Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
As sad as it is to see summer begin to fade, but with each passing day hockey season draws nearer. The Buffalo Bills and their preseason exploits have garnered nearly all of the media attention to this point, rightfully so. There are high expectations and an excited fan base. But, it's time to ice the bickering over decisions at One-Bills Drive and begin to turn out attention towards the boys in the Blue and Gold.
It's been a particularly slow off season for GM Tim Murray and the Buffalo Sabres, so slow that there's been thoughts tossed around that the team should sign free agent defenseman Cody Franson just so hockey fans have something to talk about.
Franson made it back into the consciousness of Sabres fans due to Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News saying that he had two sources claiming that Buffalo had offered him a two-year deal. It immediately allowed for a myriad of suggestions as to his impact if it were true. Among the possibilities is that adding Franson would accelerate the Sabres rebuild with some even believing that adding the 28 yr. old right-handed d-man could put the team near playoff contention.
When reading all of this one should be reminded that Murray has been pretty specific as to the types of players, as well as their ages, that he wants to build with. At 28 Franson's just outside Murray's preferred 24-26 yr. old range and one would have to question why the GM would want a player with a questionable compete-level who was benched for the sixth game of their opening round series against the Chicago Blackhawks. No doubt the right-handed Fanson would help the powerplay, but one would really have to question whether or not the team should waste money and a roster spot on a specialist.
But, it's news...I guess.
Perhaps the event that marks the beginning of the drive towards the opening night of the season should be the NHL Rookie Showcase. The event is put together by the National Hockey League Players Association and is held in Toronto. A total of 39 descended upon the old Maple Leafs Garden for the two-day event sponsored by Upper Deck Trading Cards.
Accoding to Arpon Basu, "In addition to those official responsibilities, the event allows the prospects to have some fun together before embarking on careers as rivals, with a dinner at the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday and a video game tournament at the wrapup dinner on Tuesday. "
For Upper Deck, the trading card company had the opportunity "to photograph and film the next wave of talent in their NHL uniform and get their autographs on cards and other memorabilia."
It's a big two days marking a start to the upcoming season. "It definitely felt more like summer yesterday than it did today," Columbus Blue Jackets forward prospect Sonny Milano said. "Now it feels like the season's kind of starting up."
A quick note: From Harrington on the event, Connor McDavid had an exclusive deal with Upper Deck while Jack Eichel "inked a big-money deal on Monday with Leaf for cards and other memorabilia."
Speaking of Eichel.
It would seem the 18 yr. old rookie has found himself place to stay this season. In an interview with Basu he said that Buffalo Sabres veteran winger Matt Moulson has opened up his home to him. Eichel thought it was a good idea saying that Moulson "a really nice house, and he's got a great family."
Other tidbits from the Basu interview:
--Eichel has put on 10 pounds of weight "and kept the body fat down," putting the 6'2" center at over 200 lbs. If he can maintain his speed on the ice it's a scary proposition for the opposition.
--Among the off season things like working out, working on weaknesses in his game and talking with the Sabres and of the importance of coming into camp ready to work hard, he also mentioned the Sabres and" how much they care about their players and how much they want to have success. Just by the things that they've done this summer."
--And, of course, like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, Eichel talked about comparisons between him and first overall pick, Connor McDavid saying, "I try not to put any thought into comparisons between me and Connor. It's going to be there, it's always going to be there. But the fact is now that the draft's over and all that's done with, I wish him the best in Edmonton and I'm just going to try and focus on myself and do what I can to help the Buffalo Sabres."
Eichel mentioned working out with a number of NHL'ers in Foxboro, Massachusetts (home of the New England Patriots, GRRRR!!!!!) Amongst those there were Tampa Bay's Brian Boyle, Charlie Coyle of the Minnesota Wild and the NY Rangers, Keith Yandle. Of Yandle he said, "he makes [training] a lot more entertaining. He's hilarious."
Methinks a 28 yr. old, left-handed Yandle, who played significant minutes for the Rangers throughout the playoffs would be a much better target for Murray if he's intent upon bolstering the blueline.
And, finally, Tyler Ennis, who's one of only three players left from "the core" era also chatted with NHL.com.
Ennis who at 26 yrs. old will be one of a handful of vets that age and older, is pretty pumped up about the upcoming season. Especially after enduring a dismal two seasons which saw the team go a cumulative 44-102-18 and finishing 30th both years. "It seemed like a really long two years It might not be as long as you think, but those 160 games felt like 10 years."
Tell us about it.
There are many fans who go back to the Sabres inception and never have they gone through a stretch like this. But, most accepted what needed to be done and like Ennis are looking for the future to begin in earnest this season.
"I think it was nice that Tim [Murray, general manager] was aggressive [during the offseason]," Ennis told Derek Van Diest of nhl.com. "He didn't sit back; he was aggressive in a lot of moves. He knew what the plan was and he's done a lot of good things."
Amongst the things Murray had done was to bolster the center position which Ennis said (while fans heartily concur) "was the biggest weakness on our team" during his time in Buffalo.
Expectations have changed for the team and we'll see just how far it takes them.
Up next is the Prospects Challenge September 12-14 as the Sabres host the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils youngins at both HARBORCENTER and First Niagara Center.
Until then, you may now get back to your regularly scheduled Buffalo Bills quarterback debate.