Thursday, September 29, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--D, Josh Gorges

The trade for Florida Panthers defenseman Dmitri Kulikov at the draft and the emergence of 22 yr. old Jake McCabe looks to have dropped Josh Gorges down the depth chart. All three are lefties which works well for the righty/lefty pairing Buffalo GM Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma favor and all three are considered top-four defensemen.

Gorges, who is the elder statesman of the defense corps, was acquired by the Sabres in July, 2014 as part of a trade with the Montreal Canadiens. Murray sent a 2016 second-round pick (one he'd received in the Matt Moulson to Minnesota trade) to the Canadiens for Gorges after he waived his no-trade clause to come to the Sabres. Buffalo was originally on his no-trade list but he changed his mind.

The circumstances surrounding Gorges' destination were of a familial nature as he and his wife Maggie were expecting their first child at the time of the trade. Gorges and Brian Gionta had spent five years playing for the Canadiens and there was a trust-factor when re-considering Buffalo in a trade. Gionta, a Rochester, NY native, had briefed Gorges on the area and what it has to offer for their family and Gorges waived his NTC to accept the trade to Buffalo.

Both Gorges and Gionta, who signed with the Sabres as a free agent that same day, were going from a Montreal club that had just reached the Eastern Conference Finals to a Buffalo team that was destined to be at the bottom of the league for the second straight year and the shockwaves hit Gorges pretty hard. He slogged through the 2014-15 campaign with over 22 minutes of ice-time in 46 games before being felled by a knee injury that he'd been playing with for a good chunk of the season.

Regardless of what transpired the prior season, Gorges had enough history to be placed on the Sabres top pairing next to young Rasmus Ristolainen last season as Buffalo's top defense pairing. Although miscast in that role he was still able to his own. Gorges ranked third in even-strength average ice-time/game, second in ice-time amongst defensemen on the penalty kill. He led the team in blocked shots and hits as well.

With 683 games under his belt, logging those minutes seem to be a bit much at this stage of his career especially when you consider that since the 2006-07 season he's blocked 1357 shots (3rd most for any defenseman during that period) and was credited with 824 hits (50th.) At the age of 32 Gorges is entering that portion of his career where it all starts catching up to a defenseman with his style of play and backing off his minutes to a mid/bottom-pairing role may do both him and the team plenty of good.

Gorges has a quiet overall approach to the game while being vocal on the ice. He was an assistant captain in Buffalo last season and he mentored the 21 yr. old Ristolainen while the two logged huge minutes for the club. A veteran leader like Gorges, who is defensively responsible and can anchor the penalty kill, is always welcome on a team and he has all that going for him.

With Kulikov and McCabe presumably in the top-two spots on the right side of the defense, Gorges slides down to the bottom-pairing. Which isn't a bad thing. Getting quality play from the third-pairing goes a long way towards success and Gorges can always move up and down the lineup as needed. Plus he and Ristolainen can still anchor the Buffalo penalty kill which ranked ninth in the league last season (82.6%.)

Having a defenseman with a cap-hit of $3.9M on the third-pairing is a little high in a salary-cap world but for the final two years of Gorges' contract, it's not an albatross. He's a good, solid defensive-defenseman and with the parade of youngins already rolling through Buffalo, having a veteran presence like Gorges helps immensely in the transition.

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Matt Moulson / C, Zemgus Girgensons/ RW, Justin Bailey
LW, Marcus Foligno / C, Johan Larsson / RW, Brian Gionta

D, Rasmus Ristolainen/ Dmitry Kulikov
D, Zach Bogosian/ D, Jake McCabe
D, Cody Franson / D, Josh Gorges

G, Robin Lehner

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--D, Cody Franson

Last off season Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray was looking to bolster his defense with a top-four, left-handed d-man who could possibly play alongside Rasmus Ristolainen, a 20 yr. old right-handed shot who had just finished his first full season with the club and looked as if he had all the markings of a top-pairing defenseman. The free agent pool was mighty slim that summer and in September of 2015, Murray ended up signing veteran Cody Franson to a two-year, $6.65M contract.

It was a curious move on many fronts. Most notably that it was a two-year free agent deal but also in that Murray ended up with a right-hand shot who had said he was neither comfortable playing with, nor wanted to play on, the left side of the defense. After signing with the Sabres Franson couldn't have been more blunt about that as he talked with Kevin Sylvester and Andrew Peters on Sabres Hockey Hotline. "I don't play the left side," he told the hosts, "I actually struggle over there."

That he did.

After having some banner years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Franson was traded back to the franchise that drafted him in the third-round of the 2005 NHL Draft, the Nashville Predators. Things had changed immensely on defense in Nashville since his first go-round with the Preds as they now boasted a deep blueline featuring an entrenched right side of the corps. Franson found himself on his off hand and in a reduced role which had him going from over 21 minutes per game in Toronto to under 16 minutes in Nashville.

Predators GM David Poile made the trade for Franson to add blueline depth as well as add his powerplay acumen which Franson displayed to the tune of four goals and 15 assists in 55 games for the Maple Leafs. None of it came to fruition in his short 23-game regular season stint and Franson's slow demise in Nashville ended with him being a healthy scratch in their final playoff game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

In Buffalo, Murray was intent upon adding a veteran presence to a very young Sabres blueline heading into last season and he was also looking for a player who could contribute significantly to an abysmal 2014-15 powerplay. Enter Franson.

The 28 yr. old got a break when the Sabres entered the season minus Zach Bogosian, a right-handed shot who ended up anchoring the second-pairing with left-handed rookie Jake McCabe last season. In the absence of Bogosian, Franson got his opportunity and was averaging about 20 min/gm, complete with ample powerplay time, through the first 14 games but he was unable to make an impact offensively. He had zero goals and five assists (three on the powerplay) and soon his minutes decreased with the return of Bogosian to the lineup. Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma gradually pared Franson's minutes to the point where he was averaging slightly more ice-time than he had with Nashville. Franson suffered what was originally diagnosed as a concussion in a February 19, 2016 game at Columbus and his season was done.

For the year Franson played in 59 games for Buffalo scoring four goals (one on the powerplay) and adding 13 assists (seven on the powerplay) while logging the second-most PPTOI amongst Sabres defensemen. With those stats, this is a big training camp for Franson as he heads into the final year of his contract.

Franson faces challenges on a couple levels as he not only needed to recover from his injury, but he also needs to make a strong impression and so far he's got the attention of head coach Dan Bylsma. “He needed to have a good summer,” said Bylsma to the gathered media last week. “He needed to get cleared, get fresh and then have a good summer working out. He came back with a little bit different body composition. He’s a little leaner. He’s moving better as a result of the summer he had, and it’s just got to translate to his play on the ice.”

The injury he suffered was eventually diagnosed as a vestibular disorder, as mentioned by Jon Vogl of the Buffalo News. Vogl wrote that it involves the parts of the inner ear and brain that control balance and eye movements and that Franson needed to wear special goggles and work with specialists all summer (for a link to the piece click here.)

Regardless of the injury, Franson has a long, hard hill to climb in Buffalo as he's buried on the depth-chart on the third pairing. The defense he joined last season is a year older and although he'll probably get another shot at manning the point on the second powerplay unit, Franson will need to do something with that opportunity. Last year he played a rather passive game which seemed to be his nature but one would have thought that he'd ratchet things up a bit when his ice-time was on the line. Or that maybe he'd have went in with the attitude that he would do whatever it took, most notably playing on his off hand, instead of coming off as privileged when he said "I don't play the left side."

It reminded this blogger too much of the dismantled core who's country-club approach had those in Sabreland wading through years of mediocrity. Franson, like some of the players from that era, doesn't seem to have the temperament nor the drive to make an impact with this new group of Sabres. Nor does it seem like he has the skating to keep up with Bylsma's up-tempo system. That said, he can still play defense and is able to make some pretty good passes on the powerplay so a third-pairing, powerplay specialist seems to be in the cards for him. He's a bit pricey for that role, but for now it will suffice.

For now.

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Matt Moulson / C, Zemgus Girgensons / RW, Justin Bailey
LW, Marcus Foligno / C, Johan Larsson / RW, Brian Gionta

D, Rasmus Ristolainen / Dmitry Kulikov
D, Zach Bogosian / D, Jake McCabe
D, Cody Franson

G, Robin Lehner


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--RW, Brian Gionta

As of this moment,  Brian Gionta is the captain of the Buffalo Sabres. The 14 yr. veteran with a Stanley Cup to his resume' was signed by the Sabres as a free agent in 2014 to help guide this team through the dire straights of a bottoming out period. Gionta had spent five seasons in Montreal, wht last four as captain of the Canadiens and although he wasn't the first American-born player to hold that distinction, he's the only American-born player to wear the lone 'C' for the legendary Habitants.

While the Canadiens were coming off a an Eastern Conference Finals appearance with Gionta as their captain, the Sabres were hitting the off season in 2014 with a purged roster that netted them second-overall pick, Sam Reinhart. With all the salary GM Tim Murray unloaded that season there were questions as to whether the team would even make it to the salary cap floor. Murray was the voice of reason in the matter saying that it's rather easy to add salary, but he didn't want to add just any salary, he wanted quality players to help stabilize the club during a tough period of transition.

Here's how Murray put it after landing Gionta and defensemen Josh Gorges, among others, for his last place team back in July, 2014:  "We've got a lot of character now. We have leadership now. That's important to me when you're adding young players every year. There's a short term and a long term. The long-term is that your young players get better. Your young players become pros. They're not just good players, they're good NHL players, and I think that this group of people that we've added today can help in that regard."

At the heart of that group was Gionta who was signed to a three-year, $12.75M free agent contract.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--LW, Marcus Foligno

It's been bantered about in the Buffalo media that Sabres left winger Marcus Foligno could possibly play a scoring role while also seeing some time on the top line. No doubt his powerful debut back in March, 2012 of six goals and seven assists in 14 games made a strong, lingering impression but placing him in that role on a more talented Buffalo club might be a bit of a stretch at this point in time.

There's not a fan in Sabreland who wouldn't want a 6'3" 226 lb. powerforward in a role like that yet it's hard to see the 25 yr. old with too much more upside than the 10 goals and 13 assists from last season. Foligno averaged 13:11 of ice-time with the Sabres last year with very little coming in the form of special teams and unless head coach Dan Bylsma adds to the :34 seconds per game of penalty kill ice-time, that number will probably stay the same at best.

Although the Sabres are thin with natural wingers they do have one bona fide top-six/top-line left-winger in Evander Kane and any number of centers who can and/or already have slid over to the left side. That includes Tyler Ennis who looks to be headed that way this year after missing much of last season because of injuries and Zemgus Girgensons who played most of last season in a top-six, left wing role. Buffalo also needs to squeeze what they can out of a former top-six winger in Matt Moulson who was signed to a $5M, top-six contract but found himself near the bottom of the depth chart nearly all of last season. And the club also has a very talented, natural winger in 18 yr. old Alexander Nylander who they drafted 8th-overall this past June.

Those are the hurdles Foligno is facing if he wants to jump into a scoring role.

Fact is the Sabres will be counting on him to play on a checking line this season and he could very do so on the fourth line while staying with his linemates from late last season--C, Johan Larsson and 37 yr. old RW, Brian Gionta. That line gained traction in late February and was the most consistent line for Bylsma the rest of the way.

Foligno is a big body on the ice and he's thrown in around quite often during his short career but the one thing he hasn't been able to do consistently is use his frame to put himself in a position for a scoring opportunity. It's something he's been working on and he got things moving in the right direction late last year. After a practice session in late March, Foligno told the gathered media that he believes he's figured it out. “I just feel a lot more comfortable out there,” he said at the time. “I’m using my size, playing smarter with moving my feet out there, trying to protect pucks as much as I can. With the confidence up now, I think I’m just trying to hold on to pucks and do things myself down low."

When Foligno came on like a hurricane in his first 14 games many had visions of Cam Neely dancing in their heads but it didn't take Foligno long to make them disappear. The following season he put up a respectable yet inconsistent 18 points (5g + 13a) in a lockout shortened 47 games then hit the sheet for 15 goals and 24 assists in  131 games over the course of the next two seasons. In the meantime his plus/minus rating went from plus-6 in 2011-12 to minus-4, to minus-17 before he pulled it back up to minus-5 two years ago. Last season he was one of only two Sabres players, Girgensons being the other, to be in the positive as he finished the year with a plus-4.

“He’s been much more consistent in playing a big power-forward game, playing a checking game, being a physical guy,” Bylsma said that same afternoon. “That’s what I think has been the best thing about him has been the consistency to it. It’s not just a once-in-a-while type of attributes to his game."

Foligno's immediate success gave way to struggles but looks to have rediscovered the player the Sabres saw when they drafted him in the fourth round in 2009 (104th-overall.) Good on him. He looks to be carving out a nice, bottom-six, defensive role on the Sabres team and it would seem as if he wants to be in Buffalo beyond the one-year extension he just signed. Although fourth line might be a bit below his talent-level right now, if he can relish his role and become a consistent force, having a defensively sound bottom-six winger that can get you 10 goals and 20-25 points bodes well for the Sabres moving forward. It's just hard to see him in a scoring role for Buffalo.

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Matt Moulson / C, Zemgus Girgensons/ RW, Justin Bailey
LW, Marcus Foligno / C, Johan Larsson

D, Rasmus Ristolainen/ Dmitry Kulikov
D, Zach Bogosian/ D, Jake McCabe

G, Robin Lehner

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--C, Johan Larsson

Buffalo Sabres two-way forward Johan Larsson was having a rough go of it in the scoring department through the first half of the season. He went scoreless in his first seven games and was without a goal through his first 27. Through 47 games his stat-line read 1 goal, 4 assists and a minus-9 rating.

Although he was doing plenty right during that time, nothing seemed to be working for Larsson as he trudged through a pretty difficult time. However in the latter half of the season he would gain some traction then put together a late season flourish after a move by head coach Dan Bylsma that would have him centering a line of Marcus Foligno and Brian Gionta in February.

Bylsma had been doing a lot of juggling for much of the season trying to find chemistry as well as overcome various injuries that hampered his lineup from pretty much the get-go. It was a period of adjustment for a number of players as well as for himself, but when Bylsma but that trio together for a game at Ottawa, they did enough things well that he kept them together. One game later No. 1 center Ryan O'Reilly went down with a lower body injury at Columbus the next game and Larsson found himself in a shutdown role against the leagues top centers.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Eichel and Ristolainen out of WCOH, Buffalo Sabres training camp is on

For Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, their World Cup of Hockey run is done. Eichel was on an electric Team North America with the likes of Edmonton's Connor McDavid, Toronto's Auston Matthews and Detroti's Dylan Larkin. The 23 and under squad played fast and played well but were eliminated from the tournament, much to the dismay of nearly every hockey fan, when Team Russia defeated Team Finland yesterday. Ristolainen patrolled the back-end for the Finns.

Both are headed to Buffalo to join their teammates for training camp. The Sabres have over 50 players in camp which officially began yesterday with physicals. Today they hit the ice.

From Sabres PR, this weekends schedule:

Friday, Sept. 23
Session one: 9 – 9:45 a.m. (New Wave Energy Rink)
Scrimmage: 9:50 – 10:35 a.m. (KeyBank Rink)
Session two: 10:40 – 11:25 a.m. (New Wave Energy Rink)
Session three: 12:50 – 2 p.m. (KeyBank Rink)  

Saturday, Sept. 24
Session one: 9 – 9:45 a.m. (New Wave Energy Rink)
Scrimmage: 9:50 – 10:35 a.m. (KeyBank Rink)
Session two: 10:40 – 11:25 a.m. (New Wave Energy Rink)
Session three: 12:50 – 2 p.m. (KeyBank Rink)  

Sunday, Sept. 25 Session one: 9 – 9:45 a.m. (New Wave Energy Rink)
Scrimmage: 9:50 – 10:35 a.m. (KeyBank Rink)
Session two: 10:40 – 11:25 a.m. (New Wave Energy Rink)
Session three: 12:50 – 2 p.m. (KeyBank Rink)

Beginning Monday all sessions will be held at the newly named KeyBank Rink. After a 10 a.m. morning skate at KeyBank Center the Sabres kick off their preseason schedule with a trip Pegula Ice Arena at Penn State University to take on the Minnesota Wild at 7 p.m.

The Buffalo training camp roster from Sabres PR:


56 Bailey, Justin RW
73 Baptiste, Nicholas RW
48 Carrier, William LW
43 Catenacci, Daniel LW
86 Cornel, Eric C
44 Deslauriers, Nicolas LW
72 Dupuy, Jean LW
15 Eichel, Jack C
63 Ennis, Tyler C
58 Estephan, Giorgio C
52 Fasching, Hudson RW
82 Foligno, Marcus LW
12 Gionta, Brian RW
28 Girgensons, Zemgus C
83 Glotov, Vasily C
27 Grant, Derek C
62 Hagel, Brandon LW
 9  Kane, Evander LW
74 Karabacek, Vaclav RW
42 Kea, Justin C
75 Lane, Matthew LW
22 Larsson, Johan LW
26 Moulson, Matt LW
85 Muzito-Bagenda, Daniel LW
70 Nylander, Alexander LW
21 Okposo, Kyle RW
19 O’Reilly, Cal C
90 O’Reilly, Ryan C
59 Pu, Cliff RW
23 Reinhart, Sam C
71 Rodrigues, Evan LW
10 Schneider, Cole LW


67 Austin, Brady
81 Bennett, Mac 
47 Bogosian, Zach
79 Budik, Vojtech
46 Burgdoerfer, Erik
41 Falk, Justin
38 Fedun, Taylor
 6  Franson, Cody
64 Geiger, Paul
 4  Gorges, Josh
45 Guhle, Brendan
77 Kulikov, Dmitry
54 Martin, Brycen 
29 McCabe, Jake 
34 Nelson, Casey
51 Osmanski, Austin
55 Ristolainen, Rasmus
53 Stephens, Devante
24 Strachan, Tyson


33 Kasdorf, Jason
40 Lehner, Robin
60 Muse, John
31 Nilsson, Anders
35 Ullmark, Linus 

Veterans Ryan O'Reilly and Dmitry Kulikov are still playing for Team Canada and Team Russia, respectively, at the WCOH.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--RW, Justin Bailey

The safe bet here at third line right wing would be the Buffalo Sabres with 36 yr. old Brian Gionta who served as the team's captain last season and was instrumental in helping center Johan Larsson and winger Marcus Foligno gain traction. But the youth movement is on in Buffalo and there's room for another youngin to start making his mark with the big club.

Enter Justin Bailey.

Bailey is a burgeoning 6'4" 206 lb. powerfoward who has been methodically making his way to the NHL ever since he was drafted by the Sabres with the 52nd pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. That pick, along with a fifth rounder that netted Buffalo defenseman Anthony Florentino, was acquired when the Sabres sent d-man Jordan Leopold to the St. Louis Blues at the 2013 trade deadline.

Back in June we evaluated the top three Sabres prospects at each position and Bailey was on top. Here's what we wrote:

"Level-by-level Bailey has grasped the nuances of the position as well as the game and has made impressive strides. In junior he went from 36 points (17+19) in 57 games his draft year to 43 points (25+18) in 54 games the following year to 69 points (34+35) in 57 games for Kitchener and Sault Ste. Marie his last year of junior. Bailey started slow in his first professional season for the Rochester Americans last year but finished with 15 goals and 18 assists in his last 30 games."

What should get Sabres fans excited about the prospect of Bailey manning the right side in a top-nine role is that not only does he have the size, but he has speed something long-time Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens pointed at when I talked to him last spring.  "I think [Justin Bailey] fits the mold of the up-and-coming player more than any other player I saw [in Rochester]," longtime Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens told me in April, "and that mold is speed. I think that's where the game is."

Sure enough, there was plenty of speed on display in the Stanley Cup Finals with the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks going at it.

Bailey's bedrock of size and speed has given him a presence at every level he's played thus far and those traits were on display last season during an eight-game stint with the Sabres. Although he didn't hit the scoresheet during those games, he still left an impression as he did everything but score. It was a performance that put him right on the cusp of playing in the NHL.

Kris Baker of has Bailey ranked as his No. 2 overall Sabres prospect behind only defenseman Brendan Guhle. In his April rankings Baker wrote of Bailey and how he fits into GM Tim Murray's team building around athletes, "performance and pedigree may very well make him the poster child for what's being branded as a new Murray-minded movement."

Baker notes Bailey's spikes in production over the last two seasons, and simply states that "it's all about patience and reps from here as Bailey builds off an impressive second half of his first AHL campaign."

Bailey could very well end up in Rochester again to start this season and in no way would that be a bad thing. If he continues to progress as he has thus far by mid-season he should be getting a long look from Buffalo. Yet somehow I get the impression that Bailey is looking at this training camp, which begins next week, as a supreme opportunity to stick with the Sabres. And I get the feeling he'll take advantage of it.

The charge of the youngins, Wave-2, is about to commence with Bailey and possibly Guhle at the fore. Whether it takes place this year or next is about the only thing to be determined.

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Matt Moulson / C, Zemgus Girgensons / RW, Justin Bailey

D, Rasmus Ristolainen/ Dmitry Kulikov
D, Zach Bogosian/ D, Jake McCabe

G, Robin Lehner

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--LW, Matt Moulson

Matt Moulson, by the numbers.


--$5M cap-hit
--3 yrs. remaining

2015-16 Stats:

--8 goals (10th on Sabres)
--13 assists (T-8th)
--21 points (10th)
--minus-5 rating (T-7th)

--ATOI, 11:54 (12th amongst forwards)
--PPTOI, 1:58 (8th)

--PP Goals, 2 (T-5th amongst forwards)
--PP Assists, 5 (T- 3rd)
--PP Points, 7 (5th)

--81 games played
--1 healthy scratch (Dec. 30)

What we wrote at season's end:  "Moulson finished 10th 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?"
Moulson is a good guy. To my knowledge there's not a player or coach who's ever publically said otherwise. He mentored John Tavares on Long Island when the two played for the NY Islanders. When Moulson was traded to the Buffalo Sabres Tavares said,  "I don't think Matt's ever gotten the credit he's deserved for the success I've had. Words can't really describe how much he was there for me." And in Buffalo Moulson and his family also opened up their home to rookie Jack Eichel last year to help him make the transition to the NHL. The 18 yr. had a standout season for the Sabres.

Which is all well and good. But at the price and term he was signed for, the team needs him to be more than just a billet father.

Moulson managed three 30-goals seasons on those Islander teams with Tavares and he even managed to place second on the Sabres in scoring during the first year of a 5 yr./$25M contract he signed on July 1, 2014. With the influx of talent including Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane, it was expected that Moulson would follow up with a similar, if not better, 13-goal, 41-point 2014-15 campaign.

It was not to be and it put the Sabres in a quandary. Fortunately for Moulson he had three years remaining on his contract which was a bit to long for Buffalo to buy out. For Buffalo, however, they may end up carrying the hefty contract if an underperformer in what could very well his final year with the club.

Training camp should give us a good indication of how Moulson intends to approach the upcoming season as he was called out by his GM back in March. Tim Murray talked of Moulson's less than stellar training regimen to the gathered media. “I see a player that maybe has neglected some things in the last couple years," he said, "as far as how workouts are changing, how we as an organization are changing with our young players and even our players on the team." Which was about as close to saying "you're out of shape" as you can get.

Head coach Dan Bylsma has the team playing an up-tempo style which would leave Moulson in the dust on the top two lines even if he were in great shape to begin with but on the third line the chances of having success might be better. If he can re-establish a net-front presence and regain his sniping ability from in close, he might be able to get back into that 15 goal range. Which are a lot of 'if's' for a player making $5M/year.

That said, often times we Sabres fans forget why Murray brought in three vets--Moulson, Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges--back in July, 2014. We forget where the team was as well as where they were headed. The Sabres had traded away nearly every vet worth his salt in the season prior, including Moulson, and were about to finish the job by trading whatever was left at the 2015 trade deadline. They needed veteran players who could actually play the game. They needed players who wanted to play in Buffalo. And they needed players who would basically take a bullet for the team during they're plunge into the abyss.

Moulson, Gionta and Gorges were by no means superstars, but they were legitimate NHL players who had a decent amount of success playing in the upper-half of their rosters and they opted to play in Buffalo. Their role on the Sabres was to make it through the 2014-15 season and come out the other end to contribute to, and provide veteran leadership for, one of the youngest teams in the league.

The five year deal Moulson signed meant that he was expected to do at least that, if not more, on an extended basis but even though it hasn't worked out, he has a shot at redemption this season. There's probably not a fan in Buffalo who won't root for him on a personal level as most want to see a good guy like him succeed. But then again, how many times have we seen that sports is a business and if he can't get it together on the ice, Moulson will probably be playing somewhere else next season.

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Matt MoulsonC, Zemgus Girgensons

D, Rasmus Ristolainen/ Dmitry Kulikov
D, Zach Bogosian/ D, Jake McCabe

G, Robin Lehner

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--C, Zemgus Girgensons

Slotting two-way forward Zemgus Girgensons at third line center may be just what the doctor ordered for the 22 yr. old. Girgensons is coming off of a 2015-16 campaign where there was a definite disconnect between himself and the new coaching staff that took the reigns last season. Head coach Dan Bylsma seemed to have trouble finding a home for him last season while Girgensons never seemed to be comfortable in the multitude of positions he was placed and it showed.

After scoring 30 points (15g + 15a) in 61 games the previous season, Girgensons had a significant drop-off to only seven goals and 11 assists in 71 games last season. On the good side, however, his even plus/minus rating was tops amongst forwards who averaged 15 minutes or more of ice time per game and was one of only three Sabres who weren't in the negative.

But the disconnect thing is what stuck in everyone's craw last year.

A few games into last season it was mentioned by WGR's Paul Hamilton that Girgensons and Bylsma had what was described as a lengthy conversation during practice. After the session Bylsma was asked by the gathered media who initiated the conversation and he said that it was Girgensons with Hamilton following that up by implying that Girgensons wasn't happy with his play, to which Bylsma replied, "Yeah...I...that's definitely the sentiment."

Girgensons would match Bylsma's diplomacy post-practice when he told the Sabres Brian Duff of the conversation that he and Bylsma "just talked about stuff, about playing different positions and just all kinds of stuff.

"It's always nice to get to know coach better."

Regardless of the soap-opera element that was bantered around for a while, the fact that the two had an atypically long conversation initiated by a player who had zero points while playing nearly every forward position in the top-nine speaks volumes of the difficulties the two had. The final stat-line for Girgensons pretty much showed that the Sabres could never really find a home for him and/or that he was never comfortable in what seemed to be a constantly changing role.

Girgensons was drafted as a gritty, hard-working two-way center in 2012. He made the jump to the AHL as an 18 yr. old and spent the entire season acclimating himself to the pro game. His regular season stats weren't anything to write home about but he did manage three goals in three games for Rochester in the 2013 Calder Cup playoffs. From there he jumped to the NHL amidst the chaos of mid-season changes throughout the organization and after an erratic start gained his footing under new head coach Ted Nolan.

Nolan, who known more for his work-hard approach than X's and O's had Girgensons centering the top line on a team destined for the bottom of the league. Girgensons responded with a 30-point season while one linemate, Tyler Ennis, lead the team in goals and the other, Matt Moulson, finished second in points.

Girgensons has the size, the skating, the skills and the drive to be a top-nine/possible top-six forward. He also proved that he can contribute on offense and has the smarts and stickwork to handle the center positon. Although his faceoff percentage needs a lot of work, he's a hard-driving puck-hound who's strong around the net and relentless along the wall. He can play in all situations but may be best used in a two-way role with ample time on the penalty kill. Girgensons had one short handed goal his rookie year and three in 2014-15 which shouldn't be overlooked.

The Sabres and Girgensons just agreed on a 1 yr./ $1.6M contract extension which may be a "show-me" contract for both team and player. For Buffalo, they'll be looking to see how, or even if, he fits into their long-term plans. For Girgensons another year of incertitude as to his role may widen the disconnect .

Stability may be the key here as Girgensons has shown a propensity to adapt to a change, albeit not as quick as some may like. While watching him as an 18 yr. old in Rochester as well as a rookie the following year, you could see the wheels churning as he absorbed his surroundings. He wasn't hitting the scoresheet as much as most thought he should but he wasn't just floating either and it showed with his playoff scoring in the AHL and his half-a-point/game 2014-15 season.

He may just need a place to call home and third-line center just may be that spot.

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
C, Zemgus Girgensons

D, Rasmus Ristolainen/ Dmitry Kulikov
D, Zach Bogosian / D, Jake McCabe

G, Robin Lehner

Monday, September 19, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--D, Jake McCabe

Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe had about as solid a year as a 22 yr. old rookie d-man could have in the NHL. Sure there were some trouble spots along the way but on a team with a minus-21 goal differential, McCabe leading the team with a plus-6 rating and being one of only two players to be above even in plus/minus (70+ games) is a pretty solid accomplishment.

When defenseman Zach Bogosian returned from injury 17 games into the 2015-16 season, he and McCabe were the team's mainstays on the second pairing for most of the remaining season. Head coach Dan Bylsma called them a "formidable pair" after a game in December and then said, "We've counted on [Rasmus] Ristolainen and Gorges to play hard minutes against some good players, but now we have a second pair in McCabe and Bogosian that can do a good job against just about anybody."

Gorges acquitted himself quite well for the Sabres last season as while playing above his talent-level and one could easily put him next to Bogosian this season. That may very well happen, but there's a pretty solid match with McCabe and Bogosian as the two play a very similar style of defense. They both hit and block shots but their also both quite mobile with Bylsma saying of the duo, "[They are] two good skating defensemen, two guys who can use that skating ability to defend but also add to the offense."
McCabe averaged 19:07 minutes of ice-time per game, good for fourth amongst Sabres defenseman and he logged an average of 1:24 minutes/game on the penalty kill which was also fourth amongst Sabres d-men. His 114 hits was third as was his 109 blocked shots. With Bylsma using McCabe in more of a defensive mode, the Eau Claire, Wisconsin native only saw a fraction of ice-time on the powerplay.

Having said that, McCabe may still have more to give in an offensive capacity.

Although he focused upon defense last season, McCabe still managed 14 points on four goals and 10 assists while his 6.5 shooting percentage was best amongst Sabres defensemen. He has two things working in his favor from an offensive perspective that may increase those numbers--a penchant for getting his shot through from the point and a smart, sensible pinch to the open area on the weak side in the offensive zone.

Here are the questions we had for him at the end of last season:  "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?"

McCabe has a simple, honest approach to the game and a pretty long list of accomplishments, both individual and team, plus a maturity beyond his years. He has a blue collar work-ethic and approaches the game in a methodical, yet intense manner while also showing the propensity to bounce back quickly from a mistake. Former Rochester Americans coach Chadd Cassidy, who coached McCabe for a full season in Rochester, called him "genuine" and an "extremely honest, team-first player" while stating rather simply stating that McCabe "has earned everything he's gotten."

That pretty much sums up why he will probably be next to Bogosian on the Sabres second-pairing this year.

He's earned it.

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart

D, Rasmus Ristolainen/ D, Dmitry Kulikov
D, Zach Bogosian / D, Jake McCabe

G, Robin Lehner

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The 2nd annual Buffalo Sabres Prospects Challenge starts today with practices

Although the 2016 World Cup of Hockey is garnering most of the attention of these days, including those of us Buffalo Sabres fans with a keen eye on participants Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly, the NHL hockey season is just around the corner. Training camps around the league begin next week while in Buffalo, the warm-up act begins with the 2nd annual Buffalo Sabres Prospect Challenge as three teams--Buffalo, the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey--ready themselves for an extended weekend of round-robin play to crown this year's champion.

Buffalo won the inaugural tournament last year.

The Prospects Challenge is an event in which youngins from the participating teams have the opportunity to face off against their peers In a live game setting. The Sabres had previously participated in the eight-team Traverse City Tournament hosted by the Detroit Red Wings, but last year they decided to strike out on their own by hosting their own tournament. All Games will be played on HARBORCENTER ice with the cost of admission at $10.

Today teams will hold practice sessions with games beginning tomorrow. The schedule, courtesy of Sabres PR:

Friday, Sept. 16
  • Buffalo practice: 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
  • New Jersey practice: 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
  • Boston practice: 3 – 5 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 17
  • Buffalo morning skate: 10 – 11 a.m.
  • Boston practice: 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
  • New Jersey morning skate: 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • Buffalo vs. New Jersey, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 18
  • Buffalo practice: 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
  • Boston morning skate: 10 – 11 a.m.
  • New Jersey morning skate: 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • Boston vs. New Jersey, 7 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 19
  • Buffalo morning skate: 10 – 11 a.m.
  • Boston morning skate: 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • Buffalo vs. Boston, 7 p.m.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--D, Zach Bogosian

After seven years and well over 400 NHL games, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian is pretty much where he should be at this point in his career--a young-vet on the second pairing on an up and coming team showing the youngins the way. The 26 yr. old Massena, NY native who came from the Winnipeg Jets in the Evander Kane/Tyler Myers trade was second on the Sabres in overall time on ice (22:20) and second even-strength (19:28.) Bogosian was also on the second unit penalty kill and also logged plenty of time on the second-unit powerplay.

When we built the roster last season here's what we had to say about him, "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."

That latter portion was especially true when it came to his defense-partner for most of the season, 22 yr. old Jake McCabe. Later in the season with the team gaining traction the duo put together a nice month of March. Buffalo went 7-4-4, their best of the season (and best since 2013, according to Sabres PR) with the Bogosian/McCabe pairing adding strong contributions. They had combined +7 rating on the month while Bogosian had his strongest month as a Sabre with scoring three goals and adding six assists.

Those are the types of offensive numbers that are often associated with, and expected of, a top pick in the  draft but unfortunately for Bogosian those types of numbers have largely eluded him since his rookie season with the Atlanta Thrashers when he scored nine goals and added 10 assists in 47 games.

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--RW, Sam Reinhart

After spending most of the summer trying to figure out where forward Sam Reinhart might fit into the Sabres roster under new head coach Dan Bylsma, or even if he would at one point, in building the roster for that season I placed him centering the third line. Here's what I wrote:

"Over the course of the last year 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 and a good start for him this season is playing on the third line at a position he's accustomed to--center.

"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."

Not only did Reinhart stick with the team, he ended up second on the team in goals with 23 and third in points with 42 while playing out of position on the right side. What's even more peculiar about those stats is that Reinhart was touted as more of a set-up man coming out of junior. In a tribute to his hockey sense Reinhart was able to make the transition to the right side while his hard work, as well as some keen insight from Bylsma, helped him overcomes some early season struggles.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--LW, Tyler Ennis

Buffalo Sabres forward Tyler Ennis is the longest-tenured Sabres player on the roster. The 2008 first round pick (26rd-overall) came to Buffalo via a draft pick acquired when Brian "Soupy" Campbell was traded to the San Jose' Sharks at the 2008 trade deadline and since that time Ennis has witnessed almost a complete turnover of the hockey operations at the foot of Washington St. He and Marcus Foligno have witnessed an ownership change, are on their third team president, second GM and fourth head coach.

Through it all the 5'9" 160 lb. Ennis has remained remarkably consistent. From his first full season in 2010-11 to the 2014-15 season, he was able to hit the 20-goal mark three times and was on pace for another one (15 goals in 48) games in 2011-12 before being sidelined by an ankle injury. In his three full seasons he's averaged about 20 goals and 22 assists with the key word being 'full.'

Ennis missed all but 23 games last season because of two concussions suffered in six-week span late in 2015. He first got dinged by 6'4" 215 lb. St. Louis defenseman Robert Bortuzzo then was steam-rolled by a 6'3" 239 lb. Alexander Ovechkin. Ennis totaled only 23 games played for the team last season.

Injuries or not, Ennis was having a pretty rough go of it last year, the first one under new head coach Dan Bylsma. He was on a 14-game goal-drought at the time of the Ovechkin hit and he didn't get much love from his GM, Tim Murray either. Murray said at the time, via a Bill Hoppe piece, "Maybe the time away makes him a better player. Maybe it makes him a harder worker."


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--C, Jack Eichel

This will probably be the last time you'll see Jack Eichel listed as a No. 2 center in this blog. The 19 yr. old finished his rookie season with a team-leading 24 goals and a total of 56 points 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. And by far he lead the team in electrifying moments.

Eichel is an extremely talented, yet very young player, who sends a rush of anticipation throughout the crowd every time he's on the ice. We haven't see a player like that in Buffalo since Gilbert Perreault was flying up ice with The French Connection. Although Eichel's skating isn't as graceful and fluid as Perreault's was, the speed he generates in a few strides is remarkable as he often leaves his opponents in the dust.

"Jack Flash" is all that in a well-sculpted 6'2" 201 lb. NHL frame and his ability to hit overdrive is stunning. Yet the cool part about Eichel is that he also has the brains to keep up with his speed plus the skills to finish whether a through a wicked, deceptive snap-shot or a smoove, effortless backhand going five-hole.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--G, Robin Lehner

No one will ever accuse Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner of being complacent. His on-ice competitiveness is often found in a menacing, steel-eye stare-down that makes him look as if he'll bite your head off. And if there's any doubt that he sees himself not only as the team's No. 1 goalie but also a teammate, look no further than an incident in Columbus when defenseman Zach Bogosian was recklessly checked into the boards.

The Jackets' Boone Jenner was the culprit as he put a hook on Bogosian and slammed him into the boards. Lehner didn't take too kindly to it and as players on the ice began forming a scrum around his fallen teammate, Lehner cut off Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson who seemed intent upon joining the fray. The two began a spirited shoving match and the 6'5" 240 lb. Lehner dropped the gloves ready to go at it. Johnson wisely declined and instead tried to make his way into the scrum while officials moved Lehner back towards his crease.

Lehner called the Jenner hit on Bogosian "disgusting" saying post-game, "to see a teammate go down like the end of the day I just didn't want [Johnson] to jump into the pile. It's a team game out there." Head coach Dan Bylsma said of the incident in the Sabres 4-0 win, "It’s the first time I had a goalie get four penalty minutes and the shutout. He may be the most engaged goalie I’ve ever been able to coach. He was certainly engaged tonight.”

Intensity is all well and good and it's something that was severely lacking during "The Core" years, but a goalie's job is to stop pucks and Lehner's numbers will tell you that he did so on a regular basis. When healthy.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--LHD, Dmitry Kulikov

While some fans of Buffalo and Florida may find it a rather curious move placing recently acquired defenseman Dmitry Kulikov atop the left side of the Sabres blueline, the former Panther may have a number of things working in his favor this season towards that placement.

At Day-2 of the NHL Entry Draft held in Buffalo, Sabres GM Tim Murray once again landed a player that fits his ideal for building this team--a quality young-vet. Kulikov is in his prime at the age of 25 and already has 460 regular season games under his belt plus another 13 in the playoffs. He has great size at 6'1" 204 size, skates very well and has a definitive edge to his game. "He'll hit you. He'll submarine you. He'll make you pay the price if your head's down," said Murray to the gathered media at the post-trade presser.

He also has a "great first pass," said Murray, to help transition the puck up ice. "We certainly like guys who make a tape-to-tape pass and with our forwards, if you can make a tape-to-tape pass, good things are going to happen in transition. [Kulikov's] just a great fit."

Friday, September 9, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--D, Rasmus Ristolainen

Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen will be opening up his 2016-17 hockey season playing for Team Finland in the inaugural World Cup of Hockey and all indications have him on the top-pairing when Finland takes on Team North America in Toronto, ON on September 18th. The Finns will have a very good, young group patrolling the blueline with 25 yr. old Sami Vatenen likely being the elderstatesman of the corps.

Ristolainen is all of 21 years old but already has nearly 200 NHL games under his belt. If you add in his games played against professionals as a teenager in Finland for two years (at 16 he was the second youngest ever) as well as 34 games for the Rochester Americans plus playoffs in all leagues, Ristolainen has over 325 games a pro to this point in his young career. When he said "age is just a number to me" for a recent NHL piece on Finland's defense-corps at the WCOH, it's something to take note of as the 6'4" 207 lb. former first round pick has all the earmarks of a savvy veteran in the prime of his career.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--RW, Kyle Okposo

For about a month from when the Tampa Bay Lightning were eliminated in Game-7 of the Eastern Conference Finals until a few days after the 2016 NHL Draft, Steven Stamkos reigned supreme as the potential top free agent that would be hitting the market on July 1. On June 29th, however, suitors who had been lining up for him got the news that Stamkos would remain in Tampa armed with a new 8 yr./$68M contract.

The Buffalo Sabres were one of those teams in on Stamkos but after he re-upped in Tampa they turned their attention to a player considered to be best free agent available--RW, Kyle Okposo.

Okposo was taken seventh-overall in the 2006 NHL Draft by the NY Islanders. In 529 games he has scored 139 goals and added 230 assists in a somewhat choppy career for the Islanders. His best season came in 2013-14 when he tallied 69 points (27g+42a) in 71 games. According to his wiki page Okposo spent most of that season on a line with center John Tavares and former Buffalo Sabre Thomas Vanek at left wing.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--LW, Evander Kane

Published by, 9-6-2016

Back in February, 2015 Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray, who'd been on the job just over a year, defined the makeover of his team with a blockbuster deal that landed LW, Evander Kane. Murray told the gathered media at the Kane presser, "I think I said from Day-1 that we have a lot of picks and I've said all along that I'd much rather use them for players that have played a certain amount of games in the league, but that still fit the rebuild, still fit the age category that we needed."

Murray had scouted Kane for years dating back at least to the Vancouver, BC native's time with his hometown Giants in the Western Hockey League. In his last year of junior Kane produced a well-balanced 48 goals and 48 assists in 61 regular season games for the Giants while adding 7 goals and 8 assists in 15 playoff games. He was taken with the 4th-overall selection by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft then proceeded to hit the ice as an 18 yr. old. Throughout his NHL career thus far--from Atlanta to Winnipeg, where the Thrashers were relocated to in 2011, to Buffalo--that scoring balance has remained. His career stats are 129 goals and 128 assists in 426 regular season games.

What Kane brings to the table is a rare convergence of size, speed, skill, physicality and selective pugilism, the latter of which was on display as an 18 yr. old in April, 2010. It was late in his rookie season when he goaded into a fight by hated NHL pest Matt Cooke. Kane proceeded to drop Cooke with a one-punch, knockout right hook which immediately gained the attention of the hockey world.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--Ryan O'Reilly

Happy Labor Day everyone.

In sadly saying goodbye to summer, hockey fans can find a little joy in knowing that hockey begins this month. Between now and October 13th when the Buffalo Sabres host the Montreal Canadiens in their season opener, there will be plenty of hockey to get fans geared up for the season including the Buffalo Sabres second-annual Prospects Challenge (September 16-19,) the NHL's inaugural World Cup of Hockey Tournament (September 17-October 1,) the opening of training camps and the preseason.

But when in comes to the Sabres, we have a roster to build over the course of the next four weeks and we begin building Buffalo's 2016-17 roster with C, Ryan O'Reilly.

After a major turnover last year things have calmed down a bit. Sure the team was able to add two players who should stake their claim to the upper half of the roster, but Sabres GM Tim Murray, unlike last year, is going into this season with some known quantities. He now has much of his foundation in place (at least at forward) and this year he can build around the new core the Sabres will be moving forward with. And atop that list, at least for this season, is the 25 yr. old O'Reilly.

Murray targeted O'Reilly at the 2015 NHL Draft in Sunrise, Florida and landed him (along with forward (Jamie McGinn) for a rather large package that included a couple of former first-round picks (Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov,) a top prospect in JT Compher and the 31st pick in the 2015 draft (for last year's piece on O'Reilly click here.)

Monday, September 5, 2016

Buffalo has enough cap-room for Ristolainen and a d-man TBD

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray and AGM Mark Jakubowski did some yeoman's work this off-season in shoring up the upper half of the lineup while also keeping the support group in-house with very reasonable contracts.

At the June draft in Buffalo, Murray was able to land defenseman Dmitry Kulikov in a trade with the Florida Panthers. The edgy Russian who's being looked at as a possible top-pairing defenseman comes to Buffalo on the final year of his contract with a $4.3M cap-hit. A few days later the Sabres signed 28 yr. old RW Kyle Okposo to a long-term deal. The Sabres have Okposo for the next seven seasons with a cap-hit of $6M.

Murray and Co. started the off season well by re-signing center Johan Larsson to a very reasonable $950k contract in April and when the summer commenced they slowly chipped away at their remaining restricted free agent list. They began by re-signing defenseman Casey Nelson to a two-year extension after the college free agent performed very well in his NHL debut. Nelson is waiver exempt and has a cap-hit of $650K. Odds are that he'll play the majority of the season in Rochester.

The very next day, in what could be a very underrated deal, the team re-signed defenseman Jake McCabe to a three-year/$4.8M contract extension. McCabe played all of last season on the second pairing, mostly with Zach Bogosian, and had himself a very solid rookie campaign. Even if he merely remains a solid, second-pairing d-man his $1.6M cap-hit will help create crucial cap-space over the course of the next three years.

Marcus Foligno was next up and re-signed for $2.25M, his NHL salary from the prior season. Foligno is a solid bottom-six forward who has shown a penchant to produce at that level. A strong finish by the 25 yr. old had many thinking he'd be in for a bump but it was not to be.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

$1.15M for Zemgus Girgensons would be a bargain

The Buffalo Sabres announced that free agent forward Zemgus Girgensons has been re-signed for 1 yr. As per Sabres policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Rumor has it that the price of the one-year contract is under $1.2M which would be a pretty good deal for Buffalo. The "Latvian Locomotive" was coming off of his entry-level deal where he was making about $1.3M, counting salary and bonuses, over the last three seasons and his extension and is commensurate with his rather poor production last season.

The one-year contract for that amount is a "show-me" deal for Girgensons as he's coming off of his worst of three professional seasons. He score only 18 points (7+11) in 71 games last season for the Sabres after notching 15 goals in 61 games the prior season. Throughout the 2015-16 campaign new head coach Dan Bylsma was having trouble integrating Girgensons into his system and there's been a lot of banter considering why "Gus" failed to put up even solid numbers last season. This season will probably represent the most critical season of his young career.

Girgensons is still only 21 years old and has just over 200 game of NHL experience under his belt. At 6'1" 203 lbs he has the size and there's no denying he has the work-ethic to make a difference on the ice. The numbers he produced last season, despite an influx of talent featuring Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel, were sub-par and probably was the main reason he was only re-upped for one season General Manager Tim Murray said of Girgensons after the signing (via Sabres PR,) "Zemgus has grown into a solid two-way player since beginning his career. We hope to see him continue this positive trend and find a consistent role within the club this season as another young player to grow with our group."

This is a good signing for Buffalo but how good will be determined by Bylsma finding a home for Girgensons to maximize his talents. There was plenty of speculation last season that Girgensons shortcomings were of his own design yet his off season may have been impacted by the Sabres no being able to find a home for him in the lineup. With this one-year deal, Buffalo will have the opportunity to get a good idea as to what was at he root of his sub-par performance and hopefully integrate him fully into Bylsma's system.

Look for the team to provide a top-nine opportunity, but. what he does with it is totally up to him.