Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Matthew Tkachuk serves notice, just out of reach for Buffalo at #8

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

While Toronto and Arizona were among some teams that had vested a interest in the London Knights' (OHL) convincing rise to the Memorial Cup, other NHL teams were watching a helluva hockey display for a player that’s not that far removed from the top-three in this years NHL Draft. The Leafs drafted Mitch Marner with the fourth-overall pick in the 2015 draft while the Coyotes picked Christian Dvorak in the second round with the 58th pick in 2014. The two co-captains did their respective organizations proud by co-captioning the Knights to their second Memorial Cup.
With the 2016 NHL Draft less than a month away, however, those drafts are old news. The eyes of the hockey world were focused on the last CHL game of the season and through it all one player stood out in a way that should place him firmly in the No. 4 slot of 2016 draft-eligible players--Matthew Tkachuk.
Outside of Auston Matthews the expected first overall pick, Patrick Laine, the presumed second-overall pick, and Jesse Puljujarvi who should go third, scouts and pundits had a varying array of three or four prospects slotted in that fourth-overall slot. Yet, with the performance yesterday of Knights’ Tkachuk in the Memorial Cup Final, there really shouldn’t be any doubt any more. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Of the Sabres World Cup "snub(s)"

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

The Buffalo Sabres landed three players on the recently announced final World Cup rosters which is pretty good for a team that just emerged from two consecutive last place finishes. Center Jack Eichel was a shoe-in for Team North America and it came as no surprise that Team Finland added defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to it's roster. Sabres goalie Robin Lehner was one of seven players Team Sweden added and he'll be part of a goaltending trio featuring Henrik Lundqvist (NYR) and Jakob Markstrom (VAN.)

It comes as no surprise that Team Canada will be headed to the September 17-October 1 event in Toronto with a star-studded roster featuring some of the best the NHL has to offer. On a younger scale Team North America boasts a roster of burgeoning stars under the age of 23 lead by three franchise players who are still teenagers. And it was these two squads that would leave off a couple of Sabres players that made a strong case to make the World Cup.

Buffalo center Ryan O'Reilly just helped Team Canada to their second consecutive gold medal at the IIHF World Championships in Russia. The two-way center known for his faceoff acumen was an assistant captain for the Canadians and contributed eight points (2+6) in 10 games, was a plus-10, and took nearly every important draw during the tournament, especially in the medal rounds.

As a defensive cog playing a two-way, second-line role, O'Reilly held the fort while the likes of Edmonton's Taylor Hall (6 goals,) Colorado's Matt Duchene (5) and the NY Rangers' Derick Brassard (5) lead Team Canada to a tournament-high 46 goals in 10 games. On the defensive side, the Canadians were second to Team Finland in goals-against giving up only 11 for the tournament while the penalty kill, which O'Reilly helped anchor, allowed only two goals on 29 powerplay opportunities against for a 93.1% kill-rate.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Teams will line up for Steven Stamkos but Buffalo might be the best fit.

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Unless you're the Pittsburgh Penguins or Chicago Blackhawks, two teams heavily invested in two players each for a lengthy period of time, there's no reason any NHL team shouldn't be at least entertaining the thought of making a pitch for Lightning center Steven Stamkos should he hit free agency on July 1st. Even teams like the Ottawa Senators or Arizona Coyotes with an internal salary cap may toy with the idea of fitting in a projected Stamkos cap-hit of $10M-plus.

Google "Steven Stamkos news" right now and you have writers covering teams like the NY Rangers, Boston Bruins and NY Islanders with articles concerning the 26 yr. old former first-overall pick (2008.) That said, as we head towards free agency five weeks from now, only a few teams with the right combination of financial wherewithal, cap-space, comfort and opportunity will be left standing to receive the rose from the hockey world's most eligible bachelor.

Why Stamkos is available is a drama worthy of an soap opera status. The loyal face of the franchise endures years of rebuilding and after the team came oh so close to the holy grail, said team investigates trading him.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--G, Linus Ullmark

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Goaltender--Linus Ullmark
DOB:  July 31, 1993 (age, 22)
Draft:  2012, 6th round (163rd overall)
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  2014--3yrs./$2.3275M total  + $445,500 in performance bonuses
Final year of contract:  2016-17, RFA

2015-16 Stats:  20 games, 8-10-2 record, 2.60 goals against average, .913 save percentage, 0 shutouts

What we wrote preseason:  N/A

What we wrote mid-season:  "while Lehner and Johnson may be battling it out for the starters-role near-term, Ullmark should be in that mix a few years down the road. For a 22 yr. old rookie goaltender playing his first pro season in North America, he acquitted himself quite well. Early in the season Bylsma was impressed with Ullmark's calm demeanor under pressure. Still looks like a rook on many occasions, especially when he's lunging, but all-in-all, a fine NHL debut thus far for the 6'4" 212 lb. Ulmark."

Impressions on his play this year:  He was a rookie goaltender thrust into a position that no one foresaw at training camp. When starting goaltender Robin Lehner went down in the second period of the Sabres first game of the season, Nathan Lieuwen got the call as Chad Johnson's backup. Ullmark was in Rochester acclimating himself to not only his first pro game in North America, but his first game in months because of elective double-hip surgery.

The original plan was to have Ullmark return to the ice sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but his rehab went marvelously and he started the season in Rochester. He played extremely well for the Amerks was brought up as Johnson's backup then got his first NHL start on October 24, 2015. Upon hitting the NHL ice one was struck by his poise and smooth positional play but as with all rookies, especially rookie goaltenders, the more tape teams have on a player, the more they'll exploit weaknesses. Ullmark had a solid rookie campaign for Buffalo but things fell apart when Lehner returned and he was sent back to Rochester and he was giving up goals in bunches.

Questions moving forward:  His manic end of season play in Rochester was somewhat disconcerting, but was it a matter of his hips giving him trouble? Especially because he came back months early from surgery? Can he maintain his poise if he gets off to a slow start next season, presumably with the Amerks? Has he adapted to the North American culture? How much will the coaching change affect him and the skaters playing in front of him? Will he have the same mental recuperative powers that he had when he recovered from hip surgery?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--G, Chad Johnson

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Goaltender--Chad Johnson
DOB:  June 10, 1986 (age, 29)
Draft:  2006, 5th round (125th overall)
How acquired:  Trade with NY Islanders, March 2, 2015
Last contract signed:  2014--2 yr. $2.6M
Final year of contract:  2015-16

2015-16 Stats:  45 games, 22-16-4 record, 2.36 goals-against average, .920 save percentage, 1 shutout

What we wrote preseason:  Johnson's all that's left of the 16 men in the crease for the Sabres over the last two grueling seasons and he entered training camp as back-up to No. 1 goalie Robin Lehner. Johnson has the ability as shown during his 2013-14 season in Boston [but] Long Island was a far cry from Boston, however, as Johnson was a brutal in a backup role to starter, Jaroslav Halak.

At the time of the deadline day trade to Buffalo, Jonathan Willis of the Edmonton Journal called Johnson's season in New York a "nightmare" and explained that the team was even worse with him in net than the numbers indicated. At 29 yrs. old with and NHL five seasons under his belt as a backup, Johnson knows the drill [in Buffalo]. “I’m just coming in and trying to take care of what I can,” Johnson said [last off season]. “If I play 30 games 40, 60, whatever it is, that’s to be determined with my play. They bring in a great goalie like Lehner who has played well in the past. We’re trying to push each other and that will help the team be better.”
What we wrote mid-season:  "simply put, has been outstanding. Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma loves Johnson's calm demeanor in net. 'Johnny' has gained the confidence of coaches and players and seems to be getting better and stronger in net. Coughing up juicy rebounds has been a major roadblock to No. 1 goalie status for him but as of late he's been getting a handle on those. Not sure when the last time his confidence-level was this high, if ever. When Robin Lehner comes back from injury, it will be interesting to see how each react to the other as Johnson's making a case to remain the starter."

Impressions on his play this year:  When Lehner did come back, Johnson went back to his role as back-up until Lehner went down again in mid-March and the team shut him down for surgery on March 30th. Throughout the season, Johnson was the consummate professional and took whatever role he was in to heart. He appeared in a career-high 45 games and won a career high 22 of them while posting GAA and SV% numbers that were second only to his time in Boston behind a staunch Bruins defense.

As mentioned mid-season, rebound control seemed to be a major stumbling block to Johnson earning bona fide No. 1 goalie status. He gained a lot of confidence in Buffalo and timed a career year very well as he'll be a free agent during this off season. With all the travel, work and progress he's made during his six-year NHL career it's not surprising that he wants to become a starter and he started his search for that opportunity at the end of the season. "There’s four teams that need goaltenders or starting goaltenders or don’t have guys that have done well," he said to the media at locker cleanout.

Questions moving forward:  If Johnson's hell-bent upon becoming a starter, which team other than Buffalo will afford him that opportunity?


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

On the recently completed 2016 IIHF World Hockey Championships

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

I really hope that I never see a Buffalo Sabres roster player on Team USA again for the IIHF World's as I'd rather see them competing in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. Prospects? You Team USA can have all the prospects they want, and hopefully there will be many competing at the Worlds, but next year I want to see the likes of Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart, Jake McCabe and maybe even Hudson Fasching chasing Lord Stanley with the rest of the Sabres.

Canada and the rest of the world put their souls into this tournament

Matt Duchene (COL) scored an empty-netter with 0.9 seconds left in the gold medal game and the Canadian team rushed on the ice to celebrate. The horn didn't sound but they were so pumped they couldn't help themselves. After order was restored and Team Finland was forced to line up at center ice for the final puck-drop, the finality of emotions set in on the Finns.

NBCSN had shots of Team Finland fans weeping in the crowd while their dejected hockey club watched Team Canada rush back on the ice for a rather anti-climatic second celebration. It was a crushing blow for Finland as expressed by the emotions of their players during these few moments.

In the bronze medal game, Team Russia crushed Team USA 7-2. As the home team the Russians enjoyed a packed house cheering and jeering throughout the game and their players responded with a resounding victory over the Americans.

Except for the opening five or six minutes when the Americans took it to Team Russia, it was a pretty lame effort from the Red, White and Blue. They were playing, but you could see their heart just wasn't in it. Words like "waltzing through," "disinterested," and "ready for the off season" defined the emotional output of Team USA as a whole, even though there were a few players who played with heart. Even after two Americans, Jordan Schroeder (MIN) and JT Compher (COL) got leveled by the Russians, Team USA still didn't figure out that Team Russia was playing for keeps.

It seems as if there's not as much emotional investment from America in international competition (save for the Olympics) as there is in other countries. And that's too bad as the US is starting to produce quality and quantity from their hockey programs nationwide.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Jake McCabe and the US to face Canadian onslaught

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray has mentioned on more than one occasion that he’s in the market for a left-handed, top-four defenseman, presumably to play along side the team’s top d-man, Rasmus Ristolainen. And with Sabres fans well into off season-mode thanks to the team missing the playoffs, speculation runs wild as to where we, the keyboard GM’s, will find said defenseman.

Free agent names like Keith Yandle (NYR,) Brian Campbell (FLA) and Alex Goligoski (DAL) have been thrown around in trying to find a fit and trades with teams like Minnesota, who have a healthy stockpile of defensemen, also come up in the discussion as well. There's a focus on the upcoming draft where the Sabres sit at No. 8 and any one of Olli Juolevi (FIN,) Jakob Chychrun (OHL) or Mikhail Sergachev (OHL) fit the bill but are probably at least a year or two away from hitting he NHL and as prospects, no one's even sure if they'll even hit their potential.

One prospect already in the fold, Brendan Guhle (2015, 51st overall,) looked the part in training camp last fall before he was felled by a Dion Phaneuf check in the preseason. Guhle was sent back to his junior team, Prince Albert of the WHL, and progressed nicely scoring 28 points (10 + 18) in 63 games for the Raiders before seeing his first pro action with the Rochester Americans. In six games for the Amerks, the 6'2" 189 lb. Guhle had a goal and three assists while never looking out of place.

However, a soon to be 19 yr. old on the top-pairing of an NHL team is a rare occurrence.

One defenseman already in the stable for Buffalo is Jake McCabe.

The 6'0", 214 lb. Eau Clare, Wisconsin native just completed his first full NHL season with the Sabres and acquitted himself quite well. Buffalo head coach Dan Bylsma had McCabe on the second pairing with young-vet Zach Bogosian and the two were solid as can be posting 14 points (4 + 10) in 77 games with a team-leading plus-6 in 19:07 of ice-time/game.

McCabe doesn't have the flash or offensive acumen of the players being mentioned for top-pairing duties, but he does the smart things in all areas of the ice. Team USA head coach John Hynes (NJD) has him paired with Connor Murhpy (ARI) as the team's anchor on defense both even strength and five-on-five. Murphy's three goals leads Team USA and his offensive acumen has paired well with a defensive stalwart like McCabe.

But the duo will face a huge challenge today as Team USA faces the juggernaut that is Team Canada.

The Canadians are rolling four lines featuring some preeminent talent  like Taylor Hall (EDM,) Matt Duchene (COL,) Connor McDavid (EDM,) Corey Perry (ANA) as well as Buffalo's own Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart. Although the Canadians aren't boasting their usual All-Star line-up for international competition, Team Canada is loaded with talent up and down the lineup and is leading the tournament with 40 goals in eight games on a 15.09 shooting percentage.

There will be plenty of intrigue within the Canadian/American rivalry which is renewed at 1:15 PM EST today. The headliner features presumed 2016 first-overall pick Auston Matthews leading Team USA against 2015 first-overall pick, McDavid. Both are franchise players with the latter being hailed as generational. And for Sabres fans there's McCabe and Hudson Fasching facing off against teammates O'Reilly and Reinhart.

Fasching has been playing solid for Team USA in a fourth-line role and also has gained the trust of Hynes on the penalty kill. In last game's upset of the Czech Republic, Fasching got to a puck in the slot and swept it out of harm's way denying the Czech team a golden opportunity. The importance of something like that shouldn't be overlooked in a 1-1 game that was decided in the shootout.

Overall this should be a good game to watch featuring plenty of speed and skating, but Sabres fans should keep an eye on the 22 yr. old McCabe. Seeing how he handles the pressure of playing against top-notch talent with a trip to the gold-medal game on the line a should give some indication as to whether he's ready for top-paring duties at the NHL-level.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

USA vs Czech at IIHF World's. Plus, a d-man to keep an eye on.

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Today begins the march to gold and it's do or die for the eight remaining teams in the IIHF World Men's Hockey Championships in Russia. Although Team USA lost to Slovakia in their final Group-B preliminary round game, they did so in overtime and barely squeaked into today's quarterfinal matchup vs. the Czech Repbulic, the top team in Group-A.

Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe and winger Hudson Fasching will hit the ice for the Americans today for the 9:15 AM EST start while center Ryan O'Reilly and forward Sam Reinhart will play for Team Canada at 1:15 PM EST as the defending champs take on Team Sweden.

McCabe has been anchoring the back-end for Team USA and hits the quarterfinals with a goal, an assist and a plus-1 rating in five games. The 6'0" 210 lb. defender from Eau Claire, Wisconsin was injured in the first period of the first game vs. Team Canada and proceeded to miss the next two games but has come back strong becoming the Americans steadiest defenseman. Fasching has been placed in a fourth-line role and has one assist and a minus-3 rating in seven games.

Team Canada boasts a wealth of offensive talent but O'Reilly has staked his claim as the best two-way center on the team. In seven games he has two goals and four assists with a plus-5 rating. Reinhart, who scored 23 goals for the Sabres as a rookie, is playing on the fourth line and has two assists in seven games.

It's been very quiet in the Sabres front office these days, but the wheels are churning as GM Tim Murray and company are looking to add to the team, especially on the blueline.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman in his 30 Thoughts, has the Buffalo Sabres in on Czech defenseman Michal Kempny. Friedman wrote that "Kempny has some outstanding possession numbers. Buffalo, Chicago and Vancouver are among his most serious pursuers."

Kempny, who wears No. 6 for the Czechs, is a 6'0" 194 lbs., left-handed d-man who has been playing in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. The 25 yr. old had 21 points (5+16) in 59 games for Omsk Avangard last season.

Keep an eye on No. 6.

One more quick note. Despite the discrepancy in the standings, Team USA beat the Czech Republic to win last year's bronze medal.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--G, Robin Lehner

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Goalie--Robin Lehner
DOB:  July 24, 1991 (age, 24)
Draft:  2009, 2nd round (46th overall,) Ott
How acquired:  June 26, 2015 Draft-day trade with Ottawa
Last contract signed:  2014--3yr./$6.675M
Final year of contract:  2016-17, RFA

2015-16 Stats:  21 games, 5-9-5 record, 2.47 goals-against average, .924 save percentage, 1 shutout, 8 penalty minutes

What we wrote preseason:  "Buffalo Sarbes GM Tim Murray was hellbent and intent upon fixing a goaltending situation that had been in a constant state of flux since he came to the Sabres in 2013. [Robin] Lehner was acquired from the Ottawa Senators the morning of the 2015 NHL Draft. Murray, who had drafted the Gothenberg, Sweden native in 2009 (46th-overall,) watched Lehner develop while he was AGM in Ottawa. On June 26th, Murray sent the 21st pick, one of three first-rounders the Sabres had, to the Senators for Lehner and forward, David Legwand and many thought that Murray paid an above-premium price for the 23 yr. old Lehner.

"Murray had seen him lead the Binghamton Senators to the Calder Cup as he was named playoff MVP as a 19 yr. old and Lehner would become the youngest Senator ever to start and win his first NHL game that same season. And he's convinced Lehner is a starting goalie in the NHL. "I think he's a No. 1 goalie. I think he becomes a starter," he said at the draft, then defined what he meant. "When I say a starter or a No. 1 center or a No. 3 defenseman or whatever, I mean on a good team, on a contending team, on a competitive team, on a playoff team."

What we wrote mid-season:  N/A (Injury)

Impressions on his play this year:  There were times Lehner looked invincible and there were times he looked like a rookie, but his intensity was always a constant. He had a steel-eyed glare worthy of a villain in a superhero movie and looked like he was ready to bite the head off of a bat at any moment. Lehner's got the size, the athleticism and unquestioned compete and had himself a pretty good, albeit shortenened, first season in Buffalo as his .924 save percentage and 2.47 goals against average would indicate.

He did come back from his injuries pretty well, all things considered, and one needs to remember that Lehner hadn't gotten into a lengthy routine due to a concussion in February, 2015 and then he was felled by the high ankle sprain barely into the second period of his Buffalo Sabres debut on October 8th. By the time he hit the ice for good on January 15 this season, his workout cycle had been interrupted too much for a full evaluation.

Everyone in the hockey universe is going to point to the first round pick Murray gave up in the trade for Lehner. Immediate reaction from the media called it "larceny," and so it could very well be until Lehner and the Sabres prove otherwise. Perhaps that starts this season.

Questions moving forward:  Can he stay healthy? Will he be able to regain the form he had three years ago when he was considered an elite goalie? Can the Sabres and Lehner channel his intensity? Will the NHL's competition committee reduce goaltender's equipment like they've mentioned lately? How will it affect Lehner, a big-framed goalie who championed the reduction on WGR this past season? At $3.15M in salary this season as a pending RFA, what kind of performance will he put in and how will that affect the cap-hit and term of his next contract?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Of May snow, Jake McCabe, and phenoms at the point on the PP

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Yeah, it snowed today. Whoopdeedoo. So we got ourselves some frozen precipitation that disappeared instantly as it had no chance of sticking to a very warm surface that is the earth in mid-May.

I’d gladly take a series of damp, cool days in May—complete with a mid-month snow shower—if it meant that we could have a winter like we just had. And as I sat inside today watching the weather for a bit, I thought to myself how great it was to get a ride in on my motorcycle in every month of the year and how awesome it was to be barbequing December through March.

Yeah, it snowed today, but so what? Winter was easy and Summer’s right around the corner.
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe scored his first goal at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Russia today. In typical fashion, McCabe came in from the weak side and deposited a rocket of a cross-ice pass from former Sabres prospect JT Compher. McCabe's stats thus far in the tournament:  4 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, +2.
McCabe's been used in a shutdown/defensive role for USA head coach John Hynes of the New Jersey Devils and unfortunately the 22 yr. old Wisconsin native was on the ice for two of Germany's three goals in Team USA's 3-2 loss today.
On the first one McCabe effectively pinned his man, Patrik Hager, behind the USA net during a penalty kill but the puck squirted away far-side. Germany's Daryl Boyle took a feed in the slot and blasted a shot that was stopped by US goalie, Mike Condon. The rebound was deflected off of former Sabres draft pick Felix "I Know Nuthink!" Schutz and was headed towards the goal line before McCabe's man, Hager finished it off.
On the game-winner with a mere :33 remaining in regulation, the Americans lost a draw in their own zone and the puck went to the point . Germany's Korbinian Holzer (ANA,) he of zero goals at the NHL and AHL levels over the past two seasons, lofted a seeing-eye wrister to the net while McCabe was battling with Marcus Kink, effectively screening Condon as the long, slow wrist shot went by.
In addition to McCabe, Compher and Schutz the Sabres had connections with a few other players on the ice. Hudson Fasching skated for Team USA while Christian "The Hoff" Ehrhoff was on Germany's top d-pairing given the task of defending against Auston Matthews whenever he was on the ice. Ehrhoff scored the team's second goal of the game (assisted by Schutz.) Also skating for Germany was Phillip "Gogs" Gogulla a Buffalo 2nd-rounder (48th overall) from the Sabres 2005 draft class. Of note, no player from Gogulla's 2005 class or Schutz's 2006 class are currently with the Sabres organization.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

As Stamkos grabs all the free agent attention, Buffalo shouldn't overlook Eric Staal

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

When the opportunity arises to go after a prime unrestricted free agent who happens to be one of the premier players in the NHL, you go for it. If a team has the resources to pursue him, it would be a crime against the team and the fanbase if said organization doesn’t give its all in pursuit of said player.
Steven Stamkos is a premier player in the league. Period. The stats back it up. After his 23-goal rookie season, he’s never scored under 36 goals in a full season, and had 43, 45, 51 and 60-goal seasons. He’s just shy of averaging a point per game throughout his 572-game career and has contributed 15 goals and 20 assists in 48 playoff games. At 26 yrs. old Stamkos is smack-dab in the prime of his career and about the only thing missing from his stellar resume’ is a Stanley Cup ring.
The Buffalo Sabres are said to be in hot pursuit of Stamkos and if rumors are true, have been for quite some time. Buffalo GM Tim Murray has been acquiring young-vets like Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to anchor his rebuild and Stamkos would fit perfectly with what Murray's been doing.
That said, only Stamkos knows where he's leaning but regardless, he'll be signing a mega-contract with an eight-figure salary on a maximum term that will take him just beyond his prime and into his early-mid 30's.
With the focus on Stamkos it's easy to forget that there's another forward set to hit free agency who might be worth pursuing as well. Although he's not as shiny as Stamkos and is a little longer in the tooth, 31 yr. old Eric Staal, a veteran of over 900 NHL games and with a Stanley Cup ring to his resume' will probably also be available July 1 and might be worth a look from the Sabres.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Oy Vay! USA shells Hungary's Adam Vay but he's still worth a longer look

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

After facing 51 shots against Team Finland while allowing only three goals against two days ago at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Russia, Team Hungary goalie Adam Vay faced another daunting challenge against a strong, but not elite, Team USA today.

With a vociferous group of fans cheering their Hungarian team joyously, Vay rose to the occasion and stymied the Americans in the first period while stopping all 15 shots against, many of them prime scoring opportunities, before the roof caved in in the second. Nick Foligno (CLB) would break Vay's spell on Team USA early in the second period on the powerplay. After taking a stretch pass in the neutral zone from defenseman Chris Wideman (OTT,) Foligno streaked in on a breakaway and rifled a shot top-shelf, glove-side to put Team USA up 1-0. Eighteen seconds later, Buffalo's Hudson Fasching sent a pass from below the goal line to Vince Hinostroza (CHI) who was camped out in the slot with no one around him and he promptly buried it. Later in the second period Dylan Larkin (DET) would the score to 3-0 on an end-to-end rush that finished with him banking one in off of Vay's leg.

Team Hungary, as expected, was totally outclassed and overmatched and the only reason it wasn't 7-0 through two periods was because of Vay. The Americans pumped 25 shots on him through two periods and they completely controlled the game. They allowed Hungary a total of four shots on goal through two periods with only two of them coming at even strength. In fact late in the game with Team USA up 5-0, the announcers focused upon the possibility of Hungary breaking the record for the least number of shots on goal (7) in a tournament game.

With only five shots on goal late in the third Hungary was able to that side step-that dubious distinction and finished with eight shots on goal, one more than the previous record, thanks to a late power play. They even scored on the powerplay which put their fans in a rather celebratory mood despite the impending 5-1 final score.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--D, Carlo Colaiacovo

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Defenseman--Carlo Colaiacovo
DOB:  January 27, 1983 (age, 33)
Draft:  2001, 17th overall (TOR)
How acquired:  Free agent signee (PHI,) 2015
Last contract signed:  2015, 1yr./$900k
Final year of contract:  2015-16

2015-16 Stats:  36 games, 1 goal, 4 assists, 5 points, -11

What we wrote preseason:  "The 32 yr. old Colaiacovo is a former 1st round pick of his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs (2001, 17th overall) but has been a nomad since being traded to the St. Louis Blues in November, 2008.

"St. Louis brought him back on a one-year deal but he played in only 25 regular season games mainly due to injury once again. The injury prone Colaiacovo, ironically enough, was signed by the Philadelphia Flyers on October 30, 2014 due to a rash of injuries that hit their blueline. Young stud Shane Gostisbehere had been in the lineup playing well but the Flyers wanted him developing in the AHL so on came Colaiacovo. He had a good season in Philly, but went unsigned at the end and Murray picked him up this off season."

What we wrote mid-season:  "Has exceeded modest expectations in his reserve/bottom-pairing role. Although he ain't Niklas Lidstrom, Colaiacovo is veteran of over 450 regular season NHL games and knows his way around the ice. He knows his role too."

Impressions on his play this year:  T 32 yrs. old and with over 400 NHL games under his belt, there really wasn't too much about Colaiacovo's game that would come as a surprise. Staying healthy had always been a concern, but the odds of him hitting IR were slim as the reserve role he was in would limit his playing time.

When given ice-time he held his own about as well as one would expect.

Questions moving forward:  Where will this journeyman's journey take him next?

Impressions of, and questions concerning--D, Mark Pysyk

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Defenseman--Mark Pysyk
DOB:  January 11, 1992 (age, 24)
Draft:  2010, 23rd overall
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  2015--2yr./$2.25M
Final year of contract:  2016-17, RFA

2015-16 Stats:  55 games, 1 goal, 10 assists, 11 points, -1

What we wrote preseason:  "Of all the players mired in the muck that was the Buffalo Sabres last two seasons, defenseman Mark Pysyk was the one who got crapped on the most. But with that over and fading into memory, it's time for him to take his place in the Sabres top-six defense corps. It's safe to say that almost every Sabres fan thought Pysyk would be in the lineup last season, but he was a caught up in a crude game that included numbers, waivers, a preseason injury and an organizational focus on the long-term.

"Had the Sabres not signed Cody Franson this off season, it's probable that Pysyk would have been top-four but for now, he looks to be a #4/5 to at least start the year. Which is good in that the team can continue to develop him further while allowing him to gain confidence offensively. One of the things GM Tim Murray had wanted Pysyk to work on was jumping into the play more."

What we wrote mid-season:  "should simply be known as the quite one, as in he quietly goes about his business playing shutdown defense. Pysyk is also calm while smoothly getting the puck out of his zone under the most intense pressure. Reminds me of Bill Hajt, one of the most underrated Buffalo Sabres of all time. The Sabres would do real well moving forward with a shutdown d-man of that caliber."

Impressions on his play this year:  Pysyk seemed to have hit a wall in his development this season. Not that it was detrimental to his fundamental game, because he remained pretty solid in his own end while being deft with that first pass in his own zone. It would seem as if the key with him moving forward is if he can contribute more on the offensive side of things.

When GM Tim Murray sent him to Rochester in 2015 with the team in last place and a defense corps that had a few players on it Pysyk could have replaced, he wanted him to work on jumping into the  play more. Pysyk showed progress in Rochester that year and even showed spurts of it with Buffalo during the early part of last season. But it's quite possible they might want to see more in that respect and it could be the difference between the team seeing top-four minutes instead of defensive-minded lower-pairing minutes.

Questions moving forward:  Can he continue to grow from an offensive perspective while maintaining his solid play on defense? How much did those two bottom-feeding years in the Buffalo organization put a crimp on his development, if at all? How is he perceived by other GM's throughout the league? Is a new zip-code in the offing as this may possibly be his last RFA contract?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--F, Tyler Ennis

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Forward--Tyler Ennis
DOB:  October 6, 1989 (age, 26)
Draft:  2008, 26th overall
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  2014--5 yr./$23M
Final year of contract:  2018-19

2015-16 Stats:  23 games, 3 goals, 8 assists, 11 points, -9

What we wrote preseason:  "During Ennis' pro tenure, the Sabres franchise has gone through a multitude of changes from ownership to GM to coaches, but he's always managed to keep an even keel. He's had an array of linemates and was moved back and forth from center to wing, yet has maintained steady production:

 --three 20-goal seasons including the previous two seasons when the Sabres challenged the modern mark for scoring futility.
--his 89 goals in 345 games averages out to 21 goals/82 games
--he also tallied 123 assists in 345 games averaging 29 assists/82 games
--that 21 goals and 29 assist average is just about where he ended his rookie season
"Is he a true top-line forward? The books still out on that. But the "greazy" forward who's proven non-believers wrong throughout his career has, in the very least, solidified his status as a top-six forward."
What we wrote mid-season:  "was having some troubles before he went down with an injury. Kid can weave in and out of a defense, stickhandle in a phone booth and put the puck in the net. When he's on he can work some magic, when he's off, which has been most of the year, he's doin' a whole lotta choppin' with no chips flyin'."
Impressions on his play this year:  Ennis didn't have the opportunity to send any chips flyin' as he was felled by his second injury of the season, a concussion from an Alexander Ovechkin check on December 30 that put him out for the rest of the season. Ennis was on a 14-game goal-drought at the time. Interesting thoughts from Sabres GM Tim Murray last when he talked about Ennis to the gathered media at First Niagara Center (via Bill Hoppe,) “Maybe [the time away] makes him a better player,” said the GM. “Maybe this makes him a harder worker."

It was the second time Murray mentioned that a player needed to pay a little more attention to the new agenda. The other was Matt Moulson. Ennis, Moulson and Zemgus Girgensons were three of the Sabres top-4 points producers last season, all had a difficult time adjusting to new head coach Dan Bylsma's system and all incurred a precipitous drop in production this past season with Ennis only playing in 23 games.

Questions moving forward:  Will he be returning to the lineup 100% healthy after suffering two concussions in one season? How will the injuries affect his confidence? Can his predominantly east/west game be woven into the Sabres north/south preferences? Can he help anchor the right-side in a top-six role? How much room is there for him on the top powerplay unit? Was it work-ethic, demeanor or both that caused him to languish in Bylsma's system early on? As a talented, valuable piece with a reasonable cap-hit could he be used to help land the left-handed defenseman Murray's looking for? Has he plateaued? Or can he bump it up a notch to land in the 25-goal/55-point club?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--LW, Nicolas Deslauriers

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Left Wing--Nicolas Deslauriers
DOB:  February 22, 1991 (age, 25)
Draft:  2009, 3rd round (84th,) LAK
How acquired:  Trade with Los Angeles, March 5, 2014
Last contract signed:  2014--2yr./$1.275M
Final year of contract:  2015-16, RFA

2015-16 Stats:  70 games, 6 goals, 6 assists, 12 points, -14

What we wrote preseason:  "Deslauriers was drafted by Los Angeles in the third round (2009, 84th) as an offensive-minded defenseman" who was moved to wing because "[he] had all the physical attributes of an NHL'er while [the Kings] said,  'there’s also a good deal of inherent talent.'

"Deslauriers packs a punch while playing an aggressive game with a crazed look on his face. He can work the wall and outwork an opponent. He can drive the net and wreak havoc in the crease while also having enough finish and puck skills to be a regular contributor. He's fearless in his game and fearless when he drops the gloves, but he's not a goon. Last year was his first full season in the NHL and he gathered 15 points (5+10) in 82 games while playing third and fourth line minutes."
What we wrote mid-season:  "has a motor that's non-stop and a crazed look in his eye that says he's ready to get it on at any time. Deslauriers is in his second full season and is another one who knows his role and gives it everything he's got when on the ice."

Impressions on his play this year:  In 2014, new Sabres GM Tim Murray wanted to put his stamp on the team and in one of his first trades he brought in a couple of "heavies," as he called them. One of them was Deslauriers, a converted defenseman, and things looked very promising during Deslauriers' first year-and-a-half.

Deslauriers has all the tools to be a solid fourth-line winger who packs a punch. Quite often during his first 100+ NHL games we saw aggressiveness and a crazed look on his face when he hit the ice. Not so much through the latter part of this season. He had decent numbers for a fourth-liner in his second full NHL season, but his minus-14 was troublesome as it tied for fourth-last on the team. Those below and right around him in plus/minus all logged many more minutes and had that stat brought down by quite a few empty net goals with them on the ice. Not so with Deslauriers.

Questions moving forward:  It's one thing to have a motor and a 6'1" 212 lb. frame, but how are those traits used? Can he get back to the level of aggressiveness we saw in 2014-15? Is he still adapting to a move from defense, one that began in 2012? Will he adequately fill the role of an enforcer-type who's a legitimate fourth-liner? Will he get more than a one-year extension?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--D, Josh Gorges

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Defenseman--Josh Gorges
DOB:  August 14, 1984 (age, 31)
Draft:  Undrafted free agent signed by San Jose' Sharks, 2002
How acquired:  Trade with Montreal, July 1, 2014
Last contract signed:  2012, 6yr./$23.4M
Final year of contract:  2017-18

2015-16 Stats:  77 games, 2 goals, 10 assists, 12 points, -7

What we wrote preseason:  The trade to Buffalo, while shunning Toronto was "a decision that weighed heavily on him last season, especially with his first child on the way (born four days after the trade,) and it affected his play as he found himself in unfamiliar territory on a team barreling towards the bottom of the league.

"Last year he was shelved for the last 26 games after playing on a bad knee that got worse as the season progressed. As one of the few left-handed defensemen on the roster right now, Gorges looks to have a spot in the top-four amidst a major roster overhaul that has occurred in the last six months. A healthy Gorges (in both mind and body) will be a big boost to the Sabres blueline. He's accustomed to big, shutdown minutes and being sound in his own end no matter who he's paired with. This year, especially, he may see a multitude of d-partners as the team tries to figure out where everybody fits in. And it will be his job, along with others, to lead by example most notably by doing what they do best in whatever role they're in."

What we wrote mid-season:  "has been playing an underrated, shutdown game for the Sabres while being on the top-pairing with Ristolainen. Gorges had some injury problems last season which affected his game and ultimately affected how he was perceived by those in Sabreland. Although he doesn't look out of place next to a stud like Ristolainen, a second-pairing spot where he can be a shutdown force may be in the cards for him sometime in the near future. Should Buffalo find that top-pairing, left-handed d-man (and who knows, it may end up possibly being McCabe) then having Gorges on the second-pairing with top-PK duties would be a great thing for the defense.

Impressions on his play this year:  Steady defensive play, minimal offensive production. For a player who ranked third on the team in even-strength average time on ice/game (18:07) and second amongst defensemen in ATOI on the penalty kill (2:16,) a $3.9M cap-hit is quite the value. He also lead the team in blocked shots with an average of 2.2/game and lead the team in hits with 143 which only adds to his value.

Gorges was playing a notch above his skill-level on the top-pairing, but still managed to come away with a minus-7 rating as he meshed quite well with top d-man, Rasmus Ristolainen. Having a true pro like Gorges was beneficial to Ristolainen as he progressed nicely putting up career numbers while leading the team in ATOI. Gorges also wore the 'A' again last season.

Questions moving forward:  What you see is what you get, so how much more can the Sabres get out of Gorges should he in fact end up on the second pair with first pk-unit responsibilities? He's reaching that age where a more rugged defenseman's body will start to give way. Will health issues start to creep into the equation? Can he be a long-term fixture on the back end?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--D, Jake McCabe

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Defenseman--Jake McCabe
DOB:  October 12, 1993 (age, 22)
Draft:  2012, 2nd round (44th overall)
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  2013--3yr. ELC;  $925k/yr.
Final year of contract:  2015-16, RFA

2015-16 Stats:  77 games, 4 goals, 10 assists, 14 points, +6

What we wrote preseason:  "Even though soon to be 22 yr. old Jake McCabe has made plenty of mistakes befitting his youthful status, he's done enough things right and has progressed methodically enough to the point where a good taste of the big club until [Zach] Bogosian gets back would enhance his development.

McCabe makes mistakes like any young defender but has shown the propensity to bounce back from them rather quickly. He's a smart player with enough beef to rattle some bones and enough skill to produce. Time is his friend right now and one more year of seasoning in Rochester should make him a lock for next seasons roster. Until then it will be a matter of honing his skills and adapting to an even faster pace this season.

What we wrote mid-season:  "One of McCabe's most impressive traits is his recuperative powers. He'll have a rough period only to come back immediately with an outstanding one and he'll do that with shifts as well. It's probably the most important thing a young defenseman can do--forget about his mistakes. McCabe continues to impress with his skating, smarts and hitting. He's good with the stick on defense, has a scoring touch as well, finds the open ice and has a good grasp of when to pinch. And he's only 22 yrs. old with a mere 40 NHL games played thus far in his young career.
Impressions on his play this year:  Implying that McCabe had just "enough" of this and or that proved to be an understatement as he had the goods to lock down a second-pairing role on the Sabres in his first full season in the NHL. Yes, he did make his mistakes and even went through a slump mid-way through the season but he was one of Buffalo's most consistent defensemen all season.

At 6-feet, 214 lbs. the stout McCabe was not only able to handle the physicality of oncoming NHL players, he regularly initiated contact, most notably in his propensity to aggressively stand up forwards on the rush at the Sabres blueline. McCabe's defensive prowess shined through as he lead the team with a plus-6 rating and was a mainstay on the second penalty kill unit. He's smart enough to capably man the point in the offensive zone and has enough savvy to sneak into open ice on the weak-side for scoring opportunities. Four goals and 10 assists seems as if it will be his career floor as he has much more to offer the offense.

Questions moving forward:  How much more offense can he add? As smart as he is on the point, and with a shot that gets through, will he have an opportunity to get some powerplay time? Are we scratching the surface of the amount of playing time he can handle? Is a top-pairing role aside Rasmus Ristolainen in his future? Or will he settle into being an extremely capable No. 3/4?

Happy Mothers Day!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--C, David Legwand

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Center--David Legwand
DOB:  August 17, 1980 (age, 35)
Draft:  1998, 2nd overall (NSH)
How acquired:  Trade with Ottawa  at the NHL Entry Draft, June 26, 2015
Last contract signed:  2014, 2yr./$6M (OTT)
Final year of contract:  2015-16, UFA

2015-16 Stats:  79 games, 5 goals, 9 assists, 14 points, -4

What we wrote preseason:  "The 35 yr. old Legwand came to Buffalo in the draft-day trade that netted goalie Robin Lehner from the Ottawa Senators and was a condition of the deal. If Sabres GM Tim Murray wanted Lehner, Legwand and his $3.5M salary had to be included in the deal.

Many have seen Legwand in the starting lineup opening night because he brings "veteran leadership" to the ice. Perhaps he should be looked at as the answer to "who's coming out to make room for Johan Larsson?"

What we wrote mid-season:  "most wondered what the 35 yr. old had to offer a young team like Buffalo, but he's proven to be a stabilizing force in a bottom-six role. Bylsma has been using his fourth line quite often and it's because he trusts them with Legwand on it. He's also anchoring the top penalty kill unit up-front with O'Reilly, a unit that's shown steady improvement as of late."

Impressions on his play this year:  The former 2nd overall pick who left Nashville as the leader in all career stats came to Buffalo in the twilight of his career and provided this young group of Sabres with  steady play and low-key leadership. Nothing he did was earth-shattering, yet his professionalism rubbed off on those around him especially the likes of Buffalo's other second-overall picks, rookies Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.

Legwand anchored the fourth line and was on the top penalty kill unit with Ryan O'Reilly as the Sabres finished 9th in the league with an 82.6% kill-rate. As a depth/role player he did his part as well as could be expected. So well in fact that the Ottawa salary dump in the Robin Lehner trade proved more than simply a throw-in, locker room guy.

Questions moving forward:  The parade of youth coupled with Buffalo's pursuit of additional top-six talent could push him out the door. Will there be room for him in a depth role, even at a markedly reduced salary?

Saturday, May 7, 2016

O'Reilly factors in at IIHF Worlds. Jake McCabe is shaken up, but returns

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Buffalo Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly was at center ice when Team Canada faced off today against Team U.S.A. in the 2016 IIHF World Men's Hockey Championships in Russia. O'Reilly and fellow Sabres forward Sam Reinhart were up against a U.S.A. squad that featured two Buffalo players--D, Jake McCabe and F, Hudson Fasching.

O'Reilly and McCabe were both prominent players for their respective teams as Canada trounced the Americans by a 5-1 score. After the U.S. got out to a 1-0 lead off of a powerplay goal by Patrick Maroon (EDM) in his first-ever world tournament, the Canadians scored five unanswered goals. The game-winner came off of the stick of Brendan Gallagher (MTL) on a feed from O'Reilly after he hustled to grab the puck in the U.S. corner.

On O'Reilly's second assist (another primary one) he went to the corner with McCabe and used some veteran savvy to get the puck to Boone Jenner (CLB.) With the puck in the corner and O'Reilly on the ice after he and McCabe collided, O'Reilly reached out with his stick after McCabe thought he was in the clear and stole it back. Jenner got a pass behind the U.S.A. net and wheeled towards the front putting a shot that eeked in between goalie Keith Kindaid (NJD) and the post. It was definitely one that Kinkaid would want back as it put the Canadians up 4-1 and put the game out of reach.

That sort of hustle and puck work by O'Reilly is something Buffalo fans grew accustomed to in his first year with the Sabres.

McCabe played a fine game save for that one blemish. He was on the team's top-pairing as well as anchoring the top penalty kill unit which held the Canadians scoreless on five powerplay opportunities. But he had a scary incident midway through the first period.

While chasing down a puck in his own end he became airborne went into the boards awkwardly and wound up favoring his left side as he skated slowly towards the bench. He went to the lockerroom and wouldn't return for the remainder of the period. It was during his absence that Gallagher scored for Canada.

With names like Connor McDavid, Taylor Hall, Matt Duchene, Brad Marchand, and Derek Brassard, amongst others taking up the top forward spots, Buffalo's Reinhart was down the depth chart but still displayed his talents in the limited ice-time given. As usual he was in front of the net and also was able to find open ice in the U.S. zone. His only shot on goal was a product of finding that ice and he ripped one that boinked off of the facemask of Kinkaid leaving him just shy of Laurie Partridge hallucinations. All-in-all, however, it wasn't a particularly good performance by Kinkaid or much of the U.S. squad.

Fasching was barely noticeable in over seven minutes of ice-time, which is to be expected from his first men's championship experience.

Team USA plays Belarus tomorrow and has a day off on Sunday before facing Finland on Monday on NBCSN.


Buffalo's other player at the Worlds is forward Zemgus Girgensons whose Team Latvia dropped an overtime decision to Team Sweden.

Girgensons was a minus-1 with one shot on goal in 19:53 of ice-time. Latvia takes on the Czech Republic tomorrow.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--F, Johan Larsson

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Forward--Johan Larsson
DOB:  July 25, 1992 (age, 23)
Draft:  2010, 2nd round (56th overall,) MIN
How acquired:  Trade with Minnesota, April 3, 2013 
Last contract signed:  2016--1yr./$950k
Final year of contract:  2016-17

2015-16 Stats:  74 games, 10 goals, 7 assists, 17 points, -4

What we wrote preseason:  "Larsson has had to pay his dues while constantly overcoming failures and inconsistencies. It wasn't all that long ago that the team had Larsson in a depth role yo-yoing between Rochester and Buffalo as he was unable to transfer his game to the NHL-level and it wasn't until after the [2015] trade deadline that Larsson finally passed through the NHL threshold."

Head coach Dan Bylsma on Larsson after talking to scouts prior to his taking the reigns in Buffalo--"They liked him a lot. They thought he played a hard, kind of a sandpaper, gritty game. They scouted him as such. That’s what he’s going to bring to the table. Hard to play against, and that’s what he’s got to bring for our team."

What we wrote mid-season:  "he may also have found his place. Like Gionta, Bylsma had him up in the top six but it didn't work out so now Larsson's nipping at the ankles of the opposition on the third line. When he's on his game he's a pest, and when that line is on, they're aggressive on the forecheck, making it extremely difficult on the opposition. And right now, they're on."

Impressions on his play this year:  For the second year in a row, Larsson came on strong in the second half of the season. In 2014-15, he finally stuck with the big club and during the final 17 games of the season he had five goals and added eight assists while centering Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis on the Sabres top line. This past season he did it again. After being moved all around the lineup for the first half of the season he settled in on the third line centering Marcus Foligno and captain Brian Gionta. Larsson finished the season with 11 points (8g +3a) in his last 20 games and a plus-4 rating.

Bylsma mentioned after a preseason game that he relied on Larsson a lot on the dot, especially in crucial situations. That faith in him spilled over in the regular season and Larsson responded well as he went from a 44% on the draw in 2014-15 to a team second-best (500 faceoffs or more) 51.1% last season. This bodes extremely well for the team moving forward.

Questions moving forward:   How much do the likes of Foligno and especially Gionta contribute to his success? Has he found a home in the bottom-six and can he up his production while remaining chippy? If the Sabres add to the top-six, what does that mean for their line? Will Bylsma keep that line together and drop them to the 4th line as a whole? Can Larsson continue to round out his all-around game?


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--D, Cody Franson

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Defenseman--Cody Franson
DOB:  August 8, 1987 (age, 28)
Draft:  2005, 3rd round (79th overall,)  NSH
How acquired:  Free agent signee (NSH,) 2015
Last contract signed:  2015--2yr./$6.65M
Final year of contract:  2016-17

2015-16 Stats:  59 games played, 4 goals, 13 assists, 17 points, -5

What we wrote preseason:  After making waves at the 2015 NHL Draft, Sabres GM Tim Murray went in search of a veteran, left-handed defenseman. He ended up signing right-handed d-man, Cody Franson and the new Sabre laid it out as to which side of the ice he prefers to play on, 'I don't play the left side,' he told the Hotline's Kevin Sylvester and Andrew Peters, 'I actually struggle over there.'

In 2014-15 Franson was traded by the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline. Although the Preds acquired depth, it wasn't a good fit as Franson struggled. "Just what is the perfect fit for Franson? It would seem to be on the right side with plenty of powerplay time. That should work for the time being in Buffalo, and with the Sabres defense short on powerplay specialists, he'll have plenty of opportunity to excel in that role."

What we wrote mid-season:  "when he tries to step into one from the point oft-times it sails ten feet wide and has players ducking for cover all over the zone. He's got the intensity of Thomas Vanek and can skate just about as fast, neither of which are good things. Although he has some pretty good skills and I understand why he was signed, he doesn't seem to fit the mold of what GM Tim Murray wants out of his players. All said, he serves his purpose as a very affordable 3rd-pairing d-man with some powerplay acumen."
Impressions on his play this year:  From the get-go, I never really understood why the Sabres signed the big-bodied, rather soft Franson as he reminded me too much of the core they just dismantled. But he did grow on me as the year went on and an individual stats recap highlighted his strong third-pairing play with d-partner Mike Weber as the duo lead the team in the plus/minus category for December.

But that's not what he ultimately was brought on board for. In addition to adding a veteran presence, Franson was to help anchor the powerplay and contribute from the point. He finished an injury shortened season with only one goal and six assists in 2:08 average powerplay time per game. Franson suffered a concussion on February 19 and would not play the rest of the season. In his absence, a number of players took his spot in the lineup including Casey Nelson who was signed out of Minnesota State and looked the part of a point-man on the second powerplay unit.

Questions moving forward:  Does he fit in beyond this season, the last year of his contract?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Impressions of, and questions concerning--F, Zemgus Girgensons

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Forward--Zemgus Girgensons
DOB:  January 5, 1994 (age, 22)
Draft:  2012, 12th overall
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  2012--Entry-level deal (one-year slide,) 3yr./$4.2M, $92.5k annual signing bonus, $1.425M total performance bonuses
Final year of contract:  2015-16, RFA

2015-16 Stats:  71 games, 7 goals, 11 assists, 18 points, 0 +/-

What we wrote preseason:  The Sabres headed into the 2015-16 season with four top-six players locked in and the need to find a winger for Jack Eichel on the second line. Matt Moulson was a possibility based upon his success with John Tavares but we surmised that Zemgus Girgensons might end up being a better fit for Eichel for one overriding reason: Speed.

Girgensons is mainly known for his two-way game at this point in his young career as well as intangibles. He scored 15 goals and added 15 assists in 61 games the prior season but head coach Dan Bylsma gave us his perspective on Girgensons saying that he's " a heart and soul, workin', gritty guy that kinda makes them go. Is he a No.1 center in the league? I don't think anyone's gonna put him there but he's a guy I think can offer some protection to some of the younger players that are coming to the team in Sam Reinhart and the second pick overall (Eichel.)"

What we wrote mid-season:  "disappointing on the offensive side (2g, 3a) but one would think that he's not been disappointing in the role Bylsma has given him. As the third-line center Girgensons has had the unenviable task of taking on the opposition's top lines all season. And he's managed a minus-1. Former coach Jim Montgomery told us, "whatever situation he is put in the coach is going to love him and his teammates are going to love him." I can appreciate that.

Impressions on his play this year:  No matter how you look at his situation this year-- everything ranging from a former first round pick who was moved around too much to a projected bottom-six player who was miscast in a top-six, scoring role--disappointment was the overriding theme with Girgensons this season. Regardless of his production, which left much to be desired, he still was defensively responsible enough to finish the season third amongst regulars in plus/minus with an even rating.

Girgensons has shown throughout his short career that he can score but he's also shown that it takes him a while to acclimate to a new situation. It took most of the season in Rochester for him to figure out the pro game and it took him a full season in Buffalo to figure out the NHL game. Last season was yet another new situation as Bylsma brought in a whole new system and 2016-17 will give us a pretty good indication as to whether Girgensons' propensity for adapting to change will continue.

Questions moving forward:  Which year was an aberration? His 30 points (15+15) and -16 plus/minus in 61 games or 18 points (7+11), even plus/minus last season? Can he stay healthy? Injuries have been apart of the equation ever since his rookie season. At 22 yrs. old it may still be too early to tell but is he a more like a Mike Grier who can score on a breakaway? An inconsistent, streaky, Drew Stafford-like scorer?  A solid, all-situations, Curtis Brown-type? Will he continue to adapt? And maybe the big one, how/where does he fit into the Sabres plans moving forward?

Monday, May 2, 2016

At least it wasn’t Edmonton. Buffalo stays at No. 8 after NHL Lottery

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Yes, it very well could have been the Edmonton Oilers winning the NHL Draft Lottery for the second year in a row, giving them five first-overall picks in the last seven years including three in a row from 2010-12.

Fortunately for everyone involved the Oilers did not get the first overall, nor did they even stay in the top three. The league’s second worst team had a 13.5% chance of winning the lottery and almost as much a chance of picking second or third, but none of that happened as they were jumped by two teams and fell to fourth-overall in the 2016 NHL Draft.

The Buffalo Sabres, who finished with the eight-worst record in the NHL last season, had a 6% chance of landing the first overall pick and slightly less than that for picks No. 2 and 3. They remained in the eighth slot and will pick there for only the second time in franchise history.

At first glance, about the only thing worse for Buffalo, other than Edmonton winning the lottery, would be the last place Toronto Maple Leafs doing something the Sabres could not do the previous two seasons, win the lottery with the best odds of any non-playoff team. The Leafs went in with a 20% chance of winning and that’s how the ping-pong balls fell.

Swooosh!!! The Leafs get the first overall pick and phenom Auston Matthews will likely be the one selected to rest atop Mount Maple Leaf and take his place as Solar god at the so-called Center of the Hockey Universe.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Buffalo fans in draft-mode can finish with NHL Draft Lottery tonight

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Yeah, you can count me amongst the many Buffalo sports fans who’d much rather be watching their Sabres play in the second round of the playoffs. For those too young to remember, it did happen some nine years ago when the Buffalo Sabres appeared in their second of back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals.

Alas, it’s been a rough stretch since then and when you add in that the Buffalo Bills haven’t even made the playoffs since 1999 (R.I.P., Prince), these past nine years have been a complete downer.
Hope springs eternal in Buffalo, however, especially at the draft and even moreso with the NHL and the draft lottery. Having missed the playoffs once again the Sabres are slotted in at No. 8 for the upcoming entry draft in Buffalo but tonight at 8 P.M. they have a chance at landing in the top three due to the new lottery rules installed by the league two years ago.
In an effort to curb tanking amongst rebuilding clubs the first three picks in the draft will chosen via the lottery with Buffalo having a 6% or slightly better chance of landing in the top-three. Jon Vogl of the Buffalo News wrote of Buffalo’s odds, “The Sabres have a 19.2 percent chance of moving into the top three. They have a 39.2 percent chance of remaining eighth, a 34.8 percent chance of falling to ninth and a 6.6 percent chance of dropping to 10th. The furthest Buffalo can fall is 11th, but there’s only a 0.3 percent chance of that happening.