second round. Maybe there’s a player that has to fit in there as well. But that’s just kind of my broad speculation."

Another factor for potential suitors might be whether or not a new team would want to, or even could, sign him to an extension and all of that makes for a diminished return.

What it really may come down to is how Kane feels about playing in Buffalo. From everything I've read and heard, he likes Buffalo and his on-ice production may be an indication that he feels comfortable on skating with the likes of Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and company. If he likes Buffalo, great. And if Buffalo likes him, that's great too.

However, despite his uptick in production, Kane still has a lot of work to do convincing Buffalo and the hockey world that he's finally matured. At 25 years old and with a big contract already under his belt, his street-suave image can surely be maintained no matter what happens in the near future, but does he have enough savvy to stay out of trouble outside the rink while projecting that image?

Ownership in Buffalo doesn't need or want deal with issues like that and one could reasonably assume that neither does new GM Jason Botterill. There's a trust factor involved and Kane to this point hasn't held up his part of the deal.

In that respect, and when you throw in that Kane has had injury issues that have limited his on-ice performance prior to and including this past season, it's hard to see the Buffalo Sabres offering Kane a long-term deal. A player entering his third contract with nearly 500 games played, while also coming off a strong season, is probably expecting a long-term, cash-in contract, but is Kane worth something like that to Buffalo or even another club who might trade for him?

Ideally, Kane and the Sabres can come to a shorter-term agreement that ups his annual salary a bit from the $5.25 million he now makes. In order for that to happen, Kane will need to agree that based upon his past, now is not the time to be thinking lucrative, long-term. For a guy who once posted a picture of himself doing pushups in Las Vegas with stacks of money on his back, it's seems like a difficult proposition. But with his past history, Kane simply shouldn't expect a lucrative, long-term contract from any NHL team.

Is he irreplaceable? No. But will he be difficult to replace? Probably. And it may end up doing more harm than good. If Kane is moved, the Sabres will have another hole to fill in their roster. Although we've heard of a youngster like Alex Nylander taking his spot and recently someone suggested bringing Thomas Vanek in to replace Kane, neither would bring what Kane does.

Perhaps a shorter three or four-year deal with a modest bump in salary with the Sabres will do both him and the team well. It would put him on solid footing moving forward with the potential to cash-in a bit down the road and it will also keep Buffalo from possibly committing to a "problem child" long-term.

It can work, but it'll take some work from both sides.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Of captains, goalies and the coaching search in Buffalo

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 5-24-2017


New Buffalo Sabres GM Jason Botterill was on The Instigators program yesterday talking with hosts Andrew Peters and Craig Rivet. They covered many subjects over the course of the interview, but one moment really stood out to me--the future of the captaincy for the Sabres.

After talking about communication and trust between various aspects of the team, Botterill was pressed for a little more insight as to who might be a good captain for Buffalo. His response was that it would be more of a team effort saying rather emphatically, "the days of Mark Messier, the one guy leading the charge, is so long gone. It's long gone."

Messier, of course, is known as "The Captain's Captain." In the 80's he captained the Edmonton Oilers to a Stanley Cup without Wayne Gretzky and for an encore carried the weight of a 54-year NY Rangers Cup drought on his shoulders and almost single-handedly willed them to the 1994 Stanley Cup.

Botterill followed up the Messier quote by saying "there's a lot more leading by example...that it has to be a collaboration model. You may name a captain, whoever it may be named here in Buffalo," he continued, "and if there's not a good support group, it's not going to work."

Which begs the question. Is this just GM-speak as he's left with a tough decision concerning three players, who all may or may not be captain material? Or does he truly believe this?

Botterill was in the Dallas Stars organization when they won the Cup over Buffalo in 1999. The captain of that team was hard-nosed defenseman Derian Hatcher. It was a team that had stars like Mike Modano, Brett Hull, Joe Nieuwendyke and an aging, but extremely effective Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour in goal. While in the Sabres organization from 2002-04, Buffalo went from the captaincy of Stu Barnes, to a rotating captain after he was traded. And in Pittsburgh, Crosby was captain the entire time Botterill was in the front office. The Pens won two Cups and are on the verge of a back-to-back SCF appearance.

As mentioned, the Sabres have three candidates with none being a clear-cut favorite. Franchise center Jack Eichel could be the choice based upon his team-leading skills while forward Ryan O'Reilly seems to have the experience and character to wear the 'C'. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has always been a mature player both physically and mentally and would be a good choice as well, but they all have their flaws too.

It's a touchy situation for Botterill as ego comes into play. It's a sad but true fact. How will Player X react to Player Y getting the captaincy? Or how would either or both react to Player Z getting the letter.

Botterill is much closer to the pulse of the NHL than any of us outsiders so a deference to his position is in order. But in hockey I'm still of the opinion that a captain defines what the organization wants from it's team and that a strong figure, one who's willing and able to carry that weight, can take the team farther than they thought they could go. Carrying the weight like Messier did in '94 might be a thing of the past, but having a leader everyone respects and follows on the ice may still be very much in vogue.


*****

Parity has proven to be more attainable in the NHL than in the NBA to which it's often compared to. But unlike basketball where NBA superstars can and almost exclusively do take over a game, NHL stars and superstars can and usually do take over games and series but have a wild card in goaltending to deal with. A hot or cold goalie can make or break a series and often times a great goaltending performance can be the great equalizer in a game or series.

It doesn't happen often, but you'll see a team get to the Stanley Cup Finals, and even win a Cup, riding a hot goaltender. We're seeing that right now as Pekka Rinne has already lead the 16th seeded Nashville Predators to the SCF representing the Western Conference while Ottawa's Craig Anderson could do the same for the Senators in the East. Yesterday they forced a Game-7 against a talented, albeit injury-challenged on defense Pittsburgh Penguins club. The Sens finished second in the Atlantic Division with 98 points while the Pens finished second in the conference with 111 points..

Bucky Gleason of the Buffalo News has a good article today talking about the rise of the Predators. He rightfully points to an organization that stuck to it's plan and after he throws a token jab at "tanking," tells of how Nashville made it to their first ever Finals appearance this year after backing into the playoffs with 94 points. He also notes that in the salary-cap era, only two teams made it to the Finals after entering the playoffs with less than a 100-point season--the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings.

The NHL is on the verge of having two sub-100 point teams make it to the Finals and it can be attributed mostly to goaltending. After a sluggish regular season, Rinne has been stellar. He started his run by allowing a mere three goals to the Chicago Blackhawks, followed that up by outdueling an equally impressive young goalie Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues. Rinne and the Preds finished off the Anaheim Ducks in six games and he'll be heading into the SCF with a 1.70 GAA and .941 Sv% while facing the third-most shots these playoffs.

The leader in shots-against is Anderson who has faced 548 shots in 18 games these playoffs. He's sporting a very respectable 2.36 GAA and .922 Sv%. Anderson just came off of a 45 save performance against the Pens in Game-6 to help the starless Senators reach a winner-take-all game tomorrow night.

Whether he's making $7 million/per season like Rinne or $4.2 million, like Anderson, having that goaltender get hot in the playoffs makes a huge difference. Even in Pittsburgh where the Pens have superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury--a former first-overall pick who is making $5.75 million per season--is second in the playoffs in shots against and had been tremendous for the Pens. He faltered and back-up Matt Murray, the goaltending hero of last year's Cup win for Pittsburgh is working his magic once again.

What it comes down to is goaltending is the great equalizer and it's the main reason why lower seeds consistently upset higher seeds and why we may see a matchup between a No. 16 and No. 12. It's something you'll never see in the NBA.


*****

For those interested in the Sabres coaching search, Botterill mentioned on The Instigators that he'll be casting a pretty wide net and admitted, "I don't know who I want, but there are certain people I want to talk to."

TSN's Pierre LeBrun tweeted out today a handful of names that most fans are familiar with, "On Sabres' HC radar, I think, in no particular order: Krueger, Tocchet, J. Montgomery, J. Martin, Housley, Reirden, Boughner..."

Ralph Krueger has international coaching experience and had a one-season stint in Edmonton, but is now chairman of a Premier League Football club in Southampton, Hampshire, England. How his name keeps popping up is rather curious as his NHL coaching resume featured only 19 wins in 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

Both Rick Tocchet (PIT) and Phil Housley (NSH) are still in the playoffs and both are considered to be favorites at this point. Jim Montgomery has had a very successful college coaching career and is coming off of a national championship with Denver. Jacques Martin started his head coaching career in 1986 and has coached almost 1300 regular season games.

Tom Reirden has ties to Botterill after a nearly four-year stint in Pittsburgh (2010-14) and spent the last three years in Washington as an assistant coach while Bob "The Boogieman" Boughner was a very successful coach for the OHL's Windsor Spitfires who won back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2009 and 2010.

Botterill is taking a methodical approach to the huge pile of work he has with Buffalo and has said that the coach will probably be in place before the NHL Draft. He spent last week getting to know his scouts while comparing notes on prospects plus the World Championships were just completed and he may be interested in overseas free agents other than defenseman Viktor Antipin who's said to be signing in Buffalo. The NHL Scouting Combine begins this weekend and runs through June 3, with Buffalo as the host city once again so he and his scouting staff will once again be focused upon prospects.

The measured approach Botterill's employing right now is perfect for the mountain of tasks at his feet right now and to his credit he knows a hasty decision does no one any good. Besides, the two front-runners are still in the playoffs and there's a chance that both may not be available for an interview until June 14, the potential last game of the SCF.

Although it doesn't give them much time between then and June 17, the day that Expansion Draft Protected Lists are due, most of the work for that may fall on Botterill anyway. At least that's what we in Sabreland are hoping.



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Awaiting Antipin and...on Ryan O'Reilly

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 5-22-2017


Although he's only 5'9" 176 lbs. Russian defenseman Viktor Antipin will be welcome with open arms on the Buffalo blueline as the Sabres defense-corps is ripe for change.

KHL insider and European hockeybuzz colleague Aivis Kalnins has been on the story and tweeted yesterday that he's "hearing Viktor Antipin is set to sign with the Buffalo Sabres. Player also told ''Sport Express'' that he is arriving in Buffalo next week."

Also of interest, Kalnins reports that the Pittsburgh Penguins were in the mix for Antipin's services. "[Present Sabres GM Jason Botterill comes from an organization that also wanted to get Antipin, that should tell the story," he tweeted yesterday. We'd heard that a number of teams were in on him but this is the first team to be named.

The story is that Antipin, despite his size has managed to do some real good things during his six seasons with the KHL's Magnitogorsk Metallurg. The 24 yr. old broke into the league with a two-game taste in 2010-11 then followed with a robust rookie campaign of 10 goals and 11 assists in 50 games for Metallurg. Last season he finished with 24 points (6+18) in 59 games and during his five full seasons with the team he was never minus player. Antipin was on two Gagarin Cup-winning teams, was a 2013 All-Star and now has two silver and two bronze medals on his international resume thanks to Russia's bronze medal performance at the 2017 IIHF World Hockey Championships.

For those of us who were able to catch some of the Worlds this year, Antipin saw plenty of ice-time in all situations with the left-hander playing both sides of the ice. He has excellent recovery time on defense and can find open ice in the offensive zone, especially deep in the slot. Antipin, like seemingly every Russian defenseman knows how to get up ice and into the play.

The Sabres presently have two players who are almost assured to be on the blueline next season--Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe. After that it's somewhat of a crap shoot. No. 3 on the depth chart is Zack Bogosian who has a hefty contract that's difficult to live up to, especially when injuries are starting to take their toll on the soon to be 27 yr. old. After that there's 32 yr. old Josh Gorges, who's role was drastically reduced last season, and Justin Falk who was re-signed by former Sabres GM Tim Murray as a depth defenseman.

It's a situation that leaves the door wide open for Antipin and one of the main reasons he'll reportedly be joining the Sabres instead of some other NHL club. God knows that Buffalo defense-corps can use a jolt.


*****

Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly and Team Canada took home the silver medal at the World's after Henrik Lundqvist backstopped Team Sweden to a shootout win in the Gold Medal Game. O'Reilly scored the only goal for Canada yesterday and nicked the crossbar on his shootout attempt. He finished the tournament with six goals and three assists in 10 games including an overtime winner against Team Russia in the semi-finals.

O'Reilly was a workhorse for Canada coach Jon Cooper much like he's been for Buffalo since coming over in a trade from Colorado in June, 2015. He logged huge minutes for the Canadians throughout the tourney and was on the ice in all situations taking huge faceoffs at critical times. But for him, the 2016-17 hockey season is over and after some down time O'Reilly will begin to focus on next season in Buffalo.

O'Reilly's two-way acumen would be welcome on any team and in he'll be sharing top-two center duties on the Sabres with 20 yr. old Jack Eichel. There's a lot up in the air in Buffalo including the coach and the captaincy and you can bet that O'Reilly and Eichel will be the focus for the new coach on the captaincy.

Murray was generally lauded for bringing O'Reilly to the club via trade although he gave up some pretty good young players in the process, notably left-handed defenseman Nikita Zadorov and center prospect JT Compher who could end up being a player like O'Reilly. It was the contract extension Murray re-signed O'Reilly to that seems to be on the minds of most Sabres fans.

O'Reilly signed a seven year extension in 2015 that will keep him as a Sabres until the end of the 2022-23 season and his cap-hit of $7.5 million is beginning to draw the ire of stat-watchers. Although he lead the team in scoring two years ago and was second last season, his 41 goals and 74 assists doesn't seem befitting of a contract like that. Other stats like his team-leading time on ice and face off percentage as well as a year-over-year 15 point gain in plus/minus won't move the needle for stat-watchers either.

That said, there have been a lot of problems in Buffalo, most notably last season, which may have hampered players from reaching their potential. Where those problems stemmed from will soon be revealed as there will be a new coach this season and hopefully a revamped defense and I'm starting to think that the last two seasons should be viewed rather skeptically. And that goes for a lot of the roster last season.

The new Sabres coach will have the task of getting O'Reilly and Eichel into their proper roles and it will be paramount to driving the offense up-front. There are two big egos at play in those two and if they can align properly, the Sabres won't need to worry too much about the forwards because they'll have their top-two centers--a goal-scorer and two-way player--in place.

It's been 10 years since the organization could make that latter claim and other than a true No. 1 defensemen getting a top center is very difficult to do in today's NHL.

Regardless of how it all plays out, one thing we can count on is O'Reilly carrying a huge load in all situations for the club, just like he did the past two season in Buffalo and for Team Canada at the Worlds.

Monday, May 22, 2017

O'Reilly leads Team Canada to win over Russia. Antipin ready to ink?

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 5-20-2017


Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly scored the game-winning goal and added a primary assist on an empty-netter in helping Team Canada rally for a 4-2 victory over Team Russia at the IIHF World Championships in Cologne, Germany. Much like he did in Buffalo, O'Reilly was a workhorse for the Canadians as he skated 21:21 which was second only to defenseman Colton Parayko (STL.) He was recognized as the Player of the Game for Team Canada.

O'Reilly has eight points (5+3) in nine game for the tournament and will have the opportunity to add to that as Team Canada will face off against the winner of today's Sweden-Finland matchup for the right to play for the gold medal.

Meanwhile, Russian defenseman Viktor Antipin, whom the Sabres are said to be signing very soon, will play in tomorrow's bronze medal game against the loser of Sweden-Finland. The 5'9" 176 lb. Antipin left the Canada/Russia matchup with a plus-1 rating and one shot on goal. For the tournament Antipin has three assists in nine games and has a plus-4 rating.

Antipin's name has been associated with the Sabres for weeks now with hockeybuzz.com's Aivis Kalnins tweeting yesterday that "Antipin and Sabres talked recently and nothing has changed, expect him to sign with the Sabres." That the Antipin signing was still moving in that direction was confirmed when Russian hockey writer Igor Eronko talked with hosts Howard Simon and Jeremy White on WGR550 Radio yesterday.

"I heard this months ago that [Antipin's] definitely leaving [the KHL]," Eronko told the hosts. "I can confirm that he will sign exactly with Buffalo."

The hosts were curious as to why Antipin chose Buffalo and, as Sabres fans know, there was an obvious reason. "Because there's a place for him," he said. "The Sabres don't have the best defense in the NHL, obviously, and they have a spot for a guy like him." He continued on giving us a little insight into the player that is Viktor Antipin. "He's small in stature but very strong on the puck. [He's] a good puck-moving defensemen and that's exactly what may be needed for Buffalo in the top-four.

"He's wins a lot of battles, he plays penalty kill and powerplay and in all key situations he's on the ice. He's a defenseman that's quite reliable."

Anyone who's had the opportunity to watch Russia in this tournament can see that their transition game is top-notch and their defense is very active. Antipin is definitely of that ilk and oft-times one can find him in the slot in the offensive zone.

On the negative side, Eronko thinks Antipin will need to add speed and strength.

If all works out, perhaps sometime early next week we will have Antipin's signature on a Sabres contract which constitutes a step in the right direction for the team as they try to fix a broken defense-corps.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Of Buffalo's FA's, coaching search, NSH d and Jack EiCHeL

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 5-19-2017


The Buffalo Sabres have 19 free agent contracts on the docket with 10 unrestricted and nine restricted.

Half of the UFA's are in Rochester with four of them--forwards Cole Schneider and Derek Grant plus defensemen Erik Burgdoerfer and Mat Bodie--as possible re-signs. Cal O'Reilly already moved on after being loaned to the Toronto Marlies late last season. The other five UFA's were from the big club--captain Brian Gionta, defensemen Cody Franson, Dmitry Kulikov and Taylor Fedun plus goalie Anders Nilsson--and of those only Gionta and Fedun look to be possible re-signs at this point in time.

Unlike UFA's, restricted free agents have little say in their immediate future with the team holding all the cards. Here's the list of restricted free agents new general manager Jason Botterill and his staff will be looking at:

F, Marcus Foligno
F, Johan Larsson
F, Zemgus Girgensons
F, Evan Rodrigues
LW, Jean Dupuy
C, Justin Kea
D, Brady Austin
G, Robin Lehner
G, Linus Ullmark

Botterill spent this week hunkered down with his scout to compare notes about the upcoming draft. Among the other things he needs to work on is finding a head coach as well as hiring those who will lead his scouting departments. Eventually he'll get to all of these free agents as the Expansion Draft is coming soon and the start of free agency begins shortly thereafter.

Not much has been coming out but our hockeybuzz colleague in Europe, Aivis Kalnins, tweeted that "Botterill also reached out to Girgensons via text but no contract has been discussed yet." Kalnins also tweeted that a Viktor Antipin/Sabres union is still a go, but nothing formal has been announced. "Antipin and Sabres talked recently and nothing has changed, expect him to sign with the Sabres," he tweeted.

Good news for the Sabres on both fronts.


*****

The Sabres and the Florida Panthers are the only NHL teams without head coaches at this juncture and it's almost assured that Nashville Predators assistant coach Phil Housley will occupy one of those positions.

Housley's been getting a lot of press lately for the job he's done with the mobile, offensive-minded Preds defense, and rightfully so. Nashville's d-corps is an aggressive group is constantly on the offensive, which is pretty much how Housley played his entire career. His coaching career got a huge boost when he lead Team USA to the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia and he also survived a coaching change in Nashville when Barry Trotz was replaced by Peter Laviolette.

And not too long ago there was word of a Botterill/Rick Tocchet link to the Sabres head coaching job even before Botterill was officially announced as the Sabres new GM. Which make sense. A new general manager leans towards bringing in people he's familiar with and Tocchet had been in Pittsburgh since June, 2014.

Tocchet's coacing resume' is a bit longer than Housley's in that he cut his teeth behind the bench in 2002 and he also had a 148-game stint as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2008-10. Not much came out of that except that he received props for getting Steven Stamkos' career on track.

Botterill had said that he would be doing a fairly extensive head coaching search but Sun Media's Steve Simmons tweeted out, "Most people on the inside I talk to are expecting either Rick Tocchet or Phil Housley to be the next coach of the Buffalo Sabres."

There are some other names mentioned to be in the mix like Todd Reirden, Kevin Dineen, Bob Boughner and Ralph Kreuger but Housley and Tocchet always seem to be at the fore. And for good reason. Both are said to have a great rapport with young players and both, because of their playing careers and their successes as assistant coaches on winning teams, should gain the type of locker room respect Botterill is looking for.


*****

Speaking of Nashville, Simmons Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and his GM Lou Lamoriello were taking in the Anaheim Ducks/Preds game last night. "Been covering playoffs for more than 30 years. It's rare to ever see an eliminated NHL coach at another playoff game," tweeted Simmons. "Have to believe if Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello are in Nashville it ain't for hanging out on Broadway. There must be defenceman in play."

Both Anaheim and Nashville are loaded on the back end and with the expansion draft coming up, there's a possibility that a quality d-man may be available. It's well known that the Sabres are in need of some help in the top-four and although he wasn't physically at the game, one would bet that Botterill has his eye on that series.


*****

Team USA was shut out 2-0 by Team Finland yesterday at the IIHF World Championships in Cologne, Germany. Buffalo's Jack Eichel did not have the greatest of tournaments with zero goals and five assists in eight games plus he ended the tournament in the penalty box after he was called for a high-stick with 1:52 to play.

International play seems to be hit or miss with Eichel, which is fine as long as he brings it during the NHL season. Here's what Eichel has done on the international stage for Team USA:

2013 U17:  5gp, 3g, 2a
2013 WJC18:  7gp, 1+1
2014 WJC18:  7gp, 5+5
2014 WJC:  5gp, 1+4
2015 WJC:  5gp, 1+3
2015 WC:  10 gp, 2+5
2016 WCOH:  3gp, 1+1
2017 WC:  8gp, 0+5

In all 60 games played, 14 goals, 21 assists.

His NHL totals:  142 games played, 48 goals, 65 assists.

Bust!

Eichel joined Girgensons (Team Latvia) on the outside looking in while Buffalo still has World Championship interest as the aforementioned, but unsigned as of yet, Antipin is still in it for Team Russia and Team Canada with Ryan O'Reilly have advanced to the semi-finals.





Friday, May 19, 2017

Buffalo-centric tidbits featuring Leino, Bills, Sabres & 30 Thoughts

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 5-17-2017


Former Buffalo Sabres forward Ville Leino hoodwinked the Sabres into a six-year, $27 million contract back in 2011. Now he's hawking a "artist series" hoodie because, apparently, the $1.2 million annual tag for the compliance buyout by the Sabres through the 2019-20 season isn't enough of a financial cushion for his exile from the National Hockey League.

Leino performance was universally panned and contract is widely considered one of the worst free agent signings of all time. His career with the Sabres spanned 137 games in which he scored 10 goals and added 36 assists. Leino pocketed $16 million in those first three years with the Sabres which comes out to $1.6m/goal and another $7.33 million for Buffalo to say good riddance.

But the dude has some serious issues with his final year in Buffalo that needed to be expressed artistically, so he drew some kids scrawl artwork featuring a crude face, cross and the word "Jail," as if to imply that his last year in Buffalo was like being in jail.

Here's his quote about the "work":

"One of my most personal works. I was playing my third year in Buffalo Sabres with long and big contract. Things weren't working with me and the team. I was getting a lot of pressure and heat and there was no way out of it. I felt trapped and down. All I could do was get up every morning and go to work and try to make it work. This painting reflects those feelings that I was going through on that perioid of time." - Ville Leino.

He seems to have put more work into that than he did on the ice in Buffalo and my God, when you signed that contract there, Ville, you mean to tell me that you weren't prepared for the pressure and scrutiny of a lucrative long-term contract like that? And there was no way out? Really?

Get real.

It's an intriguing piece in a way, and I'd certainly be interested in buying it.

*Reaches into pocket*

I've got 17 cents, a ball of lint and some crumbs from the pizza I ate last night. How's that? I'd say it's about equal to what you gave the Buffalo Sabres organization while you were here.


*****

The Buffalo sports scene has been in a rut and, like Leino, has been universally panned lately, or in the case of the Buffalo Bills, the entirety of this century. However, and I say this cautiously, things look to be getting better.

When the Pegula's took over the Sabres and the Bills they soon found themselves in way over their heads. Terry Pegula headed a very successful energy company but he soon found out, unlike the man in the Oval Office, the world of pro sports is a completely different beast and it's best to surround oneself with those who know how it works.

To their credit, the Pegulas gave the incumbent general manager and coach the opportunity to continue on with the new owners. Unfortunately both tandems failed which lead to a dual GM search this spring and two new coaches this calendar year. However, there is still no "guru" at the top of either organization.

In lieu of that, the Pegulas are heading in the right direction with quality front office hires for their football operations. It actually started with the hiring of new head coach Sean McDermott and although he has an unusual amount of power for a head coach, at least he seems to be putting the Bills on the proper course.

McDermott was at the forefront of hiring Carolina Panthers AGM Brandon Beane to be general manager in Buffalo and as the Bills begin to build a scouting department that was let go along with the firing of former GM Doug Whaley, they've added two more quality people. Joe Schoen, the Miami Dolphins director of player personnel was hired as an assistant GM and Brian Gaine as new vice president of player personnel. Gaine was brought over from Houston where he served as director of player personnel with the Texans.

Both are roundly accepted as quality hires for Buffalo as they try to break out of a 17-year playoff drought.


*****

Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts for Sportsnet.ca is a mainstay for hockey fans and he had plenty to say about the Buffalo Sabres in his latest edition.

The Sabres have a new GM in Jason Botterill and are looking for a new head coach. Botterill gave a general framework as to what he's looking for in a head coach and also said that experience is not a necessity. Yet he wants the new head coach to have respect when he walks into the locker room, something that was apparently missing last season with departed head coach Dan Bylsma.

There are only two teams in the NHL without a head coach right now--Buffalo and the Florida Panthers. Friedman points out that Cats GM Dale Tallon is in Europe taking in the IIHF World Championships as part of Team USA's leadership. Among the names mentioned in association with Florida are, Marc Crawford (OTT), Phil Housley (NSH) and Paul MacLean (ANA).

Crawford is an interesting name to crop up in the conversation as he won the Stanley Cup with Colorado in 1996. He's coached over 1100 games for four different franchises and is presently an associate coach with the Ottawa Senators.

Friedman then brings some other names to the fore.

"Botterill knows Todd Reirden (WSH) and Rick Tocchet (PIT) very well," he wrote. "He almost hired New Jersey assistant Geoff Ward for AHL Wilkes-Barre, eventually choosing Mike Sullivan. Housley and San Jose’s Bob Boughner could be interviewed here, too. And I do wonder if he’d ask Jim Rutherford about Montreal’s Kirk Muller. Rutherford hired Muller in Carolina."

Botterill is in no hurry as he has other things on the front burner, but those are some names to keep an eye on.


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In more front office work, Friedman also mentions Botterill's under the radar search to fill scouting vacancies.

"Botterill said there have been 'no restrictions' on who he can take from Pittsburgh to Buffalo, with one caveat: no lateral moves. So, if he’s taking anyone, it has to be a promotion. He wouldn’t comment on specific names, but two are making the rounds. One is former Ottawa and Florida GM Randy Sexton, who is the Penguins’ director of amateur scouting. The other is Derek Clancey, director of pro scouting."


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Finally, Friedman touched upon Russian defenseman Viktor Antipin who opted out of his KHL contract and is said to be headed to Buffalo.

The previous regime got the wheels turning on this one and there were questions as to whether or not Buffalo and Antipin is still in the works with a new GM. "The vultures circled, wondering if the changes in Buffalo meant Antipin would waver on his decision to join the Sabres," wrote Friedman. "But it sounds like he’s sticking with his original decision. Not for lack of trying."

Which is good news for a Sabres defense which seems to be priority-one from a roster perspective. And just for good measure, Friedman had to bring forward Evander Kane into the conversation as Botterill mentioned using every possible avenue to try and fix the defense. "[Botterill] wouldn’t discuss specifics, but the organization has to make a decision on Evander Kane. Do they let him play out his contract, re-sign him or try to move him for that defender?"

Good question. It's one that should be in the news for a while.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Eichel/USA take down Russia/Antipin at Worlds as PP finally breaks through

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 5-16-2017


It took a while for Team USA to finally figure out how to break through on the powerplay and thanks to Team Russia's penchant for aggressive stick penalties, the Americans had themselves plenty of chances. Russia committed eight minor penalties with seven being either slashing or high-sticking.

Team Russia came out wielding the stick 3:51 into the first period and by the end, Team USA was on their fifth powerplay, which included a double-minor for drawing blood on a high-stick. Unfortunately USA couldn't get one past Russia netminder Andrei Vasilevsky as his penalty killers clogged the middle with a tight box. However two unsuccessful powerplays did forshadow how the Americans could finally break through.

On one powerplay mid-way through the first, Team USA got a shot through and crashed the net on one of the few rebounds Vasilevsky left. Although it didn't work, early in the second period with a carryover powerplay Clayton Keller (ARI) got a shot through from the point that handcuffed Vasilevsky and he left a rebound in the crease. Brock Nelson (NYI) found the puck and found a wide open Jimmy Hayes (NYR) on the weak-side and Hayes buried it to knot the score at 1-1.

The second period was about as good a period of hockey you'll ever see as two long-time hockey adversaries traded hits, skating and scoring chances. When all was said and done Team USA overcame two more one-goal deficits and headed into the intermission with a 3-3 tie.

With just under eight minutes to play and the game knotted still knotted, the Americans took their first lead of the game by converting on the powerplay again. Buffalo's Jack Eichel, who'd been trying time and time again to get a cross-ice pass through the tight Russian defense finally did as he sent a bullet to Johnny Gaudreau (CGY) on the weak side. Gaudreau wasted no time sending it to Anders Lee (NYI) on the far side of the crease for the tap in.

USA would add an empty net goal for the 5-3 final score. It was Team USA's sixth win in a row after dropping their first preliminary round game to Germany. With the win USA wins Group A.

Potential Buffalo Sabres free agent signee Viktor Antipin was patrolling the Russian blueline and finished the game with 17:28 of ice-time while registering a shot and an even plus/minus rating. He was on the weak side when Eichel made his pass to Gaudreau but couldn't do much on the play. Antipin played both sides of the ice and looked very solid. For the seven preliminary round games he's played in Antipin registered one assist, had five shots on goal and was a plus-2.

Word on the street is that Antipin will be signing with the Sabres after the World Championships.