Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Even though it's at least a year away, NHL expansion has been on the minds of many, including yours truly. And with expansion comes an expansion draft where the new franchise will pluck one player from every NHL team to get the ball rolling for them.
Last week we went through that scenario as if it were to happen this year and threw out players to be protected. We put together a core group, and then had at it as to who would be left unprotected under one of two scenarios. It made for great back and forth as to who outside of the obvious might be protected as well as which protection plan might be better suited for the Buffalo Sabres at this juncture: Protecting seven forwards and three defensemen or eight skaters.
Regardless of what happens next off-season, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First off, the NHL set up a 32-team league when it realigned the divisions and conferences for the start of the 2013-14 season. In moving the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets from the west, rightfully so based upon simple geography, it created unbalanced conferences. There are two holes out west that need to be filled and one of them will be filled by Las Vegas. More than likely they will be the first expansion team to join the NHL since the Jackets and Nashville Predators did so in 2000 (for an $80M expansion fee.)
The other spot is up in the air right now as the other front-runner--Quebec City, Quebec--is barely being mentioned at this time. Although they want back in, and will be ready to hit the ground running, the $500M US price tag is steep especially with the Canadian dollar slumping. As of right now, investors in Quebec will need to fork out around $650M when factoring the exchange rate.
As the Globe an Mail's Eric Duhatschek pointed out in a piece back in December, dishing out that kind of cash to jump in as an expansion team isn't very prudent. "The question is this: Is Quebec City a viable business if the buy-in is $500-million (U.S.)," wrote Duhatschek. "Consider that when the ownership in Winnipeg bought the distressed Atlanta Thrashers in 2011, it paid a quarter of the expansion amount – $170-million (U.S.). And that was at a time when the loonie was above par."
Add in that there would need to be more realignment to the existing conference structure and it's another reason for QC and the NHL to wait until a floundering franchise decides they can't make it any more and relocates.
The two other markets, and the two that make the most sense from an alignment perspective, are Kansas City and Seattle. Although it would be great to have a possible rebirth of the old Kansas City Scouts logo (one of my all-time favorites,) John Sleezer of the Kansas City Star quotes Lamar Hunt Jr., owner of the ECHL's Missouri Mavericks, as saying the expansion fee is 'a ridiculously big fee.'
Seattle's itching for another pro franchise having lost the NBA's Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma City in 2008. They have investors who are trying to bring the NBA back and have an agreement with the city for to break ground on a downtown arena that runs through 2017. They've also tried to get an agreement for the new arena with an NHL-first package.
All that said, it would look as if there will be only one team joining the league for the 2017-18 season.
Based upon the preliminary expansion draft outline, it would be better for the Buffalo Sabres if the NHL expanded by two teams for the 2017-18 season rather than one.
One of the stipulations that probably will stick is that players with two years or less of pro experience are automatically exempt. For a franchise that's been in rebuild-mode since 2012, that's huge. At the conclusion of next season names like Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Justin Bailey and Nicolas Baptiste will be exempt allowing other players to be protected.
Sabres GM Tim Murray will have plenty of flexibility to protect the new core he's forming plus some key upper-end components. A new franchise (or two new franchises) would be looking at bottom-six/lower-pairing players to pilfer this season and if the Sabres lost two of, say, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Mark Pysyk, William Carrier or Marcus Folingo, it would hurt, but it would only be a flesh wound compared to what might transpire the following season. With Eichel and Reinhart sure to be protected, along with, probably, Ryan O'Reilly, Rasmus Ristolainen, Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Jake McCabe, the talent pool left unprotected will be that much stronger. And that's not even including any moves Murray makes in the next two years (hello Steven Stamkos or any Ottawa Senator that might be on the move.)
Which brings us to the following: The Sabres are going to lose one good player in 2017 and an even better one whenever the final expansion team comes into the NHL.
Because of their NHL finish over the past four years and because of the sheer number of picks the Sabres have had since their rebuild began in 2012, their pipeline is stocked to the point where Hockey'sfuture.com has them ranked as the No. 3 team for NHL prospects. Heading into this year's draft they'll probably have a top-10 pick amongst the 11 total they have right now. They'll need to keep that pipeline stocked, ala the Chicago Blackhawks, who've lost a lot of talent yet still boast three Stanley Cups in five years.
If the Sabres can get to that level, losing a top-half player would be a good problem to have.
It's really hard to believe that the following would even enter the conversation: Should the Sabres be interested in trading for [Thomas] Vanek in the off-season.
Simply put, ummm...hell friggen' no. And why on earth would anyone even bring that up?
The Vanek ship has long-since sailed and he left an oil-slick at the harbor that's just finally gotten cleaned up. The Land of a Thousand Lakes ignored the red flags and warning signs that accompanied Vanek and signed him. Now the Minnesota Wild have parked his butt on the bench--and are a better team for it.
Nope. He went on two money grabs, one costing the Sabres $51M in 2007 and has been torpedoed by his documented associations with gambling. For years he and former Sabre Derek Roy were kings of the Buffalo Country Club leading the team to five years of uninspiring mediocrity.
C'mon, guys. Really?
Our Hockeybuzz colleague Garth alerted many to trouble in Ottawa as Sens owner Eugen Melnyk went on a rant saying the status quo was unacceptable and that changes would be coming. Since that presser, which curiously came after Ottawa drubbed the rival Montreal Canadiens 5-0, the Senators dropped the next two games by a combined 7-3 score.
How'd that work out?
Well, for the Sabres who's GM is Tim Murray, nephew of Ottawa GM Bryan Murray, pretty well.
Not that Uncle Bryan would sell the farm to nephew Tim for bag of beans, but lord knows that the younger Murray would certainly want to be the first to know if an Ottawa player becomes available. Keep in mind that Tim gave Bryan a first round pick for goalie Robin Lehner and forward David Legwand at last year's draft.
Word from our own Sabres 89, who's been right before, has the younger Murray interested in Mike Hoffman, a 26 yr. old winger whom Tim picked in the 5th round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft when he was head scout for Uncle Bryan in Ottawa.
Tim Murray had a hand in most of the current roster, one that went to the playoffs last season, and he was also there when they traded for RW, Bobby Ryan and signed defenseman Mark Methot.
All three should be of extreme interest to the Buffalo Sabres.
I'm kinda looking forward to the off-season to see just what transpires with both clubs.
The big news (and rightfully so) concerning the end of the college season from most NCAA Men's Hockey teams is the signing of players. The Sabres signed Hudson Fasching, who was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings, and it was pretty big news as he was one of the best players in college hockey last season.
Murray also signed Minnesota State University defenseman, Casey Nelson.
Because of the obscurity of the name and the school, it was a signing that was totally out of the blue, but Murray and company were well aware of what Nelson had to offer. “We’ve been consistently impressed with Casey’s play for the last two years,” Murray said in a press release. “We identified him as one of the top college free agents available and we’re excited to have him join the organization.”
Sabres.com's Jourdan LaBarber, in his most recent Throwback Thursday segment, interviewed MSU Mavericks coach Mike Hastings for some background on Nelson.
Among the things Hastings mentioned about the 6'2" 182 lb. Nelson is that he put in all the work to improve his game, is a good skater, has a defensive presence on the ice and doesn't panic no matter what the situation.
To read the piece, click here.
The Sabres, who are coming off of a come-from-behind victory at Carolina, are off until a home matinee vs. the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.