Published by hockeybuzz.com, 5-19-2017
The Buffalo Sabres have 19 free agent contracts on the docket with 10 unrestricted and nine restricted.
Half of the UFA's are in Rochester with four of them--forwards Cole Schneider and Derek Grant plus defensemen Erik Burgdoerfer and Mat Bodie--as possible re-signs. Cal O'Reilly already moved on after being loaned to the Toronto Marlies late last season. The other five UFA's were from the big club--captain Brian Gionta, defensemen Cody Franson, Dmitry Kulikov and Taylor Fedun plus goalie Anders Nilsson--and of those only Gionta and Fedun look to be possible re-signs at this point in time.
Unlike UFA's, restricted free agents have little say in their immediate future with the team holding all the cards. Here's the list of restricted free agents new general manager Jason Botterill and his staff will be looking at:
F, Marcus Foligno
F, Johan Larsson
F, Zemgus Girgensons
F, Evan Rodrigues
LW, Jean Dupuy
C, Justin Kea
D, Brady Austin
G, Robin Lehner
G, Linus Ullmark
Botterill spent this week hunkered down with his scout to compare notes about the upcoming draft. Among the other things he needs to work on is finding a head coach as well as hiring those who will lead his scouting departments. Eventually he'll get to all of these free agents as the Expansion Draft is coming soon and the start of free agency begins shortly thereafter.
Not much has been coming out but our hockeybuzz colleague in Europe, Aivis Kalnins, tweeted that "Botterill also reached out to Girgensons via text but no contract has been discussed yet." Kalnins also tweeted that a Viktor Antipin/Sabres union is still a go, but nothing formal has been announced. "Antipin and Sabres talked recently and nothing has changed, expect him to sign with the Sabres," he tweeted.
Good news for the Sabres on both fronts.
The Sabres and the Florida Panthers are the only NHL teams without head coaches at this juncture and it's almost assured that Nashville Predators assistant coach Phil Housley will occupy one of those positions.
Housley's been getting a lot of press lately for the job he's done with the mobile, offensive-minded Preds defense, and rightfully so. Nashville's d-corps is an aggressive group is constantly on the offensive, which is pretty much how Housley played his entire career. His coaching career got a huge boost when he lead Team USA to the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia and he also survived a coaching change in Nashville when Barry Trotz was replaced by Peter Laviolette.
And not too long ago there was word of a Botterill/Rick Tocchet link to the Sabres head coaching job even before Botterill was officially announced as the Sabres new GM. Which make sense. A new general manager leans towards bringing in people he's familiar with and Tocchet had been in Pittsburgh since June, 2014.
Tocchet's coacing resume' is a bit longer than Housley's in that he cut his teeth behind the bench in 2002 and he also had a 148-game stint as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2008-10. Not much came out of that except that he received props for getting Steven Stamkos' career on track.
Botterill had said that he would be doing a fairly extensive head coaching search but Sun Media's Steve Simmons tweeted out, "Most people on the inside I talk to are expecting either Rick Tocchet or Phil Housley to be the next coach of the Buffalo Sabres."
There are some other names mentioned to be in the mix like Todd Reirden, Kevin Dineen, Bob Boughner and Ralph Kreuger but Housley and Tocchet always seem to be at the fore. And for good reason. Both are said to have a great rapport with young players and both, because of their playing careers and their successes as assistant coaches on winning teams, should gain the type of locker room respect Botterill is looking for.
Speaking of Nashville, Simmons Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and his GM Lou Lamoriello were taking in the Anaheim Ducks/Preds game last night. "Been covering playoffs for more than 30 years. It's rare to ever see an eliminated NHL coach at another playoff game," tweeted Simmons. "Have to believe if Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello are in Nashville it ain't for hanging out on Broadway. There must be defenceman in play."
Both Anaheim and Nashville are loaded on the back end and with the expansion draft coming up, there's a possibility that a quality d-man may be available. It's well known that the Sabres are in need of some help in the top-four and although he wasn't physically at the game, one would bet that Botterill has his eye on that series.
Team USA was shut out 2-0 by Team Finland yesterday at the IIHF World Championships in Cologne, Germany. Buffalo's Jack Eichel did not have the greatest of tournaments with zero goals and five assists in eight games plus he ended the tournament in the penalty box after he was called for a high-stick with 1:52 to play.
International play seems to be hit or miss with Eichel, which is fine as long as he brings it during the NHL season. Here's what Eichel has done on the international stage for Team USA:
2013 U17: 5gp, 3g, 2a
2013 WJC18: 7gp, 1+1
2014 WJC18: 7gp, 5+5
2014 WJC: 5gp, 1+4
2015 WJC: 5gp, 1+3
2015 WC: 10 gp, 2+5
2016 WCOH: 3gp, 1+1
2017 WC: 8gp, 0+5
In all 60 games played, 14 goals, 21 assists.
His NHL totals: 142 games played, 48 goals, 65 assists.
Eichel joined Girgensons (Team Latvia) on the outside looking in while Buffalo still has World Championship interest as the aforementioned, but unsigned as of yet, Antipin is still in it for Team Russia and Team Canada with Ryan O'Reilly have advanced to the semi-finals.