Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Sam Reinhart/Noah Hanifin trade makes a lot of sense

Published by 8-19-2017

At the conclusion of the 2013-14 season the last place Buffalo Sabres had no top-two centers on the roster. In fact a case could be made that they didn't even have a playoff caliber third-line center either. The position had been a problem for Buffalo since the infamous 2007 off-season and when the Sabres headed into the 2014 NHL Draft with the second overall pick they selected a play-making center in Sam Reinhart who projected out as a top-six center.

The following season Buffalo finished in last place and, once again, had the second-overall pick which they used on franchise center Jack Eichel. It was also announced on the draft floor that the Sabres had swung a trade with the Colorado Avalanche for top-two center, Ryan O'Reilly, which put them in a very interesting situation headed into the 2015-16 season.

In a matter of two seasons the center depth on Buffalo went from nothing to fully stocked. O'Reilly and Eichel held the top two centers on the team which pushed Reinhart to the wing in a top-six role. Johan Larsson played very well for them centering the third line, Zemgus Girgensons is a center  who's been playing wing but he's capable of manning the middle in the bottom-six as well, and they just signed center Jacob Josefson for depth. And looking ahead a bit, Rasmus Asplund (2016, 33rd-overall) isn't far away from an NHL roster spot and Buffalo's first round pick in 2017, Casey Mittelstadt, looks as if his NHL future may come sooner rather than later.

Word on the street is that the Carolina Hurricanes are in the market for a center and that they're willing to offer up one of their defensemen to land one. The 'Canes want "a playmaking center for one of the top two lines," according to Tom Gulitti of, and Lyle Richardson of Spector's Hockey, echoed those sentiments.

Richardson uses an article by Chip Alexander of the Charlotte Observer who notes that Carolina owner Peter Karmanos felt that "the Canes may not have a top-line center but did have 'four No. 2 centers.'” Carolina GM Ron Francis explained in the piece, "If you look around the league and you say ‘This guy is a legitimate No. 1, top-line center,’ there’s probably 16 of those guys in the entire league. They are not easy to find." Francis would go on to talk about his center depth which has Jordan Staal and Victor Rask as their top-two and concluded, “we think we’re fine up the middle. We may not have what everyone calls that ‘elite No. 1 guy’ but there’s not a lot of those guys in the league.”

As Sabre fans know, finding that No. 1 center on the open market or via trade is pretty much impossible so you make due with what you have.

The soon to be 30 yr. old Staal and 24 yr. old Rask had identical stat-lines of 16 goals, 29 assists, 45 points last season. Francis called Staal "a horse for us" and said of Rask "[he] had a little bit of an up-and-down year, but I think he’s hungry and ready to come back and show what he can do over an 82-game schedule." Both Staal and Rask certainly have their places in the grand scheme of things but those weren't exactly ringing endorsements of his top-two centers.

In looking at the two teams, the Sabres and the Hurricanes seem like a pretty good fit for a hockey trade.

Both Buffalo and Carolina know that Eichel isn't going anywhere and odds are that O'Reilly stays with the Sabres as well. But Reinhart on the other hand?

The 21 yr. old Reinhart was drafted out of Kootenay as more of a playmaker on offense but ended up as more of a scorer his first full season in Buffalo (23 goals, 19 assists.) Last season his goals went down (17) but his point total went up (47) while the roots of his overall game, his high hockey IQ and his solid two-way play, remained along with his upside.

In an pre-draft profile, Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes' director of amateur scouting, saw what everyone else was seeing in Reinhart, "He’s a very interesting player in the sense that he’s quietly efficient. He kills you quietly,” was what he told Michael Smith of

MacDonald went on to say, "[Reinhart] is so efficient and so smart...a tremendous distributor of the puck, and he’s very good at finding his wingers. He’s very good in the faceoff circle. He’s an excellent penalty killer and a very good player without the puck.”

The Hurricanes ended up selecting defenseman Noah Hanifin with the fifth-overall pick in the 2014 draft as he fell to the Canes. In Smiths pre-draft profile on Hanifin, he wrote that the 6'3" 203 lb. U.S.-born blueliner, "is considered to be the best defensive prospect available in this year’s draft. NHL’s Central Scouting ranks him third overall among North American skaters."

Said MacDonald in that Smith piece. “He’s a big man. Plays a very efficient and effective game. He’s a solid defender, can move the puck and skate the puck out and seems to be a solid character guy.

"He’s got some offensive dimension to his game, although that wouldn’t necessarily be his greatest strength at this point in time. There’s not much not to like about Noah Hanifin. He should play in the NHL for a long, long time.”

The 20 yr. old Hanifin just completed his second season in Carolina with more points than his rookie season but with a worse plus-minus rating.

It's interesting to note that both Buffalo and Carolina have held off contract extension talks for both Reinhart and Hanifin, respectively, as both will be entering the final years on their entry-level deals.

Would the Sabres and the Hurricanes be willing to re-write the 2014 draft by a trade of those two players?

We know the Canes are in the market for a top-two center and one could also assume that Sabres GM Jason Botterill would like to add to the blueline. Sure, Botterill did revamp his d-corps with the trades for Nathan Lieuwen and Marco Scandella, but Hanifin would also represent an upgrade to a d-group that was in need of serious attention.

It all Depends on how each side views those two players after two full NHL seasons and whether or not they feel that it would represent a significant long-term upgrade at present positions of need.

That said, it kinda makes sense for both clubs.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Zemgus Girgensons re-signs as Pittsburgh's reportedly looking for No. 3 center.

Published by, 8-18-2017

There might not be a correlation between the news that Buffalo forward Zemgus Girgensons re-upped with the Sabres on a 2yr./$3.2 million contract and the Pittsburgh Penguins reportedly looking to trade for a No. 3 center, but the timing is certainly interesting.

Girgensons went into this off season as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights but opted to forgo the process. One by one Sabres GM Jason Botterill slowly signed his free agents, which included avoiding arbitration with three players, leaving Girgensons as the only player left to be signed. Yesterday Buffalo announced that the two sides came to an agreement.

It's been rough and rocky travelling for Girgensons over the course of the last two seasons. The former first round pick (2012, 14th-overall) went from being a top-line center under Ted Nolan during the Sabres bottom-dwelling 2014-15 season to an afterthought under Dan Bylsma the last two seasons and in the process went from 30 points (15g + 15a) in 61 games to 34 points (14+20) in 146 games.

Coaching seemed to play a big part in those numbers taking a huge dive as Nolan was a "work hard and good things will happen" kind of coach while Bylsma was more of an X's and O's coach. Girgensons plays a north/south power game that has him driving the net and working the puck in the corners which was perfect for Nolan's "just work hard" philosophy. Things changed, however, when Bylsma came aboard.

Many who follow the Sabres closely were left with the impression that Girgensons couldn't execute in Bylsma's structured system and therefore was relegated to a lesser, bottom-six role. As he floundered in the new system his ice-time decreased and so did his overall production.

Bylsma is gone now and was replaced by Phil Housley. A two-year deal for Girgensons may or may not be significant although it's a year longer than what he signed for when Bylsma was the coach meaning perhaps this regime wants to give him more of a look than a one-year, "show me" contract.

Or it could be an inviting contract for a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins who are said to be looking for a No. 3 center.

The two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins lost a key player in third line center Nick Bonino, as well as veteran center Matt Cullen, and they're looking to trade for a replacement for one of them. According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, GM Jim Rutherford wants to trade for a No. 3 center but will remain patient. "There's a couple of guys I could acquire right now," he said. "I feel like there's another group of guys that could possibly be available here soon. Kind of just waiting to see if that happens. Something could happen in the very near future or this could drag on for a little while."

Buffalo's Botterill came from the Penguins organization and was Rutherford's right hand man. The two worked together to build the back-to-back Cup champions and one could assume that they keep in touch. Botterill should have a pretty good idea as to what Rutherford is looking for, and what he could get in return, as he was instrumental in building the Penguins. And it's possible that "the two guys" Rutherford "could acquire now" are in the Sabres organization.

Girgensons could be that guy although his projected ceiling may have dropped down to a top-nine slot at best. At 23 yr.s old he's still young, just entering his prime, but he's also been subjected to mass turnover in Buffalo to the tune of three GM's and four head coaches. He has the versatility to play wing or center and although his offensive instincts seem to be limited, if he finds himself with open ice around the net, he can finish. He skates very well, is defensively responsible and can man the penalty kill.

Another possibility is Johan Larsson.

Larsson is a different player than Girgensons. He's slower on his skates but always seems to be around the puck and if he's not around the puck, he's around the action playing punk against the opposition. The 25 yr. old Larsson also played third-line center for the Sabres during Bylsma's two-year tenure and was making strong progress until he was lost for the season on Dec. 31 of last year.

According to CapFriendly, the Penguins have $3.2 million in cap-space right now meaning either Girgensons' $1.6 million or Larsson's $1.475 million hits would fit right in.

Botterill now has all of his players signed and has used 44 of his 50 pro contracts. The Sabres are $6.92 million under the NHL's $73 million cap ceiling, according to CapFriendly, which gives him plenty of maneuverability.

Whether that maneuverability includes a deal with his former team remains to be seen, but it was rather interesting that the Girgensons announcement and the article on the Penguins desires came out within a day of each other.

Friday, August 18, 2017

A look back at the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres season--April

Published by, 8-17-2017

The Toronto Maple Leafs had made the playoffs once since the 2004-05 NHL lockout, and that was in a shortened season due to, you guessed it, another lockout in 2012-13. When they came back to KeyBank Center on April 3, the Leafs were in a three-way battle for second in the division with the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators while the Tampa Bay Lightning were climbing fast up the standings, joining the NY Islanders in the race for the second wild card spot.

The Buffalo Sabres were eliminated from playoff contention on March 28 so there wasn't much to play for except pride and the opportunity to play spoiler. The matchup between Toronto and Buffalo also had some interesting plot twists as Leafs franchise center Auston Matthews and Sabres franchise center Jack Eichel would be meeting again and the brothers Nylander--William for Toronto and Alexander for Buffalo--would be squaring off on NHL ice for the first time. As I wrote prior to the game, "if you cant' get up for this one, you probably don't have a pulse."

Buffalo had lost to the NY Islanders the night before on fan appreciation night at KeyBank. The generally uninspired play lead to the 4-2 defeat as the Islanders, who were without John Tavares, needed only two assists on their four goals. The highlight of the evening for the Sabres was UMASS-Lowell product C.J .Smith getting his first NHL point in his first NHL game. Smith went in 2-on-1 with Evander Kane and calmly slid a backhand to Kane who promptly buried his team-leading 27th goal of the season.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A look back at the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres season--March

Published by, 8-16-2017

Late in 2010, Bucky Gleason of The Buffalo News did a piece on Terrance M. Pegula, who at the time was attempting to purchase the Buffalo Sabres. Amongst many things in his profile Gleason noted that Pegula had season tickets to the Sabres when they played at Memorial Auditorium and could "tell you the section, row and seat number."

Pegula had his opinions while following his favorite team as a fan. Gleason pointed out in his article that the owner in waiting "was upset when Chris Drury and Daniel Briere left the organization [in 2007] and couldn't comprehend how the team let Henrik Tallinder get away [in 2010]."

At the March 1, 2017 NHL Trade Deadline, the opposite might have been true in the view from the owner's box. It was said that Pegula (as well as nearly everyone in Sabreland) couldn't figure out why defenseman Dmitry Kulikov wasn't traded.

Kulikov was acquired by GM Tim Murray at the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo as the Sabres and Florida Panthers swapped defensemen and picks. Gone from the Sabres was defenseman Mark Pysyk, referred to as "an analytics darling," by Murray and in came a defenseman whom he thought would be a top-four, at least. Unfortunately Kulikov suffered and injury in the preseason and was never quite right from October through February.

However, Kulikov was healthy to the point where he could be of use in a depth-role for a playoff-bound team. Rumors had it that there was at least one offer of a lower-round pick for him, but for some reason Murray balked and decided to keep him. Why? We're not sure, especially when it was revealed that Kulikov did not like playing in Buffalo.

And I'm sure that question was posed to Murray by Pegula at their end of season meeting. Murray, however, had no answers. After the two met, Gleason tweeted this, "I'm told Pegulas were looking for answers on how to proceed, and Murray didnt have many, or any."

The Sabres entered the month of March with the same team and playoff prospects all but ended. The began the month none points out of third place in the division and six points out of the second wild card spot in the East. Sure, they could still make the playoffs, but being six points behind and having five teams to jump in the wild card race is a pretty tall hurdle with 19 games to play.

Buffalo started out well with a win over Arizona, but the weight of the season took it's toll. It's best to remember that in addition to injuries, there were disconnects on and off the ice. Coach Dan Bylsma's system didn't sit well with some players, including franchise center Jack Eichel, and that would eventually engulf the team. Goalie Robin Lehner called out teammates for not playing the system, center Ryan O'Reilly and captain Brian Gionta blamed the players for the team's woes and in the locker room there was talk of a disconnect between vets and youngins.

The two games they blew post bye week didn't help either and after that win against the Coyotes to begin March, and a shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the bottom fell out. Buffalo dropped out. They dropped three in a row and five of their next six. Despite the fact that they would counter by ending the month by winning four of six games, the Sabres were eliminated from the playoffs on the last day of the month after a 3-1 loss in Columbus. It was the sixth consecutive season the Sabres failed to make the playoffs.

Of note in that Columbus game, forward Sam Reinhart was benched in that game by Bylsma for "violating team policy," according to Bylsma, who would go on to say, "We’re going to move forward from here. Disappointing, but it happened and we dealt with it. We’re going to move on from here.”

Reinhart apparently missed the team stretch when he thought the time was a half-hour later than it was. Murray and Bylsma had instituted a zero-tolerance policy for things like that and Reinhart was suspended, although he did dress for the game because Kyle Okposo was ill and the Sabres needed Reinhart to fulfill the required 20 skaters. He sat on the bench the entire game.

Murray said of the incident (via The Buffalo News,) "To me it's unfortunate that anybody broke the rule the first time after it gets changed at that point. To have it be a second-year player like Sam, he might have been the last guy. If I had made public we tweaked the team rule and who is the last guy I think would break it, he might have been the guy I would have brought up. I would have said, 'It won't be Sam.' But it was."

Such was the downward spiral of the team at that point in the season.

About the only real bright spot in that month was the Sabres dinging the hated Toronto Maple Leafs playoff hopes a bit with a 5-2 victory at home. As everyone on the QEW knows, when the Leafs hit town, they occupy the Sabres' arena and it was no different for that game. With huge clumps of Blue and White throughout KeyBank Center, boisterous Toronto fans give the feel as if it was their home game.

For a fiery competitor like Eichel, who had all kinds of trouble this season from injury to rumored coaching problems, having the Leafs in house dominating the crowd didn't sit well. After scoring his second goal of the game to put Buffalo up 5-2 he went over to a clump of Leafs fans along the boards with an in your face moment:

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Will Butcher watch begins at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow.

Published by, 8-15-2017

We interupt this series on the past season to make a note on the present. Denver Pioneers defenseman Will Butcher, who was drafted by the Coloroado Avalanche in 2013 (123rd-overall,) is set to become a free agent at 12:01 a.m. if the Avalanche can't sign him, which has about a 99.9% chance of happening right now.

The 5'10 190 lb. right-handed shot from Sun Prarie, WI just finished his senior season on the NCAA National Men's Champion Denver Pioneers, and according to his Denver bio finished his senior season second in the nation in scoring by a defenseman (43 games-7g, 30a) and tied for third in plus/minus (+27.) In four seasons at Denver Butcher played 158 games had 103 points (28+75) and finished +49.

Butcher is set to hit free agency and the Buffalo Sabres are amongst many teams interested in signing him.
Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News, wrote today that the Detroit Red Wings are interested in the 2017 Hobey Baker winner as are "two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh, Chicago and Minnesota (both close to home for the Wisconsin native) [while] Buffalo, Toronto and New Jersey have been linked to Butcher, and in most cases, can offer immediate playing time."
That's a pretty tough list of teams for the Sabres to go up against for Butcher's services, and as for the "immediate playing time" portion of that quote, unless Buffalo moves a d-man like Zach Bogosian or Josh Gorges, Butcher will be in Rochester getting acclimated to the pro game. At least to start the season. In addition to those two d-men, as of now the Sabres have d-anchor Rasmus Ristolainen, two acquisitions in Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella as well as free agent Russian signee Victor Antipin plus Jake McCabe. Justin Falk was a Grade-A call-up from Rochester last season and Taylor Fedun, who recently signed a two-year extension with the club, did yeoman's work in his 27 games as a call-up last season.
New Sabres GM Jason Botterill and new head coach Phil Housley have their work cut out for recruiting Butcher. They're up against two powerhouses in Pittsburgh and Chicago, a steady Minnesota Wild club and a fast-riser in the Toronto Maple Leafs coached by one of the best in the business. New Jersey shouldn't be dismissed either as they're being built by Penguins' Stanley Cup architect, Ray Shero, and just drafted a No. 1 center in Nico Hishier.
The Sabres shouldn't be taken lightly either. They have a core group that includes a franchise center in Jack Eichel, a top two-way center in Ryan O'Reilly and they just hired a coach in Housley that coached the most feared defense in last year's Stanley Cup playoffs. Botterill himself is no slouch as he was a part of helping to build Pittsburgh's  2009, 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup champion teams.
Butcher was a fifth round pick in 2013 due to his smaller size for a defenseman, although he proved throughout his college career that he can handle bigger bodies in the defensive zone. He's never been afraid to lay the body on anyone and because of his strength, balance and the way he leverages his body, Butcher is extremely effective.
In addition to his strong two-way game he also has those intangibles like leadership which aren't so much a primary selling point as they are an augment to his hockey abilities.
Word is that he and his agent have said that they're looking for "the best organizational fit," according to Ryan Lambert of The Hockey News, which would include seasoning in the AHL, if necessary. Lambert calls Butcher "an NHL'er" and "the only reason teams shouldn’t be interested in a 22-year-old with a great pedigree is if they’re pushing up against the 50-contract limit."
The Sabres are presently at 43 contracts according to CapFriendly.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A look back at the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres season--February

Published by 8-14-2017

Former Sabres GM Tim Murray was a great listen during interviews because he was colorful, yet clean, and was pretty much a straight-shooter. His attitude basically said, "here you go, this is how I see it." He also guided the Sabres through two tank seasons in a scorched-earth rebuild with the 2015 Arizona/Buffalo race to the bottom in the "McEichel Sweepstakes" reaching embarrassing lows for both the organization and the NHL.

It's something that the league probably didn't look too kindly upon as their image was taking a hit, but it was his job and he was going to do it. After all, who said it was going to be all "rainbows, unicorns and jujus."

Was there retribution for the Murray and the Sabres because of all that transpired in 2015? Maybe, but if there was, it wasn't anything that could be traceable. Buffalo did miss out on the first-overall pick two years running after finishing in last place in the league but that was more than likely a severe case of Buffaluck as opposed to rigged Ping-Pong balls.

However, one thing the league could do is make the Sabres' lives a little more difficult by placing them last on the list when it came to scheduling priorities. In 2015-16 amongst the things they piled on Buffalo was the new Sabres with a new coach having to play the defending Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning four times in a 30-day span at the beginning of the season. Last year the Sabres had a league leading 19 sets of back-to-back games (tied with Columbus) but they included three in January (all within a 10-day span,) four in the short month of February and five in March.

An overall condensed NHL schedule in 2016-17 was a necessary evil for all teams because the regular season started a week late due to the inaugural World Cup of Hockey. If that wasn't enough, the league's schedule maker really laid the hammer down on the Sabres as they also put Buffalo's mandated five-day bye week in February meaning that an already condensed schedule would be compacted even further for them.

Prior to Buffalo's mandated five-day break (February 20-24) the Sabres packed in 11 games in 19 days including two back-to-back sets as part of five games in seven nights stint. Their final game before the break was at home against the Chicago Blackhawks which, of course, was the second game of a back-to-back. They had just finished playing 10 games in 18 days including three of their back-to-back sets and looked every bit the part of a team playing a ton of hockey in a short amount of time. They got steamrolled 5-1 by Chicago. Despite those scheduling difficulties, the Sabres got themselves on a little roll by going 6-3-1 before their bye week and it looked as if the playoffs were still a possibility.

Coming out of their bye week the Sabres were looking at a golden opportunity to grab four important points as they would play two bottom-dwelling teams--the Colorado Avalanche and the Arizona Coyotes--albeit with both games on the road.

Any thoughts of a possible playoff push vanished when the Sabres dropped both games. In Colorado, a defense slowly returning to health ultimately showed glaring weaknesses as Buffalo lost 5-3. Even with the loss the Sabers headed to Arizona still within seven points of the third place Toronto Maple Leafs in the division and five points behind the Boston Bruins who were in the second wild card spot.

In Arizona (to no Sabres' fan's surprise) Buffalo had a 2-0 lead in the third period before allowing three unanswered goals  and ended up on the wrong side of a 3-2 score. With back-to-back losses to the two worst teams in the league, the season was done for all intents and purposes and with the trade deadline but a few days away the "For Sale" sign went up .

The trend for head coach Dan Bylsma and his Sabres team was folding when it mattered most. It became predominant in December and really came to light as they dropped both games of a home-and-home with the Boston Bruins when they could've really closed the gap against the Atlantic Division's third place team. But even before that they lost ground to Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida and Toronto either in the division or conference as they went a combined 1-4-2 versus those teams from mid-December through February and their record against those four teams plus Boston in that span was 2-8-2.

The Sabres finished a very busy month of February with an overtime loss at home against the Nashville Predators. They compiled a 6-6-2 record for the month which wasn't close to what they needed to be in the playoff chase. They were 0-3-1 headed into the NHL's Trade Deadline and the playoffs were a miracle away with the only question now being, "Who's on their way out?"

For their January team stats, click here, individual stats click here.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A look back at the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres season--January

Published by, 8-13-2017

Despite a dismal end to a once promising month of December for the Buffalo Sabres, there was still half a season of hockey to be played and although they were far behind a playoff spot in the division, the fat lady wouldn't be singing for quite some time. Especially in a division with as much parity as the Atlantic.

The Sabres began January, 2017 against the NY Rangers and once again came out on top which was the beginning of a four-game point streak (3-0-1.) They proceeded to drop three of the next four before going on three-game winning streak in dramatic fashion. In three consecutive games they came from behind to beat Detroit, Montreal and Nashville in overtime which included a heavyweight goaltending duel between Buffalo's Robin Lehner and Montreal's Carey Price with Lehner making a phenomenal save in OT and much maligned defenseman Zach Bogosian clanking in a blistering slapshot off the post past Price on the next sequence.

(thx, Sportsnet)

The Sabres seemed to be on a serious role and it looked as if they were on their way to a fourth consecutive overtime game in Dallas until some weird things began to happen.

What wasn't weird at the time for the Sabres was going into prevent defense with at two-goal lead even if it was early as the first period like in Dallas against the Stars. Or maybe for those of us in Sabreland it was a strange way of approaching the game while being two goals up, especially knowing the firepower Buffalo had when healthy. But for coach Dan Bylsma locking it down seemed to be his preferred method of coaching in those situations. It's what the Sabres did at home against Boston at the end of December and against Toronto earlier in the month of January.

They did the same thing against the Stars as well and just like the other two games, they proceeded to allow four unanswered goals. The Sabres ended up losing to the Bruins and Leafs and eventually lost to the Stars 4-3, but not before controversy kept them from tying the score. With the Stars up 4-3 Buffalo amped things up in the third period eventually outshooting Dallas by a 16-2 margin. Unfortunately they were unable to get the game-tying goal. Or did they?

Twice in the third period the Sabres thought they tied the game. On this one, with 8:53 left in the third period, Sam Reinhart wheeled in the slot and sent a backhand to the net that Kari Lehtonen stopped, although it looked as if he did so from behind the goal line. Jack Eichel was behind the net pointing to the puck over the goal line but an out of position, and slow to the scene, referee in Justin St. Pierre did not see it, and it was called a no-goal.

Here's the video thanks to Sportsnet:

“The puck was in the net,” Eichel said to the gathered media post game. “I mean, usually the puck goes in the net it’s a goal. It’s kind of weird how that didn’t happen.

“The ref sees it in the net. I saw it go in the net as well. Then on the last one, that one might even be more conclusive. The puck clearly crosses the red. That’s two goals along with a lot of other things that happened during the game. It’s tough to put the outcome of something into the referees’ hands, but once again I think we get the short end of the stick there."

When all was said and done, despite Lehtonen kicking a puck that was six inches over the goal line from out of the net, the evidence was inconclusive and the score remained 4-3 which is how the game ended and how they went into the All-Star break.

After a four day All-Star hiatus, where Kyle Okposo skated in the All-Star Game, the Sabres got back on the ice presumably refreshed and on a high from the four games prior to the break, despite the no-goal calls in Dallas. They proceeded to get mauled by the Montreal Canadiens 5-2.

It was an ugly finish to the month for Buffalo as the Canadiens made them look silly, yet the team still managed to finish with it's best month of the season as they went 7-5-1. Evander Kane was the star of the month as he lead the team with six goals and 11 points while upping is even-strength goal total to 13 on the year. Kane played on a line with center Zemgus Girgensons and right wing Brian Gionta and the trio contributed 14 goals and 13 assists with a cumulative plus-9 rating.

At the end of January the Sabres were nine points out of third place in the division and seven points out of the second wild card spot in the east.

For their January team stats, click here, and for individual stats click here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A look back at the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres season--December

Published by, 8-12-2017

December was a tale of two halves although one thing continued to dog the Sabres--injuries. Unlike the prior two months where injuries were taking a toll on the forwards, they were dropping like flies on defense. Josh Gorges took a shot that broke his foot and kept him out weeks while Taylor Fedun, who joined Justin Falk as call-ups to replace the injured Dmitry Kulikov and Zach Bogosian, went down with a shoulder injury.

Buffalo tapped junior defenseman Brendan Guhle, playing in his first NHL game, to replace Gorges while Fedun was replaced by another Rochester call-up in Eric Burgdoerfer, who also played in his first ever NHL game. It was strangely reminiscent of the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals where a rash of injuries devastated the defense corps. Burgdoerfer's first game was against the Washington Capitals and this was the defense:

Rasmus Ristolainen-Jake McCabe
Cody Franson-Brendan Guhle
Justin Falk-Eric Burgdoerfer

They lost 3-2 in overtime at Washington.

That same group would be together again as the Sabres hosted Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. Buffalo would defeat the Oilers for the second time with Evander Kane's two goals powering the Sabres and Ristolainen scoring "the loudest goal in Buffalo this year," according to legendary announcer Rick Jeanneret, in overtime.

Despite the injury problems to start the month, the Sabres still got off to a good start as they played six of seven inside the friendly confines of the KeyBank Center and went 4-2-1 during that stretch. They started out December by beating a high-powered NY Rangers team (with their league-leading 3.67 g/gm.) by a score of 4-3. Despite a loss in the next game against Boston for the second time this season, the Sabres would get points in seven of the first nine games of December (4-2-3.) It was a stretch that pulled them to within five points of the third place in the division.

Amongst the wins for the Sabres was a high-flying game at home against the Los Angeles Kings. Buffalo was looking to get back into the win column after another loss vs. Washington and they found themselves down 2-0 at the 7:34 mark of the second period. However, the Sabres would find their legs in a big way as they rocked the Kings for four unanswered goals in 6:15 span of the second period and finished with a 6-3 win. It was another exciting game for the fans to watch and yet another game where Eichel (2g, 1a) and O'Reilly (1g) ignited the team.

Yet, despite the success vs. Ottawa the previous month and vs. LA, the team couldn't find it's soul and the bottom began to fall out. After the Kings game they dropped two in the shootout, two in regulation then beat Detroit to stop the bleeding. Yet however dismal this last stretch was, redemption was there as they'd be playing the Bruins in a home-and-home to finish out the 2016 portion of the schedule and were still only six points behind them of the third spot in the division. “They’re within earshot,” Bylsma said at the time. “You have a chance of sweeping these two games and gaining four points on them, putting yourself right near them.”

But, it was the Bruins that did all the sweeping.

The Sabres tried to sit on an early 2-0 lead in the first game and got beat 4-2 at home then didn't show up in Boston as the Bruins beat them 3-1. From a possible two points behind Boston to 10 points back. Eichel had his disgust on display after the second game. "After a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins in TD Garden that wasn't nearly as close as the score might say, a red-faced Eichel went berserk," wrote Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News from Boston. "He fired some pieces of equipment into his duffel bag, pounded others on his locker seat and drove the bag hard into the rubberized floor at one point.

"There were also some choice four-letter words spliced into the outburst of Eichel, who stormed out of the room without speaking to reporters."

Perhaps subconsciously he knew the inevitable, that after blowing this golden opportunity they'd probably miss the playoffs again.

To keep with the injury theme that haunted the Sabres for the first three months of the season, O'Reilly underwent an emergency appendectomy on Christmas Eve and was out until January and third-line center Johan Larsson was lost for the year after crashing into the boards in Boston.

In all the Sabres finished the month with the same 5-6-3 record they had in November.

For their December team stats, click here, individual stats click here.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A look back at the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres season--November

Published by, 8-11-2017

Buffalo started November well enough with a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild for their third win in a row but the injuries continued to mount as Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian went down with a knee injury in a 2-1 home loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. A 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators would give the Sabres wins in four of their last five games  pushing their overall record to 5-4-2 and into a spot just two points out of third place in the division.

Then it hit.

The Sabres would go on to lose to the Boston Bruins which began a six-game winless streak (0-4-2.) By mid-November they dropped to the bottom of the conference and had an injured list that now included Dmitry Kulikov, who was placed on IR to help his back heal, and Ryan O'Reilly. Entering a November 19 game against Pittsburgh the Sabres were without their top two centers in Jack Eichel and O'Reilly, two of their top four defensemen (Bogosian and Kulikov) and were also missing top-nine forward Tyler Ennis.

The lineup for that game looked like this:

Evander Kane-Johan Larsson-Kyle Okposo
Marcus Foligno-Sam Reinhart-Brian Gionta
Zemgus Girgensons-Cal O'Reilly-Matt Moulson
William Carrier-Derek Grant-Cole Schneider

Josh Gorges-Rasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabe-Cody Franson
Justin Falk-Taylor Fedun

Anders Nilsson got the start against the Pens and backstopped the Sabres, who were featuring five AHL recalls, to an odds-defying 2-1 shootout victory that included 46 saves in regulation/overtime while stopping Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in the shootout. They went on to go 1-1-1 in their next three games and had a 4-6-3 record before the return of Eichel on November 29.

The Sabres won with defense as it was a brutal month for the Sabres in the goal-scoring department. Prior to Eichel's return they scored two or less goals in 13 of the 14 games played while averaging 1.63 goals/game. It was dismal hockey to watch and how they managed to win five games during that stretch was a minor miracle.

Despite all that transpired in November, Buffalo would finish the month on a strong note as Eichel returned and helped lead the team to an exciting, fun-filled 5-4 win at Ottawa. He had a goal and added an assist in his first game of the season and O'Reilly contributed two goals and an assist in his third game back from a stint on IR. Yet, however fun this was for the players and fans, it was a game that might represent the basis for a disconnect between coach and players, one that seemed to plague them for the rest of the season.

Sabres coach Dan Bylsma acknowledged the obvious saying that the return of Eichel brought "a different level of execution" and "a different level of speed" to his team. Bylsma watched as they flew up and down the ice drawing five minor penalties and scoring three powerplay goals on the night. Yet, despite the positives which included abundant fan excitement and his team scoring five goals (while admittedly giving up four,) Bylsma wasn't really thrilled with the overall play of his team. "It was a little bit of a haphazard game and those aren't easy on the heart," he said postgame. "It's not the way we want to play the game."

Buffalo finished 5-6-3 in the month of November with their scoring for the season at a paltry 1.95 g/gm, which was just barely above their 1.87 g/gm during the 2015-16 tank season.  Yet, as they looked ahead towards December with Eichel back in the lineup and the team seemingly on the mend, at least up front, Sabres fans had a lot to look forward to

For their November team stats, click here, and for individual stats click here.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A look back at the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres season--October

Published by, 8-10-2017

The Sabres had a very difficult 2016-17 season which ultimately lead to the firing of their general manager and head coach. The reasons for Buffalo's difficulties last season are multiple with various factions staking their claim as to why the Sabres finished with less points than the prior season. Was it the personnel? Injuries? Defense?

Here's a look back at the season that was 2016-17 for the Buffalo Sabres.


The Sabres had some injury problems heading into the 2016-17 season. It began with lesser known one as forward Ryan O'Reilly developed back spasms. O'Reilly played for gold medal winning Team Canada in the tournament and during his first preseason game for Buffalo was pulled for "precautionary reasons." Then defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who was acquired earlier in the summer, was checked into an open bench door and smashed his tailbone. It was an injury that would bother him throughout the season.

The injuries continued with big one hitting Jack Eichel on the eve of Buffalo's season opener. On the final day of practice before the Sabres were to face Montreal, Eichel got tangled up with Zemgus Girgensons at practice and suffered a high ankle sprain. Eichel's agony reverberated throughout Sabreland as he would be lost for the first 21 games of the season and any hopes of jumping out of the gate quickly towards possible playoff contention vanished in the screaming echoes of KeyBank Center.

If that wasn't enough, the hits just kept coming on the injury parade as winger Evander Kane went down in the opener vs. the Canadiens. Kane was charging hard into the Montreal zone with only 13 seconds left in the second period when he was checked and lost his balance before crashing hard into the boards and cracking four ribs in the process.

(Thx, All Things Buffalo Sabres)

And for good measure, starting goalie Robin Lehner was sidelined because of an illness. The Sabres had just completed their Western Canada swing and Lehner would miss the next three games.

All-in-all Buffalo didn't fare too badly as they went 3-3-2 for the month and had they not blown a three-goal third period lead at Philadelphia it would have been a notch better. They lost the opener to Montreal and started out by going 1-3-2 through the first six games. However they would turn it around with two very convincing wins at home vs. Florida and at Winnipeg by a combined 6-1 score.

Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson lead the team with four goals apiece with Moulson's all coming on the powerplay and despite the injuries the team got off to a better start then they did the previous season when Buffalo was 2-6 in their first eight games.

For their October team stats, click here and for individual stats click here.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

If Reinhart was moved to center--a look at the potential top-nine for Buffalo

Published by, 8-6-2017

The idea has been bantered about here for a little while--moving Sam Reinhart back to his natural center position. That move would inevitably have the former second-overall pick using his hockey IQ and set-up skills in a third line role. Although Kris Baker of and thinks it's a better idea not to label lines anymore. In a tweet touting the Reinhart move to center, Baker hearkens back to the 2005-07 Buffalo Sabres when he mentions the line of Daniel Briere centering Jochen Hecht and Ales Kotalik.
"Aiming for balance," wrote Baker in his tweet. "Matchups. Opponent picks their poison. I look at HBK as a "third" unit. No more #ing lines. Top line is who's going best."
It's certainly a "modern" way to look at the four-lines concept, but back in that day the Sabres did have themselves a helluva third line in that center Derek Roy was third on the depth chart behind Briere and Chris Drury. On one wing was Thomas Vanek and on the other was Maxim Afinogenov.
Regardless of how you want to categorize the lineup, one thing the Sabres do have today is strength down the middle much like they did when they went to consecutive Eastern Conference Finals those two seasons. With Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly occupying the top two center roles, perhaps Reinhart could be a Roy-like player to play the third center position.
What Phil Housley does on the wings with Reinhart moving out of the top-six is another matter.
Last year the duo of O'Reilly and right wing Kyle Okposo was formidable regardless of who their left-winger was and that included the likes of Matt Moulson for a good stretch early in the season. Players from William Carrier and Cole Schneider to Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno, as well as Evander Kane, also made appearances on that line and despite the lineup turmoil and the injuries O'Reilly finished with 55 points (20+35) in 71 games while Okposo had 45 (19+26) in 65 games.
When Drury and JP Dumont were kickin' it in a two-way role for Buffalo the other winger for much of the time was Mike Grier who wasn't exactly a point producer (383 points in 1060 career NHL games,) but they clicked, which was huge for the forward group. Which may lead one to believe that free agent signee Benoit Pouliot may end up on the left side of O'Reilly/Okposo. At 30 and with steadily declining numbers over the past few seasons, Pouliot isn't exactly a top-line or even a full time top-six player, but in a world of numberless lines, that trio may have an impact if the chemistry is there.
Former Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma was big on forward pairings which is a good concept when you're constantly juggling players and lines. It worked well with the O'Reilly/Okposo pairing and it also worked very well with Reinhart on Eichel's wing. But moving Reinhart back to center breaks up that forward pairing. In doing so a Kane/Eichel pairing would move to the fore and insomuch wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Sure both like the puck on their sticks, but Kane's play has been moving in the direction where his Alpha-male overtones have receded. Perhaps we may be jumping the gun a bit on Kane maturing that far but those two, with their speed and talent and ability to create space, are a nightmare for defenses and they've proven it most of the time when they were on the same line the past two seasons.
Filling the right side of the Eichel/Kane duo is somewhat problematic with Reinhart moving away from that spot. Thirty-four year old Jason Pominville was brought back but a full time top-six spot, especially on the wing with those two might make him age even faster.
This might be a golden opportunity for a young player like Nick Baptiste to take the reigns of his NHL career. He has speed and size the ability to hound the puck and can either snipe or set up. He played 41 games for a loaded Erie Otters team featuring Connor McDavid scoring 26 goals and adding 27 assists in 41 games. His pro career has shown steady improvement as he's gained more experience and confidence.
Filling that RW slot with Baptiste, or even young Justin Bailey, would allow for a very intriguing pairing as a young and developing Reinhart could have Pominville as his mentor as the two have more similarities than differences in their styles of play. Filling that left wing role on that line may be somewhat of a problem.
Moulson might get the first crack at a situation like this as the team could really use more output from a player making $5 million. Or Zemgus Girgensons (if/when he re-signs) may find himself a home with a well-defined position that seemed to be lacking under Bylsma. Or there might be an opportunity for a younger player to take on that role. Maybe Bailey or a player like Evan Rodrigues.
Rodrigues finally began to find his stride last year with the Rochester Americans and although the numbers aren't eye-popping, his progress has been steady and getting stronger. He's got a very high hockey IQ, finds open space and can score. Lest we forget, he did play on Eichel's wing in college and although his development has been somewhat elongated at the pro-level, he has all the tools to hang with quality NHL players.
It's early August with hockey two months away it's way to early to tell what the Sabres roster will look like. With the lineup as laid out above with two youngins on board, the final five forward spots right now would consist of Moulson, Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Jacob Josefson and Nicolas Deslauriers.
However, this could be the Sabres top-nine should they decide to move Reinhart to center:
Is it a "pick your poison" lineup?
Not yet. But we've seen a helluva lot worse over the past few years or so.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

No 2018 playoffs for Sabres? It's a pretty safe bet right now.

Published by, 8-4-2017 has it's annual series featuring one team every day. The now 31-in-31 series lead off with the Buffalo Sabres this year. Buffalo beat writer Joe Yerdon did some fine work laying out where the Sabres are at this juncture and asking three questions for the team moving forward as well as delving into who their top prospects are. In a short video, senior writer Dan Rosen answers the question of whether Buffalo fans, "who are aching and begging" for hockey in April, get their wish. Rosen's answer is, "No. No. I just don't see it from Buffalo this season."

First off, let me start by saying that anything can happen in a season when a hockey team has talent and good goaltending. The Buffalo Sabres have some very talented players in Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Evander Kane and they have a starting goalie in Robin Lehner as well as a very capable back up in Chad Johnson.

The Sabres missed the playoffs badly last season while finishing with three points less than they did the previous year but why they missed has been up for debate for many months. Some have claimed it was the coach while others claimed a lack of playoff caliber talent, especially on defense. I'm of the opinion that coaching was the main culprit in their demise followed very closely by injuries, as the talent was there to at the very least, win more games than they did. Was there enough talent to make them a playoff team? Probably not, but the talent they had seemed smothered by a rigid adherence to a system that took all creativity, flow and reaction out of the game.

Eichel, O'Reilly, Okposo and Kane missed a combined 60 games last year due to injury. In 268 games played they combined for 91 goals and 109 assists or roughly .34 goals/game and .75 points/game. Three of them were 20-goals scorers--Kane (28,) Eichel (24) and O'Reilly (20)--while Okposo hit the 19-goal mark. Buffalo also had four other double-digit goal scorers. There are two problems that people often times like to point out with their scoring--there were no defensemen in that group of double-digit goal scorers and a good chunk of their scoring came from the league's best power play.

Fair enough. New GM Jason Botterill brought in a new coach in Phil Housley who was hired to correct those deficiencies and we'll see what he can do five-on-five with basically it's the same group up front that the Sabres had last season.

The defense is always the main talking point with Buffalo and rightfully so as the Sabres' 34.3 shots against/game were the most given up by any team in the league last season. Yet their 2.82 GAA was tied for 19th in the league and despite all that rubber hitting Buffalo goalies, their .918 Sv% was tied for fourth. Botterill needed to bolster the Sabres blueline and he did so by acquiring Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella which should help defensively and, hopefully, on offense as well.

With any decent amount of good coaching, the talent is there to surpass last season's point total and if things go really well, they could climb into playoff bubble territory. However, the Sabres main obstacle this year my not lie so much in getting their act together as it does with the strength of the Eastern Conference, especially in the Metropolitan Division, where Buffalo finished with a 6-13-5 record last year.

The playoff structure goes like this:  the top three teams from each division make the playoffs and the next two teams, regardless of division, are in as wild cards. Last season the NY Rangers grabbed the first wild card spot with 102 points while the Toronto Maple Leafs nudged out both the NY Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning by one point to snag the second wild card spot. In 2015-16 the Metropolitan Division sent five teams to the playoffs and in the four years under this playoff structure they've sent at least one wild card team to the playoffs every year.

At the top of the Metropolitan Division is the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins who haven't missed the playoffs in 11 years. The NY Ranges have missed the playoffs once in the last 12 seasons while the Washington Capitals have missed the playoffs once in the last 10. Columbus seems to have found their groove, the Islanders made the playoffs the two years prior to just missing out last season and one can never count out Philadelphia as the Flyers always seem to be hovering around that area.

The Atlantic Division also poses a problem for Buffalo, but to a lesser degree as the Sabres went 13-13-4 against divisional foes. There seems to be a bit more flux right now although one could counter that by saying there are couple of up and coming teams, like Toronto, that can change the course of the standings.

In looking at the division, Tampa Bay had an off year last year and might be looked at as the best team in the division. Barring injuries, a problem the Lightning had last season, they look to be a shoe-in. Up in Quebec, as Carey Price goes, so does the Montreal Canadiens. They've missed the playoffs once in the last five seasons, the one where Price missed all but 12 games in 2015-16.

Those two look to be locks for the playoffs once again and it leaves just one opening in the Atlantic Division.

Last year the Ottawa Senators finished second in the division while the Boston Bruins finished in third. The Sens made it to the conference final last year but also have altered missing the playoffs twice in the last four seasons while the Bruins missed the playoffs two consecutive seasons before returning last year.

Toronto is an up and coming team that has the talent to be an annual playoff contender down the road. The Leafs squeaked into the playoffs last season with a very young group who had unusually good luck on the injury front but they could very easily be back in the thick of things with a year of experience under their belts. It was the only time the Leafs made the playoffs in a full regular season since the 2004-05 lockout.

Down in Florida it's a little more scatter-brained as the Panthers made the playoffs only twice since the turn of the century but have seemingly been on the upswing lately while the Detroit Red Wings missed the 2017 playoffs for the first time since the 1990-91 season and look to be retooling.

Could the Buffalo Sabres pull off a 17-point surprise in the standings and make the playoffs? Probably not. However, they should be in for a marked improvement with their on-ice product. The Sabres looked terrible for long stretches last season due to a number of factors mostly dictated by injuries to key players and a disconnect between coach and players.

As stated at the top, the Sabres have talent and they have solid goaltending which are two factors that increase their chances of closing in on a playoff spot, but they may not have enough at this time. However, with the way the Atlantic as laid out, I wouldn't completely count them out.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Casey Mittelstadt kickin' it at WJ Summer Showcase plus, Eichel 8/9?

Published by, 8-3-2017

There was much ado about the Buffalo Sabres taking center Casey Mittelstadt with the eighth-overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. The Sabres already have Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly anchoring the top six and center Sam Reinhart has been playing No. 2 RW while Johan Larsson had been centering the third line. In Larsson's absence after his injury last season, Zemgus Girgensons took his spot and forward Evan Rodrigues also played there after the team moved him from the wing.

In other words, the center position is stacked, so why pick another center, especially when Buffalo desperately needed to add to the d-prospect pool and a player like Swedish defenseman Timothy Liljegren was available?

It was the second year in a row that the Sabres picked eighth-overall and the second year in a row the team opted for a forward over a defenseman. At the 2016 NHL Draft held in Buffalo, NY, the hometown Sabres and then GM Tim Murray selected winger Alexander Nylander in the first round. Granted, Nylander happened play a position of need in the system but many, myself included, felt that the Sabres may have been better served selecting defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who went to the Montreal Canadians with the next pick.

Simply put, whether you're Murray in 2016 or new Sabres GM Jason Botterill this past June, best player available is the mantra. And my oh my, it seems as if Botterill did pretty well.

Sure, it's only summer, but Mittelstadt is really garnering attention. Back in early July he had himself a grand Sabres Development Camp and topped it off by leading his Team White to the annual French Connection 3-on-3 Championship and dazzled in the process. That was all well and good, but that was 3-on-3 against a decent pool of prospects.

However, Mittelstadt is continuing to turn heads, this time at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan. the WJSS is an audition for the upcoming World Junior Championships which will be held in Buffalo this year. Players from four countries are playing a round-robin format with the USA and Canada beginning the tournament with split squads. The other two countries are Finland and Sweden.

The Sabres are represented by Mittelstadt and three other WJC hopefuls--forward Cliff Pu (CAN,) forward Marcus Davidsson (SWE) and goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (FIN.) All have performed fairly well with Mittelstadt outperforming all of them. In fact, the 6'0" 199 lb. center from Eden Prarie, Minnesota is sizzling at the summer event with three goals and five assists in four games.

Team USA coach Bob Motzko said (via Amy Moritz of the Buffalo News,) that Mittelstadt has been "outstanding."

"He's a year older, a year wiser," continued Motzko. "He really stepped forward as a go-to guy. Ben Smith on our staff likes to say, 'Raise your hand. Tell us you're here.' And every day he's raised his hand and is standing tall.

"He has outstanding skill and play-making. Can change a game at any moment and is showing leadership, too. I don't know if we put him in a lot of those situations a year ago because of the older group that was here. Well they're gone and it's his turn and he's sure stepping forward right now and showing that he's got the ability to be a very special player."

Botterill told the gathered media after the first round of the draft that they were "ecstatic to get [Mittlestadt.] We view him as [a player] with great skill-level and [he can] play with pace and we think he can fit well without our group of dynamic players such as Eichel, O'Reilly and Reinhart over the next couple of years."

Mittelstadt is committed to the University of Minnesota next season and where he goes from there will be determined by the strides he makes both on the ice and in the weight room. He's proved that he can play against, and even dominate at times, his peers from high school to the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers prior to the draft and he's doing it again this summer.

It's something that should have those in Sabreland pretty excited.


According to an Associated Press report yesterday, franchise center Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres are discussing a maximum-term contract of eight years. Botterill had said that getting Eichel signed long-term would be one of his priorities this summer and although it's not earth shattering that and eight-year deal is in the works, the great part about it is that there is news on their negotiations.

Earlier last month at the close of development camp Botterill told the gathered media, "Our conversations with Jack and the group have gone extremely well. We'll continue this throughout the summer and see if we can find a common ground because, from our standpoint, we certainly want to get something done. And everything we've heard from Jack and his agents is they want to get something done too."
In their piece yesterday, the AP went right to Sabres owner Terry Pegula who was watching his other professional team, the Buffalo Bills, at training camp in Rochester. Said Pegula, "I can tell you this, we want Jack and Jack wants to be in Buffalo."

In an April article in the Buffalo News Eichel was quoted as saying, "I want to be here for a long time. That's the way I look at it. I don't want to go anywhere else. I don't want anybody to think that I want to be somewhere else. ... I want to be a Sabre and I want to be a Sabre for a long time and I want to be a part of Buffalo when we win. I know it's an organization that is capable of doing that, and I want to be a part of it and I want to be a centerpiece of it."

What we have now is a team that wants the player, player who wants to play for the team and both sides looking at an 8-year contract extension. The only thing left is the price.

The Edmonton Oilers and Connor McDavid reached a record-breaking cap-hit of $12.5 million on an 8-year deal back in early July with the interesting part being McDavid was said to have left some money on the table as initial reports had him around a $13.5 million AVV. That contract for McDavid, who was drafted first overall in 2015, one spot ahead of Eichel, pretty much raised the bar.

Eichel won't be getting close to $12.5 million but for those of us who thought his AVV would be in the $8-9 million range, the McDavid singing blew those thought up and now we're hoping it's less than $10 million.

Are we looking at an Evgeni Malkin AVV of  $9.5 million? Or would they be looking to slide in a cap hit that's between Alexander Ovechkin's $9.538M and Anze Kopitar's even $10 million. Or, are they looking to go all-in and place Eichel on the same salary level of three-time Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews who both have a $10.5 million AVV?

This Sabres fan hopes that it goes no higher than a $9.5 million cap-hit with $9 million being optimal.

Make it happen, boys.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

And then there was one--Zemgus Girgensons

Published by, 8-2-2017

The Sabres announced yesterday that defenseman Nathan Beaulieu was re-signed for two years at a $2.4 million AAV. Beaulieu was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens on June 17, 2017 for a third round draft pick. With the signing, all three players that filed for arbitration were re-signed by the club before their scheduled hearings. Forward Johan Larsson re-upped for a 2yr./$2.92 million deal while goalie Robin Lehner was re-signed at 1yr./$4 million.

In early June, new GM Jason Botterill had nine restricted free agents to consider. Forward Marcus Foligno was traded to Minnesota in the Marco Scandella deal while Jean Dupuy, Justin Kea and Brady Austin were not offered contracts. Goalie Linus Ullmark signed a 2 yr./$1.5 million deal on June 13 and Evan Rodrigues re-signed on July 27. With Larsson and Lehner re-signing, the Sabres have only one RFA left, forward Zemgus Girgensons.

Girgensons presents a curious case for Botterill and the Sabres. The former first rounder (2012, 14th-overall) is coming off of two poor seasons where he was relegated to bottom-six duty and more often than not found himself in a checking/defensive role. The Riga, Latvia native handled it very well, but coming off of a 15-goal season in 2014-15, more was expected of him than 14 goals and 20 assists in 146 games over the course of the following two seasons.

The Sabres as a whole fell well short of expectations last season which lead to the firings of GM Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma, who was only in his second season. Much was made of the turmoil in Buffalo last season as there were disconnects between coach and players. Injuries certainly played a part in the Sabres 26th place finish but throughout much of the season, Bylsma and his players seemed to be on different pages. It was something that may not have been there in 2015-16 when they were making great strides while coming out of the cellar, but in one particular case, there certainly were signs that all was not well.

Back on October 16, 2015 Girgensons and Bylsma engaged in a conversation that went well above the norms of a player and coach talking as "it was clear from Girgensons’ frank facial expressions," wrote Jon Vogl of the Buffalo News, "they weren’t discussing the weather." The two stood at the red line after practice for 10 minutes or, "the longest on-ice conversation for the Sabres in at least a decade," according to Vogl.

From thence the conversation involving Girgensons revolved around his seeming inability to grasp the X's and O's of Bylsma's system. Or maybe it was a harbinger of things to come with the team as they were welded to a system that didn't seem to be working.

Regardless of what transpired, Bylsma is gone and Girgensons, who is the longest tenured Sabres' player, has a new coach, his fourth in Buffalo since his debut on October 2, 2013. Phil Housley takes the reigns as the Sabres new bench boss and how this affects Girgensons, or whether or not he'll be a fit for what Housley wants to do remains to be seen.

What we do know is that Girgensons does offer a power game with some scoring ability and had played well in a defensive role under Bylsma. We also know that he made $1.15 million last season and probably won't be singing for much more considering he only had 16 points (7+9) in 75 games last season.

Another chapter in the curious case of Zemgus Girgensons is about to unfold. Whether it's in Buffalo or somewhere else is yet to be determined as he's the last free agent left for Botterill.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Mittelstadt leads prospect pool that's anything but empty

Published by, 7-31-2017

Buffalo Sabres top prospect Casey Mittelstadt had an impressive development camp earlier this month culminating with his Team White winning the French Connection 3-on-3 tournament. Buffalo's 2017 first-round selection (8th-overall) provided a little razzle-dazzle and displayed some snipe as he stole the show, according to Jourdan LaBarber of, at the tournament.

Mittelstadt is continuing to role at the 2017 World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan. The 6' 0" 199 lb. Edina, Minnesota native is on USA White for that tournament and started out strong by notching a goal and adding an assist against Team Finland and Sabres 2017 second-round draft pick, goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Mittlestadt's goal came with 7:52 left in the third period as he jumped on a turnover at the Finn blueline, went in all alone on Luukkonen and calmly roofed a back-hander to put the Americans up 4-2.

It's not surprising that Kris Baker of has the 18 yr. old Mittelstadt on top of his 2017 Summer prospect rankings. Baker had a tough time selecting between Mittelstadt and 2016 first round pick Alexander Nylander, who was also taken eighth overall. "You can argue that the hands, vision, sense and overall offensive upside of Mittelstadt and Nylander are comparable," wrote Baker. "Both are superior stickhandlers and playmakers that bring the ability to string together electrifying shifts in the offensive zone.

"In the end," concluded Baker, "Mittlestadt's battle skills, construction of a complete 200-foot game and competence playing the center position give the stocky Minnesotan the edge in settling the top overall spot."

The good part about Baker having a tough time deciding upon his top prospect is that the Sabres have some top prospects to debate about. While Mittelstadt and Nylander are clearly at the top of the food chain right now the Sabres have prospects in the pool that are filling out the system rather nicely.

When Buffalo went nuclear on their rebuild, which included former GM Tim Murray decimating the Rochester Americans there was a huge void in the system. The Amerks have had many first-year players entering the pro ranks with a support system that was generally turned over twice in the past two years. However, some of those rookies from the 2015-16 season will now be entering their third professional season and if they don't make the big club, Rochester will be better for it.

Two picks from the 2013 NHL Draft--forwards Justin Bailey (52nd) and Nick Baptiste (69th)--have two professional seasons under their belts and have shown strong year-over-year growth despite playing on poor teams. Bailey went from 20 goals in 70 games his first year in Rochester to 23 goals in 52 games last season. Baptiste went from 13 goals in 62 games to 29 goals in 59 games. Both also saw extended looks from the Sabres in 2016-17.

Joining them on the development growth chart is 2015 free agent forward Evan Rodrigues, who just signed a two-year contract extension with Buffalo. Rodrigues rode shotgun on Jack Eichel's wing in college and proved that he's not a product of playing wing with a franchise player. He had the exact same stat-line of 30 points (9+21) the last two seasons but did it in 24 less games last year. He also got an extended stay in Buffalo matching Bailey with 30 appearances for the Sabres.

Goalie Linus Ullmark has had a lot of reps in his first two North American pro seasons. In his first year he was summoned to the Sabres and played in 20 NHL games producing a very respectable stat-line of a 2.60 GAA and .913 Sv%. Ullmark was Rochester's No. 1 goalie last season and he went 26-27-2 with a 2.80 GAA and .909 Sv%. He'll be getting another full year of seasoning with the Amerks in 2017-18 as well.

That would be the first wave of youngins making their way through the ranks. Last year that group was joined by Nylander, Casey Nelson (2016, FA,) Hudson Fasching (2013, 118th, LAK,) and Vaclav Karabacek (2014, 49th,) among others.

This year we'll see defenseman Brendan Guhle as a first year pro. Guhle was selected 51st-overall in the 2015 draft and has had tastes of both Rochester and Buffalo. Back in 2015 it looked as if he was poised to make the club out of camp, but a "welcome to the NHL, boy" hit by Dion Phaneuf ended Guhle's preseason and he was sent back to junior. Last year he was summoned to Buffalo on an emergency basis and played three strong games for the Sabres leaving some angry that he wasn't on the club to begin with.

However, it's all about development, as new GM Jason Botterill will attest to. Guhle finished his junior career with a strong WHL season and will take the next step as a full-time pro with the Amerks even though he could probably hang with the big boys in Buffalo.

Guhle leads the next wave of prospects working their way through the system. Defenseman Devante Stephens (2015, 122nd) will be joining the Amerks blueline after three years in junior. Two college players will also be joining the Amerks--winger C.J. Smith and center Sean Malone. Murray signed Smith signed in March out of UMASS-Lowell after the junior decided to forgo his senior season. Smith had 51 points (23+28) in 41 games for the River Hawks in a tough Hockey-East division. Malone was selected in the sixth round (159th) in 2013 and graduated from Harvard. He signed a pro contract on April 8th and played for the Sabres that night.

You could say that there are no superstars in the system from those first two waves post-rebuild,  and it would be accurate, the Sabres already have their first round picks from 2013-15 playing in the NHL. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (2013, 8th) is on the top-pairing for Buffalo and 2014 second-overall pick Sam Reinhart is a part of the top-six forward group. Eichel, who was selected second-overall in 2015, is on the cusp of being the franchise player he was drafted for.

Despite Eichel jumping right from college to pro and Reinhart skipping the AHL save for three games, the prospect pool still has potential stars in it like Mittelstadt, Nylander and even Guhle. The rest will be allowed to develop at their own pace and become what they will. Having superstars is a great thing but having a prospect pool that can yield stars and quality role players is just as important as Botterill knows from his Pittsburgh Penguins days. And despite some claims that the prospect pool is weak, former GM Murray didn't leave an empty cupboard.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Four Sabres prospects at 2017 World Junior Summer Showcase

Published by, 7-29-2017

The Buffalo Sabres have a solid presence in Plymouth, Michigan as four players will take their first steps at trying to make their 2018 World Junior teams. Casey Mittelstadt (USA,) Cliff Pu (CAN,) Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (FIN) and Marcus Davidsson (SWE) begin play today in the 2017 World Junior Summer Showcase held in Plymouth, Michigan. The event runs through August 5.

Yesterday all teams held practices with a split USA team scrimmaging each other and the tournament will begin today in earnest as USA White takes on Finland at 1 p.m. For a full schedule see below.

The first game has plenty of intrigue for Sabres fans as two 2017 draft picks go head to head to kick things off with Mittelstadt (USA White) taking on Luukkonen (FIN.) Mittelstadt was selected eight-overall after falling to the Sabres while Luukkonen was taken by Buffalo in the second round at No. 54. Both had an extremely good development camp in Buffalo earlier this month as Mittelstadt lead Team White to the French Connection 3-on-3 Championship while Luukkonen showed off an impressive skill-set even stopping a sneaky Mittelstadt from in tight very early in the tournament.

In the second game today Davidsson and Sweden will take on USA Team Blue at 4:10 p.m. Davidsson was also a second rounder (37th) in 2017. Davidsson didn't make the 2017 World Juniors but Kris Baker of said that after spending a year playing professional hockey against men, Davidsson will be "a shoe-in" to make Team Sweden in 2018.

Pu is the elder statesman of the bunch. The 2016 third round pick of Buffalo (69th) is 19 and will be entering his fourth year at London with the OHL's Knights. Baker points out that even though Pu had an outstanding year in London (35 goals and 51 assists in 63 games, the Canadian squad is loaded with talent up-front and he may not be a shoe-in for the Team Canada when the 2018 WJC hits Buffalo in late December. That said, a strong Summer Showcase will go a long way in convincing Hockey Canada that they need to find a place for him.

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin heads a list of 2018 draft eligible players that includes, according to's  "forwards Brady Tkachuk and Oliver Wahlstrom, and defenseman Quinton Hughes for the U.S., Sweden center Isac Lundestrom and Finland forward Jesse Ylonen."

Both the US and Canada will combine their split squads for the final games.

Below is the full schedule of events from

Saturday, July 29Finland Practice8:15-8:45 a.m.
USA Blue Practice (Olympic Rink)9:00-9:30 a.m.
Sweden Practice9:00-9:30 a.m.
USA White vs. Finland1:00 p.m.
USA Blue vs. Sweden4:10 p.m
Sunday, July 30Finland Practice8:15-8:45 a.m.
USA White Practice (Olympic Rink)9:00-9:30 a.m.
Sweden Practice9:00-9:30 a.m.
Canada Practice10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m
USA Blue vs. Finland1:00 p.m.
USA White vs. Sweden4:10 p.m.
Monday, July 31USA Blue Practice9:30-10:30 a.m.
USA White Practice10:45-11:45 a.m.
Canada Practice (Olympic Rink)11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Finland Practice12:00-1:15 p.m.
Sweden Practice1:30-2:45 p.m.
Tuesday, August 1Canada Red Practice9:00-9:30 a.m.
Canada White Practice9:45-10:15 a.m.
Finland Practice (Olympic Rink)12:00-1:30 pm.
Sweden Practice (Olympic Rink)1:45-3:00 p.m.
Canada Red vs. USA White4:08 p.m.
Canada White vs. USA Blue7:18 p.m.
Wednesday, August 2Finland Practice8:15-8:45 a.m.
USA Practice (Olympic Rink)9:00-9:30 a.m.
Sweden Practice9:00-9:30 a.m.
Canada Practice (Olympic Rink)10:00-11:15 a.m.
Canada vs. Finland1:08 p.m.
USA vs. Sweden4:18 p.m.
Thursday, August 3Canada Practice (Olympic Rink)8:00-11:00 a.m.
Finland Practice10:00-11:15 a.m.
Sweden Practice11:30 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.
Canada Practice1:00-3:30 p.m.
Friday, August 4USA Practice9:00-9:30 a.m.
Finland Practice (Olympic Rink)9:00-9:30 a.m.
Canada Practice9:45-11:00 a.m.
Sweden vs. Canada1:08 p.m.
Finland vs. USA 4:18 p.m.
Saturday, August 5Sweden Practice9:00-9:30 a.m.
Finland Practice (Olympic Rink)9:00-9:30 a.m.
USA Practice10:00-10:30 a.m.
Canada Practice10:45-11:45 a.m.
Sweden vs. Finland4:08 p.m.
USA vs. Canada7:18 p.m.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Sabres re-sign forward Evan Rodrigues at two-years, $1.3 million

Published by, 7-27-2017

The Sabres re-signed restricted free agent Evan Rodrigues today to a two-year deal with a $650,000 AAV. The first year of the deal is a two-way contract for the waiver's exempt Rodrigues and will pay him the same $650K salary whether he plays in Rochester or Buffalo, according to CapFriendly. The second year is a one-way deal.

Rodrigues signed with the Sabres as a free agent out of Boston University in 2015 after riding shotgun on Jack Eichel's wing for the Terriers. Rodrigues finished second in the league in scoring (to Eichel) that season with 54 points (18+36) in 35 games for BU while adding three goals and six assists in six post season games. The Terriers reached the NCAA championship game that year but lost to the Providence Friars in the Frozen Four Final.

One could easily think that the Rodrigues signing was a nod by then GM Tim Murray to Eichel as the Sabres were set him second-overall two months later. There were also those weren't sure if Rodrigues could stand alone without Eichel. After a slow start to his first pro campaign, Rodrigues showed the same skills he displayed in college. It took him 17 games to record his first goal for the Amerks and he only had three assists in the process. He tallied eight more goals and 18 more assists the rest of the way as he got a better feel for the way the pro game was played. He also got a taste of the NHL that year recording a goal and an assists in two games for the Sabres.

Rodrigues didn't look out of place in Buffalo for those two games and he took that experience with him back to Rochester for the 2016-17 season. He ended up with the exact same Amerks stat line of nine goals and 21 assists but did so in only 48 games as opposed to 72 the prior season. He also played in 30 games for the Sabres scoring four goals and adding two assists.

Although drafted as a winger, Rodrigues found himself playing center, often times playing both, sometimes within the same game. After one game in Columbus (a 4-3 loss) where he scored the first goal of the game (and the first one on the Blue Jackets Sergei Bobrovsky in 182:50), he was asked by a reporter if it was an easy transition for him. "I've been doing it all year," he replied. "There's no real difficulty in that. You're either taking draws or you're not."

Probably more difficult for him than switching positions was an AHL environment where the structure isn't there an oft times players aren't where they should be. Rodrigues has a strong hockey IQ and he told me later in that same post-game interview about the differences in the two leagues. "The players around here (the NHL) are really smart up here," he said. "I've been able to kind of read off of them and play my game." When asked if it was more structured he said, "Yeah, a little bit. I think that's what I'm kind of taking advantage of, knowing where guys are going to be. And I'm playing with good players too so both of those things together are working in my favor."

With the Rodrigues signing, Sabres GM Jason Botterill has only two more restricted free agents to re-sign--F, Zemgus Girgensons and D, Nathan Beaulieu who has an arbitration case scheduled for August 4.

As for Rodrigues, there are openings in the Sabres forward group and although we're not sure he has the chops yet to run shotgun again on Eichel's wing, he's certainly developed well enough to make a strong push for a spot amongst the top-12 forwards. If he doesn't make it, expectations are high for him to have an impact season in Rochester.