Friday, July 26, 2013

Thomas Vanek will probably be having his cake and eating it somewhere other than Buffalo

Sabres forward Thomas Vanek has things falling into place for him once again.

The 2013-14 season will mark the last year of the seven-year/$50M contract he signed in 2007. And just like in 2007 when he delayed an extension with the Buffalo Sabres, the star winger looks to be heading towards the 2014 off-season ready to max out his value on the open market.

"I've never been a person to narrow my choices down," he said in an interview with KSTP (via WKBW.com) at the University of Minnesota where he's presently working out.

Back in 2006-07, Vanek was coming off his rookie contract just as league revenues, and henceforth the league salary cap, were really beginning to ramp up. Rather than sign an extension with the Sabres during the season, Vanek and his agent waited for the off season where he signed a $50M offer-sheet from Edmonton. It was immediately matched by the Sabres.

That was some pretty good timing as a number of stars aligned for him.

League revenues were soaring at the time. Edmonton wanted to--needed to--land a star player. The Sabres had screwed things up with Daniel Briere and Chris Drury and Vanek was coming off of a career year.

After signing that contract, the star winger never came close to the 43 goal, 84 point season he had in that contract year. He averaged 32 goals, 63 points in five full seasons before last year's lockout.

Last season he was a point per game player scoring 20 goals and adding 21 assists in 38 games. He missed 10 games in the NHL's lockout shortened season due to injury.

Which leads us to where the Sabres and Vanek are right now.

Vanek, who has been luke-warm (at best) to a long rebuild in Buffalo, commented on his status in the KTSP interview. "We're rebuilding," he said, "and I'm hoping we have the right pieces to accomplish something."

"I'm not saying I'm old," he continued, "but at the same time you'd like to be on a team where you feel like going into camp you're contending. Right now in Buffalo we're rebuilding which is not the best case scenario for me."

This is right in line with what his thought process has been since captain Jason Pominville was traded to the Minnesota Wild at the trade deadline.

“Let’s be honest,” Vanek told the Buffalo News back in late April. “I’m not stupid. I know I have a year left and they can probably deal me for prospects, young guys, whatever else is out there. Yeah, I’ve thought about it. If it looks like it’s a long rebuild, then it probably makes sense for both parties to move on.”

Pretty frank words coming from a player who's best friend and neighbor (Pominville) had just been traded to the Wild at the trade deadline.

There has been no movement for him since. He remains a Sabre and, in a business-like approach, he stated simply that he's ready to hit camp this September as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

The big hindrance to his movement (read trade) is his $7.1M cap-hit. The salary cap for this season is set at $64.3M, which is down from $70M this past season. Not very many teams have the wiggle room to absorb that much money for a potential rental player.

Projections for the 2013-14 season, however, have the cap jumping up to around $70M. Which bodes well for Vanek as he seems to have some of the stars aligning once again.

There will be many teams with the cap-space to sign him to a very lucrative and presumably long-term contract. Especially a team like Minnesota, who looks to be one of those places where he can "feel like he's going into camp contending."

Vanek is a bonafide top-line winger in his prime who can score in a many different ways. There are many teams out there who will covet his skill level and he will be free to pick and choose the right situation for him.

It's highly doubtful that the Buffalo organization is the right situation for him at this time, even if the Sabres offer him a very lucrative deal.

As a businessman, he'll be looking to maximize his value, just like he and his agent did when they worked the 2007 off season. As a hockey player, his most recent statements with KTSP indicate that he's thinking about his NHL mortality and wants to be on a team contending for the Stanley Cup.

Add it up and Thomas Vanek will have his cake, and will be eating it too.

Just not in Buffalo.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

First power rankings of the year has the Sabres at...

No. 28

Out of 30 NHL teams the Buffalo Sabres are ranked above only Calgary and bottom-ranked Florida.

Here's what Brian Stubits of CBSsports.com had to say about the team in his first power rankings of the season:
"Big loss: Nathan Gerbe. Big addition: Henrik Tallinder. The Sabres are going into rebuilding mode, so it's going to get worse before it gets better, especially if they move Thomas Vanek and/or Ryan Miller. Ron Rolston was able to get something out of the group at the end of the season but he'll have his hands full over a full schedule."
Of course, anything more than a shrug at this point in the year is an overreaction to these rankings, but it's a good starting point as we look towards the upcoming 2013-14 season.

The Sabres will have a coach entering his first full season and his two best players may not be on the team at the start of camp.

Rolston will have his hands full. No question about it. But unlike last year's lockout-shortened season, he'll have a full training camp to work with and a full preseason schedule to work out the kinks. He's a teacher who will have numerous players on the roster with whom he's worked with over the course of his two seasons with the organization.

That continuity certainly will strengthen his system. But, then again, will his system work at the NHL level over the course of a full NHL season?

His two key players, Miller and Vanek, single-handedly kept the team from the bottom of the league last year. Despite Miller's numbers, he's still regarded as a top-10 goalie in the league while Vanek is a bonafide top-line winger.

After that, there are question-marks throughout the lineup.

With Vanek still on the team, here's what Rolston might be looking at to start the season up-front:
--Vanek, Cody Hodgson, Drew Stafford
--Steve Ott, Mikhail Grigorenko, Ville Leino
--Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis, Brian Flynn
--John Scott/Corey Tropp, Kevin Porter, Patrick Kaleta

--Cody McCormick

On defense, there's a logjam. Nine d-men have NHL experience and there's a chance that the Sabres first-round pick, Rasmus Ristolainen, might make the team.

Here's the potential pairings:
--Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff
--Mark Pysyk, Henrik Tallinder
--Chad Ruwhedel, Mike Weber

--Alexander Sulzer


On paper that group of skaters looks like a 28th place team, with or without Vanek.

The difference between a top-3 pick in the draft and a top-10 pick might very well be between the pipes.

Despite his pedestrian numbers over the course of the last three seasons, without Miller in net, the Sabres would have finished much lower than 15th in the league in 2010-11, 19th in 2011-12 and 23rd last season.

Were it not for Miller (and to an extent Vanek) last season, Buffalo fans might be talking about the players surrounding #1-overall pick (COL) Nathan MacKinnon this season.

There's a long time to go before the team heads to Detroit for their opener on Oct. 2, and there are a number of roster variables as well.

But as of right now Stubits is pretty much right on. This roster, on paper, looks to have a high draft pick written all over it.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Welcome to the Atlantic Division, NHL schedule released. Plus RFA signings and Eric Locke

Last season as a member of the five-team Northeast Division the Buffalo Sabres finished 12th in the Eastern Conference, seven points back of the eighth-seeded NY Islanders.

For the 2013-14 season Buffalo will be a part of the newly constructed Atlantic Division featuring the Sabres four foes from the NE--Boston, Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa--two teams from the former Southeast Division, Tampa Bay and Florida as well as transplanted Western Conference powerhouse Detroit.

Last season all four division opponents made the playoffs.

If you add Detroit to the mix, their 56 points would have been enough to knock the Islanders out of the No. 8 spot.

Heading into the upcoming season, with realignment comes a new playoff format.

The top three teams in each conference are in the playoffs, while the two teams from each conference with the next best records will get in as wild cards.

Looking at last season through the lens of the new playoff format, these would be your playoff teams:
Montreal, Boston and Toronto from freshly minted Atlantic division; Pittsburgh, Washington and the NY Rangers from the new Metropolitan Division.

The two wild card teams would have been Detroit and Ottawa.

Five of the eight teams in Buffalo's division would have made the playoffs and the Sabres would have placed 14th in the conference when you factor in new Eastern Conference addition of Columbus and their 55 points.

For 2013-14, in honor of the new divisions, Buffalo heads to Detroit on October 2nd to kick off the season.

If Sabres fans thought facing division foes Montreal, Boston, Toronto and Ottawa wasn't enough, having to play Detroit four times with Buffalo in rebuild-mode is enough to for them start thinking about tanking for Sam Reinhart or Aaron Ekblad in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

Many will look even further down the road and dream of the 2015 Draft and phenom Connor McDavid.

It will be a tough year for one of the youngest teams in the NHL. It will be even tougher if (when?) the Sabres move their two best players, Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek.

And to complicate things even further, there's a compressed schedule because of the NHL and it's players participating in the Olympics.

Here's a link to a schedule overview from Sabres.com.


********

In other news, the Sabres signed two restricted free agents--F Brian Flynn and D Nick Crawford.

Flynn got the call last season when Vanek went down with an injury and never left. He earned himself a two-year deal.

Crawford, a 6th round pick in 2008 has played 199 games for the Sabres in the AHL, signed a one-year contract.


********

The 2013 Draft has been in the books for a few weeks now and the general consensus is that the Sabres really nailed it.

It will be years before the final results are tallied but first-rounders Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadarov look to be a couple of good ones.

Further down the draft, the Sabres had quite a few picks in the bottom rounds including their final pick of the draft, 7th-rounder (#189-overall,) F Eric Locke.

There's always a heightened sense of optimism at the draft as hope reigns supreme, and Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times Herald, runs with it.

Hoppe interviews Locke's former coach Greg Gilbert for an article which embodies optimism and hope while invoking the name of a Hall-of-Fame sniper. The title of the piece:  Coach believes high-scoring Sabres prospect Eric Locke has Brett Hull-like shot.

Neither writer nor coach go as far to say that Locke will approach Hull's 844 goals, but Locke's shot does make for an interesting conversation piece. And seventh-rounders rarely make it to the NHL.

Coach Gilbert, from the Hoppe piece, on Locke and the player his shot reminds him of:
'Brett Hull, to be honest with you. I mean, Hully was special, there’s no question about it. But Eric’s got that potential. He’s got that quick release. He’s low to the ice. He goes through the shot. He scored goals for us this year from just inside the blue line over the goalie’s glove. The goalies didn’t move.'

Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com first brought Locke to our attention when he said, "Locke has speed in open ice and a nice release that sees him pick corners. The Toronto native's 97 points (44+53) [last season] more than doubled the output of his previous two years combined (46+48)."

Baker points out that it was the fifth straight year that the Sabres selected an overager (Locke is 19) with a late round pick and that the players before Locke were big, physical players.

At 5'10" and with elite skills, Locke, according to Baker, fits "the Sabres need for scoring down the wings."

Maybe Locke will be the gift from the hockey gods for the Sabres now being in one of the toughest (maybe toughest) divisions in the NHL.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Why is The Hockey News' Adam Proteau so concerned with the Sabres' inactivity so far?

Noted hockey writer Adam Proteau has very little to write about this summer. Just like the hockey world in general.

It's the dog days of summer and we're just getting off a week where fans of the big-four North American sports were relegated to MLB's Home Run Derby and All-Star Game, The ESPY's and the International League All-Star Game.

"It’s nearly August, for hockey gods’ sake." cries out Proteau. "Does anyone want to tell Sabres GM Darcy Regier and his Capitals counterpart George McPhee?"

That was the opener to his piece Sabres, Caps must stop standing pat, and Proteau proceeds to bemoan the lack of activity from two teams he says are "doing their best statue impersonations at a time in each team’s history that cries out for at least a modicum of change."

Sabres fans know that goalie Ryan Miller and winger Thomas Vanek are on the block. We also know that Regier is slow, calculated and meticulous when it come to moving pieces. We know that it takes two to tango and that there are many GM's in the league who are just like Regier when it comes to valuing their players.

Therefore, nothing is happening right now with Miller and Vanek and there's the possibility that the Sabres could enter camp with both on the roster. Which, for Proteau, constitutes a "devotion to the core [which] is more than a little curious. It’s bordering on pathological and getting closer to crossing that border with every day of transactional inactivity."

Miller and Vanek are the last two pieces of Regier's "core." And they happen to be the best two players of that underachieving group that havd not gotten past the first round of the playoffs since 2007.

"Loyalty," writes Proteau, "is admirable to a degree, but eventually that attitude turns into organizational inertia and that’s what puts teams in a competitive death spiral."

Proteau is about two years behind his "loyalty" assessment with Regier and the Sabres.

When owner Terry Pegula took over, he allowed Regier to keep his "core" intact and allowed the GM to add whatever pieces that were necessary.

They failed. And Regier's "core" is in the process of being dismantled.

Since their last playoff appearance in 2011, (Pegula's first few months as owner,) only five players who played 60 or more games for the team that year remain with the big-club:  Miller, Vanek, Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis, and Tyler Myers.

Defenseman Mike Weber, forward Patrick Kaleta and back-up goalie Jhonas Enroth, although not playing in 60 games, also played significant roles on the team.

That's a roster turnover of nearly two-thirds in the last two seasons, and of those eight players that are presently on the roster, only three are over the age of 26:  Miller (33,) Vanek (29,) and Stafford (27.)

Despite Proteau's claim that the Sabres shouldn't "make a deal just to make headlines," that seems to be what he's getting at.

Proteau wants, needs, "headlines."

That's his concern.

As for us Sabres fans? We know the drill.

Regier will pull something off that no one expected at a time when no one is watching. That's how he rolls.

No cause for concern at this point.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Quick hits as the dog-days of summer commence

It's July.

With the prospect camp finished, Sabres-related news will be relegated to the Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek trade watch (see watched-pot and boiling) and a depth signing or two.

As of right now, the off-season has consisted of a widely considered strong draft and the homecoming of defenseman Henrik Tallinder.

Some quick hits on the past couple of weeks.


Most 2013 Draft mocks had the Sabres going after a forward and a defensemen with their two 1st-round picks. A couple had them picking two defensemen. Almost invariably, all of them had the Sabres landing a "puck-mover" type defensemen, a hallmark of GM Darcy Regier's team-building for years, with one of their two 1st-rounders.

Lo and behold, the Sabres, with Assistant GM/Head Scout Kevin Devine leading the charge, chose two big, strong defensemen with an edge:  Rasmus Ristolainen (#8) and Nikita Zadorov (#16.) Both should not be confused with a pylon like Derian Hatcher, but they shouldn't be confused with Tallinder either.

A couple of names the Sabres passed up at No.8 were highly skilled winger Valeri Nichushkin and highly skilled center Alexander Wennberg. At No.16 they had "puck-mover" Mirco Mueller and a high-scoring winger Anthony Mantha available, but passed.

Devine said at last year's draft the Sabres wanted to get "bigger, stronger, faster." Regier said that the team needs to get bigger and needs to have players with "compete."

Sabres Owner Terry Pegula stated at his first presser that he wants "not only statistically good players, but winners, gritty players" and said that he wants "hard workers."

Most draft reviews have the Sabres scoring big in the draft, in no small part to selecting Ristolainen and Zadorov.

In Sabreland, the team scored big just for the fact that the team finally seems to be moving fully away from the "core" years.


********

Speaking of "the core."

A big part of Regier's "puck-moving" back end was the aforementioned Tallinder.

The defenseman was the second player selected (#48 overall) by the Sabres in 1997, Regier's first draft as GM of the Buffalo Sabres.

Tallinder is a pretty big d-man at 6'3" 216 lbs., but he's as soft as the day is long. He was on the ice, looking directly at Scott Gomez when the NYR center tripped up, and injured, Ryan Miller. And he did nothing.



Tallinder does have some positives.

He has a long reach and when he was paired with rookie Tyler Myers good things happened. Myer's won the Calder Trophy and Miller won the Vezina.

Most importantly, though, Tallinder has a big fan in Sabres owner Terry Pegula.

Pegula was quoted as saying that he couldn't comprehend the former regime letting the defenseman walk over contract length, and he also, according to the Buffalo News' Bucky Gleason, said that losing Tallinder and Toni Lydman in 2010 was worse than losing Drury and Briere.

First thought when I caught wind of the trade with New Jersey (for Riley Boychuk) was that Pegula had an influence on bringing Tallinder back.

*shrugs*


********

The addition of Tallinder really crowded the blueline and the Sabres now (again) have a number of NHL d-men headed into camp.

That number just increased by one as 2013 1st-round draft pick Ristolainen signed his entry-level contract last week.

Said Regier of the big Finnish defenseman, "We felt that it was important to get Rasmus under contract quickly so that we could start the development process right away. He's a very mature defenseman for his age and will have every chance to compete for a roster spot in training camp."

There was a bit of a "ta-do" with Ristolainen concerning his intentions for the upcoming season. He'd been in the Finnish Elite League and came into the prospects camp saying he had a contract with his hometown team while implying that it would be Finland or Buffalo. No Rochester.

The "ta-do" was comparisons to Russian Valeri Nichushkin who came out and said that he would either play in the NHL or the KHL. No AHL.

Buffalo passed on Nichushkin, a highly skilled winger, because of doubts about his intentions.

Regardless, the Sabres have Ristolainen under contract and according to Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, playing on the Amerks is an option:
"Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is eligible to play for the Rochester Americans, should he not earn a roster spot with the parent Buffalo Sabres during training camp.
The clarification comes this morning from Sabres assistant general manager Kevin Devine, and is presumably due to the NHL contract that the 18-year-old Ristolainen signed on Friday night."
Many, though, think that Ristolainen has a good shot of making the team out of camp.

Which makes for an even more crowded blueline.


********

As of right now, Myers, Christian Ehrhoff and Mike Weber are pretty much locks for the defense corps.

Tallinder and Alexander Sulzer, as vets, would probably have the inside track for two of the remaining three spots.

Mark Pysyk had a strong showing in a short stint last season while leapfrogging Brayden McNabb, who was solid in 2011-12.

Jamie McBain came over from Carolina in the Andrej Sekera deal and is expected to be a 7th d-man or in the minors.

And Chad Ruhwedel played a pretty solid game for the team last season, but could be headed to the AHL as well.

That's nine NHL'ers heading into camp. Throw in Ristolainen and there are 10 defensemen battling it out for seven spots.

Pysyk, McNabb, Ruhwedel and Ristolainen all can be sent to Rochester without clearing waivers.

McBain is another option. Although he would need to clear waivers it's possible he may clear. He had a horrendous season last year.


********

A quick look at the top remaining free agents this year and whether they should end up in Buffalo:
  • Jaromir Jagr--would be joining Tallinder in the "mentor" role. Why not? But don't get too comfy. After 50 or so games get them bags ready for a trade to a contender.
  • Mikhail Grabovski--Meh. The Sabres already have a Mikhail and a multitude of second-line centers. Love his grasp of the English language, though.
  • Damien Brunner--Anyone after him is obviously suffering short-term memory loss. Does Ville Leino ring a bell?
  • Dustin Penner--Even if the Sabres traded his twin, Drew Stafford, do they really need a lesser version of that type of player?
  • Brendan Morrow--He's 34 yrs. old, but his rambunctious style of play makes him seem older. There's a youth movement in Buffalo (minus the Tallinder trade.) Adding a vet wouldn't really be a good fit. And besides, it would seem as if he'd rather go to a contender in the twilight of his career.
  • Daniel Cleary--First option would be to stay in Detroit. But that might not be feasible. As an excellent two-way winger, there could be a fit in Buffalo. Pretty sure he'll have other options.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Lock the Blues' Armstrong and the Sabres' Regier in a room until a deal is done

Rumors perked up over the past week concerning long-time Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.

Miller's name first surfaced on the trade market back in March when Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos (via prohockeytalk) said:

"The other interesting name that's starting to float around is, yes, Ryan Miller. Miller's got another year at over $6M next season, but he's not going to get a contract extension and it's time to move on. They'd dearly love to move him at the deadline, but with that shrinking goaltender market out there it might not be the case. They might have to wait until the summer or even into next season.
But Ryan Miller's days are numbered in Buffalo."

It's been four months since Kypreos said that and in that time, Sabres GM Darcy Regier has been unable to come up with a trade to his liking.

And it's driving Sabres fans nuts.

WGR's Matthew Coller wrote a piece about Miller's trade value being "gonzo" after a number of teams traded for or signed goalies this past week during the draft and the start of free agency.

There had been talks between the St. Louis Blues and the Buffalo Sabres going on, but according to a Pierre LeBrun tweet, the ESPN insider said, "the price was too high."

The "price" was not revealed.

Regier, though,  is known for overvaluing his players. Former Toronto Maple Leaves GM Brian Burke, in a candid interview with The Score, called Regier "unreasonable" and "unrealistic" when it came to the value Regier put on his players. And it got to the point where Burke "didn't want to waste an hour" with a GM like that.

WGR's Howard Simon posed the question to TSN's Darren Dreger on his morning show, saying "the long-held belief amongst Sabres fans is that Regier, fairly consistently, over-plays his hand" when it comes to his players' value and asked, "is that what people believe around the league?"

Dreger's response, "Yes. The book on Darcy Regier is that he does overvalue his players and he is also too cautious, too conservative. But, when it comes to overvaluing players, every single manager, every owner does that. They just do. They're just trying to maximize the rate of return."

St. Louis Post Dispatch writer Jeff Gordon agrees and points to Blues GM Doug Armstrong.

While Armstrong "can make the Big Trade when necessary," says Gordon, "he tends to make changes on his terms, when circumstances favor the Blues. If that means the team has to carry three goaltenders for a while or experiment with myriad line combinations in the fall, so be it."

Two stubborn GM's, not unlike most GM's in professional sports.

Regier takes the rap in Sabreland because we've seen this throughout his 16-year tenure, and he always seems to want to be on the winning end of a trade.

He is capable of making a hockey trade, though, and we witnessed that at the 2012 trade deadline when he sent Zack Kassian to Vancouver for Cody Hodgson. Both teams had specific needs and both teams got what they wanted in the deal.

Likewise, St. Louis and Buffalo both have needs.

The Blues are knocking on the door of Stanley Cup contention with goaltending holding them back.

The Sabres are rebuilding.

The basis is there, but both need to put aside their ego.

Perhaps we need to lock them in a room until a deal gets done.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

What's up with the Nathan Gerbe buyout?

In a nod to the 60's one-hit-wonder band Thunderclap Newman, there's "Something in the Air" at the foot of Washington St.

Yesterday TSN reported that the Buffalo Sabres had placed winger Nathan Gerbe on waivers and would be buying him out of the final two years of his contract.

Not that the news is anything earth-shattering.

The 5'5" 179 lb. Gerbe has struggled throughout his short career thus far. He found himself riding the pine on numerous occasions after prolonged slumps. More than once it looked as if he was headed back to the minors either with Portland or Rochester.

Gerbe was plucked in the 5th round (#142) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, proceeded to have a strong college career (Boston College) and won the Dudley "Red" Garrett Award as the AHL's Rookie of the Year for the 2008/09 season.

At the pro-level, though, Gerbe just couldn't get it done on a consistent basis.

The Sabres will miss his heart. If you could transplant that lion's heart into a bigger, more skilled player, you'd have the makings of an All-Star/potential HOF'er.

To most Sabres fans, placing Gerbe on waivers, is not unexpected and is easily digested. But the intriguing part, if it's true, is the buyout portion.

The NHL granted teams two amnesty buyouts as part of the new CBA to be used in the two off-seasons after the lockout. Amnesty, or compliance, buyouts allow teams to rid themselves of exorbitant contracts that eat up precious cap-space, ie:  Ilya Bryzgalov in Philly and Vinny Lecavalier in Tampa.

Those two albatross contracts, for example, were both expensive and long-term.

But in the case of Gerbe and the Buffalo Sabres, his rather meager cap-hit of $1.45M is on the books for only two more seasons. At the time of his reported waiving, the Sabres had 19 players under contract for the 2013-14 season and were $14M under the salary-cap.

Only one player, RFA Cody Hodgson, would represent a significant cap-hit to the team as he's expected to get somewhere around $4M per season if/when he re-ups.

With plenty of cap-room for this rebuilding season and oodles of cap-space for next season, the big question is why they would use a buyout on a relatively insignificant contract?

One free agent we know they are pursuing is former Sabre Daniel Briere who was a compliance buyout himself. But even if he received a contract with a $4M cap-hit (which would be rather generous) to go along with a Hodgson $4M cap-hit, they would still have $6M in cap-space this season for two more roster spots.

It's a curious move by the Sabres and logic would dictate that there's something rather sizable in the offing. Why else would $1.45M in cap-space be so important?

Besides Briere, the FA pool is rather mediocre at best, at least up-front which is where the Sabres will be focusing upon.

Impending free agents of interest to Buffalo might be NJ powerforward David Clarkson, Detroit center Valtteri Fillpula and possibly NYR powerforward Ryan Clowe.

All three are in for a hefty raise that should land them in the $4-6M/yr. range, a hit that the Sabres could easily absorb this season and next.

Maybe Sabres GM Darcy Regier has a trade in mind too.

It was rumored that Boston Bruins forward Tyler Seguin was being shopped at the draft. Apparently B's GM Peter Chiarelli wasn't thrilled with Seguin's performance. Chiarelli characterized Seguin as lacking professionalism and the gumption to go into the dirty areas to score.

"Seguin," wrote Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe, "played like a youngster who never had to develop his battle level or hockey sense because of his great talent."

There's no question Seguin has the skills and at 21 yrs. old he still has room to fill out his 6'1" frame. He's a natural center with top-line talent that played on the wing in a checking role for the Bruins.

The catch with Bruins heading into the 2013-14 season is that they have cap problems.

According to capgeek, the Bruins have 19 players under contract with only $5M in cap-space.

And they have no goalie.

Tuuka Rask is a restricted free agent and will eat up all of that $5M and then some.

Seguin, for his part, will begin the contract extension he signed last September carrying a cap-hit of $5.75M over the next six seasons.

Of note. Seguin was selected #2 overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. The Bruins received that pick as part of the deal that sent Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leaves (the other being D, Dougie Hamilton, #9-overall, 2011.)

The Sabres are known for keeping everything close to the vest. Despite all the rumors that surround the team, Regier almost always pulls something off that no one saw coming.

Which probably means that none of the players mentioned in this piece will be headed to Buffalo.









Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Six more picks for the Sabres in Rounds 3-7, and a quick overview

The Buffalo Sabres entered the 2013 with 10 draft picks. They left with 11 prospects.

In the first two rounds, they chose five players--two defensmen in the first round and three forwards in the second round. They followed that with a third-rounder, three fifth rounders a sixth and a seventh.

The rest of the picks:
  • 69th --Nicholas Baptiste, RW, 6'1" 201 lbs.
  • 129th-Cal Peterson, G, 6'1" 175 lbs.
  • 130th-Gustav Possler RW, 6' 0" 183 lbs.
  • 143th-Anthony Florentino, RD 6'1" 227 lbs.
  • 159th-Sean Malone, C 5'11" 183 lbs.
  • 189th-Eric Locke, C 5'10, 183 lbs.

Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com recaps the draft succintly and for more info on the picks, click here.

Bakes was also on WGR's Howard Simon Show recapping the draft. Most of the segment was dedicated to the upper picks but he did have the chance to touch upon some of lower picks.

Defenseman Anthony Florentino topped his list of most intriguing late round prospects.

Of Florentino, Baker said, "Very underated in this draft class. Can do a little bit of everything, doesn't have too many flaws to his game, a nice kid off the ice but a mean kid on it. "

"I gotta tell ya," Baker continued sequeing to his next most intriguing prospect, "this Cal Peterson kid he is old school."

Here's how Bakes described the goalie, "He's scrappy, he's a battler, he'll poke-check. He'll stop the puck, but sometimes he'll come out and want to stop the shooter. He's very aggressive."

Baker points out that Peterson will be going to Notre Dame. He's one of five players drafted this year that will be taking the college route:  second round picks JT Compher (Michigan) and Connor Hurley, (Notre Dame); Florentino (Providence); Malone (Harvard.)

Nearly half of the Sabres draft haul this year will be headed to college and will have much longer to develop, up to four years, before they'll turn pro. Having five from one draft class really projects out well for the organization.

Via Bill Hoppe, Olean Times Herald, 'With so many picks and our contract situation, you don’t want to waste those picks because their contracts all come up at the same time,' amateur scouting director Kevin Devine explained Sunday on the Prudential Center floor after the Sabres finished picking. 'We wouldn’t be able to sign three or four of them. So that was a plan. We looked at the college route and Europeans for the new CBA, which now gives us four years for those guys over there.'

The odds for any player taken outside the top-five making it to the NHL, much less making an impact, aren't all that great. As you move down the draft it becomes slim to none.

But you never know what can happen with a particluar player. They obviously have enough skill to play, and something about them says there's a possibility. Having four years to allow for the player to develop is a nice cushion.

Having five picks like that, while also having six picks going the junior route where the projection is one to three years, really sets the team up nicely down the road.


The Sabres had themselves quite a haul at the 2013 NHL Draft.

In what's said to be the deepest draft in years they picked five players within the first 52 picks.

One (Rasmus Ristolainen) might be able to jump right to the NHL this season. Another (Nikital Zadorov) is only a year or two away.

They went with size and they went with character. And they looked to pick players with two-way game.

With 11 total picks the Sabres had the luxury of picking two hometown boys in Justin Bailey and Malone with the former being a legitimate power forward prospect.

After focusing upon centers last year they grabbed defense in the first round. Wingers were slightly predominant within positional balance:  four wingers, three centers, three defensemen, one goalie.

A post-draft wrap with GM Darcy Regier and Assistant GM/Head Amateur Scout Kevin Devine can be seen here.

Every year, teams are very happy with their draft and this year is no different for the Sabres.

An overall grade here would be a B+. They did some great things, but the only area that they didn't seem to address was top-line scoring, which they wanted in the top-four but couldn't attain.

Other than that, it'll be three or four years before we get a full take on what Devine and his merry band of scouts accomplished at the 2013 draft.

For a list of (very positive) draft grades from various media outlets provided by sabres.com click here.





Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Sabres add three forwards in the second-round of the 2013 draft

After going with defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov in the first-round, the Sabres turned their attention to forwards in the second. Whether defense or offense, there was a theme that ran through their first five picks--two-way players.

Even though Ristolainen and Zadarov are big, defensively responsible players, both have some offense to their games and consider themselves two-way players.

In the second-round we would see more of that theme with all three picks. "Three" being the operative word as the Sabres added a pick.

Having three picks in the second round was, in essence, defined by selection of Ristolainen.


The trade that wasn't and the trade that was

Picking a defensemen like Ristolainen who they considered to be "NHL-ready" allowed the Sabres to move veteran puck-moving rear-guard Andrej Sekera at the draft.

Sekera had been in the organization since he was drafted in the third round (#71) of the 2004 NHL Draft and he was also a key component for Carolina in a potential trade-back from the 5th pick with the Sabres. The potential deal went like this:  Carolina trades No. 5 along with defensemen Jamie McBain to Buffalo for No. 8 and Sekera.

The Sabres balked.

When the second round came around, Assistant General Manager/Head Amateur Scout Kevin Devine said that the Sabres were ready to use both their second-rounders (#38 and #52) to move up to land a player they coveted.

"We were actually trying to move up to possibly get him," said Devine, "when our phone rang with the offer from Carolina. To be able to keep [our picks] was nice."

Sekera went to the 'Canes and in return the Sabres got McBain and Carolina's second-round pick (#35) in the deal.


The picks

With that pick the Sabres started a run of forwards by drafting C JT Compher, the player Devine and Co. wanted.

"We thought Compher would be gone by the 38th pick," continued Devine. "We looked at moving up to the first round, but there were no takers there.We would have lost both 38 and 52, so it worked out pretty good."

Compher is known for his hard-working, two-way game and it would seem as if they went after a player comparable to Horvat, albeit with a little less on the skill side.

And although the team went away from the "bigger, faster, stronger" mantra with the pick with the 5'10" 185 lb Compher, they stuck with owner Terry Pegula's stated desire for hard-working players.

What he lacks in size Compher, it's said, makes up for in compete. He's said to be relentless in all areas, especially on the back-check, an area severely lacking during "the core" days.

The two second round picks that Devine saved by not having to trade up to get Compher were used on a couple of forwards who also have strong two-way games.

With the 38th pick in the draft the Sabres went with the youngest player in the draft Edina (MN) High School forward Connor Hurley.

An obvious project, Hurley has enough skill that if he were born just a day later, he'd have been projected as a first-rounder in the 2014 Draft. Instead he'll be in the Sabres organization playing in the USHL next year then headed to Notre Dame the following year.

This pick is all about upside for Hurley. Not two or three years, but maybe four or even five years down the road. If he ends up making an impact in the NHL, it will be a tribute to the projections of the Sabres' scouting staff. If he bombs, he'll get lost in the number of overall picks the Sabres had in the first two rounds of the draft.

Many had thought that Williamsville, NY native Justin Bailey would be the Sabres pick at 38, but Buffalo was lucky to be able to land him at No. 52 with the third of their three second-round picks.

Bailey is a 6'3" LW who will have time to bulk up from his 183 lbs. He plays a two-way game and has all the makings of an NHL power forward, but will need to work on his strength and consistency. Right now he skates well, can weave through traffic and can finish, which makes for great skill-side building blocks.

He seems to be a high-character guy as well. One would also believe that the motivation to make the home team proud should propel his work-ethic and desire to move up the prospect ranks.

We know everyone in Buffalo will be rooting for him.


The skinny

With three second-round picks in what's said to be a deep draft, the Sabres fortified their prospect pool with the addition of three forwards.

Work-ethic and two-way acumen seem to be desirable cornerstones with which the Sabres want to rebuild and all three second-round selections have that.

Gone are the days of picking that purse-carrying skilled player.

The Sekera trade added a interesting twist to the second round, and one would think that the Sabres were thrilled to not only get their man in Compher, but also to be able to keep their selections and add to the talent pool.

Bailey is a very good pick and has all the makings of a power forward a few years down the road, but the most intriguing pick may be Hurley.

In effect, one could look at Hurley as a 2014 first-round pick whom the Sabres were able to draft a year early. He seems to have a helluva skill-set and that work-ethic/two-way acumen. But the best part of that pick for the organization might just be time. Hurley will have plenty of time to hone his skills while the Sabres can be extremely patient in the process.

All in all the first two rounds were solid. Maybe not as flashy as most had hoped, but rock solid none-the-less.

The rebuild is on, and if there was a question as to the types of players the Sabres are rebuilding with, the first two rounds of this draft certainly provides a strong indication as to where they're headed.

They've added two towering, gritty d-men on the back-end and traded a puck mover to make some room. They continued to build up-front with two-way acumen being the desired trait. They added tons of compete and plenty of upside plus gained some size on the wing.

These are the types of players that have been lacking for a number of years, maybe dating back to 2007/08 when the NHL was transitioning away from the "new-NHL" to a more old-school grind it out style.

The players selected in this draft, along with the likes of Steve Ott represent players who should be able to play in any style NHL.

And that's a helluva foundation with which to build upon.




For more detailed information on the players selected by the Buffalo Sabres and an overview of rounds three-seven, visit our good friend Kris Baker at sabresprospects.com.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sabres first round in the 2013 Draft brings in two big defensemen

Sabres owner Terry Pegula took over the team in 2011, just a little over two years ago.

One of his mantras during his first presser was, "I want to keep not only statistically good players, but winners, gritty players."

At the 2012 Draft last year, Kevin Devine the Sabres assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting, stated that the team wanted to get "bigger, stronger, faster."

Presently in the midst of a rebuild/team makeover, Buffalo went into the draft with many needs up and down the lineup--including top-line talent and defensive help. They went into Sunday with two first-rounders and two second-rounders and a total of 10 picks.

There was a wealth of offensive talent at the very top, some two-way standouts just below and some highly regarded defensemen said to be amongst the top-10.

The Sabres couldn't crack the top-four of the draft where Devine said there were two drop-off points--one after Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones, the other said to be after Jonathan Drouin and Alexsander Barkov. Another drop-off point, Devine implied, was somewhere around the 9th/10th pick.

Most fans had high expectations an impact forward and a solid defenseman, in either combination, to be taken by the Sabres if they stayed at No. 8 and No. 16.

At yesterday's draft one could feel the collective sigh coming out of the F'N Center, home to the Sabres Draft Party, when Buffalo selected defenseman Nikita Zadorov with the 16th pick in the draft.

Not that it was a bad pick by any stretch of the imagination. In fact most thought Zadarov would be gone anywhere from No. 10 to the mid-teens--within that fourth tier of players.
And most Sabres fans would've liked the pick had the team not selected a defenseman with their first 1st-rounder.

At No. 8 the Sabres drafted 6'3" 205 lb. Finnish defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, a player Devine said they "keyed on" heading into the draft.

Ristolainen is a big, strong defenseman who plays with an edge and can move the puck out of his zone. He spent the last two seasons playing against men in the Finnish Elite league and acquitted himself extremely well.  He logged well over 20 minutes a game and was used in all situations as an 18 yr. old.

Projections for Ristolainen have him NHL ready. Just how ready is yet to be determined. Devine said post-draft that "he has a good chance of playing in the league next year." Ristolainen is under no Canadian Hockey League constraints and will either be in Buffalo or Rochester to start next season.

As for Zadorov, the Sabres had no intention of grabbing another defenseman with their 16th pick, "we had [Ristolainen and Zadorov] neck and neck," said Devine, mentioning that having Zadorov drop was "our biggest surprise."

"We were looking to move up [from No. 16] but teams were saying no and [Zadorov] kept sliding and sliding," said Devine with almost a Cheshire grin on his face. "So, to get those two big guys [without trading up] was pretty nice."

Nice is not a word when it comes to those two, especially Zadorov.

"Yeah, I like to hit," he beamed at his presser.

"In Russia it's not a physical game," he said. "Here in Canada everybody plays physical and play against you stride for stride. You should be ready every second."

In Zadarov the Sabres got themselves a huge, mobile defenseman with some offense and a mean streak.

So with one stroke of a 2013 first-round draft-brush, seemingly much to the dismay of some fans, the Buffalo Sabres revamped their blueline. Some would say at the cost of passing a possible difference maker up-front.


The Skinny

There are seemingly many things at work under the surface of these two picks.

First and foremost it signals a shift in a team-building philosophy that once largely centered around skilled, puck-movers on the back end.

Gone are the days where we'd see five Brian Campbells to one Jay McKee on the back-end. Throughout the last six, largely forgetable seasons, the Sabres back-end was about as soft as it could be outside of gritty veterans like Craig Rivet and Robyn Regehr.

A more balanced defense with the addition of heft and nasty is a good thing for everyone on the team, especially in goal.

Long-time Sabres goalie Ryan Miller has been run at for years, the Milan Lucic incident being the most recent, with little recourse and it looks as if that should no longer take place.

Picking the best player available has always been how Buffalo works the draft and in their minds they worked it just like that with the Ristolainen and Zadorov picks.

But it wouldn't be too far of a stretch to think that picking these two big defensemen will have some influence upon whether Miller re-signs or moves on.

Miller seems like a very loyal guy, and as he looks upon (up at) these two defensemen, he could see them as templates of the future on defense, and it very well could sway him into sticking around through the rebuild.

Yet another factor seemingly at work in the selection of these two defensemen is the influence of scouts from Europe.

Long-time NHL defenseman and former Sabres player Teppo Numminen has been an assistant coach for the Sabres for the last two seasons. Before that he was a scout with the Finnish National Team.

It's safe to assume that Numminen had access to scouting reports from numerous contacts in Finland concerning Ristolainen, his fellow countryman. And it wouldn't be at all surprising if the he was on hand for a few games himself.

The Sabres also have a full time presence over in Europe in amateur scout Fredrik Andersson.

Andersson was hired to scour Europe for late round goalies-gems like Nashville's Pekke Rinne. Last year the Sabres drafted goalie Linus Ullmark in the 6th round and he's quickly rising up the Sabres prospect ranks.

It wouldn't be too surprising to hear that Andersson had taken in a number of Ristolainen's games and had a full (obviously positive) report for Devine and Co.

And if those underlying factores weren't enough, one might also note that both Ristolainen and Zadorov have fellow countrymen on the team.

Regier and Devine had been telegraphing for weeks that some of the young players from overseas might find comfort in having a fellow countryman to grow with.

Most had assumed that Elias Lindholm would learn the pro ropes from fellow Swede, Jhonas Enroth, but that factor alone, obviously and correctly, wasn't enough to sway Regier and Devine to move up for and draft Lindholm.

They did find a match to their liking though in Ristolainen. He will be entering the North American pro ranks with fellow Finn, and World Junior teammate, Joel Armia (#16 overall, 2011.)

And Zadarov, who is just learning the English language having been in North America for only a year, will have fellow countryman Mikhail Grigorenko (#12, 2012) to buddy up with in the Sabres organization.

Many had been thinking that RW Valeri Nichushkin would be buddying up with Grigorenko to formulate two-thirds of a line. But the Sabres passed on the Russian due to his links to the KHL and his ultimatum that it would be either the Russian pro league or the NHL this year. Nothing else.

Pairing countrymen wasn't the driving force behind the picks, but it does add a layer of comfort for all four of the players involved and may help increase their chances for success in the NHL.


The Review

I was as deadened as anyone when they picked Zadarov at No. 16 in the draft this year, thinking there's now way they'd go defense twice in the first round.

But taking everything into consideration, the Sabres did well in picking both Ristolainen and Zadorov, two big, strong defensemen.

Bo Horvat was available at No. 9 and would have been a real solid pick, but they already have a player of that ilk in Zemgus Girgensons.

The shot at a trade up to No. 5 for Lindholm that was passed on by the Sabres is mildly disturbing, but I actually liked Horvat better than Lindholm so it really matters not to me.

What it comes down to is the Sabres are continuing to change the type of player they want to build with.

Ristolainen and Zadarov are two big boys who seem mature to the point where they look like men and both should be with the Sabres in the very near future. They're a couple of towering d-men who can play the game at high speed and seem intent upon protecting their own end in their own, somewhat different, way.

It's a postitive for Miller (or whomever else ends up in net,) it's a postive for the forwards who can play the game while having their backs covered, and it's a positive for their fellow countrymen (as well as themselves) as all four--Ristolainen, Armia, Zadorov and Grigorenko look to have an impact on the team within the next two seasons.

All-in-all, it was a real good first round for Kevin Devine and the Buffalo Sabres.