Saturday, April 16, 2016

Some players to watch during the playoffs

Reprinted with permission from

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.


With the salary cap in place since 2005, July 1 has deteriorated and it’s rare you’ll find a free agent of Stamkos’ quality available. There will always be stars and exceptional players, but bona fide superstars hitting the market are rare.

All that said, Stamkos would be crazy to leave Tampa Bay, in this bloggers eyes. Sure, things might not be all unicorns, rainbows and juju’s, but he’s is the face of the franchise with the opportunity to tack on an extra year to his contract while  getting a tax break by playing half of his games in a state that has no state income tax.

But if Sabres GM Tim Murray would to pursue Stamkos and throw a big chunk of ownerships money his way, who could blame him and it’s something worth pursuing. If the possibility does not exist then having a backup plan is a good idea.

Here are a few players to watch tonight as the Stanley Cup playoffs begin:

C, David Backes, STL—The Captain and pending UFA leads the Blues into another first round matchup with the defending Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Unfortunately for Backes, he’s been able to lead his team past the first round of the playoffs only once in the last four seasons. Which is good and bad, dependent upon how you’re looking at the 31 yr. old. The Sabres do not lack leadership and were they able to land his services, Backes’ two-way game and lengthy experience might find a home in Buffalo without the burden of being captain.

D, Brian “Soupy” Campbell, FLA—No one ever doubted Campbell’s offensive acumen and puck-moving ability and yes, he got the shaft from the former regime in Buffalo. And, yes, he isn’t exactly a spring chicken anymore at the age of 36, but his style makes for a lengthy NHL career that can stretch on for another year or two while the Sabres develop a powerplay quarterback like him.
LW, Chris Kreider, NYR--although he's a restricted free agent, word on the street is that there's a possibility Kreider could end up somewhere else next season. Methinks it's easy to envision the speedy powerforward chipping in some 45-odd points in the top-six for the Blue and Gold. Hopefully, without trying to fix anything, Murray sees it that way as well.
D, Kyle Quincey, DET--The veteran d-man will be a UFA at the end of the season and the Detroit Red Wings may be in full-blown transition mode. It's not to say that they'll take a tumble in the standings, but after squeaking into the playoffs this year and keeping their 25-year playoff run intact, the end may be near as Pavel Datsyuk announced he's headed back to Russia. Former head coach Mike Babcock wondered aloud, "Who's gonna replace Pav?" He's irreplaceable and it might take a few years the Wings to get humming again. Although Qunicey's not that pp qb Sabreland's enamored with, he's eats up top-parining minutes from the left side and just might free up Rasmus "the Angry Finn" Ristolainen to hit that 50-point mark at the age of 22 next year.
LW, Jonathan Drouin, TBL--After getting his fill of cheese to go with his whine, Drouin was allowed back into the Lighting fold thanks to the unfortunate situation with Stamkos and he responded with two goals in the final two games of the season. The former No. 3 overall pick has a boatload of talent and if he can come through in a big way, Tampa GM will be able to grant Drouin's wish o be traded while getting a good return in the process. The Sabres are always looking for talent, and with the leadership they have now, Drouin's prima donna tendencies might be held in check enough to benefit all.
LW, Andrew Ladd, CHI--I know, I know. Who was the captain of the Winnipeg Jets during the track suit incident with Evander Kane? Yup. Ladd. Would it be oil and water? Maybe. But Jimmeny Christmas, the 30 yr. old LW is the consummate pro with two Stanley Cup rings to his resume and is still good for 45-55 points a season. Has Kane changed his ways to the point where his pure skills can trump his immaturity? Ladd certainly would be a good judge of that and if he was signed by Buffalo, that would be a good indication that Kane is on his way to maximizing the raw talents given him.



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