Sunday, May 31, 2015

NHL Draft Combine begins tomorrow in Buffalo, NY

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For the first 21 years of its existence the NHL Scouting Combine was held in hotel ballrooms and convention centers in a large Canadian metropolitan city that likes to call itself "The Centre of the Hockey Universe," which happens to be home to NHL and NHL Central Scouting Services.

The idea for the Combine was basically a two-fold approach where teams could get an up close and personal look at prospects eligible for the upcoming draft. During the week long Combine teams will conduct player interviews with an expected 120 or so players this year (for a full list, click here) before attention is directed a the players' physical attributes. One-on-one interviews are set to take place June 1-5, with individual medical examines on June 4 followed by endurance and fitness testing on be June 6th.

"The goal is to present an event that allows NHL personnel to interact with the future stars of our game and assist the NHL clubs in their pursuit of gaining as much knowledge about the draft prospects as possible," said Dan Marr, the Director of NHL Central Scouting.

On why the Buffalo Sabres hired Dan Bylsma as their head coach

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There's a cynicism that permeates the Buffalo sports landscape and at times it can grow to the point where it will swallow us fans whole. But there are other times, usually in a window of change, where pessimism abates and hope springs eternal. Those are times usually defined with the term "cautious optimism." The NFL and NHL Drafts are annual events that bring hope to non-playoff teams like the Buffalo Bills have been for the past 15 years and the Buffalo Sabres for the last four seasons. Front office changes can also help deter cynicism for a little while as do ownership changes, of which both the Bills and the Sabres have gone through. The Pegula's, Terry and Kim, bought both of the Buffalo franchises within four years.

Cynicism is woven into the fabric of our Buffalo sports being and until a championship is won, it will maintain it's place in our psyche, the extent of which is personal yet is revealed on a daily basis when reading the comment sections at various websites.

Friday, May 29, 2015

From Babs to Byls, the Buffalo coaching saga continues

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After the Buffalo Sabres lost out to the Toronto Maple Leafs on the Mike Babcock sweepstakes they immediately turned their attention to former Pittsburgh Penguins bench boss, Dan Bylsma.

Bylsma had done some fine work for the Penguins but the organization, with new GM Jim Rutherford in charge after replacing Ray Shero, decided to go in another direction. Bylsma had taken over the reigns of a struggling Penguins team when Michel Therrien was fired February 15, 2009 and lead the team to the Stanley Cup that spring, ironically enough, defeating the Babcock-coached Wings in a tough seven-game series.

That Penguins team was relatively young and was lead by a "once in a generation player" in Sidney Crosby, and a definitive No. 1 center in Evgeni Malkin. Along with those two were second overall pick Jordan Staal and first-overall pick, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. All were drafted between 2003 and 2006 and were in their early 20's that Cup-winning team.

From Rutherford and the Penguins, however, it would seem as if Bylsma rode that Cup-win long enough. After five seasons of making the playoffs, and making the conference final once, Bylsma was shown the door on June 6, 2014. He did not coach last season.

Everything seems to be in place for the Sabres to hire him save for one little hitch--Rutherford and the Penguins are looking for compensation in the form of a third round draft pick. TSN's Darren Dreger tweeted this around noon today, "Sounds like dispute/clarity over draft pick compensation is one of the few things holding up the Sabres hiring Bylsma. Can't be deal breaker."

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Bylsma/Buffalo inevitable?

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Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski seems to think that the Buffalo Sabres and Dan Bylsma would make for a pretty good marriage. "There are glaringly obvious reasons why Bylsma and the Sabres are a fit," wrote Wyshynski today. "There’s the fact that Buffalo is slowly becoming the cradle of USA Hockey, and Bylsma is a prominent part of that program. There’s the Jack Eichel connection, as Bylsma coached him as an assistant at the world championships in Prague."

Although Wyshinski does intoduce a far-reaching connection between Sabres GM Tim Murray, Cliff Fletcher and Bylsma, via Sportsnet's Elliot Friedman, he feels that there's one undeniable, underlying current in all of this:

"Let’s be honest here," continued Wyshynski, "one of the main reasons this is a match is Terry Pegula, who will meet whatever price Bylsma is asking for if Murray wants him; and after Mike Babcock spurned the Sabres for the Toronto Maple Leafs, one assumes Pegula would like to have a coach with some prominence and a Stanley Cup to his credit over, say, an AHL coach like Luke Richardson, who is also expected in the mix."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Next man up in the Buffalo Sabres coaching search--Dan Bylsma

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According to Sportsnet's Elliott Friedman, the Buffalo Sabres will move on from the Mike Babcock saga by interviewing former Pittsburgh Penguins benchboss, Dan Bylsma later this week.

Ironically enough, it was Penguins that walked away with a Stanley Cup split versus Babcock's Detroit Red Wings in the 2008 and 2009 Finals. Babcock took the first meeting with Conn Smythe-winner Henrik Zetterberg and a host of playoff-hardened Red Wings veterans defeating a young, upstart Penguins club while Bylsma would take the rematch as Evgeni Malkin along with first overall picks Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury would take the hard-fought seven-game series.

Neither coach would reach the Stanley Cup Finals again. Babcock would go 23-30 in six playoff seasons thereafter never making it past the second round while Bylsma would post a 27-27 record in five seasons before getting fired by the Pens on June 6, 2014 while reaching the conference finals once.

Other contrasts between the two coaches are Babcock's Canadian and now the coach of an iconic franchise in Toronto while Bylsma is American. Babcock never played in the NHL while Bylsma played in 429 NHL games. And, of course, Babcock moved on after 10 years in Detroit while Bylsma was shown the door by new Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford after 5 1/2 seasons coaching the Penguins.

Said Friedman, "The expectation is that [Bylsma] will visit the Buffalo Sabres this week."

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sabres/Canes could swap bad contracts

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Before we go on, I'll preface the following by saying I know full-well that Carolina Hurricanes RW Alexander Semin isn't exactly the most industrious, hard-working forward in the NHL. And I'll also add that at 31 yrs. old, Semin isn't exactly in Tim Murray's wheelhouse age-wise as the Sabres GM is geared more towards younger additions to the team.

That being said, there are few things that would make trading Buffalo Sabres forward Cody Hodgson to Carolina for Semin a legitimate move:

--both have bloated contracts with term on them. Hodgson has four more years left at $20 million while Semin has three left at $21 million.

--both are coming off of career lows in production. Hodgson had 13 points (6+7) in 78 games while Semin had 19 points (6+13) in 57 games.

--both are potential buyout candidates as we speak

--both could use a change of scenery.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Is Kerby Rychel a good fit for the Buffalo Sabres? And...

Reprinted with permission from they have a player the Columbus Blue Jackets would be interested in?

First off, hockeybuzz colleague Todd Cordell alerted us to the possible availability of Rychel (citing Elliot Friedman, via today' by saying:  "The Columbus Blue Jackets recently made Kerby Rychel available for trade in hopes of bringing in some help on defense.

"It doesn't sound like that will be much of a problem for [Jackets GM] Jarmo Kekalainen and co., as Rychel is generating a lot of interest around the league."

Columbus is loaded for bear up front and as Friedman pointed out, three youngins--Boone Jenner, Marko Dano and Alexander Wennberg--are in the top-nine mix going forward with Oliver Bjorkstrand not far behind. It's a bit of a quandary for Kekalainen, and as was mentioned by Rick Gethin of FOX Sports Ohio, the Blue Jackets at one point had five free agent forwards to make a decision on.

One of the youngins, RFA Cam Atkinson, was kept in the fold with a three year contract extension signed on March 2nd. Heading into the off season Columbus now has 14 forwards signed with decision to be made on UFA's Mark Letestu and Jack Skille as well as arbitration-eligible  RFA Matt Calvert.

“Everybody knows the roster only holds 23,” Kekalainen said via the Columbus Dispatch back on May 9th. “When you count the guys and see the young guys pushing, you know we need to do some planning with that."

Friday, May 22, 2015

The end of the Babcock saga. Plus, reactions to reactions

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You could lay out 50 million reasons why it didn't work out between Mike Babcock and the Buffalo Sabres. A contact worth $50 million over eight years was reportedly offered by Sabres owner Terry Pegula and their GM, Tim Murray, and it was something Babcock's team took back up the QEW to Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan. The Leafs ponied up and Babcock is now the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The process is done, and for a lot of people, there's a bit "Thank God" that can be placed a the end of that sentence.

Interesting to see the reactions from various sources out there, but all of them pretty much mention the Buffalo Sabres as the "jilted lover" in all of this. Which is fine, because the Pegula and Co. pretty much gave Babcock all they could offer him and in the end he chose the Queen of Hockey over the Queen City. "When you think about the Toronto Maple Leafs -- the most iconic franchise, in my view, in the world -- I think that that had an appeal to Mike Babcock that other markets just couldn't match," said TSN's Craig Button on  ctv

“I wanted to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs," was what Babcock ultimately said about his final decision.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The final word on Mike Babcock until....

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...his presser in Buffalo introducing him as the next Buffalo Sabres head coach.

Purely speculative? Yes.

Optimistic? Very.

A reach? Maybe.

Here's the deal.

The Detroit Red Wings ain't what they used to be. Back in the day, before the salary cap was introduced, the perennial Cup-contending Wings had it all. They had money, Hall-of-Famers and a reputation for being the place a free agent could go for a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup. Although Wings owner Mike Illitch had (and has) the wherewithal to compete financially with the Toronto's and NY Ranger's of the league, he rarely had to do it on financial terms. Players like Chris Chelios, Brendan Shanahan, Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull and Dominik Hasek (to name a few) would gladly play for less money to get their name on the Stanley Cup.

But times have changed.

"Relationships and geography have always played a role in where a free agent will sign," wrote Puckdaddy's Greg Wyshynski last July 2nd, "but it’s now become overriding factors since the money’s become equal. Predicting the next home for a free agent used to be as easy as predicting who could give him a max contract; now it comes down to whether his father’s cousin’s son’s sister’s friend’s former roommate is the assistant general manager."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tyler Ennis and Jack Eichel displayed some world-class talent in Prague

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Buffalo Sabres forward Tyler Ennis was somewhat lost in all the star talent Team Canada iced at the 2015 World Championships in the Czech Republic. Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Claude Giroux and Tyler Seguin are just a few of the names that carry much more weight around the National Hockey League than his.

Ennis had back-to-back 20 goal seasons on a Buffalo team that scored 303 goals in 164 games (a measly 1.85 goals per game.) Although he's shown time and again that his abilities shouldn't be taken for granted he still doesn't get the respect he deserves, even within the ranks of Sabres fans and even after he continually proves that this highlight reel goal against probable 2015 Vezina and Hart Trophy winner Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens wasn't a fluke.


Monday, May 18, 2015

On Mike Babcock and a possible Johnson/Bird-type rivalry with McDavid/Eichel

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Although I won't say that I wasted 25 minutes of my life watching TSN's Darren Dreger interview Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland and his coach (as of now) Mike Babcock. But I will say that I could have waited for the highlights and have gotten as much from it.

Yes, one construct a myriad of opinions trying to read between the lines or focus upon body language and other forms of non-verbal communications, but why bother?

It's well known that Babcock likes being a part of the Detroit Red Wings family. It's also been made known that his wife likes where they are right now. We also know that the team is going through a transitionary period where the old guard is nearing the end of the line and the young turks are expected to step into those roles by carrying the weight of the franchise.

That's the Detroit Red Wings way.

One would be better off going to the roulette wheel and plunking a stack on red or black--as in Detroit or Buffalo--when it comes to where he'll end up. Sure there's the aught and double aught of the green spaces to take away the true 50/50 odds, but in this blogger's opinion, it's either sticking with the Wings or guiding a young Sabres squad.

Much respect for Dreger and the work he does for TSN. Thanks to his interview we now know that Babcock will be making his decision by May 20th instead of the 25th.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Suffering be gone. The state of the Sabres transitions to build-mode.

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Back in early April, 2014 I was asked by hockeybuzz to do a "State of the Buffalo Sabres" piece as a guest writer. The theme I came up with was "Reset, Redefine, Rebuild." It's been a little over one year since that piece and the ride that we Sabres fans went on over the course of that time worthy of a full day at the "Rollercoaster capital of the world," Cedar Point.

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray was at the controls and was forced to apply the brakes on a number of occasions last season when things began slipping out of control on the side of winning. True to his words when he took the reigns of the franchise in January of 2013, Murray kept the team focused on the long-term and in the end the Sabres, despite losing the lottery again, are set to bring Boston University center Jack Eichel into the fold with the second overall pick in this year's draft.

In any other year dating back to Sidney Crosby, it's arguable that Eichel would be the top-overall prospect. This year he'd have been the consensus No. 1 overall pick had it not been for the presence of some guy name Connor McDavid, who is roundly considered the best prospect, bar none, since Crosby. A consolation prize in Eichel? You could say that. But it's more like winning a Lexus instead of a trip to Hawaii.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin crank it up for Team USA

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Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock, who looks to be taking his coaching talents elsewhere in the very near future, said he was going to the Czech Republic to "see Dylan Larkin play." The 18 yr. old Larkin was drafted 15th-overall by Detroit in the 2015 NHL Draft and is one of two 18 yr. olds selected by Team USA to compete in the 2015 IIHF World Championships. The other 18 one is probable 2015 2nd-overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres, Jack Eichel.

The reason that Babcock had emphasized seeing Larkin is to help determine whether he'll be an heir apparent to the Wings aging stars like Pavel Datsyuk, who will be 37 this year. After dropping Game-7 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in this year's playoffs, a disappointed Babcock said, "“Our team’s not as good as it was (back when they won the Stanley Cup.) It’s very evident." Which is to be expected.

But one of the traits of his back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals teams from 2008-09 was the passing of the torch from the likes of Steve Yzerman and Niklas Lidstrom to Niklas Kronwall,  Henrik Zetterberg and Datsyuk. It's questionable as to whether or not he sees that on his club. “Three of our best players are 34, 35, 37" said Babcock referring to their ages, respectively, this year.

“We’ve got lots of good young players, no question about it, and ideally we’ve got some good ones coming,” Babcock said. “But who’s going to replace Pav? I don’t think Pav’s going anywhere right way. But I mean, that’s what you’ve got to do. In the end, you’ve got to have big-time players up the middle and on the back to be successful. So those are questions in our organization that we work towards, drafting good and developing good, but we've been winning too much. That’s the facts.”

That's why he wanted to see Larkin at the Worlds, to find out if he is the answer to the question of "who's going to replace Datsyuk."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"If you build it..." Plus some other news and notes.

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Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock had a very busy Mother's Day yesterday. After, presumably, taking care of his wife Maureen, the mother of their three children, Babcock was busy getting a feel for potential coaching destinations.

First up was Toronto.

According to Elliot Friedman of sportsnet, "No one’s giving a straight answer about it, but there was an interesting private plane in Detroit yesterday." It's assumed that the "interesting private plane" had Maple Leafs GM Brendan Shanahan on board and that they did a little more than their one season together back in 2005-06. Tornoto's set to begin a massive rebuild and because they are the self-proclaimed "Center of the Hockey Universe" they jumped right into the fray and got to the head of the line.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Jack Eichel nets first IIHF goal. Reports of Babcock/Buffalo meeting

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A few days ago, Helene St. James was on WGR's Mike Schopp and the Bulldog quoting current Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock as saying the he was headed to the IIHF World Hockey Championships "to see Dylan Larkin." Larkin is a 18 yr. old Wings prospect who had an impressive freshman season at Michigan scoring 47 points (15 + 32) in 35 games. The Wolverine powerforward was selected by Detroit with the 15th-overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.

Larkin's game has been progressing nicely as he adapts to playing against highly skilled men at the tournament. "I'm impressed by how he plays the game as a young player who is making great strides," Team USA head coach Todd Richards said. "For me as a coach, the more you watch him, the more you trust him. He's a great skater, has speed and is a committed two-way player, who plays a 200-foot game."

Those are some pretty important attributes for any player, but especially one who's being looked upon as a possible successor to one of the great two-way players over the last 10 years or so in Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The cost for Mike Babcock, a third round pick, plus a big contract

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The #1 free agent set to hit the market July 1st is free to talk with teams about his future. Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland has granted permission to his coach Mike Babcock to test the market.

Babcock made the request saying, ""I just felt, after 10 years, the opportunity was out there. I'm going to ride this process out." But he also stressed that it's nothing more than exploratory and was quoted as saying. "People can read it into it what they want. There is no decision made at all. We really like it here. My family loves Detroit. It's way easier for my family to stay here, 100% easier. My kids are all going away, but they still want to come back to Detroit on Thanksgiving. They want to come back to Detroit in the summer to work out. So it's way easier for them."

That's the family side of the man who many consider the top coach in the NHL. He's said time and time again that his family is one of he top priorities in his life and even went as far to say that his wife Maureen, not Holland, is the boss. With that said, her opinion will carry a ton of weight in his decision. "In talking to him this afternoon," said longtime Wings beat writer Helene St. James on WGR's Mike Schopp and the Bulldog Show yesterday, "I get the impression his wife would like to stay here (in Detroit.)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

USA looking to rebound at the World's. Jack Eichel looking to bust it open

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Team Belarus is a good hockey club anchored by 38 yr. old captain Alexei Kalyuzhny, a veteran of 20 professional seasons in the KHL. They also have two former NHL'ers in the Kostitsyn brothers, Andrei and Sergei, and are coached by long-time hockey man Dave Lewis. Although they're not a powerhouse, they're no slouches either. As Team USA found out yesterday.

Lewis played 16 seasons in the NHL with four teams and won a Stanley Cup in 1980 with the team that drafted him, the NY Islanders. He was on three more Stanley Cup teams as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings (1997, 1998, 2002) under coaching legend Scotty Bowman. When Bowman Retired in 2002, Lewis took the reigns of the team until the end of the 2004-05 lockout when his contract was not renewed. Mike Babcock was hired in his stead.

Internationally, this is his second coaching stint and beating the U.S. yesterday most definitely is a feather in his cap either for an extension on his one-year contract or for maybe returning to the NHL where he coached a total of 246 games for Detroit and the Boston Bruins.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Buffalo hopeless in the Mike Babcock race? Plus, JT Compher back for Michigan

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That the Detroit Red Wings are one of the best organizations in sports is a given. Twenty-four straight playoff appearances--with four Stanley Cups thrown in for good measure--is a testament to that. But, should head coach Mike Babcock leave it will have an impact on the team in the near term, even if highly regarded Grand Rapids head coach Jeff Blashill were to assume the reigns.

And that's the pressing question for a number of teams at this point in the season, is Babcock leaving?

The Buffalo Sabres, they of the two consecutive 30th-place finishes, are in the market for a head coach. The team is one of many who will be ready to back up the Brinks truck to Babcock's door for his services. Never mind that there are other well qualified coaching candidates on the market, they want Babcock setting up residence in Amherst, NY--the same neighborhood that houses Hall of Fame head coach Scotty Bowman, who happened to have won three of the aforementioned Stanley Cups Detroit brought home between 1997 and 2002.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Jack Eichel and Team USA have the day off, plus, an eye on USA's Dan Sexton

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As an 18 yr. old playing amongst men for the first time in his hockey career, prospect Jack Eichel has plenty to learn. Like speed. Being a gifted skater is one thing. Catching up to the speed of the game is a little bit different.

After two games at the IIHF World Championships in Prague, Eichel has yet to hit the scoresheet and has an even plus/minus rating while centering the third line between veteran Trevor Lewis and fellow collegian Jimmy Vesey. Team USA is 2-0 in the round-robin portion of the tournament thus far and has outscored their opponents--Finland and Norway--by a combined score of 7-2. Eichel logged 14:47 of ice-time vs. Finland and 18:12 against Norway yesterday.

Those Norway minutes are interesting in that Eichel spent 7:52 on the ice in the third period with the US clinging to a 2-1 lead and was on the ice in the last minute. "This was a tough game," said Team USA head coach Todd Richards (CBJ,) "and we knew it would be. Our guys battled, and in the end, we were fortunate enough to come away with the win."

Norway jumped on the US early. "The first period Norway carried the play," Richards said. "They were faster, battled better than us. We were fortunate to get out." What they "got out of" was nothing more than a 1-0 deficit early in the first period with Lewis knotting the score at the 12:14 mark.

A couple of penalties late in the first period would put the US squad on their heels as Nick Bonino got called for high sticking at 14:31 and Eichel was sent to the box for hooking four minutes later. USA killed both of those penalties off and at 5:58 of the second period, Brock Nelson (NYI) would put the team up for good.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Cassidy fired plus, 10,000-1 odds against Mike Babcock landing in Buffalo

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When Buffalo Sabres president Ted Black sent a magazine along with invoices to season ticket holders entitled “Buffalo Sabres 2015-16: The Next Chapter,” perhaps it should actually be taken as the first chapter in a new book. After the firing of Rochester Americans head coach Chadd Cassidy yesterday, nearly everything left over from the previous regime is gone including it's identity, or what was described as it's identity.

As of this moment there are still some key personnel in the front office who are holdovers from the Darcy Regier-era like assistant GM, Mark Jakubowski and Director of Player Personnel, Kevin Devine. A number of scouts like Jon Christiano, Toby O'Brien and Yuri Khymlev are still on board. Player development coach Randy Cunneyworth is still around and the young players GM Tim Murray wants to build with at this time--including Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons, and Rasmus Ristolainen--have survived a roster purge over the course of two trade deadlines and one off season.

But the two coaches in the organization for the 2014-15 season, didn't make it through. From an historically objective standpoint, the numbers will show that Ted Nolan's 30th place Sabres team had a 23-51-8 record while the Amerks finished 27th in the AHL with a 29-41-6 record. What history won't reveal fully through those numbers is the maelstrom of the Sabres scorched-earth rebuild that was going on during this time period. Kudos to both Nolan and Cassidy for their work during this hellacious time.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

USA's Jack Eichel in Prague, hittin' the ice with the big boys

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It's not a bad thing that Buffalo sports fans will have a keen eye trained towards the Czech Republic for the 2015 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championships. After all, the future centerpiece of the Sabres is Team USA's Jack Eichel whom Buffalo will end up selecting with the 2nd-overall pick in June barring anything weird happening.

Eichel is the youngest member of Team USA, edging out fellow collegiate freshman Dylan Larkin by just about three months, and he'll have the opportunity to see how he measures up against some of the best hockey players in the world. In a harbinger of things to come should he land in Buffalo, Eichel will be the focal point (along with a few other younger players) up front amidst a sea of pluggers and grinders. Although USA management, headed by Stan Bowman (CHI) and Dean Lombardi (LAK,) plucked players from every professional league above the ECHL-level, talent looks to be very limited. Eichel and Larkin, along with Harvard junior Jimmy Vesey, will lead the forwards when Team USA opens up the tournament on Friday versus Finland (10 am EST.)

A list of Team USA's forwards (alphabetical) and their 2014-15 stats:

Mark Arcobello (EDM, NSH, PIT, ARI)--77gm, 17g, 7a
Nick Bonino (VAN)--75gm, 15g, 24a
Jack Eichel (Boston U.)--40gm, 26g, 45a
Matt Hendricks (EDM)--71gm, 8g, 8a
Dylan Larkin (Michigan U.)--35gm, 15g, 32a
Trevor Lewis (LAK)--73gm, 9g, 16a
Stefan Matteau (Albany Devils, AHL)--61gm, 12g, 15a
Jeremy Morin (CHI, CBJ)--43gm, 2g, 4a
Steve Moses (Jokerit, KHL)--60g, 36g, 21a
Dan Sexton (Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik, KHL)--49gm, 19g, 28a
Ben Smith (CHI, SJS)--80gm, 7g, 7a
Jimmy Vesey (Harvard U.)--37g, 32g, 26a

Being an offensive centerpiece a daunting task for an 18 yr. old like Eichel, but he's managed to succeed at BU with a target on his back all season while playing against players four, five or even six years his senior. His 71 points were second only to Paul Kariya (100) in NCAA history and he won the Hobey Baker Award. At 6'1" 191 lbs he's got the size to compete with the pros, but maybe even more important, Eichel has the strength and attitude to have an impact at the next level.

“He’s got the strength of a 25-year-old," said BU head coach David Quinn earlier this month (via NESN.) "He’s incredibly tough. You see his stats and his skill and all those things — don’t get me wrong, they’re elite — but he’s a tough son of a (gun). He’s competitive, and he’s withstood a lot.”

In addition to size and age discrepancies, Eichel will get a pretty good taste for the speed of the game at the next level as well, but there's no reason to think that it will phase him once he adjusts. He displays top-notch skating and the ability to process the game full speed.

With franchise-level talent and ultra competitiveness, probably the only question with Eichel revolves around his off season decision on whether to turn pro or stay in college for another year. Despite the "unfinished business" argument for him to stay in school, unless the World's are a total disaster, the odds of him heading back to Boston University in a quest for the national championship are pretty long.

Which is good news for Sabres fans as most want the future to begin now, not next year.

For the uninitiated, here's the lowdown for the 2015 World Championships via Broad Street Hockey including the tournament format, tournament schedule and TV schedule.

Jack Eichel in Prague, Sabres season ticket increase and what, no year-end presser?

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At 10am today, probable 2nd-overall draft pick, and probable future Buffalo Sabre Jack Eichel will be joining the USA squad as they hit ice in Prague, Czech Republic in the IIHF World Hockey Championships. Although it's down a ways on the list of important tournaments for those of us in North America, having Eichel in it should pique many a Sabres' fans interest.

Eichel and two other collegians--Dylan Larkin and Jimmy Vesey--who are expected to help provide some offense for Team USA. Eichel and Vesey finished No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in NCAA scoring while Larkin was 11th. The trio will be joined by KHL scoring forward Steve Moses who set a KHL scoring record playing for Jokerit and was recently signed as a free agent by the Nashville Predators. The rest of the US forwards at this point feature a bevy of two-way players and checkers meaning that goals may be pretty hard to come by.

One should not that the IIHF rosters will undergo some changes as NHL teams fall out of the playoffs and their players opt to play in the tournament. Added to the US lineup up front yesterday are NY Islanders forwards Brock Nelson (82 games, 20 goals, 22 assists) and Anders Lee (76gm, 25g, 16a) which represents a significant upgrade in offense over the previous lineup.

Of note on the US squad, 17 yr. old phenom Auston Matthews played in an Team USA's only exhibition game of the tourney and scored a goal in the 4-1 US triumph. According to SI's Alan Muir, it's the first time a player hit the ice for the Worlds before being draft-eligible. Even though the US could use his skills, the game was just a pit stop for "the next one" on his way back from Switzerland.  Matthews just finished leading the US squad to gold in the 2015 World U18 Hockey Championships. He had eight goals and seven assists in seven games and was named tourney MVP.

On tap for the Americans this morning is a bout with Finland who finished with the silver medal last season.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Individual player development in Rochsester and were to go from here

Reprinted with permission from

This is the second of a two-part series reviewing the Rochester Americans season

In deciding Rochester Americans head coach Chadd Cassidy's fate, the black and white of an AHL won/loss record isn't the only factor to be taken into consideration. Buffalo GM Tim Murray will be looking at how the young players developed in Rochester, from stars down to rookie free agents.

With a 27th place finish by the Amerks and the opportunity for Murray to have a fresh start in Rochester, the odds looked to be stacked against Cassidy at this point. Yet the Amerks bench boss, who was in his second full season as head coach, had his share success stories in player development. "If development is what matters most to Sabres general manager Tim Murray," wrote Amerks beat writer Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, "then Cassidy and his staff seemingly will be back. The kids got better. They grew, they didn't repeat mistakes and they were, in most cases, effective when called up to the NHL."

Forward Johan Larsson is a prime example.

Larsson finally broke through at the NHL-level last month after strong year over year development in Rochester. He took his pesky two-way game from top-six to top-line for the Amerks and was able to up his production as well. After fits and starts to his NHL career, and despite a tinge of self-pity after being sent down back in January, Larsson, with the help of the coaching staff, worked through some deficiencies (mostly mental) and he was finally able to take his game to, and succeed at, the NHL level