Friday, July 22, 2016

Is this the year we see the real Robin Lehner?

Robin Lehner did not have a poor first season with the Buffalo Sabres by any means. However that his 2.47 goals against average and .924 save percentage did come in an injury-shortened season was a source of consternation for many. He suffered a high ankle sprain in the second period of the very first game, missed 39 games, played, re-aggravated the injury then was officially shelved after having season-ending ankle surgery March 30th. He appeared in 21 games total for Buffalo after returning to the lineup on January 15th posting a 5-9-5 record.

After a somewhat shaky return against Boston, Lehner got up to speed and proceeded to play stellar in a five game stretch where he stopped 178 of 188 shots (.946 sv %) and allowed only two goals in each of those games but ended up with only a 2-2-1 record. After that the bottom fell out and although re-injuring his ankle probably had much to do with his decline later in February and into March, missing huge chunks of time over the course of the previous 12 months did not help either.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Buffalo's Murray chippin' away--only Ristolainen and Girgensons left to re-sign

With the re-signings of G, Jason Kasdorf and F, Daniel Catenacci Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray only has two of his own free agents left to sign--D, Rasmus Ristolainen and F, Zemgus Girgensons--both of whom are restricted free agents.

Although both are first round picks and started their NHL careers the same year, the Sabres approach to re-signing them is decidedly different.

Ristolainen is a cornerstone top-pairing/No. 1 d-man that will anchor the Sabres defense corps for years to come. Murray and Company--most notably Mark Jakubowski his main contract negotiator--are focusing on extending Ristolainen and whether it's a bridge contract or long-term is a question that will go a long way in determining his cap-hit. Regardless, as of right now Ristolainen seems to be Priority-1 for Buffalo.

The Sabres went long-term on 2009 Calder Trophy winning defenseman Tyler Myers a few years back, going with a 7 yr./$38.5M contract for the lengthy defenseman with a scoring touch. It was a departure from the old way of doing business for that regime as they transitioned to a new era under new owner Terry Pegula. The 2011 off-season saw the team break free from the financial chains of former owner Tom Golisano and strike anew with a commitment to acquiring and keeping players deemed important foundational pieces.

Ristolainen is in that vein. He was the 8th-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft and hit the ice with the Sabres beginning that very same year. When the front office and coaching staff were dismissed, Ristolainen would eventually be sent to the "safe-haven" that was Rochester as Buffalo was about to embark on an ugly drop to the bottom of the league.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Does the signpost for Evander Kane point to Vancouver?

When Buffalo Sabres LW Evander Kane is on the ice, his power forward game is enviable. He's an extremely fast north/south skater who's not afraid of contact. He's also a very gifted pugilist as we saw when he knocked out noted pest Matt Cooke back in 2011 with a stunning right cross.

Sabres fans saw first-hand what he brought to the table in his first season in Buffalo as he racked up 20 goals and added 15 assists in 65 games. Although it's not eye-popping numbers, he was coming off of season-ending shoulder surgery in February 2015, plus six months of rehab, not to mention he was starting fresh with a new team, a new coach and system and different linemates on almost a nightly basis early in the season.

In an end of season impression and questions piece concerning Kane I wrote of a "duality" with him and that it will always be there with the real question being "how much can he keep his off-ice image, and the baggage that comes along with it, in check?" Well, apparently not that long as two months later he was in the midst of an altercation at a Buffalo bar in which he would eventually be face non-criminal charges.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Takeaways from the Vesey vid. On the Foligno signing. Plus...

While Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray isn't losing any sleep knowing that the team made a solid pitch to Jimmy Vesey, the hockey world is still interested in the 23 yr. old who is locked in on an August 15th date with free agency. CSN Boston's Joe Haggerty met with a somewhat uncomfortable Vesey for a nine minute interview yesterday after a workout session in Foxboro.

Haggerty tried to keep it light throughout, but it's a pretty heavy subject for a guy who shunned the team that drafted him (Nashville) and has the most important career decision of his life coming in mid-August. Vesey touched on free agency, his respect for the Buffalo contingent he met with, on Boston definitely being on his short list of teams, and how he's taking advantage of a loophole in the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows him this unique opportunity.

Being in Boston with a Bruins beat writer naturally brought out the homerism as Haggerty asked Vesey if there were any favorite players he'd heard from to, you know,  give Bruins GM Don Sweeney a heads-up on who he might want to attend the eventual meeting. Haggerty even invoked the name Tom Brady, the patron saint of chowdah heads, as a reference point. Vesey could've gone  number of ways from Milan Lucic to Raymond Borque to Team President Cam Neely but none of those were came out.

Vesey mentioned Joe Thornton as his favorite Boston Bruin and that he wears No. 19 because of him. That had to be a bit awkward.

Other than that, the only other thing worth noting is that Vesey likes Italian food. It's a homebody staple.

Just a head's up to the Sabres, should they get another sit-down with Vesey this time in Buffalo, they might want to reserve a table at Chef's in Buffalo or Como in Niagara Falls or a homey spot like Frank's Sunny Italy. You know, just to make Vesey feel at home.


The Sabres signed forward Marcus Foligno to a 1 yr./$2.25M contract yesterday which is the same salary he had last season.

Foligno came on rather strong later in the season while playing on the team's most consistent line with Johan Larsson at center and captain Brian Gionta on the other wing. It's pretty obvious this is a show-me year for Foligno as he'll need to start bringing every facet of his power forward game to the ice night-in/night-out.

As mentioned in his player re-cap for 2015-16, "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 a 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? "


I'd assumed he'd get a raise, but the contract Murray and assistant GM Mark Jakubowski signed him to is even better as it helps the team with their cap this season. As mentioned before, the Sabres haven't had to keep the NHL's salary cap in mind for quite some time but this year, they'll be butting up against it.

A quick take on their status using various cap-sites put them at just under $60M before the Foligno signing. With him in the fold the Sabres have two more restricted free agents to sign--Rasmus Ristolainen and Zemgus Girgensons--and are now at about $62M, or $11M under the league's $73M salary-cap ceiling.

Which leaves plenty of room to sign Risto, Gus and Vesey and add two depth players at the league minimum.

Friday, July 15, 2016

2016 Development Camp in the books. Notes plus Murray on Vesey

Sabres LW, William Carrier came to Buffalo in the Ryan Miller trade with the St. Louis Blues on February 28, 2014. It was Tim Murray's first trade as the Sabres new GM and his focus seemed to be on "bigger, faster, stronger" players with skill and the pugnacity to go to the dirty areas of the ice to score. Carrier was originally touted as a late first-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft because of his size, skating and hands as well as an all-in mentality. An injury caused him to miss half the season his draft year and he dropped to the second round where the Blues took him with the 57th selection.

Carrier's first two seasons as a pro began with struggles and an injury. Mid-way through last season, however, he was ready to break out. In a stretch beginning in January, Carrier posted a line of nine goals and 11 assists in 24 games before an injury sidelined him for the final 12 games of the season. Not only did the injury derail a strong finish to his second Amerks season, it also kept him off the First Niagara Center ice as he surely was ticketed to make his NHL debut for the Sabres last season.

With that done, Carrier came into Sabres Development Camp this season and was by and large considered the best player on the ice. Although he didn't register a point during the Blue and Gold Scrimmage on Saturday, he was noticeable for his physicality and his edge while being strong on the puck. He continued with that theme during the annual French Connection 3-on-3 Tournament, which closes out D-Camp, as his team took home the trophy.

As he enters the final year of his entry-level contract, Carrier moved himself up the prospect depth-chart to a spot where he could get the call to Buffalo sometime in the first half of the year. But, like Kris Baker of stated after the scrimmage, "if he can stay healthy."


LW, Brandon Hagel was a 6th round pick of the Sabres in the draft this year. He came into camp as an unknown and left a huge impression. Not bad for a 17 yr. old who was the youngest player on the ice.

As noted after the Blue and Gold Scrimmage, the 6'0" 160 lb. Hagel played big in that came as a tenacious contributor to the best line on the ice. He's a long shot to make it to the NHL, but you know what they say about first impression. WGR 550's Paul Hamilton quoted Murray as saying about 159th pick in the draft, "he was almost transparent, he’s competitive, he’s got better instincts than I was led to believe, so he’s got skill, he’s got good instincts for the game, he’s highly competitive, I liked his game.”

The development curve for Hagel will be a long one, which is fine for both player and team but being an intense puck-hound with skill and "good instincts for the game" should keep him on the Sabres radar for the next few years.


Buffalo had a number of lower-round picks like Hagel at D-Camp who looked like they could be quality contributors in the future. Having assets like that will allow the team to move towards the Chicago Blackhawks model for sustainable contention. The Hawks have an extremely talented core locked up for big dollars long-term but are able to maintain a championship-caliber team through a farm system that keeps them stocked with quality.

With their core of Jonathan Towes, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Keith Seabrook taking up a huge chunk of their cap-space (a total cap-hit of $36.65M or just over 50% of the salary cap this year,) it's inevitable that quality players will be squeezed out in a cap-crunch. Yet they manage to fill those roles with players in the system, Calder Trophy winner Artemi Panarin being the exception.

Obviously the Sabres aren't anywhere near the Hawks, but as they build for the future with 38 players drafted over the course of the last five years who are still with the club, picks outside the first round become extremely important not only to nearer-term success, but sustainable success down the road.

Players to keep an eye on:

D, Jake McCabe (2012, 44th-overall)--solid NHL'er with No. 2/3 upside
G, Linus Ullmark (2012, 163rd)--has the size and showed well as a rookie last year No. 1 potential
C, Judd Peterson (2012, 204th)--in a quality NCAA program on a long curve, got noticed at camp
C, Connor Hurley (2013, 38th)--highly-skilled play-maker, top-nine potential, gaining confidence
RW, Justin Bailey (2013, 52nd)--powerforward w/speed ready to make the jump to the NHL
RW, Nicolas Baptiste (2013, 69th)--looks to be a solid bottom-six NHL'er with more seasoning
G, Cal Petersen (2013, 159th)--tops Sabres goalie prospects
D, Anthony Florentino (2013, 143rd)--could make for a very solid depth defenseman with bite
F, Eric Cornel (2014, 44th)--two-way acumen places him in bottom-six/top-nine role
RW, Victor Oloffson (2014, 181st)--just gets better every year, top-six skills and potential
D, Brendan Guhle (2015, 51st)--top-four NHL d-man, question is, when?
D, William Borgen, (2015, 92nd)--quietly learning his trade, lower-pairing NHL'er might be his floor
C, Giorgo Estephan (2015, 152nd)--his NHL-caliber skills are starting to shine through
C, Rasmus Asplund (2016, 33rd)--Johan Larsson with much more to offer on offense

There are a few others (like Hudson Fasching who was traded for and has top-nine potential) and undoubtedly there will be surprises along the way but this is a group that the Sabres will be tapping into over the course of the next three or four years for sustainable contention. Whether it's contending for a playoff spot, conference supremacy or a Stanley Cup is to be determined, but this is what the scouting staff brought in and what the coaches will develop for the Blue and Gold.


Murray addressed the Jimmy Vesey question at the end of camp this week and seems to be tired of talking about it. "I’ve talked about this literally less than anybody else in Buffalo," Murray told the gathered media. "I hear the guys on the radio and people are mad and this is like top end news and I’m like, it is what it is."

It's not only the guys on the radio, but in print as well and us bloggers too.

Murray has always understood the media and it's role and has always been accommodating. Oft-times he'll qualify a statement by saying something like "I know you guys have a job to do," before offering what information he can and setting the record as straight as he can set it. It should be a very endearing quality to not only those whose livelihood is directly tied to the team he runs, but to us fans who are left with a sense of sincerity coming from his matter-of-fact approach.

The whole Vesey saga makes for a lot of hypotheses and plenty of speculation, but the simple fact of the matter is, said Murray, "we traded one of our four 3rd round picks to be able to talk to him. If he doesn't [sign with Buffalo], it's going to be obviously not the decision we want and you guys will call me a dummy for trading away a third-round pick. I've got all the scenarios and I'm ready for it all but it's up to him. It's his time."

Vesey's time indeed. He finished his four years of college and opted to become a free agent on August 15th as per NHL rules. The Sabres feel as if they have a very compelling situation for Vesey to fit into and presented it as such when they met with him last week. It's assumed that they did so in a very matter-of-fact way as well, leaving the bells and whistles to another organization in the hope of landing Vesey.

"We went down there. We spoke to him," said Murray. "I told him he doesn't owe anybody anything. He went to school for four years and he became a free agent so now he's got to make the right decision for him. There's no timetable.

"If he wants to come in here or he wants to reach out to us and have another meeting then we're there. But for me, this is in his court."

I'm still of the opinion that it's 65/35 he lands in Buffalo. Although I highly doubt they offered him an iron-clad guarantee he'd be in the top-six for the Sabres, I'm pretty sure offered him the opportunity to play on Ryan O'Reilly's or Jack Eichel's wing and what he does with that opportunity is up to him. He'll be surrounded by a core group of players very close to his own age on an up-and-coming team with at least one superstar (Eichel) in the mix.

"I don't sit at home and speculate about this," Murray said. "He's either going to sign here or he's not.

End of story...for now.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ryan O'Reilly acquitted--comments from the peanut section

Ryan O'Reilly was acquitted of an impaired driving charge stemming from an incident that occurred last summer when a pickup truck slammed into the storefront of a Tim Horton's doughnut shop.

It's taken a year to bring this incident into the courts and the trial was expected to last two days. But with only one witness at the store and said witness unsure of who was driving the vehicle, the case against O'Reilly was dropped in the early afternoon of the first day.

Fans are usually quick to judge the off-ice antics of professional players, and to most said player is "guilty until proven innocent." And even when the player is found to be innocent of the charges against them, he's still guilty because of a payoff and/or a corrupt police dept. and/or corrupt judicial system.

After the incident last summer, O'Reilly hit the ice in Buffalo for his first season with the Sabres. He had an outstanding year for the club and was a model player both on and off the ice. For his work he was nominated for the NHL’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is given annually to the athlete “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”

It was a very fitting nomination considering everything he'd done for the Sabres that season, but there was outright consternation and scorn at the nomination as seen from some tweets (via USA Today's Hemal Jhaveri, March 28):

Ian McLaren (the Score)--Looks like Buffalo is choosing to double double down on Ryan O'Reilly. Sad. Frittering away a nomination, glazing over the facts imo

McLaren--Ryan O'Reilly is so dedicated to hockey, not even a donut shop can stand in his way.

Jeff Veilette (the Leafs Nation)--What is it this season with the media fawning over all over players who do things that are detrimental to society?

Veilette--The Masterton is great because its nominees act as a list of role models.
Ryan O'Reilly overcame drunkenly crashing a car into a Timmies.

Those were some of the milder ones.

Upon O'Reilly's acquittal, social media is a back at it.

Comments from a Jared Clinton piece in The Hockey News:

--I guess if Tim Horton dies drunk driving, it's cool to drive drunk into his restaurants?

--And there ya go everyone. The justice system for you.
These are the guys kids take as their models growing up. "Hey if you play in the NHL and you do some stupid s... you'll be alright cause you make millions and you're famous!!
Twitter is the scorn of modern day society as people are allowed to shoot their mouths off without repreucussion.

--O'Reilly bought off the witness through a third party intervenor. O'Reiily had to to blow over on the breathalezer(sic) if he was pulled over. The charges should've stuck with the science proving him to be legally drunk. Ray Bourque got pinched and he admitted to his crime. The OPP in the south western Ontario region have a history of corruption. I know this from first hand knowledge.

--O'Reilly was never pulled over. He was walking when he was approached by the police. I have no use for O'Reilly or any other useless drunk behind the wheel of a vehicle but I'm not going to make things up to try a prove something. Are the South West Ontario OPP the only corrupt police force in NA? There isn't a police force on the planet that isn't corrupt. If I was the owner of the Sabres, I would be dumping players with low morals and character like O'Reilly and Kane.

Comments from an AP piece as published at Sportsnet:

--Corruption all around from judges, police, etc. etc. Was the lack of evidence lacking or was the bribes greater. Evidence: Truck hit the building while being driven. Who was the driver? If it was the NHL hockey paper he must have came up with a lot of lies (money-bribes) to get charges dropped. We know the building did not lie. The damaged truck did not lie. Not enough evidence is a bunch of bullbribes. The prosecutors must be looked at very closely in this incident.

--WOW... lesson here kids... if you drink and drive... leave the scene of the crime and sober up before you see the cops... you'll leave scott FREE... pretty disgusting....
But he's a millionaire... he can afford a good lawyer...

And, a little satire from this Yahoo commenter:

--Drunken hipster. Was probably taking selfies before, during & after the crash

From everything I've gathered since O'Reilly came to Buffalo, he seems like an outstanding individual and that Masterton Trophy nomination given by local chapter of the Pro Hockey Writer's Association was completely warranted. What happened on that early summer morning in Ontario will never be known, but there was never enough concreter evidence provided by the prosecution to convict him and unlike social media, he's innocent until proven guilty.

As for social media, momma alw

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Buffalo, and anyone outside the hockey dept., needs to chill on the Vesey courtship

A Die By the Blade blog posted a picture of a billboard in Buffalo that was eventually picked up by Yahoo's Sean Leahy and spread to a much larger audience. On it were the words "Buffalo Loves Vesey." The Vesey, of course, is in regards to Jimmy Vesey, the recent Harvard graduate whom the Sabres own the rights to until August 15 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

A lot has been said and written about the left winger with an NHL-ready frame and two strong developmental years for the Crimson that lead to 56 goals and 104 points in his last 70 games as a junior and senior. There's no question that he'd fit right into what Buffalo is doing and spot in the top-nine is legit at this point in time with the strong possibility that he'd have an opportunity as either Jack Eichel or Ryan O'Reilly's wingman in the top-six.

The Sabres just met with Vesey in Boston last week as Sabres GM Tim Murray, head coach Dan Bylsma and assistant director of scouting Jerry Forton, who helped recruit Vesey when he was an assistant coach at Harvard, all headed to Beantown to make their pitch. The trio represented hockey and the organization and presumably had answers to the questions Vesey had concerning where he fit into the grand scheme of things.

That was important as Vesey is looking at the next two years, his entry-level contract years, as a springboard to a longer, and presumably a more lucrative, NHL contract coming out on the other side. One of Vesey's agents, Peter Fish told the Buffalo News that "the meeting went very well" while also telling WGR550 that Vesey felt "very comfortable" with Murray and Bylsma. "However," continued Fish, "until we sit down with Jimmy and fully digest everything we heard [Thursday], I can’t really comment on how it might affect Aug. 15th.”

The Sabres did well in their sales pitch. Murray, whose known to keep it brief and to the point, said of the meeting to The News, “We went down there, we talked to him about the city and the organization, then we came home.”

That would be the proper amount of pitch without any overwhelming pressure being put on a young man staring down the first big decision of his professional career. What's not proper is the over-the-top "Buffalo Loves Vesey" billboard from Northtown Automotive. Although it attracts attention, in the end, smothering affection like that hurts the process.

As an example, take the Toronto Maple Leafs pitch for then unrestricted free agent Steven Stamkos, a Toronto-area native.

Rare is the time when a free agent of his caliber hits the open market and there was no small amount of interest from a number of teams including the Buffalo Sabres who talked with the Stamkos camp during the open period on draft weekend. The Montreal Canadians were also said to have talked to them and Stamkos also had meetings with Toronto and then Detroit lined up.

But Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun wrote today that the heavy hand of the Leafs soured Stamkos not only on Toronto, but on the process as well. Simmons cites "numerous NHL people who attempted to woo Stamkos" as the basis for his piece.

"The availability of [Stamkos] all but ended after a Monday night meeting in Toronto that included Maple Leafs ownership, front office executives, Toronto Mayor John Tory, Canadian Tire CEO Michael Medline and others from the corporate community," wrote Simmons. "It was apparently an impressive sell with all kind of bells and whistles — just not impressive to Stamkos."

Even though the 26 yr. old Stamkos is an eight-year NHL veteran, facing that kind of crush from Toronto had to be startling. I'm not sure any player could come out of meeting like that expecting to perform even to the lowest of his own expectations were he to sign with any team much less his hometown team. According to Simmons, "He left the meeting with the Leafs, and apparently turned to his advisors and said: 'No more meetings.'"

Sorry Detroit.

The gist of this, other than the utter absurdity at the Center of the Hockey Universe for deploying an army like this to woo Stamkos, is that players want to play hockey where they feel comfortable and the best pitch is simply to lay out what there is to offer and let the chips fall where they may. No amount of bells and whistles and/or socio-political dignitaries and/or money-figures and/or billboards will change a player's perception of what's inside the hockey department and how he'll reach his potential as a hockey player.

The Northtown Auto Group, the Mayor of Toronto and others outside the hockey community needed to back off and let hockey people do their jobs. Although Vesey is no Stamkos, they are both humans and will go somewhere else if the pressure's too much. That's what free agency, or in these two cases, impending free agency, allows a player, the choice of where he wants to play.

Why suffocate them?