Saturday, February 27, 2016

Dominoes, Sharks and Amerks and Monsters--NHL trade deadline coming

Reprinted with permission from

For the Buffalo Sabres, and forward Jamie McGinn in particular, the trade of Winnipeg LW, Andrew Ladd to the Chicago Blackhawks yesterday was pretty big.

When it came to rental forwards this year, Ladd was at the top of the list with possibly Eric Staal being the only other pending UFA to supersede him. Staal, who has a no-trade clause, would surely fetch a hefty return should they find the proper destination, but in terms of significance for the Sabres at the trade deadline, all eyes were pretty much on Ladd and the dominoes leading to McGinn.

Following Ladd closely on the domino depth-chart is Boston Bruins winger Loui Eriksson who's in contract-extension negotiations with GM Don Sweeney and the Boston Bruins. Sweeney's in a bit of a pickle as the Bruins would like to keep Eriksson, but according to various sources, they're at an impasse as to the length of the contract. Eriksson's having strong year in Boston already surpassing his point total from the previous season while his 23 goals and 48 points in 61 games has him on pace for a 30-goal/63-point season.

Sitting atop the next tier of UFA wingers are Vancouver's Radim Vrbata and Arizona's Mikkel Boedker. The 34 yr. old Vrbata has been an inconsistent goal-scorer throughout his 14-year NHL career as he's twice hit the 30-goal mark and had three seasons of 20-plus goals, but mixed in are plenty of sub-par seasons which bring average down 18 goals/season. He has only 12 on the season thus far, even while spending plenty of time on the wing with the Sedin twins, but most troubling is his minus-32 plus/minus rating.

At 26 Boedker is much younger than Vrbata and his playing style is more of a two-way game than a goal-scorer. He's in his eighth NHL season but has not eclipsed the 20-goal mark to date. His career high is 19 goals in 2013-14 where he also had a career-high 51 points while playing a full 82-game schedule for the second time in his career.

Of the two, Boedker is more comparable to Buffalo's McGinn as they're almost identical in size and have nearly the same goal-output over nearly the same number of games. What separates Boedker from McGinn in the production department is his 50 more assists.

The McGinn we Sabres fans have come to know is a solid top-nine forward playing very well in a top-six role in Buffalo. He has 14 goals in 61 games thus far which puts him on a pace for 18 on the season. He's sturdy and fast and his rugged style of play has him built for the playoffs. Interesting to note that after an atrocious run in his first two playoff appearances with San Jose' (22 games, 0 goals, 1 assist) McGinn was very strong for Colorado as he put up two goals and added three assists in seven games for the Avalanche in the 2014 playoffs.

Rumor has it that Sabres GM Tim Murray would like to get a high pick in the draft and a prospect for McGinn and re-signed Eriksson in Boston would certainly help further that plan. The return on the Ladd trade was rather high as the Jets received a 2016 first rounder plus highly regarded forward prospect Marko Dano. There were other pieces involved which included Winnipeg retaining just over a third of Ladd's salary, but basically we're talking a first and upper-level prospect for Ladd and it pretty much set the market for the remaining forward rentals.


The Sabres will be at the Shark-tank tonight in the second of their three-game West Coast road trip in San Jose. Buffalo will be looking for a little more production than in their 1-0 shutout loss at Anaheim on Wednesday.

The last time the two teams met back in November, the Sharks were struggling and looking like they'd be taking a step back this season. But they righted the ship and now find themselves third in the Pacific Division just two points behind the Ducks.

San Jose' is coming off of their own road-trip in which they went 3-1-1. They're also integrating their two most recent acquisitions--F, Nik Spaling and D, Roman Polak into the lineup. The Sharks acquired the two depth players in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this week and Spaling scored his first goal for the Sharks in his first game playing for them.

Before San Jose acquired Spaling, they were said to be a possible fit for McGinn, but the Sharks may be looking to Buffalo for another piece as backup goaltender Alex Stalock has been anything but a lock in net. In 13 games Stalock is 3-5-2 with a 2.94 goals-against average and a .884 save percentage. Buffalo backup Chad Johnson, who will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end, has been much more stout in net going 13-14-3 with a 2.50 GAA and a .916 SV%.

It's a nice fit for the Sharks as Johnson not only has better numbers than Stalock, but his $1.3M cap-hit is $300K less than Johnson's and for a team that is projected to have only $170K in cap-space come year's end, according to General Fanager, every little bit helps.


As new Winnipeg Jets forward Marco Dano found out yesterday, the trade deadline not only affects players at the NHL-level, it affects players at all levels. This will be the third organization for Dano since he was selected 27th overall in the 2013 draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was a part of the Brandon Saad trade which sent him to Chicago in the off season and now he's a part of the Ladd deal less than eight months later.

While the Sabres were in California and GM Murray was manning his phone in Buffalo, the Rochester Americans were in Cleveland, OH taking on the Lake Erie Monsters.

This version of the Monsters is much different than the team Rochester played last season as their affiliation switched from Colorado to Columbus. The Amerks owned the Monsters last season going 4-0-0 and during the last five seasons Rochester dominated with a 19-4-4 record. Although the Amerks would continue that trend this season with a 6-3 win in the opener, they fell last night to the Monsters 5-2.

Execution, according to head coach Randy Cunneyworth, was the difference in the game. "They play a fast game, they did the work they had to and they made good on the chances they got," he said after the game."

The Monsters, owners of a paltry home powerplay (12.9%) went 2/2 last night while the Amerks went 0/3. Rochester also had three breakaways that were stopped by the game's third star, Monsters
 goalie Anton Forsberg. "It comes down to finishing the chances that you do have," said Cunneyworth, "the point-blank ones, the breakaways."

There's a contrast in the two organizations and where they are in both talent and depth. Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekelainen has been gathering draft picks and prospects since he took the job in February, 2013. In June of that year Kekalainen had three first-rounders, two of which, Alexander Wennberg and Kerby Rychel, are playing with the Jackets. The other was Dano.

Kekelainen's next three picks in that draft defenseman Dillon Heatherington and forwards Oliver Bjorkstrand and F, Nic Moutrey are all playing their roles effectively for Lake Erie. Plus, 2014 first-round pick Sonny Milano (16th-overall) is with the club and scored last night.

Dating back to the 2012 draft every Sabres first round draft pick is either with the big club (Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Ristolainen, Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel) or has been traded (Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov.) Two of Buffalo's four second-rounders from 2012 and 2013 (Jake McCabe and Justin Bailey) are with the big-club as well while one (JT Compher) was traded and the other (Connor Hurley) is a sophomore in college.

Although it doesn't excuse the Amerks for lack of execution and, as was mentioned by Cunneyworth, lack of physicality, it does give us a good indication as to how depleted the farm system is. With high-end talent like Grigorenko and Zadorov as well as Joel Armia (2011, 13th) no longer in the organization, and a thin Amerks blueline made thinner by the graduation of Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe this season, plus goaltending questions that are still being addressed, mainly in the form of rookie Linus Ullmark, it's a transitional season for Rochester.

Roster turnover is sure to be in the offing as the franchise has four UFA's in Buffalo, one UFA in Rochester, an additional six RFA's on the Sabres roster and another 12 RFA's in Rochester right now. They also have accumulated an astounding 20 draft picks in the next two NHL Drafts on top of the 34 picks they've made the previous four years.

With that in mind, and with the Amerks over the veteran limit by two players, it's probable that some on the Amerks roster will be moved by the trade deadline. Cunneyworth, who was well travelled in his 19 yr. pro career, acknowledged that it's something that might be in the back of the minds of his players. "It probably does [affect them]," he said. "I think everybody's got it in the back of their minds, some in the forefront. They're possibly looking for opportunity. You never know if there's other interest you just have to be ready.

"Whether it's your own team or some other team looking, you've got to play your best."

Somehow I got the impression Cunneyworth felt that many on the team didn't play their best last night against the Monsters. "It's not the time to drop the ball, like here," he concluded.

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