Thursday, July 30, 2015

Russ Brandon ready to work some magic with the Sabres Hockey Dept.

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Let's get this out of the way right now, just named President of the Buffalo Sabres, Russ Brandon, is not a sports personnel guy. Nor is he a scout or GM or coach. Nor is he in charge of operations on the football field or on the ice for Pegula Sports and Entertainment. Brandon is a marketing guy and that will be his supreme focus.

His outstanding work as President of the Buffalo Bills caught the attention of Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of both the Sabres and the Bills and they felt that Brandon should be the guy to head both franchises. "Since we purchased the Buffalo Bills last October, we have been highly impressed with the business acumen that Russ has shown with the Bills," the Pegulas said via a press release. "Now is an appropriate time to give him additional responsibilities with the Sabres. Russ will work with Pegula Sports & Entertainment to create strong synergies between the Sabres and Bills. With Russ' strong ties to the area business community and sponsorship partners, he will effectively position both organizations for future growth."

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tim Schaller could throw a monkey wrench into the Sabres' forward roster

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Buffalo Sabres forward Tim Schaller is looking to throw a wrench into the 2015-16 Buffalo Sabres roster. Not out of malice or by design, mind you, rather it's a simple case of a hard-working player setting his goal for the upcoming season.

"My mindset going into camp," he told Kevin Sylvester and Andrew Peters of Hockey Hotline on Thursday, "is that there's a spot there for me to lose. I'm going in to make the [Sabres] and I'm not going to be satisfied if I don't make it. That's where my mind's at."

Schaller's coming off of a very strong 2014-15 AHL campaign where he finished with 43 points (15+28) in 65 games in his second pro season. The 6'2" 206 lb. Merimack, NH native also played 18 games for the train wreck that was the Buffalo Sabres last season and recorded his first NHL goal at Boston with his parents in attendance.

Even though the numbers aren't awe-inspiring, "let's not sleep on Schaller," is what Kris Baker of sabresprospects/ had to say about him after Schaller was re-upped by GM Tim Murray.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Don Stevens talks Rochester Americans, Pt.2

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This is the second in a two part series on the present state of the Rochester Americans this off-season. Part 1, looked at the growth of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, which has become a huge organization.

"It feels like, at times, we're falling further down the totem pole," said long-time Rochester Americans broadcaster Don Stevens, "especially since the addition of the Buffalo Bills. A whole lot more concentration goes to them at this point, but of course they're coming up on their season very soon."

As mentioned in the previous piece, in the beginning there was a man, Terry Pegula, who wanted to buy a hockey team, the Buffalo Sabres, and in just over four years that beginning grew into a huge organization. Pegula Sports and Enterainment, the umbrella company, now has in the fold, the Sabres, Buffalo Bills, HARBORCENTER, the Buffalo Bandits lacrosse team, Black Rock Entertainment a music company based in Nashville and has a number of satellite business associated with them. The recently purchased Bills sits atop the organization as the behemoth while the Sabres and the USA Hockey-centric HARBORCENTER represent Terry Pegula's love for the sport and hist desire to make downtown Buffalo the center of USA hockey.

And then there's the Rochester Americans, the minnow in the big pond.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Don Stevens talks Rochester Americans, Pt. 1

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Don Stevens has been around the Rochester Americans for a long time and he's seen a multitude of changes not only with the Amerks, but for the league itself. He started doing broadcasting for the Amerks during the 1986-87 season when the American Hockey League had 13 teams. A couple of names you might know who skated in the AHL that season were Hall of Famer Brett Hull, who was with the Moncton Wild Cats and Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau, a center for the Nova Scotia Oilers that year.

During his first season the Amerks won the Calder Cup, their second of the decade, fifth of six since their inception. "Since [that first game]," reads No. 2 on his bio-list of most memorable moments, "there have been lots of memorable moments. One of the best was going to the championship in my first year and winning it at Sherbrooke, and coming home to the thousands of people at the airport at 4:00 in the morning.”

He also mentions in the bio that going to the Calder Cup Finals in seven of his first 14 years behind the mic "is just an incredible statistic."

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The dog-days of summer putting a crimp UFA's including Cody Franson

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Mid-July through August are truly the dog-days of summer for the NHL as teams step back from a long season and events of the past few weeks to refresh themselves. This is not to say that the front office is out and about enjoying the great outdoors or getting in a early round of 18 before an evening cookout daily, it's merely a downshift from the overdrive that was the NHL draft and the beginning of free agency.

Most teams have concluded their prospect evaluations via development camps (if they have them,) and sent their youngins on their merry way. Left are the impressions as to who where each player lies on the developmental curve and the timeline for their potential debut in the NHL. When taken as a whole, events at the NHL draft, free agent signings and a close look at a team's pipeline give the personnel department a good idea as to what they'll have going into training camp.

In general, teams likely have a good idea as to where they are and what they'll need personnel-wise to get to where they want to be this fall. For free agents who've yet be signed, there's a reason they haven't been signed and summertime doesn't necessarily represent livin' easy. Rather, it can be an unsettling time where younger veterans are trying to maximize their worth and older veterans are wondering whether or not they're still wanted.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

More RFA signings for Buffalo

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Back on June 29th, the Buffalo Sabres tendered qualifying offers to seven of their restricted free agents, and as of yesterday only one remains unsigned.

On Monday of this week versatile forward Phil Varone agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with the team. The 5'10" 185 lb. Varone played in 28 games for the Sabres last season, including a stint on the top line, scoring five points (3+2) while averaging 13:26 minutes of ice-time/game. The two-way deal would indicate Varone's slated for Rochester unless he blows the team away with an exceptional training camp.

The following day D, Mark Pysyk signed a two-year deal. Pysyk has largely been a victim of circumstance in the debacle that was the last two seasons, and despite his readiness to play with the big club he was limited to only seven games in Buffalo, yet in those games he scored two goals and added an assist in 18:10 TOI. The smooth and steady, puck-moving defenseman with shutdown acumen looks to be penciled in on the second pairing at this point.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Johnny Oduya heads to Dallas while Mark Pysyk re-ups in Buffalo

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Free agent defenseman Johnny Oduya is a left-handed, top-four d-man that Sabres GM Tim Murray was interested in bringing to Buffalo. But the two-time Stanley Cup winner took his talents to Dallas and signed a very team-friendly contract for two years at $3.75m/year. It's a veritable coup for the Stars as they add a veteran, top-four defenseman who fits into the up-tempo style of play Dallas plays.

"I think it's a very, very fast team, a team that wants to play hockey, a similar style I think as Chicago; wants to have the puck, create things," Oduya said. "I think the speed is the thing that stands out the most."

The Stars had recently traded for Oduya's teammate Patrick Sharp and in the process gave up 31 year old d-man Trevor Daley in the process so things fell into place rather nicely for them.

As for the Sabres, the search for a top-four defensemen continues, be it a lefty or righty.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The 2015 Sabres Development Camp comes to a close

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The 2015 Sabres Development Camp has come to a close and probably the most impressive aspect of the weeklong event was the amount of interest shown by hockey fans in Western New York. Thousands of Sabres fans came downtown on a daily basis to watch 46 prospects go through workout drills and on Friday a record 17,115 were in attendance to watch the annual Blue and Gold Scrimmage. "I've said all along it's an unbelievable hockey market, I called it the eighth Canadian hockey market," said Sabres GM Tim Murray at the press conference, "and I think we've surpassed a lot of Canadian markets when it comes to this type of thing."

Just the fact that there was a press conference after an off-season workout for the youngins--the intra-squad 3-on-3 tournament--was enough to bring a light-hearted chuckle of disbelief. "A press conference for a development camp in July," grinned Murray as he began the media session.

Welcome to Buffalo.

Even though Murray has been on the job for well over a year, this being his second development camp, the over-the-top interest in the camp still left him shaking his head. But it really shouldn't be a surprise. That passion for the sport has been engrained in the collective Buffalo hockey mindset from the beginning. As you walk in the First Niagara Center and look up there's history laid out in photos beginning with Semour Knox III who's passion for the game set the tone. Next to him is a photo of Punch Imlach, an iconic figure in the hockey world. And then there's the Sabres first draft pick ever, Hall of Famer Gil Perreault, So it began with those three.

Monday, July 13, 2015

17,115 say good-bye to two years of suffering

Reprinted with permission from

That number was not a misprint.

Seventeen thousand, one hundred and fifteen fans finished off a gorgeous summer day in early July by filling the First Niagara for the Buffalo Sabres annual Blue and Gold Scrimmage. And I thought last years attendance of 8,725 for the scrimmage was an incredible turnout.


"It’s crazy to think there was 17,000 people here for a scrimmage in July," said top Sabres prospect, 2015 second-overall pick Jack Eichel, "but it says a lot about Buffalo and how passionate they are about the Sabres.”

Eichel wouldn't say it, but the main reason the fans opted to spend a few hours watching prospects scrimmage instead sipping a beverage outside in the warm summer evening was him. The 18 yr. old center represents a number of things to Buffalo hockey fans, but maybe most importantly, he's considered the face of the future and he's is helping Sabres fans lay to rest the last two years.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Still trying to figure out where Sam Reinhart fits into the equation

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Buffalo Sabres forward Sam Reinhart was drafted 2nd overall in the 2014 draft. There were three players at the top who were all considered possible No. 1 overall picks--Reinhart, C, Sam Bennett and D, Aaron Ekblad, who was the eventual 1st overall pick by the Florida Panthers. One player, forward Leon Draisaitl, snuck into the top-three when he was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers leaving Bennett to be plucked by the Calgary Flames in the No.4 slot.

Ekblad had himself a pretty good rookie season on an up and coming Panthers team. He was on the top-pairing with former Sabres d-man Brian Campbell and was on the top powerplay unit. Ekblad  finished the season with 12 goals, 27 assists and was a plus-12 while on his way to the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year. After the season he headed to the Czech Republic and helped Team Canada to a gold medal at the World Championships.

The Calgary Flames had a bit more of a veteran presence than Florida and also have been the beneficiaries of some pretty good drafting the last couple of years under the leadership of team president, Brian Burke. Unfortunately for Bennett he was rehabbing from a shoulder injury for a good chunk of the 2014-15 season. He ended up playing 11 regular season for his junior club, Kingston, scoring 11 goals and adding 24 assists. After the Frontenacs were swept in the OHL playoffs he joined the Flames for the final regular season game. Calgary made the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and would make it to the second round. Bennett had four points (3+1) in 11 playoff games.

Both Draisaitl and Reinhart would start the season with their NHL clubs but end up back in junior for the balance of the season. Draisaitl played 37 games for Edmonton before the sent him back to Prince Albert. He had a very pedestrian 37-game tryout totaling only nine points (2+7) before the Oilers decided to keep his UFA year intact (had he played in 40 games, he'd have been one year closer to free agency.) After a trade to Kelowna he dominated with 53 regular season points in  34 games while adding 10 goals and 18 assists in only 19 playoff games.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Gustav Possler in Sweden focused upon summer training for upcoming MODO season

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When the 2015 Sabres Development Camp roster came out Monday afternoon, there was an omission that raised some eyebrows if ever so slightly in some quarters--F, Gustav Possler. The 2013 5th round pick (130th overall) is still in his native Sweden while 46 other youngins are at the First Niagara Center getting themselves acclimated to their surroundings.

The 20 yr. old Possler sits a tad down the depth-chart on a very thin left-side and of the top-three at that spot (Daniel Catennaci, William Carrier) he probably has the most pure talent.

As to why he's not at camp, there's been no definitive answer. According to Sweden's, Possler initially refused to comment on the situation. In a loose translation he told Allehanda's Adam Johansson that he wouldn't be commenting on the situation other than to say that he feels good, he's not hurt and that he'll be training this summer for his upcoming season for MODO Hockey Ornskoldsvik  .'s Av Alexander Nilsson did a follow up with Possler situation and came up with the same results save for some ambiguity as to who's decision it was--Possler's, his agent or the Sabres. Clarity will come eventually as Possler said he may have been misunderstood in the Allehanda article. "I really don't know what happened," he said, "but there's really nothing to it." Nilsson would later tweet, "Possler declines NHL camp to focus on Modo: 'The best thing for me.'"

As with all things prospect-related, Kris Baker was kind enough to lend a bit of clarification to the situation (at least until an official announcement is made, if need be.) Baker pointed out that Possler has one more year on his MODO contract and even though Buffalo GM Tim Murray may have "tinkered with the idea of evaluating him at development camp, it's always been assumed that the plan was for him to play out his contract for MODO," Bakes told me.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The youngins hit the ice today for 2015 Sabres Development Camp

Reprinted with permission from

In his prelude to the Buffalo Sabres top five prospects, Steven Ives of provides a quick overview of the Sabres exploits on day one of the 2015 NHL Draft which includes taking some shots at the trades for Robin Lehner ("a head-scratcher") and Ryan O'Reilly ("a fairer deal would have been O'Reilly for Nikita Zadorov, straight-up.")

While understanding GM Tim Murray's motivation for making these trades, then claiming that Buffalo's draft weekend "should be considered a raging success," there's an undercurrent to Ives' piece found in his conclusion:  "The Sabres prospect pool is still extremely deep, even with several players graduating and Compher being jettisoned to Colorado.

"The Sabres may have made a couple of controversial transactions at the draft, but the weekend was still a raging success if just for [Jack] Eichel donning the Buffalo jersey for the very first time. This is a future juggernaut, a team which can challenge for the Stanley Cup in the foreseeable future. Our only wish is that they would be a little more patient with getting to that point."

Generally speaking, it's a solid assessment of the Sabres at the draft, save for the patience part. Murray had spent the majority of his first year as GM being very patient while finishing the teardown and directing the bottoming-out period that lead up to the lottery and the selection of 2015 second-overall pick in Eichel. Yet, when the opportunity came for him to land three future pieces that were right in his wheelhouse, patience may have left him on the outside looking in.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Some fireworks over the Ryan O'Reilly contract

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Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray is about as straightforward and all-in as an NHL GM can get. There were times when he would just lay it out the way he saw it while other times he'd back off. After a very busy and productive Day-1 of the 2015 NHL Draft, Murray was asked if he was willing to share his plan for the since bought out Cody Hodgson. "Nope. No. I'm going to just stick to what I do," he said to the group of reporters. "and be very open with you guys with the things I can be and keep you in the dark on things I want to."

Then there are other times, however, when Murray forces one to pay attention to his words as he gives a general, expressionist-type view and makes us think about where he might be headed.

At Jack Eichel's press conference announcing the signing of his entry-level contract, Murray was asked about how the coaching search was going for the Rochester Americans and the timetable for finding one. "I don't have a timetable," said Murray. "We've been talking to different people about special situations that we're going through here. We're talking about doing some things that maybe haven't been done before."

What's on his mind for the coaching situation is unknown, but what Murray did foreshadow with the latter part of that quote, was the innovative structure of Ryan O'Reilly's seven-year contract extension. The generalities of O'Reilly's extension is that it's for $52.5 million with a cap-hit of $7.5 million. Now comes the intriguing part that, as far as I know, hasn't been done before.

The contract negotiated between the Sabres and O'Reilly's agent Pat Morris, according to Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News, "O’Reilly is getting a salary of just $1 million per season. That means roughly 87 percent of the contract will be paid in the form of signing bonuses. He will get a $10 million bonus in 2016-17, $8 million in 2017-18, $7.5 million in 2018-19 and $5 million for each of his final four seasons."

Said Morris via Harrington, 'It’s something where he gets money earlier to do what he wants with it.'

In addition to all that money up-front for O'Reilly to "do what he wants with it," he'll also be keeping it out of any escrow payments by the players to the NHL. According to Harrington, players had about 14 percent of their base salaries withheld in escrow this past season until the league’s final revenue numbers were released."

Harrington, as well as others, conclude that O'Reilly's contract is also veritably buyout-proof as he will get his signing bonus money regardless. A buyout would affect only the $1 million annual salary.

It's an unusual situation for fans who've been following the Sabres over the past two decades. While Darcy Regier was GM in Buffalo for 17 yrs. it was other teams, like the Philadelphia Flyers, NY Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks that would do deals stretching the limits of the collective bargaining agreement. We watched as the league laid the hammer down on the NJ Devils (rightfully or not) for the Ilya Kovalchuk contract. But now the shoes on our foot.

Trading for, and extending O'Reilly, is a big-time, big-city move by the Sabres and it's one that will reverberate throughout the entire league.

Kinda like the big "POW's" during the grand finale. Some really enjoy it. Others don't.

Happy 4th, y'all!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Done deal, Ryan O'Reilly in the fold

Reprinted with permission from

For a while there post draft lottery, some Buffalo Sabres fans had shots of anxiety running through them thinking about the possibility of Jack Eichel staying in college another year. Or, worse yet, a full-fledged panic-attack took hold with the thought of Eichel staying in college until he became a free agent then bolting for another team. Such are the thoughts of some in the Buffalo fan base that root for teams generally considered to be amongst the unluckiest, bordering on cursed, sports teams in all of sports.

And after Sabres GM Tim Murray traded for the disgruntled one (supposedly) in Colorado, Ryan O'Reilly, mild panic struck once again as some had him not signing an extension and bolting for a new team at the conclusion of the upcoming season.

With Eichel signing his entry-level contract on Thursday and O'Reilly signing an extension just minutes ago, edgy Buffalo sports fans can set aside the Xanax and rest a bit easy, at least until the Bills get rolling and the whole "quarterback thing" becomes another reason to reach for the meds.

Eichel had said at his presser that he had wanted to play in the NHL all along, but kept the decision to himself, and wouldn't release it until after the draft. "After the world championships I came back pretty set on moving on (to the NHL,)" said Eichel, "but I could never make anything public. I wasn't even drafted yet so for me to come out and say I was going to leave school before being drafted didn't seem like the right move to me."

Friday, July 3, 2015

Murray takes care of some in house business yesterday, adds some depth

Reprinted with permission from

During draft weekend someone said to Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray that it seemed as if he was in on every deal going down, and as said executive rattled off six or eight deals, Murray said, "Well, I guess that that I am."

What Murray came away with last Friday, while almost stealing the show in the process, were two integral pieces acquired via trades--G, Robin Lehner and C, Ryan O'Reilly--and one huge piece of the puzzle drafted second-overall--Jack Eichel.

Eichel finally put aside any and all questions as to his future as he signed his entry-level contract yesterday. There have been indications that he'd be turning pro, but he gave no clear-cut answer. But the deal got done and yesterday, July 1st, not lottery day or draft day, officially starts the Eichel-era in Buffalo.

While Eichel and Murray and owner Terry Pegula were hunkered down in the offices of the First Niagara Center calmly putting ink to paper, free agent signings and trades were happening all around them. Being the aggressive GM that he is, one would think that just like the draft, Murray was on the phone with agents, especially those of defensemen yesterday. Yet, for one reason or another, and probably for the good of the franchise moving forward, the huge contracts given to a less-than-stellar class of free agents, the Sabres were shut out on the "big" names.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

On to free agency, "Wowie Housley!," and other things

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Although the euphoria over draft weekend hasn't even begun to subside in Sabreland, the NHL's calendar is about to change and with it comes the start of free agency.

With the forward ranks stocked, but not complete, Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray said he'll turn his attention to the d-corps which is looking pretty thin, "I probably need a veteran UFA defenseman," he said post-draft, "or I have to trade for one. I've been talking to teams about a left-shot d."

New Sabres bench-boss Dan Bylsma is looking at a group of defensemen with Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Mike Weber and 23 yr. old Mark Pysyk who will finally be with the team full time. Chad Ruhwedel and Jake McCabe could be in the mix, and they could probably hold their own, but one would think that the team would prefer more seasoning for them in the minors.

Bylsma said on WGR550 yesterday that he's still trying to figure out the defense. "I don't have a top-four, per se'," he told host Howard Simon. "Right now when you put [the d-corps] on paper, it's not there. I still think there's some room to possibly see another name to appear on that list for our team. Hopefully we'll explore that, look at that and see what July 1st brings."

Ideally Murray can find a left-handed d-man to join the right-handed Ristolainen on the team's top pairing. That's pretty far-fetched at this point, so what Bylsma said he was looking at was the possibility of moving Ristolainen to the left side with Bogosian on the right. It's something they'll try in training camp, if need be.