Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
For some Buffalo Sabres fans, tonight may there may be a tough jersey choice as Buffalo travels to Columbus, OH to take on the Blue Jackets. Today, Hockey Weekend kicks of with "Wear Your Favorite Jersey Day."
Many of us will recall how last season went down and how it wasn't until the Blue Jackets' Cam Atkinson who put the nail in the coffin on the Sabres season guaranteeing that Buffalo finished last. With only two games to go and last place in the balance, Atkinson scored the game-winner with just under 10 minutes to go in the third period at Nationwide Arena. Although Boone Jenner would add an empty-netter, the talk of the town was Atkinson, with many fans espousing the notion that they'd be going out and purchasing Atkinson's No. 13 in honor of the occasion.
That loss by Buffalo guaranteed a top-two pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and after losing the draft lottery, the Sabres selected Jack Eichel. He wears No. 15 for Buffalo.
As Buffalo takes on Columbus tonight at Nationwide Arena, those who have both may have a tough choice to make.
Speaking of jersey's, No. 9 for Buffalo will be back on the ice again tonight. Evander Kane is back after serving a one-game, team imposed suspension for missing practice. Kane was up in Toronto joining in the NBA All-Star festivities on Sunday night and overslept. Although he did call in to let the team know that he wouldn't be there for practice that Monday morning, missing that was not looked kindly upon by the organization.
But WGR's Paul Hamilton had a really good take on the matter and how Kane's teammates reacted to the situation. Unlike the track-suit incident in Winnipeg that eventually lead to the Jets trading Kane, his Sabres teammates, according to Hamilton, were very forgiving. Hamilton paraphrased Buffalo forward Jamie McGinn saying 'We're with him. If [Kane] wants to come in and do the work and put forth the effort to change a little bit, we'll support him, we'll be behind him.'
Kane is image-conscious to the point where social media and his place at the forefront marketing himself has put his own egotistical needs in front of the organization's. How far it will go is yet to be determined, but I highly doubt he'll deviate from that and anybody who believes this incident will turn Kane into the Dalai Lama is surely misguided.
Off the ice he is what he projects his image to be but on the ice Kane could be a huge piece in Buffalo's future and it will be up to the organization to figure out their tolerance level. Personally, I'll be rooting for him everytime he's on the ice and believe he can reach that 30-goal level. But if he happens to slip up, I won't lose any sleep over it.
Kane's return to the lineup means No. 56 is back in Rochester.
Buffalo-born winger Justin Bailey was sent back to the Amerks in concert with Kane coming back and forward Daniel Catenacci being cleared to practice with the Sabres. Catenacci was leveled with a shot to the head by Philadelphia goon, Radko Gudas.
The 6'3, 210 lb. Bailey never looked out of place in his four-game introduction to the NHL but had to be sent down due to roster constraints. He could find himself back with the Sabres for another stint depending on what GM Tim Murray does at the trade deadline.
A few Buffalo numbers to keep an eye on at the trade deadline February 29th include No.s 88, 17 and 25 all of whom will be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season.
McGinn, who wears 88, could very well be on the move and will be the Sabres most desired commodity in 10 days. The 6'1" 205 lb. powerforward with a $2.95m cap-hit may also end up being a priority for some contenders because of his size, two-way ability, solid scoring touch and reasonable cap-hit.
No. 17 belongs to David Legwand, who's in the twilight of his career. Legwand has played admirably for Buffalo in a fourth-line/penalty kill role and could bring that to any contender looking to add depth.
The well-traveled Carlo Colaiacovo is a depth defenseman whom team aren't afraid to acquire just in case the bottom falls out on the blueline.
There will be a ton of rentals available at the deadline with nearly every one considered mid-lower level role players. If Murray could land some mid-level picks and/or prospects at least he'll get something for UFA's to-be.
The most coveted player in the upcoming draft is presently wearing No. 34 in Zurich, Switzerland.
Eighteen year old Auston Matthews is in Zurich, Switzerland this year and has 24 goals in 32 games while playing against men in the Swiss A league and there are number teams hoping the ping pong balls fall their way for the opportunity to draft the 6'2" 194 lb. sniper.
The Buffalo Sabres being one of them.
But should our beloved Sabres not be the beneficiary of a fortuitous bounce, again, of all the lottery teams in the mix for the No. overall pick, it's the Columbus Blue Jacket I'd like to see most get it.
The Jackets are a team that came into the league as an expansion team in 2000 and proceeded to build around Rick Nash, the big winger selected first overall that year. They gave it their all with the him as a key cog for their franchise and when he decided he wanted to move on Columbus sent him to the NY Rangers for a fairly decent desperation haul, but nothing close to what Nash was worth.
Since then GM Jarmo Kekalainen has been building the team through the draft and has a pretty good stockpile of prospects in the pipeline. Kekalainen also made a couple of impact moves by trading for Chicago's Brandon Saad last off season and trading talented, yet disgruntled, top-line center Ryan Johansson to the Nashville Predators for 2013 4th-overall pick, defenseman Seth Jones, in early January.
In a nod to the way team president John Davidson likes his to play, after being devastated by injuries last season which placed them near the bottom of the league last season--the McEichel draft--the Jackets went on a tear late in the season when they were healthy. The Jackets finished the last month and a half with a 16-4-1 run that included a nine-game winning streak and a went without a regulation loss in their last 13 games (12-0-1.)
When things fell apart this season they fired head coach Todd Richards eight games (and eight losses) in and hired a "motivator" in head coach John Tortarella. They've plodded along since but could never from their rough start. Presently the Jackets sit 28th in the league one spot below Buffalo and if things remain the same, both will be amongst a bottom-10 that will include all seven Canadian hockey teams.
I'm not sure if Canadian hockey fans consider Columbus to be a "non-traditional" hockey market like they do with cities in Florida or a places like Raleigh, NC and Nashville, TN, but irony of ironies, the player that these teams will be hoping to draft first-overall this year is Matthews, who was born in San Francisco, CA but was raised in Scottsdale, AZ.
That all seven Canadian teams are presently outside of the playoffs and will have lottery picks is substantial in and of itself. At least one Canadian team has made the Stanley Cup playoffs since the WHL/NHL merger and that run may be in jeopardy this season. That the home of hockey has their teams hoping to draft a player who may not have even been in this position had the NHL not moved from Winnipeg to Arizona in the first place is unfathomable. But it's happening. Just as the NHL has no business in Arizona, according to a rabid Canadian fan-base, it just doesn't seem right that a Canadian team should have to draft a player who's hockey roots are in Arizona, does it.
Oh but they'll jump at the opportunity just like any other team.
I like the Jackets. They've have been pretty honest with the way they've approached things and they've done a fantastic job staking a claim to their small parcel in Buckeye country while building a pretty solid fan base. Plus they have the coolest goal celebration in all of hockey.
Fire the cannon.
One final note on numbers, Bill Hajt who wore No. 24 for the Buffalo Sabres was a defensive defenseman who played his entire career for the Sabres (1974-87.) In 854 games played he scored 42 goals but on this date in 1984 he scored the 4000th goal in franchise history.
And, for those who may be interested, I only have one jersey, a white goathead No. 27 with a "C" on it.
Anybody have Captain Crunch for breakfast?