Saturday, April 30, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--LW, Matt Moulson

Reprinted with permission from

Left Wing--Matt Moulson
DOB:  November 1, 1983 (age, 32)
Draft:  2003, PIT, 9th round (263rd overall)
How acquired:  Free agent signee (MIN,) 2014
Last contract signed:  2014--5yr./$25M
Final year of contract:  2018-19

2015-16 Stats:  81 games played, 8 goals, 13 assists, 21 points, -5

What we wrote preseason:  The well-travelled, Cornell university graduate mentored 2009 first-overall pick John Tavares with the NY Islanders. It was a beneficial situation on and off the ice for both players. "I don't think Matt's ever gotten the credit he's deserved for the success I've had," Tavares said at the time Moulson was shipped to Buffalo in 2013. "Words can't really describe how much he was there for me."

Moulson and his wife Alicia took a liking to the Buffalo area after the trade. When free agency hit in 2014 he signed a 5yr./$25M contract with the Sabres and settled in. After the Sabres selected Jack Eichel with the 2nd overall pick in 2015, Moulson offered his home to the 18 yr. old, just as he did with Tavares. Expectations were lowered with the influx of talent like Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane and Jamie McGinn and the third line looked like a good slot for him. "There's plenty of skill down the middle [in Buffalo] to get Moulson the puck where he's at his best. At the age of 31 Moulson can still snipe and with that ability perhaps we'll see yet another 30-goal-season."

What we wrote mid-season:  "Would you believe he's tied for sixth on the team in points? Me neither. Moulson has struggled mightily and now finds himself on the fourth line thanks to the emergence of Reinhart and McGinn on the top line. A scorer on the fourth line could mean a banishment to King Moonracer's press-box island for a game or two.

Impressions on his play this year:  Moulson finished ninth on the team in scoring and had the fourth highest cap-hit. Not a good combination. And he did find himself in the press box as a healthy scratch after going 24 games without a goal. That dubious streak would continue for another 20 games despite head coach Dan Bylsma giving him ample powerplay time and numerous opportunities playing in the top-six. But nothing worked, and early season predictions of solid production soon gave way to questions of, what happened?

Sabres GM Tim Murray openly stated that Moulson may not have been in the best possible shape to handle Bylsma's up-tempo system and it sure looked like it most of the time. Perhaps there were other pressures for a genuine good-guy like Moulson and the confluence of organizational changes with those pressures were just too much. With words like "buy-out" and "unmovable salary" entering into the equation this past season, and with the team looking to add even more talent, Moulson will need to be better, plain and simple.

Questions moving forward:  How can he get his confidence back? What will his off season workout program entail and could lack of conditioning have been the problem all along? Can he slot into a third-line/second powerplay unit role and produce enough to make his salary bearable in the very near-term? Can his 31.8% rate in the shootout to help the Sabres that way? Has age caught up with him or was his NY success more a product of being wingman for Tavares? These are a lot of questions for a 31 yr. old, and for the organization the big question would be, is he worth it?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Anaheim loss nets another 2016 3rd-round pick for the Sabres

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres added another 2016 draft pick to their burgeoning stable thanks to a Game-7 loss by the Anaheim Ducks at the hands of the Nashville Predators. The conditional 3rd round pick Anaheim sent to Buffalo for Jamie McGinn now stands as the Ducks failed to make it to the Western Conference Finals. Had Anaheim won two playoff rounds and McGinn played in at least 50% of their games, that 2016 third-rounder would have converted to a 2017 2nd round pick.

As it stands right now the Sabres will have 12 picks in the upcoming draft to be held in Buffalo April 24-25:

1st--presently 8th overall
3rd--BUF, ANA (McGinn trade, 2015) STL (Ryan Miller, 2014) DAL (Johnas Enroth, 2015)
5th--BUF, MTL (Brian Flynn, 2015)
7th--BUF, MTL (Torrey Mitchell, 2015)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A couple suggestions to inject some life into the NHL Draft Lottery

Reprinted with permission from

There's no getting around it, the NHL had the opportunity to put on a decent show at last year's draft lottery and they came up way short. Connor McDavid was the grand prize for the lucky winner last year as 14 non-playoff teams and much of their fan base were tuned in to see if their logo was on the golden card. About the only thing interesting about the event was the look on McDavid's face when the Oilers won the lottery.

Sure, it was nothing more than a draft lottery to see which team would be selecting first in the 2015 NHL Draft and for most teams with the lower odds there was no more than a casual interest, but a player like McDavid doesn't come around every day. All season long McDavid and Jack Eichel were the wonder twins at the top of the draft board with hype exceeding anything the league has witnessed since the Sidney Crosby draft in 2005 or even Alexander Ovechkin/Evgeni Malkin in 2004.

The draft lottery process itself involved team executives in the back room witnessing numbers being drawn to select the winner and a representative of Ernst and Young delivering a stack of large album-sized envelops to Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly at the podium. "Daddy Warbucks" Daly, who's better suited to be the face of a board room meeting than the face of the NHL lottery (nothing personal,) proceeded to open envelopes with Deal or No Deal-type background music infused to heighten tension.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--LW, Marcus Foligno

Reprinted with permission from

Left Wing--Marcus Foligno
DOB:  August 10, 1991 (age, 25)
Draft:  2009, 4th round (104th overall)
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  2104--2 yr./$3.75M
Final year of contract:  2015-16, RFA

2015-16 Stats:  75 games played, 10 goals, 13 assists, 23 points, +4

What we wrote preseason:  "Visions of a young Cam Neely danced through Sabreland when Foligno hit the NHL with a vengeance back in March, 2012, [but] that kind of success was rather unfortunate for Foligno as he forgot the type of player he was.

During the last two season "Foligno was trying to find his way in what turned out to be an especially difficult environment. [Former head coach Ted] Nolan had his deficiencies, but he managed to help more than a few players find themselves during a very difficult time for the franchise, and Foligno was one of them. For Foligno, it's no surprise that Nolan, who once coached a Buffalo squad known as "the hardest working team in hockey," got him back to creating opportunities through hard work on the ice."

What we wrote mid-season:  "another one who may have found his home. As a power forward Foligno plays a real strong game. As a scorer? Still needs work. May be settling into his role as a bottom-six player who can contribute offensively.
Impressions on his play this year:  And that's what ended up happening for Foligno. He knew his role and began to thrive in it. He set career highs in both goals and assists and during the latter part of the season he benefitted greatly from being on a line with captain Brian Gionta and Johan Larsson as that two-way line was the most consistent line. His plus-4 plus/minus rating was second on the team.

Foligno eventually settled in rather nicely within new head coach Dan Bylsma's system. As choppy as last season was for the entire team, the Sabres were more about evaluating players strengths and weaknesses and how they responded to their new environment and Foligno seems locked into his role as a bottom-six, muscle forward who plays a solid two-way game.

Questions moving forward:  Foligno is what he is, so there aren't too many questions save for, how far can he take his role? Can he become like a "Mule," ala Detroit's Johan Franson, and up his intensity-level to the point where he and his 6'3" 222lb. frame simply won't be denied? Will his stick-work around the net improve to the point where he can reach and maintain 15-goal/30-point level? Is he prepared to take on more of the big bruisers in the league like Radko Gudas and Tom Wilson when necessary?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--D, Zach Bogosian

Reprinted with permission from

Defenseman--Zach Bogosian
DOB:  July 15, 1990 (age, 25)
Draft:  2008, 3rd-overall (Atlanta Thrashers)
How acquired:  Trade with the Winnipeg Jets February 11, 2015
Last contract signed:  2013--7yr./$36M
Final year of contract:  2019-20

2015-16 Stats:  64 games played, 7 goals, 17 assist, 24 points, -11

What we wrote preseason:  Bogosian was thrown right into the fire for an Atlanta franchise that was in disarray. He was mismanaged on the ice and suffered a broken leg his rookie season and two years later the Atlanta Thrashers franchise was moved to Winnipeg.

After the trade to Buffalo, Bogosian averaged over 26 minutes a game for a team that was bottoming out. "At the very least we're looking at a second-pairing, physical defenseman with Robyn Regehr-like traits who is a smooth skater, strong puck mover and one can put some points on the board. At best he looks to be a No. 2/3 who can really be a veteran anchor for a strong group of young defensemen the Sabres will be integrating into the lineup over the course of the next three or four years."

What we wrote mid-season:  "although he's recovered from an injury that had him miss the first month and a half of the regular season, he's still getting up to game-speed. Dude can really skate and rattle the boards with one of his checks. Although he's a bit overzealous in the hitting department, while also getting caught out of position because of it, he's pretty sound in his own end. Plus he's got an attitude too."

Impressions on his play this year:  As a victim of circumstance in Atlanta, one cannot blame him for having his development stunted during his first three years in the NHL. Nor can you blame him for signing the rather lucrative deal that the Winnipeg Jets offered him. But as Sabres fans we can like what he brought to the table this season, despite his shortcomings. Although he won't ever hope to be a Denis Potvin nor attain the meanness of a Scott Stevens, he's got enough scoring and grit to have a positive impact as a solid, veteran #3/4 d-man for an up-and-coming Sabres team.

Bogosian can really move at 6'3" 214 lbs. and it would seem as if he's found a home as an all-situations defenseman on Buffalo's second-pairing. Plus, he has 478 NHL games under his belt which was of particular importance to rookie Jake McCabe, his d-partner most of the season. McCabe really surprised a lot of people this season and much of it can be attributed to working with Bogosian as the two were oft-times the team's best pairing on the ice. When looking at the vet and the rookie, I'm reminded of the impact Drew Bagnall had on Rasmus Ristolainen when the latter was sent to Rochester and I can see Bogosian having the same impact on the Sabres young defensemen at the NHL-level.

Questions moving forward:  As always, the term "when healthy" seems to make it's way into the equation.  So, if healthy, can Bogosian match or better his career-highs set early on in his career? It's recognized that he's no Niklas Lidstrom, but as the game gets quicker will his mind be able to keep pace with game and with what his body wants to do? And at 25 yrs. old and with nearly 500 NHL games under his belt plus obvious leadership qualities, will he be wearing an 'A' in the near future as the old-guard gives way to the young-vets in Buffalo?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--RW, Brian Gionta

Reprinted with permission from

Right Wing--Brian Gionta
DOB:  January 18, 1979 (age, 37)
Draft:  1998, 3rd round (82nd-overall,) NJD
How acquired:  Free agent signee (MTL), 2014
Last contract signed:  2014--3yr./$12.75M
Final year of contract:  2016-17

2015-16 Stats:  79 games, 12 goals, 21 assists, 33 points, -5

What we wrote preseason:  "Gionta headlined a trio coming to Buffalo making the Sabres the surprise of the 2014 off-season. The Greece, NY native (a suburb just outside of Rochester) knew what he was signing up for when he signed a 3 yr. contract with the Sabres. [He] was brought in mainly to provide leadership on a rebuilding team that would be seeing a large group of prospects making their way to Buffalo beginning this season.

"At the top of that leadership group is the 36 yr. old Gionta who will be integral in trying to build a winning attitude off of the disaster that was last season. The vets all have their roles in that regard, which is to pass on their experiences to the youngins. While on the ice they'll be taking the pressure off of the kids but off the ice Gionta says they'll be 'showing them how to be professionals, showing them what it's like to be in the NHL day-in, day-out.'"

What we wrote mid-season:  "Started the year off real strong but has fallen back a bit. At 36 yrs. old shows bursts of speed that had him keeping up with the big dogs on the top lines. But that was earlier in the season. May have found a home on the third line with Girgensons. Has been the best, most consistent line three games running."

Impressions on his play this year:  Gionta missed the first three games of the season with an injury and upon returning to the ice, Sabres bench boss "Dancing Dan" Bylsma proceeded to use him up and down the lineup. Oft-times, much to the consternation of the fan-base, one would witness Gionta logging big, top-six minutes and while miscast on a skill-level, his skating ability kept him in the play.

His skating ability and vast experience would serve him and his linemates well as he fell down the depth chart to his proper third-line role on the Sabres. Gionta, Johan Larsson and Marcus Foligno would form the Sabres most consistent line through the final 20-25 games of the season and the captain played a big role in helping those two find their games. Leadership, especially one that totes a Stanley Cup ring like Gionta has, is invaluable on a young team. Although the Sabres as a team made great strides, having a captain being disappointed with the participation trophy, as he often said during locker cleanout day, will keep this team on the right track.

Questions moving forward:   At age 37 and in top shape, how much will he have to offer the team heading into his final year of his contract? Who will he have a positive impact on next season? And peeking a little bit beyond, could he and the Sabres find a match for one, maybe two more years in a limited role at a reduced cap-hit?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--LW, Evander Kane

Reprinted with permission from

Left Wing--Evander Kane
DOB:  August 2, 1991 (age, 24)
Draft:  2009, 4th overall
How acquired:  Trade with the Winnipeg Jets, February 11, 2015
Last contract signed:  2012--6yr./$31.5M
Final year of contract:  2017-18

2015-16 Stats:  65 games, 20 goals, 15 assists, 35 points, -14

What we wrote preseason:  Before all the collateral off-ice incidents entered into the equation during his professional career, scouts were drooling over Evander Kane's powerforward frame and ultra on-ice competitive nature. It was something not lost on Buffalo GM Tim Murray, a long-time scout himself, when he traded for Kane. "You watch him play on the ice," said Murray at the time of the trade, "he plays hard. He plays in traffic. He doesn’t play a perimeter game; he plays a heavy game. He scores goals from around the net. He plays the game right. He finishes checks. He’s a good fighter. I don’t know how much I want him fighting. That’s his character on the ice."

As for the off-ice drama that accompanied Kane, Murray stated a well-hidden truism in sports, "I can tell you the best of the very best players have warts, but I can’t talk about them."

Such is the dichotomy of Kane.

What we wrote mid-season:  "missed 10 games due to injury but has kicked it up with six goals and three assists in his last 13 games. Needs to keep his north/south aggressive game rolling. He and Eichel on the same line hasn't been a total disaster, but try connecting the same poles of two different magnets."
Impressions on his play this year:  You  know what they say about leopards and spots, and the first half of his first season in Buffalo was his pro career in a nutshell--promise, inury and, of course, off-ice incidents. But a funny thing happened on the way to lynching him and Murray, Kane changed everyone's perception of him with a selfless act in his return to Winnipeg. With an open net in front of him and the opportunity to shove it in the face of the entire city and the Jets organization, he instead fed rookie Sam Reinhart who hit the empty net for his first career hattrick.

Although another event a month later--oversleeping after hanging at NBA All-Star Weekend and being suspended by the team--would prick the aura of a complete Saul-to-Paul transformation, there's reason to believe that Kane may choose to further separate himself from his off-ice image and focus his energies more on the ice. And there's the rub.

Questions moving forward:  There's a duality in Kane that will always be there, the question is, how much can he keep his off-ice image, and the baggage that comes along with it, in check? And because he plays a rugged north/south game, what can be done to minimize injury without compromising his powerforward game? He has all the skills to become a perennial 25-30 goal scorer, but can he find that happy medium between selfish (the want/need to score) and selfless (the need to incorporate his teammates into the play) to attain that standard?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--D, Rasmus Ristolainen

Reprinted with permission from

Defenseman--Rasmus Ristolainen
DOB:  October 27, 1994 (age, 21)
Draft:  2013, 8th overall
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  2013 ELC; $950k/yr. + $850k yearly performance bonus
Final year of contract:  2015-16, RFA

2015-16 Stats:  82 games, 9 goals, 32 assists, 41 points, -212

What we wrote preseason:  Ristolainen was the player the Sabres keyed on at the 2013 NHL Draft and they got him. Despite being NHL ready, after the management team was blown up that season, Risto was sent to the AHL. After the season was over, he went back to Finland to work out and came to development camp chiseled as if to say he never wanted to go back to the AHL.

"Ristolainen ended up making the Sabres roster and averaging 20:36 of ice-time for the 2014-15 season," and after Tyler Myers was traded, "[his] ice-time would increase substantially. In the final 20 games of the season, he would not see less than 20:58 minutes of while hitting 28:00 minutes or more three consecutive games.

"He has physical attributes as well as the drive to excel. He has tremendous hockey sense, is a strong skater, he positions himself well and has a strong physical presence to his game as well as some offensive acumen. The only thing missing from his resume' is full-time experience in a top-pairing role."

What we wrote mid-season:  --"[Ristolainen] "has become an absolute beast." Those aren't my words (at least not my exact words, I called him "a bad man") rather they came from Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News. Ristolainen is all of 21 yrs. old and he's leading the Sabres blueline in all categories while leading the team in total ice-time. He's also on a pace to score almost 60 points, something that hasn't been done since recent Hall of Fame inductee Phil Housley (81 points) did so back in the 1989-90 season."

Impressions on his play this year:  Although he didn't even hit the 50-point mark, Ristolainen had a very strong offensive season doubling his point production from 20 in 2014-15 to 41 last season, good for a top-25 placement amongst NHL defensemen. His 25:16 average time on ice placed him 10th in the league and he was the only Sabres player to play in every game this year. The dude was a workhorse for Buffalo last season and being the stud he it was expected.

As the season wore on, however, Ristolainen's effectiveness diminished, sometimes to the point were he looked like a rookie. The pace of the game got to him a bit and his focus shifted a bit as the team wanted to seem more bite come out of him. He's a 6'4" 207 lb. physical specimen who was drafted as a d-man with some sandpaper to his game, yet that aspect hadn't made it's presence known to any discernable degree. At 21 yrs. old the team has him working on rounding out his game, which is a good thing.

Questions moving forward:  Will "The Angry Finn" (as head coach Dan Bylsma called him) be able to channel Chris Pronger in becoming both fearless and feared? The more emboldened he becomes, the bigger and tougher the player coming back at him. Will he be able to up his production once again? He lead the team in powerplay assists with 17, can he be counted on to command the first powerplay unit? How well can he manage his time on ice to avert late-season slumps? And, maybe the big one this off-season, will he and the Sabres negotiate a long-term deal or go the bridge-contract route?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--Sam Reinhart

Reprinted with permission from

Forward--Sam Reinhart
DOB:  November 6,1995 (age, 20)
Draft:  2014, 2nd overall
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed: 2015--3yr. ELC; $925k/yr. + $2.65M yearly performance bonus
Final year of contract:  2017-18

2015-16 Stats:  23 goals, 19 assists, 42 points, -8

What we wrote preseason:  Reinhart spent most of the 2014-15 season in junior with instructions to hit the gym whenever he could. "[He]took that challenge to heart while also playing dominant hockey, especially in the 2015 World Junior's. He came into the Sabres 2015 Development Camp stronger and looked bigger on the ice. He stole the show at the scrimmage with two goals and an assist.

"Reinhart has shown the ability to dominate while playing against his peers, something that bodes well for the future. Near-term, however, he'll need to prove that he can adapt and produce at the NHL-level. Rochester is always an option should he have trouble adapting, but that "fighting weight" of 190, his improved skating, a familiarity with how the pro game is played and his off the charts hockey sense should keep him in the NHL for the rest of his career.

What we wrote mid-season:  "After a slow start, has really found his groove. Reinhart has been working with O'Reilly after practice and it shows as he's improved shot (8 goals on a 12.3% shooting percentage) and has really developed chemistry with O'Reilly. Kid's got the hockey sense and ample skill, is beginning to figure out how to overcome minor size-issues at the NHL-level. Leads the team in plus/minus with a plus-2.

Impressions on his play this year: His goal-scoring touch was a revelation as he had a great rookie campaign scoring a team second-best 23 goals. Gotta hand it to him. As a second-overall pick he was beset by challenge's ranging from GM Tim Murray's instructions to bulk up during a busy junior season to adapting to the physicality of the NHL as well as a move to the wing this season. He came into the season looking boyish, but he rose to every one of the challenges he faced and at locker cleanout we saw a man exuding confidence and ready to begin preparing for next season.

Reinhart's maturation process and the success he found this season can be attributed to a number of things--his own professional work-ethic and drive had him on the ice before and after practices honing his skills, Ryan O'Reilly's work with him during those sessions, and head coach Dan Bylsma put Reinhart in positions to succeed beginning with a net-front presence on the powerplay and a spot on O'Reilly's wing where the two found game-time chemistry. It all worked marvelously.

Questions moving forward:  How much more can he improve his skating? Reinhart's hockey sense allowed him to keep up with "Jack Flash" Eichel and the two are looking like a duo headed into next season, anything he can do to increase his better than average skating will only make that line faster and more dangerous. Can he add a few pounds without hampering his overall game? What will he do for an encore? Is a 50-60 point season out of the question for him next season?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--Jack Eichel

Reprinted with permission from

Center--Jack Eichel
DOB:  October 28, 1996
Draft:  2015, 2nd overall
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  2015--3yr. ELC/$925K + $2.85M Performance Bonus
Final year of contract:  2017-18

2015-16 Stats:  81 games, 24 goals, 32 assists, 56 points, -16

What we wrote preseason:  "His speed and acceleration are incredible for a 6'2" 198 lb. player as witnessed at every level. Eichel has the ability to finish as well as set up and has an NHL-ready frame that makes him difficult to get off the puck." In a splendid profile piece by the Buffalo News' Bucky Gleason, Eichel's immeasurables include a home-spun humility and blue collar work-ethic engrained in him by his parents, Bob and Anne. "[They] weren’t trying to build a great hockey player," wrote Gleason, "their goal was to raise a good human being."What we wrote mid-season:  "An incredible talent with blazing speed and has the ability to develop into something real special. Teams continue to throw bodies in his path to stop him before he gets started and he's yet to find a way to counter that. Linemates who can open up a bit more ice for him would help as would him using his linemates more. Second on the team with nine goals."

Impressions on his play this year:  Eichel was in a bit of a slump at the time of that mid-season report, but after indulging in some down-time on a visit back to North Chelmsford, MA during the Christmas break, he hit the ice rejuvenated. He tacked on 13 goals and added 25 assists to close out the season becoming the first Sabres rookie to lead the team in goals in nearly 30 years and the youngest Sabres rookie to hit the 50-point mark in 33 years.

One may need to go all the way back to Gilbert Perreault, Buffalo's first-ever draft pick, to find a player who instantly sends a rush of anticipation that electrifies the home crowd. With an NHL body, franchise tools and world-class speed, head coach Dan Bylsma had trouble finding wingers that could hang with Eichel but he eventually found one in rookie Sam Reinhart, who's brains and elite hockey sense allowed him to keep up. The duo flourished.

Questions moving forward:  Will he become more selfish? During locker cleanout he told the gathered media "I started to take that turn after Christmastime. I started to take more onus in my own game, take more responsibility and expect more out of myself." What's his ceiling? And how can he use his linemates to reach higher and help take this team farther? Those are all good questions.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Impressions of and questions concerning--Ryan O'Reilly

Reprinted with permission from

Center--Ryan O'Reilly
DOB:  February 7, 1991 (age, 25)
Draft:  2009, 33rd overall
How acquired:  Trade with Colorado at the NHL Entry Draft, June 26, 2015
Last contract signed:  2015--7yr./$52.5M
Final year of contract:  2022-23   

2015-16 Stats:  71 games, 21 goals, 39 assists, 60 points, -16

What we wrote preseason:  A disappointing season for the Colorado Avalanche and O'Reilly's contract status "could probably be looked at as more of a blessing that a young player with his skill-level and experience would be on the market." Buffalo GM said of O'Reilly at the time of the trade, "There's nothing I don't like about him. And I think the consensus from a lot of players that I've spoken to that have played with him and been around him was he seems to be 'the guy.'"

What we wrote mid-season:  O'Reilly "has been a force and has been instrumental in helping linemate Sam Reinhart adapt and succeed. Top player on the Sabres, bar-none, one of the top two-way players in the league as well. Continues to impress on the ice and hates to lose which will serve this young team well moving forward."

Impressions on his play this year:  O'Reilly was all that and a bag of chips until the weight of carrying this very young Sabres team took it's toll mid-way through the season. He went on a 24-game goal-less streak from January 10 to March 26 with an 11-game stint on injured reserve within that span. Despite the drought, he racked up assists during that time (18) and he finished the season strong with four goals and three assists in the final six games. His 60 points lead the team.

But O'Reilly isn't just about points. He was brought in for a number of reasons which included bearing the weight of top-line center duties to alleviate pressure on rookie centers Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, who ended up on O'Reilly's wing for a good chunk of the season. He also brought a tireless work-ethic, a hate-to-lose attitude and unquestioned leadership both on and off the ice especially in helping willing young players like Reinhart hone their craft after practice. O'Reilly is all-hockey, all-the-time and his dedication warrants an appropriate, well-deserved "C" on his sweater when current captain Brian Gionta is ready to pass it on.

Questions moving forward:  What you see is what you get with O'Reilly. He is "the man" right now so there aren't too many questions with him as he's smack-dab in his prime. However, has he plateaued at the 20+ goal, 35-40 assist mark? Or does he have a bit more upside to hit that 70 points? Also, being the ultra-competitive player he is, for all intents and purposes, this will eventually be Eichel's team, how would a possible captaincy for Eichel affect O'Reilly down the road? If at all?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Amerks end season with rough weekend

Reprinted with permission from

When I talked with longtime Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens very early in the season, "The Voice of the Rochester Americans" expressed cautious optimism as the team started the season 2-0. He had a strong sense of optimism as there was a different feel to the organization. Yet it was too early to tell if that would make it all the way down to the Rochester ice.

An inconsistent season finally came to a close yesterday and it's safe to say what the Sabres started hadn't quite reached Rochester yet. The Amerks finished a three-games-in-three-days weekend dropping a 4-2 decision in Toronto against the Marlies (TOR.) They also lost at Toronto the previous night 3-1 and had started out the weekend getting blown out 5-0 in their home finale against the Albany Devils (NJD.)

As disappointing as that close was, especially the loss vs. Albany in front of a season-high 9,746 fans, Rochester did finish the season with a slightly better record than last year. In 2014-15 the Amerks went 29-41-6 (.421 win percentage) while this year they finished 34-38-4 for a .474 win percentage. That said, they missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season and still have a way to go before they can think of hanging with the big boys of the AHL.

Monday, April 18, 2016

THN's Ken Cambell adds another layer to the Steven Stamkos saga

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For those who have visited these Buffalo Sabres threads, the name Steve Stamkos has been a source of intrigue for quite a while. The NHL's first-overall pick in 2008 is in the final year of his contract and there are some big question marks concerning him re-upping in Tampa. It's not very often that a player of Stamkos' caliber hits the open market via free agency so as the saga continues, and should he choose to do so the list of teams after his services will be long.

The Sabres are said to be one of those teams interested in Stamkos and have been for some time.

Our very own Sabres89 has mentioned on numerous occasions this past season that Buffalo GM Tim Murray has been very interested in acquiring Stamkos. So when THN's Ken Campbell was on WGR550 telling Hockey Hotline hosts Andrew Peters and Craig Rivet, "I know Tim Murray tried to make a deal for him last summer," it wasn't too much of a surprise for those who come here regularly.

Why Stamkos would choose free agency has been a bit of a bit of a mystery as he's in a great city captaining a talented regular playoff team that was considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender this season. He'll command huge dollars, probably hitting an annual eight-figure salary, and can he get an eighth year added to his term by re-signing with Tampa while also being afforded the opportunity to stretch that a little farther as the state of Florida has no state income tax.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sabres fans will be rooting for Jamie McGinn and the Anaheim Ducks

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When Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray sent winger Jamie McGinn to the Anaheim Ducks at the 2016 trade deadline the return was a conditional 2016 3rd round pick. The condition:  Should the Ducks advance to the Western Conference Finals and McGinn play in 50% of the their playoff games in the process that third would turn into a 2017 second-rounder.

The latter part of the equation is pretty much a given as McGinn has been a top-six presence for the Ducks as he's scored eight goals in 21 games since the trade. McGinn's continued presence in front of the net will be needed as they face one of the best goalies in the game--Pekka Rinne--in their opening round series against the Nashville Predators.

Some players to watch during the playoffs

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For the fifth year running the Buffalo Sabres are out of the playoffs and fans in Sabreland are left to watch the battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Although there are brackets and fantasy leagues, NHL 16 and other games to keep us occupied until Draft Day, there’s nothing like having a vested rooting interest in your favorite team.

Most Buffalo fans get it, and have no problem sitting on the sidelines this season. The Sabres finished in the bottom third of the league and will in the very least pick in the top third with an outside possibility of cracking the top-three should Lady Luck be kind.

After that it’s the July 1st free agent frenzy, which as of late resembles an afternoon junket heading towards slot machines than a high stakes gambit. All could change, however, as Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos remains unsigned. The Lightning superstar has yet to come to an agreement with the team and when July 1 rolls around, there could be a number of suitors throwing top-end money his way.

Although his future doesn’t rest soley with his recovery from a blood clot, he’s out until at least the middle of July, and having a rib removed in the process might give some team a reason to reign in their enthusiasm. Regardless, Stamkos could be the biggest name to hit free agency since Dallas’ Brett Hull, fresh of his Stanley Cup clinching goal bolted the Stars for the Detroit Red Wings.


Friday, April 15, 2016

2015-16 Team Stats--Final

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While in-season momentum can propel a team to new levels, carrying over momentum from season to season is a tricky thing. How many times have we seen a team finish the season strong only to fall back to where they were prior. It's especially true when a team is clawing their way up from at or near the bottom of the standings.

The Buffalo Sabres finished the 2015-16 season with a kick as they went 10-5-4 in March and April and there was a definitive sense of optimism at First Niagara Center yesterday as the Sabres held their year-end press conference. GM Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma fielded questions from the media in a lighthearted manner reflecting on a season that was about as successful as one could get considering where they came from.

A quick history as to why the Buffalo Sabres are probably pleased with the way the 2015-16 unfolded for the team.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rookie Scoring Race--Final numbers. Plus, the Calder Trophy goes to...

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Chicago Blackhawks winger Aretmi Panarin had powerful eight-point week (3g, 5a) prior to the final week of the season where he basically slammed the door on the rookie scoring title. This past week he added two goals and three assists bringing his regular season total to 77 points on 30 goals and 47 assists. That point total gave him the fifth highest point total since 2005-06.

It was a dominant performance from the 24 yr. old free agent signee, one that helped propel his linemate, Patrick Kane to career highs in goals (46) and assists (60) as Kane became the first American-born player ever to with the Art Ross Trophy as the league's scoring leader.

Well behind Panarin in the points-total was Buffalo's own Jack Eichel with 56 points followed by Arizona's Max Domi (52,) Edmonton's Connor McDavid (48) and Philadelphia defenseman Shane Gostisbehere (46) who had been lurking at or just below the top-five but slid in with two assists in two games.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A very revealing Sunday for a crowded goaltending situation

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Yesterday was locker cleanout day for the 2015-16 edition of the Buffalo Sabres and a time where the media can get some final thoughts from the players for one last time this season.

While the media was getting their final interviews with the likes of Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Robin Lehner, among others, the Rochester Americans were in Cleveland finishing off a three-games-in-three-nights weekend. This was the second game of a home and home with the Lake Erie Monsters and the last meeting between the two clubs this season.

Prior to the game, three players who'd played for Buffalo in the season finale on Saturday were reassigned to Rochester--forwards Cole Schneider and Evan Rodrigues as well as rookie goaltender Linus Ullmark. Schneider and Rodrigues both played while Ullmark, who started the final game of Buffalo's season, did not dress.

2015-16 Individual Stats--Final

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Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray traded for young vets like Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly for a number of reasons. First, they were very talented players who were available, the Sabres had the goods to make the deals and Murray wasn't afraid to pull the trigger. In going after those two (and goalie Robin Lehner as well,) Murray stated often that he didn't want to be atop the draft every year and that he felt players like Kane and O'Reilly would speed up the rebuild.

In addition to that, especially in the case of O'Reilly as the team's No. 1 center, the most important aspect may have been that these young vets could act as a shield while allowing rookies like Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart the opportunity to grow into their roles. O'Reilly lead all NHL forwards in average time on ice with 21:44 while Kane was second at 21:02, both of them taking all the heat that the opposition's best players could through at them.

Murray's plan, executed by head coach Dan Bylsma and his coaching staff, worked to a "T" as O'Reilly, Eichel, Reinhart and Kane occupied four of the top five scoring spots on the team. O'Reilly topped 60 points for the second time in his career while his team-leading 39 assists was a career best. Eichel's 24 goals lead the team in scoring, the first time a Sabres rookie had done that since, according to Sabres PR, the 1987-88 season (Ray Sheppard.) Despite missing 17 games due to injury, Kane finished fifth on the team with 35 points (20g + 15a.)

But perhaps the biggest surprise of the season came from the stick of Reinhart.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

.500 goes "poof!" as Blue Jackets topple Sabres in Buffalo's home finale

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Despite differing opinions of what constitutes a .500 team, the Buffalo Sabres were using points-percentage as a benchmark. With two games remaining, two wins would equate to 83 of a possible 164 points for Buffalo thus surpassing that mark. For a team on the rise and coming from the depths of a 54 point season, it's an important focus for them.

Sabres GM Tim "I Get That" Murray was on WGR's Schopp and the Bulldog yesterday evening and clarified that although there were differing opinions of just what .500 means, in the players minds hitting or surpassing 82 points on the season was a goal to shoot for. "When our players look at it, they say 'Let's get to the .500-mark," Murray explained to the hosts. "We believe what we believe."

Murray also revealed there were some grumblings in the dressing room with the announcement that rookie Jason Kasdorf would get the start, which was nothing against Kasdorf. With their focus upon winning the final two games thus hitting a magical mark for the team, they felt that Chad Johnson would give them the best opportunity. "[Johnson's] on a great roll and they believe we're one game away from .500," said Murray. "And I don't blame them for that.

"That's great. We're missing the playoffs, we have two games left and they're still grumbling. That's the mindset we're trying to get to and I would never complain about that.

Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma passed on that Paul Gaustad-like "Don't-step-on-the-logo!" moment from the players and opted not only to start Kasdorf in net, but to also give two other players their first taste of the NHL as Evan Rodrigues and Williamsville native, Cole Schneider hit NHL ice for the first time. Both, Murray said "deserved to play a game or two on merit."

Too bad it wasn't a better ending for the trio.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Showtime tonight for four Sabres prospects

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Not sure what the NHL schedule makers were thinking when they matched up the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Buffalo Sabres in tonight's only NHL game, but what we have tonight is the NHL's marquis game featuring the 28th place Jackets and the 23rd place Sabres.

That said, as both teams have been well out of the playoffs for some time now, both organizations are loaded with young talent already making their mark in the NHL who are backed by a pretty strong pool of prospects. Columbus, who many picked to be in the upper echelon of the Metropolitan Division, or at least battling for a wild card spot, boast the talents of 23 yr. old Brandon Saad, Boone Jenner (22,) Seth Jones (21) and Ryan Murray (22) while the Sabres have Jack Eichel (19,) Sam Reinhart (20,) and Rasmus Ristolainen (22.)

All will be on the ice tonight along with some pretty talented young vets who constitute each teams core as well as newbies, some of whom will be a part of the future.

Friday, April 8, 2016

It's National Beer Day, let's hoist one to:

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--President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who, upon signing the Cullen-Harrison Act which ended Prohibition exclaimed, "I think this would be a good time for a beer," and for Sabres fans as well. As long as we're not caught up in the draft lottery and/or the millions of what-if's that have penetrated deep into the Buffalo sports consciousness, there's plenty to raise a glass to.

It's April 7th and there are two games remaining on the Sabres schedule--two very winnable games on the schedule that could very well net the team 83 points on the season. For those in the front office and behind the bench and on the ice, it's about as rewarding a season as one could get outside of making the playoffs. Indubitably, a toast with Southern Tier's One Buffalo is in order.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Differing perceptions of .500

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Back in February, 2012, the Buffalo Sabres had pulled themselves up to a record of 27-27-7 and former GM Darcy Regier touted the fact that the team had made it to the .500-mark. There were question marks all around with that mention as .500 normally would mean and even number of wins and losses and with an odd number of games played (in this case, 61) it's impossible to reach an that equilibrium. if you include losses plus overtime shootout losses, you get a record of 27-34, which, of course, is no where near .500 hockey.

But, Regier wasn't looking at it that way. While doing his weekly evening radio program with WGR's Mike Schopp and the Bulldog, he was calculating .500 as he said, the NHL was doing it by taking the most possible points and dividing it by two. In the above instance, with 61 games played there were 122 points on the board. With two points for each win and one point for an overtime loss, the Buffalo Sabres had reached 61 points which represents the .500 mark in points-percentage.

With Schopp taking the straight-up wins/losses and Regier taking the points-percentage position, they would go on for a short while discussing numbers and semantics. What was lost in the conversation at the time was why a team who had a $75M payroll after a 2011 off-season spending spree was around .500 to begin with. At that time the Sabres were behind three teams for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and had not made it out of the first round of the playoffs in four years.

That Regier would pull out the .500 card in that context was a source of consternation amongst most Sabres fans. Regier spent oodles of new owner Terry Pegula's money on free agents only to ice yet another middling team and was trying to justify it with a semantic argument.

Fast forward to 2016.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Rookie Scoring Race Weekly Recap--Panarin pulls away, possible Calder

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Although he hasn't won any NHL Rookie of the Month Awards, Artemi Panarin is having a consistently strong rookie season. Chicago's No. 72 matched his sweater number by hitting the 72-point mark this past week and in doing so, Panarin's the first rookie to hit that mark since his linemate Patrick Kane did so in the 2007-08 season. With four games left he has the opportunity to tie or surpass Paul Stastny's 78 points in 2006-07. Since the NHL lockout in 2004-05, only Alexander Ovechkin (106,) Sidney Crosby (102) and Evgeni Malkin (85) have had better rookie seasons.

There was little doubt that Panarin would take the rookie scoring crown as he went into this past week with a 14 point lead over Buffalo's Jack Eichel. But Panarin would hit the turbo booster leaving the rest in the dust as he lit things up. After failing to hit the scoresheet in his first game last Tuesday, Panarin busted out with a vengeance over the weekend posting back-to-back four-point nights. On Friday he put up two goals and two assists against the Winnipeg Jets and yesterday he scored a goal and added three assists against Boston as his lead over Eichel stretched to 20 points.

Monday, April 4, 2016

O'Reilly joins Sabres' 20-goal club. Lion-eater's goal chases "King"

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There's a good feeling about the Buffalo Sabres right now as the team is really starting to find their stride. It began in the first period in Pittsburgh on Tuesday as the Sabres blitzed the Penguins for three first period goals. On Thursday they manhandled the Mike Babcock-coached Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 and last night under the bright lights of Madison Square Gardens they jumped out to a 3-0 lead against the NY Rangers only :46 into the second period.

The Sabres wound up losing the game against Pittsburgh in the shootout, which many attribute to being a bit young and a little tired as they were on the second game of a back-to-back. The Pens scored four unanswered goals in the second period, including two shorthanded only :24 apart late in the period. They showed plenty of maturity by tying the score, but just couldn't do anything in the shootout.

Last night they got up again as Ryan O'Reilly, who had broken a 24-game goalless drought against Pittsburgh, scored two first period goals to stake the Sabres to a 2-0 lead against the Rangers.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

2015-16 Individual Stats--March

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In going over individual Buffalo Sabre stats for a rather successful month of March, aside from the usual suspects hitting the top three in most scoring categories, there are some notables that made their presence known.

Sam Reinhart has been consistently hitting the scoresheet all season long and joins the ranks of "usual suspects" like Ryan O'Reilly, fellow rookie Jack Eichel and Evander Kane after yet another strong month. Reinhart was his usual quite self while amassing a total of 12 points in 15 games for the Sabres in March. He scored four goals and added eight assists (five of them primary) with only one goal and one assist coming on the powerplay. In the past two months Reinhart has double his production and now has 40 points on the season.

O'Reilly still leads the team in points (58) even though he only played eight games in March because of an injury. He augmented his team-leading assist total (38) by adding six of them last month and chipped in his first goal in 24 games as well. Eichel, who leads the team in goals (23) and is second in points (51) had another strong month registering 10 points last month on the power of six goals and four assists. And before his injury, Kane continued his late-season push with three goals and six assists in 13 games. He's been shelved for the rest of the season.

Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who has cooled off considerably since the first part of the year, remained in the top-five in scoring despite a sub-par month. O'Reilly, Eichel, Ristolainen, Reinhart and Kane lead the team in points so far this season.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

2015-16 Team Stats--March

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The 2015-16 Buffalo Sabres season is coming to a close as there are only four games remaining on the schedule. Buffalo has come a long way from where they were last season, which isn't saying a whole helluva lot, but right now they're on pace to come close to 80 points as opposed to last year when they finished last with a meager 54 points. For those tabulating, that's roughly a 50% increase.

One thing you can't measure with stats, however, is the enjoyment of watching this team as opposed to last year's team. There's no comparison between the two as the injection of top-end talent alone has brought a buzz to First Niagara Center. This edition of the Buffalo Sabres had their flaws, but they've also had some electrifying moments that leave fans with a strong sense of anticipation for what lies ahead. For those of you who were lucky enough to be in the building to see Sam Reinhart's no look, tape-to-tape neutral-zone pass to Jack Eichel, and the ensuing bullet that he snapped past Michal Hutchinson against Winnipeg last Friday, the roar told the story. It's pretty exciting right now and we know the team will only get better as players mature and more talent is added into the mix. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Bylsma-Sabres/Babcock-Leafs season series concludes tonight at Buffalo

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A little over seven years ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins fired head coach Michel Therrien and promoted Dan Bylsma to coach the team on an interim basis. GM Ray Shero made the decision with the Penguins out of a playoff spot and said at the time, "I didn't like the direction in which the team was headed."

That direction had Pittsburgh five points out of a playoff spot and floundering the season after taking the Detroit Red Wings to Game-6 of the 2007-08 Stanley Cup Finals. They still had plenty of star-power and some very talented players, but the magic was gone. Bylsma's approach to coaching in that situation would be very simple. He had a highly-skilled, very fast team at his disposal and he wanted them to use those talents aggressively, "We need to force teams to deal with the quality of players we have at every position," he said at the time.

Dave Molinari, covered the press conference for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and even felt compelled to include a phonetic pronunciation of Bylsma's name, (BYL-zmuh.) In a rather short article that  included the above quotes he concluded, "Whether that name becomes one of the most celebrated in franchise history, or nothing more than a footnote, will be determined by how the next two months play out."