Friday, April 29, 2016

Anaheim loss nets another 2016 3rd-round pick for the Sabres

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres added another 2016 draft pick to their burgeoning stable thanks to a Game-7 loss by the Anaheim Ducks at the hands of the Nashville Predators. The conditional 3rd round pick Anaheim sent to Buffalo for Jamie McGinn now stands as the Ducks failed to make it to the Western Conference Finals. Had Anaheim won two playoff rounds and McGinn played in at least 50% of their games, that 2016 third-rounder would have converted to a 2017 2nd round pick.

As it stands right now the Sabres will have 12 picks in the upcoming draft to be held in Buffalo April 24-25:

1st--presently 8th overall
3rd--BUF, ANA (McGinn trade, 2015) STL (Ryan Miller, 2014) DAL (Johnas Enroth, 2015)
5th--BUF, MTL (Brian Flynn, 2015)
7th--BUF, MTL (Torrey Mitchell, 2015)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A couple suggestions to inject some life into the NHL Draft Lottery

Reprinted with permission from

There's no getting around it, the NHL had the opportunity to put on a decent show at last year's draft lottery and they came up way short. Connor McDavid was the grand prize for the lucky winner last year as 14 non-playoff teams and much of their fan base were tuned in to see if their logo was on the golden card. About the only thing interesting about the event was the look on McDavid's face when the Oilers won the lottery.

Sure, it was nothing more than a draft lottery to see which team would be selecting first in the 2015 NHL Draft and for most teams with the lower odds there was no more than a casual interest, but a player like McDavid doesn't come around every day. All season long McDavid and Jack Eichel were the wonder twins at the top of the draft board with hype exceeding anything the league has witnessed since the Sidney Crosby draft in 2005 or even Alexander Ovechkin/Evgeni Malkin in 2004.

The draft lottery process itself involved team executives in the back room witnessing numbers being drawn to select the winner and a representative of Ernst and Young delivering a stack of large album-sized envelops to Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly at the podium. "Daddy Warbucks" Daly, who's better suited to be the face of a board room meeting than the face of the NHL lottery (nothing personal,) proceeded to open envelopes with Deal or No Deal-type background music infused to heighten tension.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--LW, Marcus Foligno

Reprinted with permission from

Left Wing--Marcus Foligno
DOB:  August 10, 1991 (age, 25)
Draft:  2009, 4th round (104th overall)
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  2104--2 yr./$3.75M
Final year of contract:  2015-16, RFA

2015-16 Stats:  75 games played, 10 goals, 13 assists, 23 points, +4

What we wrote preseason:  "Visions of a young Cam Neely danced through Sabreland when Foligno hit the NHL with a vengeance back in March, 2012, [but] that kind of success was rather unfortunate for Foligno as he forgot the type of player he was.

During the last two season "Foligno was trying to find his way in what turned out to be an especially difficult environment. [Former head coach Ted] Nolan had his deficiencies, but he managed to help more than a few players find themselves during a very difficult time for the franchise, and Foligno was one of them. For Foligno, it's no surprise that Nolan, who once coached a Buffalo squad known as "the hardest working team in hockey," got him back to creating opportunities through hard work on the ice."

What we wrote mid-season:  "another one who may have found his home. As a power forward Foligno plays a real strong game. As a scorer? Still needs work. May be settling into his role as a bottom-six player who can contribute offensively.
Impressions on his play this year:  And that's what ended up happening for Foligno. He knew his role and began to thrive in it. He set career highs in both goals and assists and during the latter part of the season he benefitted greatly from being on a line with captain Brian Gionta and Johan Larsson as that two-way line was the most consistent line. His plus-4 plus/minus rating was second on the team.

Foligno eventually settled in rather nicely within new head coach Dan Bylsma's system. As choppy as last season was for the entire team, the Sabres were more about evaluating players strengths and weaknesses and how they responded to their new environment and Foligno seems locked into his role as a bottom-six, muscle forward who plays a solid two-way game.

Questions moving forward:  Foligno is what he is, so there aren't too many questions save for, how far can he take his role? Can he become like a "Mule," ala Detroit's Johan Franson, and up his intensity-level to the point where he and his 6'3" 222lb. frame simply won't be denied? Will his stick-work around the net improve to the point where he can reach and maintain 15-goal/30-point level? Is he prepared to take on more of the big bruisers in the league like Radko Gudas and Tom Wilson when necessary?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--D, Zach Bogosian

Reprinted with permission from

Defenseman--Zach Bogosian
DOB:  July 15, 1990 (age, 25)
Draft:  2008, 3rd-overall (Atlanta Thrashers)
How acquired:  Trade with the Winnipeg Jets February 11, 2015
Last contract signed:  2013--7yr./$36M
Final year of contract:  2019-20

2015-16 Stats:  64 games played, 7 goals, 17 assist, 24 points, -11

What we wrote preseason:  Bogosian was thrown right into the fire for an Atlanta franchise that was in disarray. He was mismanaged on the ice and suffered a broken leg his rookie season and two years later the Atlanta Thrashers franchise was moved to Winnipeg.

After the trade to Buffalo, Bogosian averaged over 26 minutes a game for a team that was bottoming out. "At the very least we're looking at a second-pairing, physical defenseman with Robyn Regehr-like traits who is a smooth skater, strong puck mover and one can put some points on the board. At best he looks to be a No. 2/3 who can really be a veteran anchor for a strong group of young defensemen the Sabres will be integrating into the lineup over the course of the next three or four years."

What we wrote mid-season:  "although he's recovered from an injury that had him miss the first month and a half of the regular season, he's still getting up to game-speed. Dude can really skate and rattle the boards with one of his checks. Although he's a bit overzealous in the hitting department, while also getting caught out of position because of it, he's pretty sound in his own end. Plus he's got an attitude too."

Impressions on his play this year:  As a victim of circumstance in Atlanta, one cannot blame him for having his development stunted during his first three years in the NHL. Nor can you blame him for signing the rather lucrative deal that the Winnipeg Jets offered him. But as Sabres fans we can like what he brought to the table this season, despite his shortcomings. Although he won't ever hope to be a Denis Potvin nor attain the meanness of a Scott Stevens, he's got enough scoring and grit to have a positive impact as a solid, veteran #3/4 d-man for an up-and-coming Sabres team.

Bogosian can really move at 6'3" 214 lbs. and it would seem as if he's found a home as an all-situations defenseman on Buffalo's second-pairing. Plus, he has 478 NHL games under his belt which was of particular importance to rookie Jake McCabe, his d-partner most of the season. McCabe really surprised a lot of people this season and much of it can be attributed to working with Bogosian as the two were oft-times the team's best pairing on the ice. When looking at the vet and the rookie, I'm reminded of the impact Drew Bagnall had on Rasmus Ristolainen when the latter was sent to Rochester and I can see Bogosian having the same impact on the Sabres young defensemen at the NHL-level.

Questions moving forward:  As always, the term "when healthy" seems to make it's way into the equation.  So, if healthy, can Bogosian match or better his career-highs set early on in his career? It's recognized that he's no Niklas Lidstrom, but as the game gets quicker will his mind be able to keep pace with game and with what his body wants to do? And at 25 yrs. old and with nearly 500 NHL games under his belt plus obvious leadership qualities, will he be wearing an 'A' in the near future as the old-guard gives way to the young-vets in Buffalo?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--RW, Brian Gionta

Reprinted with permission from

Right Wing--Brian Gionta
DOB:  January 18, 1979 (age, 37)
Draft:  1998, 3rd round (82nd-overall,) NJD
How acquired:  Free agent signee (MTL), 2014
Last contract signed:  2014--3yr./$12.75M
Final year of contract:  2016-17

2015-16 Stats:  79 games, 12 goals, 21 assists, 33 points, -5

What we wrote preseason:  "Gionta headlined a trio coming to Buffalo making the Sabres the surprise of the 2014 off-season. The Greece, NY native (a suburb just outside of Rochester) knew what he was signing up for when he signed a 3 yr. contract with the Sabres. [He] was brought in mainly to provide leadership on a rebuilding team that would be seeing a large group of prospects making their way to Buffalo beginning this season.

"At the top of that leadership group is the 36 yr. old Gionta who will be integral in trying to build a winning attitude off of the disaster that was last season. The vets all have their roles in that regard, which is to pass on their experiences to the youngins. While on the ice they'll be taking the pressure off of the kids but off the ice Gionta says they'll be 'showing them how to be professionals, showing them what it's like to be in the NHL day-in, day-out.'"

What we wrote mid-season:  "Started the year off real strong but has fallen back a bit. At 36 yrs. old shows bursts of speed that had him keeping up with the big dogs on the top lines. But that was earlier in the season. May have found a home on the third line with Girgensons. Has been the best, most consistent line three games running."

Impressions on his play this year:  Gionta missed the first three games of the season with an injury and upon returning to the ice, Sabres bench boss "Dancing Dan" Bylsma proceeded to use him up and down the lineup. Oft-times, much to the consternation of the fan-base, one would witness Gionta logging big, top-six minutes and while miscast on a skill-level, his skating ability kept him in the play.

His skating ability and vast experience would serve him and his linemates well as he fell down the depth chart to his proper third-line role on the Sabres. Gionta, Johan Larsson and Marcus Foligno would form the Sabres most consistent line through the final 20-25 games of the season and the captain played a big role in helping those two find their games. Leadership, especially one that totes a Stanley Cup ring like Gionta has, is invaluable on a young team. Although the Sabres as a team made great strides, having a captain being disappointed with the participation trophy, as he often said during locker cleanout day, will keep this team on the right track.

Questions moving forward:   At age 37 and in top shape, how much will he have to offer the team heading into his final year of his contract? Who will he have a positive impact on next season? And peeking a little bit beyond, could he and the Sabres find a match for one, maybe two more years in a limited role at a reduced cap-hit?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--LW, Evander Kane

Reprinted with permission from

Left Wing--Evander Kane
DOB:  August 2, 1991 (age, 24)
Draft:  2009, 4th overall
How acquired:  Trade with the Winnipeg Jets, February 11, 2015
Last contract signed:  2012--6yr./$31.5M
Final year of contract:  2017-18

2015-16 Stats:  65 games, 20 goals, 15 assists, 35 points, -14

What we wrote preseason:  Before all the collateral off-ice incidents entered into the equation during his professional career, scouts were drooling over Evander Kane's powerforward frame and ultra on-ice competitive nature. It was something not lost on Buffalo GM Tim Murray, a long-time scout himself, when he traded for Kane. "You watch him play on the ice," said Murray at the time of the trade, "he plays hard. He plays in traffic. He doesn’t play a perimeter game; he plays a heavy game. He scores goals from around the net. He plays the game right. He finishes checks. He’s a good fighter. I don’t know how much I want him fighting. That’s his character on the ice."

As for the off-ice drama that accompanied Kane, Murray stated a well-hidden truism in sports, "I can tell you the best of the very best players have warts, but I can’t talk about them."

Such is the dichotomy of Kane.

What we wrote mid-season:  "missed 10 games due to injury but has kicked it up with six goals and three assists in his last 13 games. Needs to keep his north/south aggressive game rolling. He and Eichel on the same line hasn't been a total disaster, but try connecting the same poles of two different magnets."
Impressions on his play this year:  You  know what they say about leopards and spots, and the first half of his first season in Buffalo was his pro career in a nutshell--promise, inury and, of course, off-ice incidents. But a funny thing happened on the way to lynching him and Murray, Kane changed everyone's perception of him with a selfless act in his return to Winnipeg. With an open net in front of him and the opportunity to shove it in the face of the entire city and the Jets organization, he instead fed rookie Sam Reinhart who hit the empty net for his first career hattrick.

Although another event a month later--oversleeping after hanging at NBA All-Star Weekend and being suspended by the team--would prick the aura of a complete Saul-to-Paul transformation, there's reason to believe that Kane may choose to further separate himself from his off-ice image and focus his energies more on the ice. And there's the rub.

Questions moving forward:  There's a duality in Kane that will always be there, the question is, how much can he keep his off-ice image, and the baggage that comes along with it, in check? And because he plays a rugged north/south game, what can be done to minimize injury without compromising his powerforward game? He has all the skills to become a perennial 25-30 goal scorer, but can he find that happy medium between selfish (the want/need to score) and selfless (the need to incorporate his teammates into the play) to attain that standard?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

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

Reprinted with permission from

Defenseman--Rasmus Ristolainen
DOB:  October 27, 1994 (age, 21)
Draft:  2013, 8th overall
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  2013 ELC; $950k/yr. + $850k yearly performance bonus
Final year of contract:  2015-16, RFA

2015-16 Stats:  82 games, 9 goals, 32 assists, 41 points, -212

What we wrote preseason:  Ristolainen was the player the Sabres keyed on at the 2013 NHL Draft and they got him. Despite being NHL ready, after the management team was blown up that season, Risto was sent to the AHL. After the season was over, he went back to Finland to work out and came to development camp chiseled as if to say he never wanted to go back to the AHL.

"Ristolainen ended up making the Sabres roster and averaging 20:36 of ice-time for the 2014-15 season," and after Tyler Myers was traded, "[his] ice-time would increase substantially. In the final 20 games of the season, he would not see less than 20:58 minutes of while hitting 28:00 minutes or more three consecutive games.

"He has physical attributes as well as the drive to excel. He has tremendous hockey sense, is a strong skater, he positions himself well and has a strong physical presence to his game as well as some offensive acumen. The only thing missing from his resume' is full-time experience in a top-pairing role."

What we wrote mid-season:  --"[Ristolainen] "has become an absolute beast." Those aren't my words (at least not my exact words, I called him "a bad man") rather they came from Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News. Ristolainen is all of 21 yrs. old and he's leading the Sabres blueline in all categories while leading the team in total ice-time. He's also on a pace to score almost 60 points, something that hasn't been done since recent Hall of Fame inductee Phil Housley (81 points) did so back in the 1989-90 season."

Impressions on his play this year:  Although he didn't even hit the 50-point mark, Ristolainen had a very strong offensive season doubling his point production from 20 in 2014-15 to 41 last season, good for a top-25 placement amongst NHL defensemen. His 25:16 average time on ice placed him 10th in the league and he was the only Sabres player to play in every game this year. The dude was a workhorse for Buffalo last season and being the stud he it was expected.

As the season wore on, however, Ristolainen's effectiveness diminished, sometimes to the point were he looked like a rookie. The pace of the game got to him a bit and his focus shifted a bit as the team wanted to seem more bite come out of him. He's a 6'4" 207 lb. physical specimen who was drafted as a d-man with some sandpaper to his game, yet that aspect hadn't made it's presence known to any discernable degree. At 21 yrs. old the team has him working on rounding out his game, which is a good thing.

Questions moving forward:  Will "The Angry Finn" (as head coach Dan Bylsma called him) be able to channel Chris Pronger in becoming both fearless and feared? The more emboldened he becomes, the bigger and tougher the player coming back at him. Will he be able to up his production once again? He lead the team in powerplay assists with 17, can he be counted on to command the first powerplay unit? How well can he manage his time on ice to avert late-season slumps? And, maybe the big one this off-season, will he and the Sabres negotiate a long-term deal or go the bridge-contract route?