Published by hockeybuzz.com, 5-1-2017
Kontinental Hockey League defenseman Viktor Antipin terminated his contact with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in order to sign with the Buffalo Sabres according to an Russian hockey writer Igor Eronko, who cited sources in his tweet.
It's been a largely anticipated move by Antipin since Elliotte Friedman mentioned the 24 yr. old defenseman and the Sabres back in March. In his "30 Thoughts article, Friedman notes that the Sabres could "win a recruiting battle [for Antipin] with Calgary, Chicago, Columbus and Pittsburgh all poking around."
The move is a good one for Antipin. Buffalo has big holes on defense and we could see as many as three new defensemen in the lineup come opening night next season. Right-handed defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen a 2013 first round pick (eighth-overall) is locked in as the team's top defender right now, but is without a steady partner at this time. Below Ristolainen on the depth chart is 23 yr. old Jake McCabe, who is entering his third full season in Buffalo after being drafted out of Wisconsin in 2012 (44th-overall.)
Questions loom with two veteran defensemen in Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges. Bogosian was a part of the Tyler Myers/Evander Kane deal in February, 2014 and carries a very hefty cap-hit of over $5 million for the next three years while Gorges was acquired from Montreal in 2014 for a second round pick and has a cap-hit of $3.9 million for only one more season. With both players not in long-term, top-pairing plans and both suited to a more modest bottom-half role on defense, numbers would dictate that if one were to leave, it would/should be Bogosian because of the term left on his contract.
That's easier said than done, but much more difficult contracts have been moved in the past by other teams and perhaps the next yet to be named general manager can work a little magic. However, it might be safe to say that one of those contracts will be moved to make room for younger and/or healthier and/or more mobile and/or more offensive and/or more defensively responsible defensemen.
Much is being made about 19 yr. old Brendan Guhle who shined in Canadian Junior and had impressive six-game stints with the Rochester Americans the last two years while also never looking out of place in his three games as an emergency call-up for the Buffalo Sabres in November. Most feel that he will be in the top-six out of camp.
Veteran defenseman Justin Falk was re-signed to a one-year extension this season and will be either trade bait for expansion-draft purposes or will be used as a depth defenseman by Buffalo next season.
The only other question mark is if Taylor Fedun fits into Buffalo's plans. The mobile d-man with powerplay acumen played very well for the Sabres last season and would have stuck with the club all season had he not been waiver exempt. Then again, may also not have liked how he was treated in that regard and may not have been interested in re-signing in Buffalo. However, with the firings of both head coach Dan Bylsma and GM Tim Murray, things may change.
Signing a one-year deal with the Sabres would not hurt Antipin at all. He'd be coming over from Russia with a spot in the top-six and if rumors are true, it may be written into his contract that being sent down to Rochester is not an option. His one season audition will either endear himself to the Sabres for a contract extension or he will have showcased his talents for 30 other NHL teams.
At 5'11 174 lbs. Antipin is a little undersized for the NHL but from what little we've seen he looks to have the spunk and confidence to go into the dirty areas go score goals with some of his highlights seeing him in drift deep into the slot. And he did finish his last KHL season with a plus-10 rating.
How his skill transfers to the NHL-level is yet to determined and, of course, without a GM or coach we're not really sure how it will all fit together, but if Antipin does sign with Buffalo, at least the front office is following through with some of the positives the former GM was working on.