Saturday, June 24, 2017

2017 NHL Mock Draft

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-23-2017


Jeff Crisp, Buffalo's top amateur scout who was thrust into running the draft (along with Kevin Devine) when the Sabres did some house cleaning in April, called the 2017 NHL Entry Draft as "normal." Crisp went on to say that, although the draft is lacking in "star power" at the top, "it's deep and there will be some pretty good players that come out of it in the end."

Perhaps we've been a bit spoiled watching the draft over the past couple of years. Sabres fans were directly involved in the 2015 "McEichel" Draft with the generational/franchise talents of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel right there at the top and last year the one-two punch of Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine ended up wowing in their 2016-17 rookie seasons. So a bit of normalcy might have been expected.

Regardless of the lack of star power, through it's worldwide appeal and top-notch international leagues, the NHL has been able to constantly bring in upper-eschelon talent year-in/year-out through the draft. Although no one can say with certainty that the triple-draft downers of 1999, 2000 and 2001 will never appear again, there's bound to be a clunker here and there but probably never reaching the depths of that '99 draft class (one which made Brian Burke a star) where we had the Sedin twins, a couple of All-Stars in Nick Boynton and Martin Havlat, but nothing else to speak of.

As we barrel towards tonight, I like what Kris Baker said this morning on WGR about the big club not dictating who the scouts should draft. It's not the NFL where the player drafted is expected to at least have a shot to make the team that same year. NHL teams draft 18 yr. olds and in the more or less, two to three years it takes them to develop, a lot can change. That's why were hear the "best player available" mantra at the end of nearly every first round pick below the top tier.

And I'm always leery of a "perfect fit." The 2009 Sabres pick of rugged Zack Kassian, who was selected as the perfect pick to balance the soft but skilled roster then skating for Buffalo. Kassian was great in Edmonton last season, showing off the exact traits the Sabres drafted him for at No. 13. Only eight years later.

The NHL Draft is a crapshoot. It's been said time and time again and this year it'll probably be truer than any time since 2011. There will be some good players picked, there will be some surprises and many will disappoint as well. All a scouting department can do is take their research, watch the board and make their selection.

Which is where I'm at now.


New Jersey Devils--C, Nolan Patrick. The 2006 NHL Draft might still in the head of Devils GM Ray Shero. Sure his new team, the New Jersey Devils, made an envious jump from fifth to first-overall via the lottery but with it comes pressure. And he knows it, telling NJ.com, "Wasn't Michael Jordan drafted No. 3?" Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier are the consensus top-two players in the draft and No. 3, but perhaps he's got his eye on a player whom he thinks might be the Jordan of the draft--defenseman Cale Makar. Dallas has been rumored to want out of the No. 3 overall pick but they're looking to trade down, not up, and there probably isn't a team out there that has the assets to move up to 3rd then take another jump to the first overall. Which may leave Shero in a 1998 NFL-type Ryan Leaf/Peyton Manning draft instead. When Shero was in Pittsburgh the Pens selected Jordan Staal second overall. The third overall pick was Jonathan Toews.

Philadelphia Flyers--C, Nico Hischier. The ghost of Ed Snyder waited a year before invoking his powers from beyond the grave to help catapult Philadelphia from the 13th slot to second-overall. Perhaps Snyder had seen enough after watching his beloved Flyers become the only team in NHL history to go on a 10-game winning streak and eventually miss the playoffs. However, he's got to be snickering while watching a division rival squirm knowing full well that his beloved Flyers will get a preeminent player in Hischier. For some reason I get the feeling Philly fans are riding the airy sway of I'll Be In Your Mirror, by the Velvet Underground and Nico. Snyder might hate on that album, but here's a banana for ya, Ed. It's a small price to pay for this much fun.

Dallas Stars--D, Miro Heiskenen. GM Jim Nill is unaccustomed to drafting this high. After spending 18 years in the Detroit Red Wings organization where they never drafted higher than 19th, and didn't have a first rounder in 11 of those drafts, this upper part of the draft stuff may not compute. Word on the street is that the Nill is entertaining offers for the third-overall pick, which might be a clear indication, Mr. Shero, that Nill feels there's no Michael Jordan sitting there. And Dallas hasn't really had any success with top-10 picks either since their move from Minnesota (see: Todd Harvey, Richard Jackman, Scott Glennie.) Miro, Miro on the wall, what will the Stars do? Side note:  Jason Botterill is a former 20th-overall selection by Dallas (1994.) Connection? Maybe.

Colorado Avalanche--D, Cale Makar. Boy did the 'Lanche get the shaft in this draft. Not only did they have, by far, the worst record in the NHL, most feel they weren't even tanking. And to add salt to the wound, the 5th, 13th, and 8th slotted teams in the draft all jumped over them via the lottery. The Avs have some serious issues moving and although drafting Cale Makar may ending up being the steal of the draft at No. 4, he won't help them dismiss the Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog trade rumors, nor will he help the Avs goaltending or make their defense immediately better. Right now Colorado is bouncing along the lows of the original Colorado Rockies NHL teams which was dubbed "Rocky Hockey." It should be noted that "Rocky Hockey," was not in reference to a Sly Stallone mythological boxing character. It's derived from a punching bag sense. "Rocky Hockey" is back in Denver. Until Makar starts making his presence known.

Vancouver Canucks--C, Casey Mittelstadt. From 1998- 2006 'Nucks GM Jim Benning was in Buffalo as the Sabres director of amateur scouting. First round picks were never his forte' in Buffalo but he seems to have gotten things right in Vancouver. Benning has a team is on the decline and in a period of transition but in the three drafts since he's been there, the Canucks have made real solid first-round picks in RW Jake Virtanen (2014,) RW Brock Boeser (2015,) and D Olli Joulevi. The Sedins won't last forever and they'll need another top-six center which brings Benning back to drafting a forward in Mittelstadt. Vancouver had the second-worst record in the league and dropping to No. 5 hurts, but Mittelstadt may take a bit of the sting out of it.

Las Vegas Golden Knights--C, Gabe Vilardi. The expansion Golden Knights enter their first-ever draft at No. 6, which is a bummer for them. The NHL worked the expansion draft in their favor but could do nothing about the lottery. Knights GM George McPhee's moment came as he played King of the Awards Show while announcing his roster and a pretty good trade-haul he received from teams looking to add more protection to their roster. Some say he didn't do well, other said he did. Too bad the 2017 draft isn't like the last three where there was plenty of talent stretching deep into the second and early third rounds as the Knights have six picks in the first two rounds. That said, Gabe Vilardi is a bit of a coup as he drops to the Knights. The Kingston, Ontario native and Memorial Cup champ with the Windsor Spitfires has an NHL-ready frame, a strong hockey IQ, offensive acumen and the size to handle a rugged Western Conference. Some have compared him to Ryan Getzlaf which would not a be a bad start for the Knights.

Arizona Coyotes--C, Cody Glass. Arizona's core is in their early 20's and with them jettisoning 40 yr. old Shane Doan, this team just got younger. They're still a few years away but if GM John Chayka's plan works out, they could be a force for years to come. They have enough depth in the system where they could just take just about anybody, which could lead them to snapping up fast-rising center, Cody Glass. The Winnipeg native exploded this year with 94 points while making having a huge effect on his linemates. 'Yotes did well plucking defenseman Jakob Chychrun last year at No. 16 and their defense is getting stronger, center is their next area of need and it just happens to coincide with a player who might be the best available at No. 7.

Buffalo Sabres--RW, Owen Tippett. Luckily this is Jason Botterill's first year as GM. Add that to his background with Pittsburgh, which includes three Stanley Cup rings, and you have a situation where he could tab a d-man lauded as the "perfect fit" for Buffalo and their needs in Timothy Liljegren. The Sabres d-pipeline is pretty thin, and Liljegren would be placed right near the top of the prospect rankings, but it might also be hard to pass on right wing Owen Tippett. The 6-1, 200 lb. Peterborough, Ontario native has been labeled a pure goal-scorer with size, speed and a helluva shot. It could easily be argued as a best player available move by Botterill, which is something that former GM Tim Murray probably couldn't get away with if he were still running the team. A Tippett choice would be probably be universally panned in Sabreland even though it could very well end up being the correct pick.

Detroit Red Wings--D, Timothy Liljegren. The Red Wings are still feeling the sting of losing key drivers over the past few years. They also lost their owner Mike Illitch this past year and for the first time since 1989 the Red Wings failed to make the playoffs. The changeover goes further as they'll leave legendary Joe Louis Arena and head to the new Little Ceasars Arena. However, they still have one of the best GM's in the business and they always seem to draft the right player. When all's said and done a few years down the road analysts might be saying the Wings still have it as a boom or bust pick in Timothy Liljegren may be working magic from the back-end for Detroit. Liljegren has all the necessary ingredients to do so but his hiccup this past season was cause for differing levels of concern. Those concerns dropped him from atop the draft to various spots here and below.

Florida Panthers--C, Elias Pettersson. The Cats have a new coach in Bob Boughner and a core that's pretty strong after years of high draft picks. The Las Vegas Golden Knights took Reilly Smith and his bloated $25 million contract off of Florida's hands for a fourth round pick but it cost the Panthers 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchesault. No doubt a big loss for Florida but they gained cap-flexibility in the process. They lost a center in Marchesault but GM Dale Tallon willl have the opportunity to land Pettersson, who worked wonders for Timra IK of Sweden's second-tier Allsvenskan league.

Los Angeles Kings--C, Martin Necas. If the old tandem of GM Dean Lombardi and coach Daryl Sutter was still in place, big center/left wing Michael Rasmussen would most definitely be in play for the Kings. But Hall of Fame defenseman Rob Blake, who was no stranger to skill, is the new GM and he'll be moving the LA Kings into the 21st century. Necas played in his native Czech Republic last season and did well. Kris Baker, in his piece for Sabres.com, calls Necas, "A nimble, slippery forward with explosive acceleration and impressive four-way mobility" as well as "one of the most compelling offensive prospects when he hits open ice. " Sounds like a good way for Blake to kick off his tenure.

Carolina Hurricanes--D, Jusso Valimaki. The 'Canes went relatively unscathed in the expansion draft and are said to be looking to trade from their deep stable of d-prospects for a top-six center. They'll also have an opportunity to keep that talent pool stocked with the choice of Valimaki. The  6'2" 201 lb Nokia, Finland native can skate well and can get the puck up ice, although he still needs work on the finer points of his game.

Las Vegas Golden Knights (From Winnipeg)--D, Callan Foote. GM McPhee snared this pick in the draft in a swap of firsts from a Jets team that didn't want them to pick defenseman Toby Enstrom. Foote might be exactly what the Golden Knights need going forward on the back-end as he's a solid, steady defenseman whom many believe will have a long career in a top-four role. The game may have changed to the point where more mobile and active defenseman are coveted, but the word 'defense' is still in the title and teams need defense and a 6'4" 215 lb. Foote is considered a very safe pick who will could help anchor the expansion Knights defense for a decade.

Tampa Bay Lightning--C, Nick Suzuki. Tampa Bay took a step back as the 2016 Eastern Conference champ just missed the playoffs last year.  They have a great stable of forwards who are quick and skilled albeit on the smaller side and the 5'11" 185 lb. would fit right in. The London, Ontario native is a gifted playmaker with little fear which seems to be what GM Steve Yzerman likes in his forwards. The Lightning just traded away a shifty goal-scorer in Jonathan Drouin (for d-prospect Mikhail Sergachev) and in a couple of years, Suzuki will be in line to add to the deep stable of forwards at Tampa's disposal.

Las Vegas Golden Knights (From NY Islanders)--LW, Kristian Vesalainen. Yet another first rounder for McPhee and his Knights. After grabbing a Getzlaf-type in Vilardi at center, and a possible anchor on the blueline in Foote, the Knights add a power-winger in Vesalainen. At 6'3" 205 lbs. he already has an NHL frame and he was tested early on while playing for Frolunda of the top Swedish league. Vesalainen won the Most Valuable Player Award at the 2017 IIHF U-18's on the power of 13 points (6+7) in seven games. They could go for a goalie here, but it's a little high in the draft and they could get one, or even two, in the second and third rounds. Then again, you never know what McPhee is capable of (see Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat trade.)

Calgary Flames--D, Eric Brannstrom. If it were up to Flames president Brian Burke, Calgary might be inclined to take hulking center Rasmussen here, but GM Brad Treliving once again makes the call and goes for Brannstrom. The Flames haven't picked a defenseman with their first overall pick since 2009, and although that doesn't mean they're required to do so here, Brannstrom has got the skill, edge and brains that make him a great choice for Calgary.

Toronto Maple Leafs--C, Michael Rasmussen. Leafs saw what a plus Dan Boyle was last season and having a bigger and possibly more talented version of him in the system might be very appealing which means Rasmussen finally comes off the board at No. 17. Rasmussen is 6'6" 215 lbs., is tough to get off the puck and nearly impossible to move in front of the net. He's got that Dave Andreychuk-type net-front/powerplay skill, although whether that package is still viable in today's NHL remains to be seen. But for a team like Toronto who has a fast, highly-skilled top-six, Rasmussen may balance that out nicely.

Boston Bruins--LW, Ryan Poehling. The Bruins lost defenseman at the expansion draft, but it wasn't a huge loss as GM Don Sweeney didn't make a deal to protect him. Boston still has a nice pool of d-men in the ranks, but could use some upper-end skill. There might not be the d-man Sweeney's looking for here so he taps goes to St. Cloud State for budding two-way forward Ryan Poehling who is a good skater and responsible in all three zones. Poehling, who's been compared to Ryan Johansen and Patrick Berglund, struggled early on for the Huskies as a freshman playing D-1 hockey but came to life against his peers in the U-18's.

San Jose' Sharks--D, Urho Vaakanainen. Vaakanainen has been described as smooth and polished and bonus points are out there for anyone who can spell his name correctly without making a mistake. The bonus points for the Sharks lie in Vaakanainen's solid stay-at-home style of play where he rarely gets beat. He's mobile enough to get the play going and has the passing ability to hit a man on a stretch pass. Baker writes that "he knows his role as a defenseman," and doesn't try to do to much.

St. Louis Blues--C, Klim Kostin. At one time Kostin was ranked near the top of the draft, but a shoulder injury knocked him down to the mid-lower level of this year's prospects. The speedy forward who skated for Dynamo Moscow has mad stick skills to score or set up and could be added to a group of talented fellow Ruskies that includes names like Tarasenko, Jaskin, Barbashev and, yes, former first-overall Edmonton selection, Nail Yakupov.

NY Rangers--C, Lias Andersson. The Rangers pounce on the 5'11" 200 lb. Andersson at No. 21 and will watch him grow overseas for the next two seasons. Andersson projects as a bottom-six NHL'er with great hands and a dogged style of play.

Edmonton Oilers--D, Connor Timmins. With Connor McDavid ready to lead the offense for years to come, defense continues to be an area of focus for Edmonton. Timmins can do a lot of things but many feel his passing is what stands out. The Oilers mantra is, if you get the puck in McDavid's hands when he's on the ice, preferably in stride, very good things usually happen.

Arizona Coyotes (From Minnesota)--C, Robert Thomas. 'Yotes continue to try and strengthen the middle, first with the selection of Vilardi and now with Thomas who plays a two-way, 200' game. The Aurora, Ontario native chimes in at 6' 190 lbs. and is a winner. He won the gold at the WHC Under-17 level, plus an OHL Championship and a Memorial Cup with the London Knights in 2016. And he's got speed whether he's heading north/south or east/west.

Winnipeg Jets (From Columbus via Las Vegas)--RW, Kailer Yamamoto. Las Vegas received this pick from Columbus who paid a hefty price to keep their roster intact but still lost F, William Karlsson to the expansion draft. Vegas switched picks with the Jets as a part of the "hands-off-Enstrom" deal. The Jets still get a great player in Yamamoto although at 5'8" 160 lbs. he is on the smallish side. To put it succinctly, add a couple of inches and a few pounds to a fearless puck-wizard with sniping skills and it would be the formula for an easy top-10 pick in this draft.

Montreal Canadians--D, Nicolas Hague. The Habs traded defense for scoring in the Sergachev/Drouin trade and they also traded away a puck-moving defenseman in Nathan Beaulieu to avoid losing him for nothing in the expansion draft and they lost yet another defenseman in Alexei Emelin to the draft. The prospect pool is getting thin. Hague is a big defender at 6'6" 215 lbs. and size seems to be where the Canadiens are headed on the back end as evidenced by the PK Subban for Shea Weber deal. Hague is a big defensive d-man, who much like Weber, has a great shot from the point.

Chicago Blackhawks--C, Josh Norris. Hawks jump into the Day-1 draft festivities with a first round pick for the first time since 2014. They avoided giving it away at the expansion draft when they exposed defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, whom the Knights selected with the Hawks also giving away Marcus Kruger and his rather large contract in the process. The Knights just traded van Riemsdyk and a seventh round pick to Carolina for a second round pick. Norris is a 6'1" 195 lb. two-way center who's considered well rounded and looks to be a solid selection.

St. Louis Blues (From Washington)--G, Jake Oettinger. The Kevin Shattenkirk trade to Washington yields the best goaltender prospect in the draft for St. Louis. After grabbing a quick and speedy forward in Klim Kostin, who dropped to them at No. 20 the Blues add to their goalie stable and take Oettinger who might be considered the best player available at No. 27. Only one goalie has been taken in the first round the last four drafts (Ilya Samsonov, WSH) and the Blues get themselves a 6'4" 205 lb., bona fide No. 1 goalie in Oettinger.

Ottawa Senators--C, Filip Chytil. The versatile Czech forward who can adeptly play center or wing is one of the youngest players in the draft with a September 5 birthday. Chytil played in the top Czech men's league as a 17 yr. old scoring eight points (4+4) in 38 games last season. He has foot speed and quickness, a good hockey IQ, a nice set of hands and at 6'0" 178 lbs. he has a smaller yet projectable frame.

Dallas Stars (from Anaheim)--LW, Jason Robertson. How does a 6'2" 195 lb. player that scores 81 points (42+39) in 65 junior games fall this low in the draft? Playing for the OHL's lowest scoring team, the Kingston Frontenacs, might yield part of the answer. Of Robertson's 42 goals, 25 of them were 5v5 with many of the power forward's goals coming between the dots in close quarters. The Northville, MI native needs work on his skating, which undoubtedly contributed to his low ranking, but he's said to have the work-ethic to pick it up a notch.

Nashville Predators--D, Henri Jokiharju. The Preds lost Housley to the Sabres, but the formula remains and they continue to add to their stable of mobile, puck-moving defensemen. Jokiharju finished his first season in North America with 48 points (9+39) in 71 games for the Portland Winterhawks with 38 of them coming in the last 48 games of the season. “I don't think his skill is top-end level," wrote ESPN's Corey Pronman, "but he's going to be able to rack up a lot of points thanks to his vision, feet and decision-making.” Sounds like a good fit for Nashville.

Pittsburgh Penguins--C, Shane Bowers. The Pens try to keep the pipeline flowing behind centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Considered smart and physical, Bowers is a nice two-way player that looks to be a mid-line center with some offensive punch to his game. He's a jack-of-all-trades type player who never stood out in one area but does have some scoring upside. Just the type of player Pittsburgh likes to plug in with Crosby, Malkin and Co.




Friday, June 23, 2017

Sabres lose Carrier, 6th to Vegas, but will the teams hook up today?

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-22-2017


The Buffalo Sabres came away from the expansion draft relatively unscathed last night. The Las Vegas Golden Knights stayed away from projected target, goalie Linus Ullmark, and instead plucked 22 yr. old winger William Carrier from Buffalo's roster. Unlike other teams who had more to lose to Vegas, the Sabres only needed to add in a sixth-round pick to get the deal done.

Las Vegas came away with two extra first round picks in this weekend's draft courtesy the Columbus Blue Jackets and NY Islanders plus landed some pretty good players in Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT,) James Neal (NSH,) Jonathan Machesault and Brendan Smith (FLA,) plus veteran d-men Marc Methot (OTT) and Alexie Emelin (MTL) as well as prospects/young players in Calvin Pickard (COL,) Brendan Leipsic (TOR,) Shea Theodore (ANA) and Oscar Lindberg (NYR) among others.

The Sabres weren't on the hook for anything major although Carrier's north/south speed and corner work was very enticing. It took him a while to get rolling in Rochester scoring 23 goals and adding 33 assists in 127 games for the Amerks over three seasons while adding eight points (5+3) in 41 games for the Sabres.

It would have been ideal for the Sabres to unload an undesirable contract on Vegas GM George McPhee but by the looks of it, the price may have been too steep for his Buffalo counterpart, first-year GM Jason Botterill. With that not being feasible, Botterill instead focused upon keeping his slim goaltending depth intact. Right now the Sabres have starter Robin Lehner in net and it looks as if Ullmark will be backing him up in Buffalo this year. The Sabres signed Jonas Johansson to his entry-level deal and if things go as planned, he'll get thrown into the fire as Rochester's No. 1. After that, there's Jason Kasdorf, who was a part of the Tyler Myers/Evander Kane trade three years ago. He'll likely be in net for the Cincinnati Cyclones, Buffalo's new ECHL affiliate.

After that, nothing. Unless Cal Petersen decides he wants to play in Buffalo. The 2013 fifth round pick has opted to leave Notre Dame early and the Sabres retain his rights until the end of this month. Afterwards he becomes a free agent and as it stands now, it's unlikely Petersen signs with Buffalo.

That said, sending Carrier and a sixth-round pick to Vegas to keep what shreds of a goaltending pipeline the have in tact is a small price to pay.


*****

Las Vegas is already moving some of it's bounty from last night. Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, whom the Knights drafted from Chicago, was shipped to Carolina along with a seventh round pick for a second rounder. The Knights also traded defenseman Dave Schlemko (SJS) to the Montreal Canadiens for a 2019 fifth round pick.

McPhee loaded up on defenseman at the expansion draft in order to work deals. The d-men that remain are:

Lucas Sbisa (VAN)
John Merrill (NJD)
Brayden McNabb (LAK)
Jason Garrison (TBL)
Deryk Engelland (CGY)
Collin Miller (BOS)
Marc Methot (OTT)
Griffin Reinhart (EDM)
Alexei Emelin (MTL)
Clayton Stoner (ANA)
Nate Schmidt (WAS)

The quantity is there but the quality isn't which means anyone looking for one of their better players will need to ante up.

There are a few d-men on that list that might be of interest to Buffalo. Methot played alongside 2017 Norris Trophy finalist Erik Karlsson who called Methot his rock and Emelin was a pain in the ass for Buffalo whenever they played against the Canadiens. Probably the most intriguing is Schmidt who looked great in a limited role in the playoffs for the Capitals. He's a mobile puck-mover that looks to be a mid-lower pairing d-man.

Other than that, if you're a Sabres fan looking for an impact defenseman headed to Buffalo in a trade, names like the Minnesota Wild's Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella are still out there.

Presently there's word that the 'Canes, who are flush with defensive talent, may be looking to move one of them for a top-six forward. Although the name Evander Kane might be the first out of a Sabres fan's mouth, methinks a player like Sam Reinhart might be of more interest to Carolina.

Just a thought.

Anticipation? Leaks may give us muc of Vegas' roster before tonight

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-21-2017


The NHL offices wanted to keep the lid tight on anything expansion draft related as they want to put on a good show at their awards ceremony tonight. With that in mind very little has been leaked lately but as we gear up to the 8 p.m. show live from Las Vegas, some things are leaking out concerning moves that the Golden Knights may be making. Remember, nothing is finalized.

Pierre LeBrun tweets Knights taking Ottawa d-man Mark Methot
Frank Seravalli hearing that VGK is interested in Montreal defenseman Alexie Emelin

Bob McKenzie tweets that those two d-men could be flipped to 3rd team

Both of those defensemen may be of interest to the Buffalo Sabres as they try to enhance their blueline although both are more top-four, shutdown d-men that may not fit into how new coach Phil Housley wants to build his defense.


Darren Dreger is hearing that the Toronto Maple Leafs might lose left wing prospect Brendan Leipsic who had 51 points (18+33) in 45 games for the Marlies last season.

Also mentioned amongst the Golden Knights picks are David Perron (STL) and James Neal (DAL.)

None of those three would seem to be of immediate interest to Buffalo GM Jason Botterill, but you never know. The Sabres maybe losing young left-winger William Carrier in the expansion draft and the rumors of left wing Evander Kane being traded continue, albeit they've subsided quite a bit as of late.


Also of interest, Mike Russo of the Minnesota Star Tribune writes that sources are saying  that Vegas signed restricted free agent center Erik Haula which counts as the one player taken from Minnesota. That signing keeps key defensemen Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella in Minnesota but will cost the Wild 2014 first round pick (18th-overall) Alex Tuch. The Golden Knights will be sending a conditional draft pick Minnesota's way.

At one time the Sabres may have been in the running for a direct deal with Minnesota to land one of their defensemen who could've been left unprotected or they could've been in on a deal to trade with Vegas after the selection ceremony. Any thought of landing Wild d-men Jonas Brodin (protected,) Dumba or Scandella have been effectively squashed.


The rumor in Southern California is that the Anaheim Ducks have swung a deal with Las Vegas to keep them away from Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson. Reportedly heading to Vegas is defenseman Shea Theodore. Up the I-5 to Los Angeles, rumor has it that the Kings will be losing defenseman Brayden McNabb to the Golden Knights.

Both would be possibilities in a Sabres deal with Vegas save for the fact the McNabb was a Sabres draft pick before being traded to the Kings. While in Los Angeles McNabb found time on the top-pairing but slowly fell down the depth chart. Sounds a lot like recently acquired Buffalo d-man Nathan Beaulieu and his time in Montreal. Pretty sure the Sabres don't need another reclamation project.

As for Theodore?

Hmmmm...


The Knights are said to be loading up on defensemen with their picks with the hopes that they'll be able to flip some of them for more picks. Many of the headliners will not be chosen because of the deals Las Vegas has made with teams trying to keep their best players.

Knight's GM George McPhee is getting himself an unprecedented haul this expansion draft which is the return on Las Vegas $500 million expansion fee.

Will the Sabres be in on any of this?

One would think they will if there's something they deem necessary and if the price is right. Word on the street is that Vegas will announce their roster tonight, along with a few trades but that much more will be revealed tomorrow. The NHL expansion draft trade freeze ends at 5 a.m. tomorrow and fireworks are expected.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Catching up with recent headlines.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-20-2017


Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu

The Buffalo Sabres made another trade with Montreal for a defenseman.

During former GM Tim Murray's first off-season with the Sabres he traded a second round pick to the Canadiens for defenseman Josh Gorges. New Sabres GM Jason Botterill went back to the well over the weekend sending their third round pick (#68-overall) to Les Habitants for defenseman Nathan Beaulieu. Buffalo still has the third round pick, 89th-overall, that they received from the Washington Capitals in the Mike Weber trade.

Beaulieu said on a conference call Sunday that the trade was "a huge sigh of relief." The 24 yr. old Strathroy, Ontario native fell out of favor in Montreal and was not going to be included on their protected list for the upcoming expansion draft. He told the media that being traded "definitely took the stress level off me," and also said that "going to Buffalo was a bonus."

Playing in Buffalo is "a huge opportunity," said Beaulieu. He continued saying that the Sabres have a "young, bright future." Beaulieu is a puck-moving defenseman who admitted that he didn't know much about Sabres bench-boss Phil Housley as a coach, but after a quick chat loves what he's getting into. "I'm excited because of the style of play he wants to go forth with," said Beaulieu, "it fits right into my game."

In a trade that defined how Montreal's back-end wanted to play, the Canadiens sent elite puck-moving, offensive defenseman PK Subban to the Nashville Predators in exchange for hard-nosed, yet still offensively gifted, defenseman Shea Weber. The Preds made it to the Stanley Cup Finals with the most dangerous defense in hockey with Housley coaching them. The Canadiens were dropped in the first round with Beaulieu on the bench as a healthy scratch in the Game-6 finale.

The move for Beaulieu represents an huge opportunity for the former 17th-overall ;pick (2011) to restart his career while the Sabres paid little for a player that may have significant upside. No one is expecting Beaulieu to be starting on the top pairing next to Rasmus Ristolainen in Buffalo, although he was on the top-pairing next to Weber to start last season, but on a Sabres defense in transition, he'll get his playing time.

Right now Beaulieu slots in as the fourth-best defenseman on the team. In a righty/lefty scenario, the Sabres top-four are:

Jake McCabe-Ristolainen
Beaulieu-Zach Bogosian

The remaining defensemen vying for the bottom-pairing/reserve spots are all lefties: rookie Victor Antipin, Gorges, 19 yr. old Brendan Guhle and Justin Falk.

Botterill still has some work to do in revamping their defense but as of right now, in effect they've lost a slow-footed Cody Franson and an injured Dmitry Kulikov to free agency and replaced them with active, puck-movers in Antipin (free agent) and Beaulieu.


George McPhee is the man with the plan

And if you haven't made a deal with him yet, you're S.O.L...for now.

Word is out that McPhee, the Las Vegas Golden Knights GM, has a number of deals in place heading into his final roster decision which he stated will be made today. The final roster will be revealed tomorrow night in Las Vegas during the NHL Awards Show.

The Golden Knights reportedly made a very early deal with the Chicago Blackhwaks in which Vegas helps Chicago create cap-space (Marcus Kruger) but it will cost them defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk. The Columbus Blue Jackets are reportedly sending the 24th overall pick to Vegas to keep their core intact while the NY Islanders are said to be jumping into the fray offering a first-rounder as well. The Anaheim Ducks are another team that may end up sending a first round pick to Las Vegas to keep their core roster, most notably their defense, intact.

The NHL imposed a trade freeze beginning Sunday afternoon with only the Knights being able to make trades. Las Vegas also have the opportunity to negotiate with pending free agents ahead of the start of the July 1 start to free agency. The trade-freeze lifts at 5 a.m. on Thursday the day before Day-1 of the NHL Entry Draft.

Most around the NHL are expecting plenty of trade action at the draft with Vegas holding plenty of cards. Backroom deals for players Vegas picks in the expansion draft are still a possibility as they'll be able to trade players they picked to other teams. And, of course, they'll be able to move up and down the draft as well.

For now, you were either on the bus or off the bus during the Sin City, pre-expansion draft wheeling and dealing. Some teams paid the price to secure their roster, others (like Minnesota) balked, while still others, like the Sabres, may be very interested in a player that Vegas selected and is willing to trade for them.

It's all a part of the process.


Evander Kane's name keeps propping up

There will always be a debate in Buffalo as to the worth of LW Evander Kane. One could easily conclude that the split between his backers and detractors is around 50/50 and that those two sides could spend the next two decades arguing their cases without ever coming to a consensus. Maybe even longer.

Here the opinion about Kane is that his past problems, balanced by his recent on-ice successes represent the ideal situation for a shorter-term contract for the 25 yr. old. One could easily assume that Kane would be looking for a more lucrative, longer-term deal and if it gets out of hand, Botterill may balk and trade him. Which would be justifiable.

Teams like Los Angeles and Vancouver are still said to be in the mix while Anaheim has also been mentioned. Perhaps we shouldn't dismiss Las Vegas either.

He could end up doing his money thing in a city he seems to enjoy.


Kris Baker is back with his draft preview

Back in 2012 I watched the Blue and Gold Scrimmage at (then) First Niagara Center from the stands while Kris Baker was ushered to a rink-side seat along the benches by Brian Duff. The two sat and watched indulging in hockey talk throughout and it would be the beginning of a strong relationship between the two.

Duffer was intrigued by what Baker was doing with sabrespropspects.com, a site devoted to "the future of the Blue and Gold" as described by it's creator. That little soiree at the scrimmage lead to more interest in Baker's prospect work and eventually to a top-30 Draft preview and the Prospects Avenue pod-cast, among other things, for the Sabres.

During his time working on things for Sabres.com Baker, who also works a full-time job, couldn't give enough attention to his own site, but he's back in full form with his 2017 draft preview.

Baker comes out in full draft force with an extensive overview of where the Sabres stand entering the draft, throws in some history, adds in his depth-chart and a contemporaneous "blueprint," and focuses on areas of need before diving into the 2017 draft prospects.

The site had always been a labor of love for him and there's seems to be a lot of love in this one as it's extensive and well thought out.

With the 2017 NHL Draft only a few days away Sabres fans can be well prepared for what Buffalo might do.

http://www.sabresprospects.com/2017/06/buffalo-sabres-2017-draft-preview.html



How far should GM Botterill go in altering the Sabres this off season.

Available talent and the cost to acquire said talent will be the determining factors in how far Botterill will go.

There are two camps at war in the great Sabres debate as to why the club finished in 26th place last season. On the one side there are the Murray-haters who feel his moves didn't bring enough talent to the club, especially on the back-end. On the other side there are the Bylsma-haters who think that he didn't do nearly enough with the talent he was given, especially up-front.

It's probably more a combination of the two as the defense just couldn't keep up this season and the offense couldn't get untracked because of the supposed strict adherence to Bylsma's X's and O's. And injuries need to be factored in as well--Kane and Jack Eichel up-front, both of whom missed significant time and with Kulikov on the back end as a lingering back injury plagued nearly his entire season.

The Sabres have a new coach in Housley and have already began revamping the back-end with the signing of Antipin and the trade for Beaulieu. But no matter which way you slice it, there's a hole on the left side of the top pairing.

Many want to use either Kane or 2014 second-overall draft pick Sam Reinhart as the main ingredient in trying to land a top-four/possibly top-pairing defenseman. However, using one of those two will leave a gaping hole in the top-six forward group. No matter which way you slice it, the Sabres have no one in the system right now who could fill a hole left by one of those two. Not William Carrier (who may end up in Las Vegas,) not Nick Baptiste or Justin Bailey or Evan Rodrigues or, as of yet, Alexander Nylander.

As mentioned above, if Kane can't be signed to a reasonable deal, then the best course of action may be to trade him. But this should be done out of necessity, not choice. In chasing after a top-four d-man, moving on from Reinhart at this point in time might be premature as well.

Throughout this century fans of both the Buffalo Sabres and Bills have seen talent leave their teams on a regular basis and I for one would like for them to hold on to good players instead of seeing them leave. Right now I see both Reinhart and Kane a good pieces to build with.

Count me in the anti-Bylsma camp when it comes to this upcoming year. I think him and his system did some serious damage to his player's individual confidence as well as the overall confidence in the team. Although confidence is an unquantifiable thing, year-long disconnects throughout the team ultimately lead to their demise.

In saying that, save for the Kane contract-extension status, I'd like them to make minimal moves unless Botterill can work out a deal to bring in a bona fide top-two defenseman. Other than that, reaching for a top-four d-man while creating a hole in the top-six forward group doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Golden Knights want Will Carrier? Plus Las Vegas picks from all 30 teams

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-19-2017


William Carrier was selected 57th overall in 2013 by the St. Louis Blues. In February, 2014 then GM Tim Murray received Carrier as a part of the Ryan Miller to Blues blockbuster trade and since then the 22 yr. old LaSalle, Quebec native has been slowly making his way to the NHL.

After finishing his junior career in 2014 with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL, Carrier spent two seasons in Rochester registering 20 goals and 31 assists in 119 games for the Amerks. He began last season with the AHL club (3+1 in seven games) before being called up to Buffalo in November. In 41 games for the Sabres he had five goals and three assists as he was used up an down the lineup by former head coach Dan Bylsma.

Carrier has tremendous speed for a 6'2" 212 lb. player and he loves to go full-bore into the corner. Unfortunately to this point in his very young career he's been unable to hit the scoresheet with any kind of regularity at the NHL-level but regardless of his stats with the big club last season, he still has upside. He also has that speed and tenacity which is one thing he'll always have going for him, especially with the way the NHL game is played today.

Which is why he'd be a good choice for selection by the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft--Carrier is young, has Western Conference size, can skate, plays a north/south game and has upside.

Buffalo's protected list did not include Carrier or goalie, Linus Ullmark. Instead the Sabres chose to protect forward Tyler Ennis (amongst other forwards like Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons) and starting goalie Robin Lehner. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News framed the decision like this, "As the theory goes, [Knights GM George] McPhee made it clear he wants to pluck Ullmark, the 23-year-old slated to be Lehner's backup next season. [Sabres GM Jason] Botterill, knowing the organization is thin in goal, told McPhee he didn't want to lose Ullmark. McPhee, as he is doing with every team, simply said it will cost Botterill something.

"That something is likely Carrier."

Which is very sound reasoning.

Buffalo could've chosen to expose Ennis and his $4.6 million cap-hit over the next two seasons and/or Lehner, who's a restricted free agent. The duo would have been added to three bloated contracts in Zach Bogosian ($5.14M/three years remaining,) Matt Moulson ($5M/two years) and Josh Gorges ($3.9M/one year) and an exposed list of marginal players that included Nicolas Deslauriers, Brian Gionta, Derek Grant, Justin Kea, Cal O'Reilly, Cole Schneider, Brady Austin, Matt Bodie, Cody Franson, Dmitry Kulikov and Anders Nilsson.

In that scenario the Golden Knights may have selected Lehner, which would have put the Sabres in a bind, but he still would be the (probable) second choice amongst starting goalies behind Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury, the likely starter in Vegas next season. Washington's Philipp Grubauer, who many feel is a lock to be plucked by the Golden Knights as well, would also likely make for a better understudy to MAF than Lehner, so Lehner to Vegas would only seem to work in a draft and trade scenario. Without Lehner in the mix, Buffalo would be offering Vegas a choice between vets with a bloated contracts, younger players with limited (or no) upside, or free agents who may be available July 1 anyway. Unless both McPhee and Botterill had a strong interest in Ennis.

If Carrier is the preferred choice of McPhee, having Botterill expose the young forward put the teams on a two-way street giving the Vegas GM something to work with as well. And if the Sabres hope to further bolster their blueline via the expansion draft, there's still a possibility for them to do so, which may also be a possible reason for them to leave Carrier available to Vegas. McPhee will be able to trade drafted players to other teams and it looks as if there might be some decent defensemen for Buffalo to take a run at.

The Golden Knights will be selecting one player from every team and they must take a minimum of 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies from the lists of unprotected players. Since defensemen are of the utmost importance they may choose to select two or there extra d-man for trade purposes. Here's my list of two players from each team that Las Vegas may strongly be considering, plus a goalie where applicable with and the bolded name of who the Golden Knights might choose. Of note, some teams are rumored to have deals in place, so I'll try to work around that.

--Anaheim (rumored deal to keep D, Josh Manson and D, Sami Vatanen:  F, Emerson Etem, RW, Nick Sorensen
--Arizona:  C, Alexander Burmistrov;  F, Teemu Pulkkinen
--Boston:  D, Adam McQuaid;  D, Linus Arnesson
--Buffalo (rumored Vegas will take):  LW, Will Carrier
--Calgary:  RW, Kris Versteeg;  D, Matt Barkowski
--Carolina:  RW, Lee Stempniak;  D, Klaus Dahlbeck
--Chicago (rumored deal with Las Vegas):  C, Marcus Kruger;  D, Trevor van Riemsdyk
--Colorado:  F, Mikhail Grigorenko;  D, Mark Barberio;  G, Calvin Pickard
--Columbus (rumored deal to protect core):  F, William Karlsson;  F, Matt Calvert; 
--Dallas:  C, Cody Eakin;  D, Dan Hamhuis
--Detroit:  C, Riley Sheahan;  D, Xavier Ouellet;  G, Petr Mrazek
--Edmonton:  D, Kris Russell;  D, Griffin Reinhart
--Florida:  C, Jonathan Marchessault;  D, Jason Demers
--Los Angeles:  D, Matt Greene;  D, Brayden McNabb
--Minnesota:  C, Eric Staal;  D, Matt Dumba
--Montreal:  C, Tomas Plekanec;  D, Alexei Emelin
--Nashville:  LW, Pontus Aberg;  LW, James Neal
--New Jersey:  RW, Beau Bennett;  D, Ben Lovejoy
--NY Islanders:  C, Ryan Strome;  D, Calvin de Haan
--NY Rangers:  RW, Michael Grabner;  C, Oscar Lindberg
--Ottawa:  RW, Bobby Ryan;  D, Mark Methot
--Philadelphia:  LW, Michal Raffl;  RW, Matt Read
--Pittsburgh:  F, Carl Hagelin;  D, Ian Cole;  G, Marc-Andre Fleury
--San Jose':  C, Joe Thornton;  LW, Mikkel Boedker
--St. Louis:  LW, David Perron;  RW, Dmitrij Jaskin
--Tampa Bay:  D, Jake Dotchin;  D, Slater Koekkoek
--Toronto:  LW, Kerby Rychel;  LW, Brendan Leipsic
--Vancouver:  C, Brendan Gaunce;  D, Luca Sbisa
--Washington:  RW, TJ Oshie;  D, Karl Alzner;  G, Phillip Grubauer
--Winnipeg:  F, Marco Dano;  D, Toby Enstrom

Las Vegas has an exclusive window now through 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 20 to sign free agents and make trades with other teams. That night their roster will be revealed at the NHL Awards ceremony.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sabres jump on expansion draft casualty--3rd for MTL's Beaulieu

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-17-2017


The Buffalo Sabres need to bolster their blueline and there was a possibility that the Montreal Canadiens were going to lose d-man Nathan Beaulieu to the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Now they'll get something in return. According to the Habs, the Sabres have traded the 68th pick in the NHL Draft to the Canadiens for Beaulieu.

The 6'2" 205 lb Strathroy, Ontario native was selected by Montreal with the 17th overall pick in the 2011 draft. After finishing his final season with the St. John's Sea Dogs, Beaulieu split time between Montreal and their AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs. In 225 games for the Canadiens over the last five seasons Beaulieu totaled 60 points (7+53) and had a plus-19 rating with only one season on the negative side.

Beaulieu was projected as a mobile, puck-moving defenseman with size, offense and the ability to qb the powerplay. Opportunity knocked for him last season but according to a June 13 article by Joey Allen of Pro Hockey Talk, "Expectations were high for Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu going into last season, but things definitely didn’t work out as planned. He opened the regular season on Montreal’s top pairing with Shea Weber. But after just a handful of games, Michel Therrien decided he had seen enough."

New coach Claude Julien didn't have a lot of faith in him either as Beaulieu was a healthy scratch for Game-6 of the Habs/NY Rangers series. Montreal lost that game 3-1 at Madison Square Gardens and lost the series 4-2.

In dropping down the depth chart the expansion draft demanded the Canadiens make a choice--leave him unprotected with the possibility that the Knights might take him or trade him. Allen would conclude that "Even though the 2011 first rounder’s stock is at an all-time low, you’d have to think that Vegas would pounce on him if he’s left unprotected by the Canadiens.

"Over the last three seasons, there have been moments when Beaulieu has looked terrific on the ice, but like most young defensemen, consistency has been a problem."

The 24 yr. old Beaulieu joins 22 yr. old Rasmus Ristolainen and 23 yr. old Jake McCabe in young but inconsistent category for the Buffalo Sabres, but new head coach Phil Housley looks to have some mobility with which to revamp his defense-corps.

In trading for Beaulieu to likely join Ristolainen and McCabe, it looks as if the Sabres will be leaving two veteran players unprotected in the expansion draft--Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges. Bogosian has three years left on his contract with a $5.14 million cap-hit while Gorges has one year at $3.9 million.

Will Las Vegas GM George McPhee be interested in either of those two and/or will there be enticements for him to select either of them or the high-dollar contracts of Tyler Ennis or Matt Moulson?

We won't know until next week, but the Sabres did themselves some good by landing a d-man like Beaulieu.

Buffalo's draft picks as of now are:

#8
#37
#54 (from Minnesota)
#89 (from Washington)
#99
#161
#192


Defense -- shoots L
Born Dec 5 1992 -- Strathroy, ONT
[24 yrs. ago]
Height 6.02 -- Weight 205

Saturday, June 17, 2017

New head coach Phil Housley and his impact

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-16-2017


Phil Housley was a wundekind who entered the NHL right out of high school at the age of 18. Legendary coach Scotty Bowman was at the helm in Buffalo at the time and was retooling the Sabres in 1982, saying goodbye to the French Connection-era in Buffalo and starting with anew with draft picks and Housley was one of three first-rounders selected that year (Paul Cyr, Dave Andreychuk.)

Make no mistake, the South St. Paul High School graduate was all offense from the back-end to the point where Bowman couldn't trust him on defense his sophomore season. WGR 550's Paul Hamilton reminded us yesterday that Housley played center for much of his second season, one in which the 19 yr. old amassed 31 goals and 46 assists in 75 games to earn an All-Star berth. It took Housley a long time to learn the defensive aspects of the game with Hamilton stating that he started noticing how far his defensive play had come when Housley was with the Washington Capitals some 15 yrs. and five teams later.

Housley retired with 1232 points (338+894) in 1495 games and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.

Over the course of the last four years he's been transferring his 21 yrs. of NHL experience to a new generation of defensemen as a coach at the NHL level. He actually began as a high school coach in his home state of Minnesota beginning in 2004, a year after he retired. Housley then moved on with Team USA and was hired by the Nashville Predators that same year. Housley guided Team USA to the gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championships in 2013 and hooked up with Barry Trotz and the Nashville Predators a few months later. Trotz was replaced by Peter Laviolette in 2014 and the only assistant to remain with the club was Housley, who had been given complete control over the defense by both coaches. In his four years with the Preds he made the defense-corps the most active and dangerous group in the league.

Now it's on to Buffalo and his first-ever coaching gig which happens to be in the city where he started his NHL career.

Housley was not a "homer-hire." Sure the team drafted him and he was a Buffalo Sabre for eight seasons, but nostalgia wasn't the driving force in this hire any more than the hiring of Jason Botterill as GM was. Both were amongst or atop the short list of up-and-comers in the coaching/GM ranks yet both happened to have played for the Sabres. If you're gonna eschew experience in the form of retread coaches and GM's to strike out fresh, this year, those two are two of the best hires a team could have.

Botterill came from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization and has three Stanley Cup Championships on his resume as an executive. He wants an up-tempo team. Housley is fresh off of a Cup Finals appearance where as an assistant coach, his defense was very active. The two philosophies merge, but now comes the tough part--finding the players to play the way they want.

As Sabres fans well know, having gone through a couple of GM's and four head coaches over the course of the last four years, ideas and ideals are espoused at the podium and transferring them to the ice successfully is another story. Botterill will have his work cut out for him as GM but he does have talent to work with while Housley will be in charge of grooming the players he has on hand to his liking. It will mean different things to different players but here are some of the players who may be impacted more than the rest.

Defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe

Housley was on WGR's morning show today when Hamilton asked him how he planned to iron out the inconsistencies of both young defensemen. "You can say inconsistencies, but I see potential," was Housley's response. "It's a tough league and you gotta earn your stripes a little bit, but you've got to put them in a position of strength."

Ristolainen started out last season strong bearing the weight of the huge demands former head coach Dan Bylsma put on him but ended up struggling through a good chunk of the 2017 portion of the schedule. McCabe rode an up and down season while logging career-high minutes with much of it coming on the top pairing. The 22 yr. old Ristolainen and the 23 yr. old McCabe are still very young as their struggles showed.

Housely saw Ristolainen at the World Juniors and told WGR's Mike Schopp and the Bulldog yesterday that "he's gonna be a player." He would follow up by saying that Ristolainen has turned into "exactly the player I thought he was going to be." As for McCabe, Housley was coaching him in that same World Juniors and the told the hosts that "he brings character and leadership" as well as some offensive skills. He concluded "These are two very young players I'm looking forward to working with.


Jack Eichel

If anyone knows the highs and lows of being an 18 yr. old prodigy in the NHL, it's Housley.

Jack Eichel was taken second overall in the 2015 draft and immediately joined the Sabres as the face of the franchise. Over the course of his two NHL seasons, Eichel has given us many glimpses of the greatness that lies within him, but he's also struggled be it with the high-ankle sprain he suffered to start last season, or with the former coach.

But his talents are undeniable. Housley witnessed Eichel's ability first hand in a game against his Predators back in January. See for yourself:



(Thx, Sportsnet)

This morning Housley told the WGR hosts that he wants to get Eichel "living in the moment" which seems as if that would fit him well. He followed up by saying, "He's a tremendous, highly-skilled player who's a game-changer, a game-breaker.

"If we can just get him to live in the moment, be in the moment, and not think about the expectation part of it" said Housley, who was also burdened by weight of his immense skill-level, "he will thrive in that."

Housley concluded that they want to take some of that burden and demand off of him so that he can just "be who he is as a player."


Evander Kane

Speaking of allowing a player to be who he is, Housley had some words for a player like Evander Kane.

We all know the story, but for those just coming on the scene Kane's an extremely gifted player who's on-ice work-ethic is impeccable. However it's his off-ice issues that have gotten him into trouble in the past and had many in Sabreland thinking he'd be traded last season.

Housley stated at the presser that he' wants to rub shoulders with his players. On the morning show today he clarified that there are also parameters with which to do so. He said that it's important to create relationships with the players but at the same time "setting the boundaries."

"There is a fine line you walk. You can't go over that line too much because you have to have a firm message, you have to have a strong voice." He went on to say that in creating a relationship gets the most out of players, "as long as know where you stand as the coach and the discipline and structure you bring.

"I think guys want that," he said. "They want structure, they want discipline, but they also need some freedom. What they do away from the rink and the decisions they make, obviously we don't want any distractions or anything that's bad for the organization, but you have to let them breathe. You have to let them be who they are and you have to let them have their personality but when you come to the rink it's about business."

We don't know where the organization stands on Kane right now, but what Housley said seemed to have Kane written all over it. Nobody has any issues with how the 25 yr. old approaches the game but his off-ice antics have gotten him into trouble to the point where there were distractions and it made the organization look bad.

Kane will be a free agent after the season and most feel that the team and him need to make a decision on his future in Buffalo now rather than later. It's a big decision for Botterill to make.


Housley invariably mentions Ryan O'Reilly whenever talking about his new team. O'Reilly's a pro, the type of player who's game is what it is and will thrive under any coach or system because of his talent, work-ethic and hockey IQ. And Kris Baker mentions a number of d-prospects who are mobile, puck-movers ready to join the rush like Brendan Guhle, Devante Stephens, Will Borgen and Casey Fitzgerald who will be "the greatest benefactors" with the hire of Housley.

Also, recent college graduate Will Butcher, who could become a free agent on August 15 after not signing with Colorado, is the type of player who might be interested in what the Sabres are doing. Butcher, an attacking defenseman, was a big piece of the NCAA hockey champion Denver Pioneers coached by Jim Montgomery.

Montgomery employed the very same attack system used by teams like Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay while also having a very active defense like Housley had in Nashville. If the 2017 Hobey Baker winner is interested in staying in a system like that and is willing to grow with a young Sabres d-corps, there's an opening in Buffalo right now.

Regardless of what the future holds, Housley is having an impact throughout Buffalo. Granted as of right now all we have is a warm, fuzzy feel complete with reputations and ideals to strive for, but it's still very enticing to have an organization barreling towards the future with an electric style of play and an "attacking mindset." Where it all ends up is to be determined, but for now it's pretty damn positive.






Friday, June 16, 2017

Report: Phil Housley looks to be the next Buffalo Sabres head coach

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-15-2017


Hockey insider Elliotte Friedman tweeted today, "All signs point to Phil Housley being next head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Question is how soon it will happen."
The Sabres and new general manager Jason Botterill waited for the Stanley Cup finals to end to fill their coaching needs and it looked as if it was a two-horse race between Housley and Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet. However, it was reported earlier today that Tocchet wasn't even interviewed for Buffalo's coaching vacancy.

"I’m surprised to learn the Sabres did not contact Rick Tocchet about coaching vacancy," tweeted TSN's Darren Dreger.

It was announced earlier this week that the Florida Panthers hired Bob Boughner as their new bench-boss which leaving Buffalo as the only NHL team without a head coach. Two other candidates were said to be in the running at various times during the coaching search. The more prominent of the two, Jacques Martin, didn't get interviewed while Washington associate coach Todd Reirden met with both Florida and Buffalo already about their head coaching vacancies.

Although it's somewhat surprising that Tocchet wasn't even interviewed. considering his ties to gambling while with the Phoenix Coyotes, it's not all that surprising. Buffalo Sabres owners Kim and Terry Pegula don't need any more drama with their franchises which includes the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Terry Pegula stood at the podium after firing both GM Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma saying this about what he wanted going forward. “I keep going back to discipline, structure, communication, character,” he said. “We have to have character.”

Apparently that gambling thing with Tocchet didn't sit well with where the Pegula's mindset is right now.

The Sabres travails have been long and burdensome. From the collapse of former GM Darcy Regier's "Core" and the subsequent teardown and tank, to front office turmoil with saw an NHL and Hall of Famer spar with others to the point where he left. To the departures of Pegula's inner circle, to the hiring of Murray and his hiring of Bylsma and the disappointment of last season the team needs competent stability.

That's why they hired Botterill, who seems like a very even-keeled personality who has the wherewithal, work-ethic, smarts and experience to lead this team into the future.

The hiring of Housley would mean another step towards the future using the present style of the NHL as a springboard. Housley was an assistant in Nashville and had the most potent d-corps in all of hockey. An active defense is where the league has been trending hard and there's no better person than Housley--who was compared to players like Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey for his skating, puck-movement and offensive acumen--to take the reigns of Botterill's vision.

Although nothing is finalized, hearing that Housley could be the man in Buffalo is a shot in the arm for Sabreland.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

No reason for the Sabres to buy out any player this season.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-14-2017


Buyout season has begun and the big name so far is Dan Girardi. The 33 yr. old veteran was bought out by the NY Rangers and because of it they opened up a spot on their protected list for the expansion draft.  The undrafted Welland, Ontario native played in 788 games for the Rangers and compiled 230 points. He had a cap-hit of $5.5 million and according to a TSN report, "Girardi will count for $2.6 million against the cap next season, $3.6 million in the next two years and $1.1 million for the following three seasons starting with 2020-21."

Unlike the NY Rangers, the Buffalo Sabres really don't need a protected spot to free up. In fact they actually have an opening in the 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, 1 goalie protected format and would gladly trade for a top-four d-man to add to their roster.

New GM Jason Botterill was known for his cap wizardry in Pittsburgh where the Penguins had $32.2 million tied up for just four players--Evgeni Malikin ($9.5M,) Sidney Crosby (8.7,) Kris Letang (7.2,) Phil Kessel (6.8)--and had another $5.5 million cap-hit for goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Those five players took up over half the $73 million cap-ceiling and Botterill was in charge of filling the other 18 roster spots with only $35 million to spend.

Buffalo finished last season close to the cap and right now, according to CapFriendly, they have less than $52 million against the cap, which includes the $750K cap-hit goalie Linus Ullmark signed for. As of right now they have over $20 million to use on six roster openings--3 forwards, 2 defense and one goalie.

Let's project that goalie Robin Lehner will sign for $4.5 million and that forwards Nick Baptiste (718K) and Justin Bailey (670K) along with defenseman Victor Antipin (925K) are all on the roster at the beginning of the season. That adds about $6.2M to the cap giving the Sabres just under $15M to use on one forward and one defenseman.

Botterill has said that bolstering the defense will be a top priority and I'm sure he'll jump at the opportunity to upgrade any position on the roster. And as much as he'd probably like to rid himself of an undesirable contract, conceivably he could go into this season and this season alone without having to resort to a buyout.

The Sabres have four undesired contracts that are of concern on various levels. Based upon term remaining, they belong to Zach Bogosian (three years,) Tyler Ennis (two years,) Matt Moulson (two years) and Josh Gorges one year.) When buyouts were first mentioned during their very disappointing season, Moulson was the name that popped up most frequently. Gorges was a close second.

Moulson has two years remaining on his contract that pays him $5 million/yr. The former 30-goal scorer has seen his numbers decline drastically the last two seasons as he posted only eight goals in 2015-16 and 14 goals last season. In 2016-17 he was basically reduced to the role of a powerplay specialist in that 11 of those goals were scored on the powerplay.  CapFriendly has a buyout cap-hit of $2.83M this year, $3.83M next year and $833K for the remaining two years.

It's something that doesn't make a lot of sense.

Nor does buying out Gorges.

Gorges has only one year remaining on his contract and his cap-hit is $3.9M. Although the numbers are favorable $1.3M buyout cap-hit for the next two seasons, they can keep him in a bottom-pairing/penalty kill role and if things don't work out for the Sabres when the calendar turns, they can explore trading him at the trade deadline.

As for Bogosian and Ennis, the former has three years left on his deal and buying him out would mean his six more years of a cap-hit with the final three being close to $2M. Ennis would have the Sabres eating $2.6M over the first two seasons and $1.6M after that.

Both Bogosain and Ennis have value to the club right now and it would seem as if Botterill would have one more option to rid himself of one of those contracts--the expansion draft.

The Las Vegas Golden Knights will fill their roster with one player from every NHL team and GM George McPhee knows that there are teams desperate to rid themselves of contracts. Through various interactions with many GM's throughout the league, he's letting it be know that he's the man for a job like that. But it won't come cheap.

Apparently trades have been agreed to already and we're not sure if Botterill is in on any of them at this point. My guess is that he will be able to send a particular player to Las Vegas--it's my belief it will be Ennis--thereby giving himself even more wiggle room both this year and next, when Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and possibly Evander Kane will start new contracts.

The Sabres have done plenty of buyouts the last few seasons, but this year they can back off if need be.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Let the off season begin, plus Stanley Cup notes

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-12-2017


With the Stanley Cup finished and Buffalo GM Jason Botterill back from Pittsburgh after celebrating with the Penguins team he helped build, time is short. Botterill has a lot on major issues on his docket that will need to be addressed including:

**Hiring a head coach for the Sabres--Buffalo was waiting for the end of the Cup to be able to interview Pittsburgh assistants Rick Tocchet and Jacques Martin as well as Nashville assistant coach Phil Housley who's considered the front-runner to be the Sabres next head coach. That decision should be in by the end of the week.

**Expansion Draft--Teams must submit their protected list for the expansion draft by Saturday at 5 p.m.
Buffalo isn't in a pressing situation like Minnesota where they're bound to lose a key player, but Botterill can use it to rid himself of an undesirable contract. Word on the street is that deals are in place already with the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights and their GM George McPhee has stated that he already had a conversation with Buffalo and that there would be another on. Most feel that McPhee, and the rest of the NHL was waiting for the end of the Cup Finals before getting the ball rolling.

**NHL Entry Draft--The Golden Knights roster will be announced on Wednesday June 21 at the NHL awards ceremony and two days later the show heads to Chicago, IL for the draft June 23, 24. Botterill spent much of his first week in Buffalo getting to know his scouting staff and going over notes in preparation for the NHL Draft.

**July 1 NHL Free Agency begins--It's hard to believe it's less than three weeks away. Although the NHL's salary cap has taken away much of the luster, it's still an opportunity to land a piece to the puzzle without giving up anything to get it. Botterill has stated that revamping the Sabres defense is a top priority and there are names on the UFA list that might be of interest. How much room Botterill has to work with will probably depend upon what happens with the expansion draft.

Those are just the biggies for Botterill and Co. The buyout period begins this week and runs until June 30. The Sabres may be interested in that with names like Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges being mentioned. The period for team-elected salary arbitration begins this week with the Sabres having seven arbitration-eligible players. Botterill also needs to find a GM and coach for the Rochester Americans.



*****

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won the Stanley Cup for the fifth time in franchise history and is the first back-to-back Cup champion since the Detroit Red Wings did so in 1997-98. The Pens are also one of only three non-Original Six teams to win back-to-back Cups joining the 1974-75 Flyers and the Edmonton Oilers of the 80's.

Pens captain Sidney Crosby solidified himself as one of the greatest players to play the game as he lead Pittsburgh to their third Stanley Cup with him on board. Crosby received his second Conn Smythe Trophy in a row as playoff MVP joining the Flyers Bernie Parent ('74-75) and Penguins owner Mario Lemieux ('91-92) as the only players to do so since they began awarding the Trophy in 1965.

Crosby's stat-line of accomplishments is pretty damn impressive: 

3-Stanley Cups
2-Conn Smythe Trophies
2-Hart Trophies (League MVP)
2-Olympic Gold medals
1-World Cup
1-World Cup MVP

There's a general consensus that the four greatest NHL players of all time are Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Lemieux and Crosby is approaching that status. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford put him in the top two or three while riding the adrenaline rush of winning the Cup but putting him alongside Maurice "Rocket" Richard in that No. 5-6 conversation is certainly worthy.

And to think, the Penguins tanked for a top-four all-time great in Lemieux and another just outside in Crosby. It brought the city five Stanley Cups, but no one seems to care.

Just sayin'


*****

Analytics geeks have to be puzzled as to how a team like the Pens who had middle of the road advanced stats and were outshot an NHL playoff record 17 times in 25 games, won the Cup. Pittsburgh was also without their top defenseman, Kris Letang as well. The Nashville Predators dominated most of the Finals but couldn't come out on top.

Why?

A couple of reasons. First off the Penguins have two of the top 101 players in the NHL in Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Crosby showed his dominance by taking over the game when necessary scoring eight goals and adding 19 assists while Malkin lead playoff scoring with 10 goals and 18 assists. Both those players make those around them better and were the driving force behind their third Stanley Cup together (Malkin won the Conn Smythe in 2009.)

The Penguins also got some stout goaltending, first by former first-overall pick and Cup Champion Marc-Andre Fleury with closing duties done by rookie goalie Matt Murray. Sure they had some dud games which lead to a fifth-best goals-against average of 2.28 but when it mattered most. MAF blanked the Washington Capitals in Game-7 in the second round while Murray pitched a shutout in the final two Stanley Cup games not allowing Nashville to score a goal over the final 126:52.

Not surprisingly, through all the static of stats permeating the entire season, what it came down to is the best player in the game and great, timely goaltending lead Pittsburgh to another Cup win.


*****

Pierre LeBrun had a good tweet last night noting that the Penguins are the first team with back-to-back wins in the salary cap era, which began with the '05-06 season. "Unreal accomplishment in the parity filled NHL of today."

Unreal accomplishment, no doubt in any league, but parity doesn't seem to include teams built with high draft picks.

The Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks have won six of the last nine Stanley Cups and both teams had multiple top picks during bottoming-out periods. As mentioned, Pittsburgh tanked for Crosby selected first -overall and boasts Fleury (1st-overall) Malkin (2nd.) The Hawks have Patrick Kane (1st) and Jonathan Toews (3rd) with the qualifier that Kane was selected after Chicago jumped from fifth-overall to the top pick via the lottery.

The Los Angeles Kings won two Cups during that same period and with a lineup that had second-overall pick Drew Doughty anchoring their blueline.

Only the 2011 Boston Bruins were able to win the Cup in the past nine years without a home-grown top-overall pick playing a major role for their run.

The moral of the story?

Building through the draft is a good thing but having top picks seems like the best way to rise above parity.

Exansion draft protected list--final version.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-13-2017


GM Jason Botterill and the Buffalo Sabres will be submitting their expansion draft protected list by 5 p.m. Saturday and things are working in their favor. Unlike the Minnesota Wild who are destined to lose a significant piece to their roster puzzle, the Sabres have enough room for their key pieces. Part of it is that Buffalo still doesn't have a the talent that some other teams have and part of it also revolves around the fact that some of their key players are automatically exempt.

In saying that, Botterill will need to make a couple of decisions while having to choose between protecting a young player and an older one. Case in point, the goalie situation.

Each NHL team must expose one goaltender. Buffalo will need to choose whether or not they will protect 25 yr. old Robin Lehner, their starter last season, or 23 yr. old Linus Ullmark, who's been paying his dues and moving up the ladder.

I posted version 1.0 of my protected list on May 15 but I'm going to make one change to it. In the earlier version the goal was to expose as much salary as possible and in the process it was believed that forward Tyler Ennis would be the player Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee may end up taking. Ennis is a good player who put up good numbers before battling injuries the last two seasons.

In the last version I also chose to protect defenseman Taylor Fedun, who may not need protection, unless you believe the Knights would sign the UFA. In that case, that takes care of Buffalo's one player contribution to Las Vegas' roster. However, it might be best for Buffalo to protect Justin Falk instead.

Using CapFriendly's Expansion draft tool, here are the players I'd like to see Buffalo expose:

Forwards:   Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, and Nicolas Deslauriers
Defensemen:  Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges.
Goalie:  Robin Lehner

There are other UFA's like Fedun available and some RFA's like defenseman Brady Austin and Justin Kea, but nobody that would make management lose any sleep over.

Here's a reprint of Version 1.0 with Falk added and Fedun removed.

ForwardsKyle Okposo--this was an easy one as he was already checked because of his no-movement clause. Even if Okposo didn't have that clause, it's still an easy one as he's their top right-winger.

Ryan O'Reilly--another easy one. O'Reilly is the Sabres best two-way center and their premier all-situations forward. Despite lacking numbers that some would suggest don't justify his cap-hit, Botterill has already singled him out as one of two centers teams "crave."

Evander Kane--over the course of the last 11 months many thought he would be a perfect candidate for exposure as his $5.25 million cap-hit, average production and off-ice issues seemingly had him out the door in one way or another. However, a 28-goal season changes the conversation completely.

Marcus Foligno--he's a big body that can hit, fight, play defense and score. He was placed well above his talent-level last season while getting an inordinate amount of time in the top-six, but he did manage a career-high 13 goals and there's no reason to think that he can't continually produce double-digit goals in a bottom-six role.

Zemgus Girgensons--the former first-round pick was the first player in former coach Dan Bylsma's doghouse but with Bylsma gone things could be different. Girgensons doesn't seem to have the offensive acumen for a scoring role and at 23 yrs. old he could be settling into the player he is, but he works the forecheck hard, defends well and, unlike former Sabre Mike Grier who had very similar traits, can score on a breakaway. As of right now he's a very solid bottom-six player that every team could use.

Johan Larsson--he and Girgensons have basically come up through the ranks in Buffalo together. Larsson is known for his pesky play and defensive acumen, but he can score as well. Before his injury he was Buffalo's third-line center and didn't look out of place. It was a pretty gruesome injury, however, and we've not heard anything as to his recovery time or prognosis, but based upon his play, he's another strong bottom-six player.

William Carrier--although he had a rather pedestrian rookie campaign in Buffalo that was also cut short by injury, Carrier's got the wheel's Botterill seems to like. At 6'2" 212 lbs. he's got heft as well but it doesn't detract from his skating one bit. Carrier climbed through the ranks in Rochester and upped his production in year-two for the Amerks. There's no reason to think that he can't continue to develop in Buffalo and may end up being at least a top-nine player for the Sabres.


Defensemen
Rasmus Ristolainen--another no-brainer. Enough said.

Jake McCabe--a new GM usually talks in generalities at his introductory presser, especially when it comes to the roster. Players like Jack Eichel, O'Reilly and Ristolainen are well-known commodities and referencing them by name is not unusual. But Botterill also mentioned McCabe by name as well while also mentioning that he thought McCabe had some untapped offensive, puck-moving potential. McCabe is already known for is solid defensive work and also laying out big hits so adding in more offense would really round out his two-way game.

Justin Falk--Perhaps when Murray extended Falk in February, he was doing so in order to leave him exposed. Or perhaps he thought, like many watching seemed to think, that Falk had carved himself out a niche as a depth defenseman at the NHL level. He was very steady for the Sabres last season and there's no reason to believe he'll be anything else moving forward. Even if Buffalo brings in enough defensemen to push him down to Rochester, the Amerks are always in need of quality vets to help the youngins along.


Goalie
Linus Ullmark--there are a lot of angles for this choice beginning with Botterill having no ties to Lehner who surely would have been protected over Ullmark under Murray. Lehner played well for Buffalo last season, as his numbers would indicate, but there's a sense that many are not convinced he's the answer going forward and a lot of it has to do with him looking very shaky in odd-man rush situations and breakaway situations, the shootout in particular. And with the market being somewhat set by Ben Bishop's $4.9 million cap-hit in Dallas, the Sabres may be looking at a $4-4.5 million Lehner contract extension that Botterill might not be thrilled with. The Sabres could be placing themselves in treacherous waters if Lehner were to be snatched up by Las Vegas, but I don't think the Knights would do it and even if they did, Ullmark, with a strong veteran presence as a back-up, looks like he'd be able to handle the heat. By protecting Ullmark, odds are that they could go into the season with a Lehner/Ullmark tandem if Lehner went unprotected.



Monday, June 12, 2017

Kane still in the mill. Will Boogieman in FLA = Housley in Buffalo? Plus...

TSN insider Darren Dreger joined the Instigators in his usual Friday spot and before they were finished he was directed towards Buffalo Sabres players in the rumor mill. Dreger, as with everyone these days, immediately went to Evander Kane like a moth to a flame. Dreger said that there's still trade talk around the league and that he's "sure that (new GM) Jason Botterill and the Buffalo Sabres are deeply involved in some of that."

But the big name for Buffalo is Kane and Dreger said, "[There's] much specutlation about where he might end up. How eager is Botterill and the Sabres to move him?" Dreger would mention a couple of destinations later on in the segment like Anaheim and San Jose, both of whom are aging teams"who are kind of in 'win-now' mode," but he stressed that it's pure speculation.

The interesting aspect of Dreger's Kane discussion was less about moving him and/or the troubles he may have had and more about the hole he'd leave in Buffalo were he to be traded. "The problem that Buffalo has in moving Kane is," began Dreger, "now you have a pretty big hole on that left side. That's not to say they're reluctant to trade him. Maybe they have pieces who can fill that void, or they can acquire something in return. Or they can make another transaction. Or they can sign a free agent."

Dreger said that the hosts would know more about who might fill the void internally, and in looking at the Sabres roster and what's in the system, I don't see a top-six 25-30 goal scorer anywhere. They've tried a couple of centers in that role including Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons and tried the slow-footed Matt Moulson there while also promoting a bottom-six player (Marcus Foligno) for a rather long, somewhat productive stint there. In the system they have Will Carrier, who may or may not be capable as the sample size of 41 NHL games is still very small, and 19 yr. old Alexander Nylander who just finished his rookie pro season.

As for the other two notions, if Kane is traded, one could almost bet the farm that a defenseman will be coming back in return and as we look at the free agent market this season some of the better players are all in their 30's and would be a better fit on teams

Evander Kane is 25 yrs. old and coming off of a strong, 28-goal season. Like Dreger said, moving him would create a big hole and on the Sabres that kind of production, especially when he did nearly all of his scoring 5v5, is hard to replace.

The Kane situation, like the player himself, is complicated right now in that there are a number of variables. If Kane does get moved, there's a feeling that he'd create a big hole on the left side for the Sabres constructed as is and it will take some work and some pretty smooth maneuvering to fill it.


*****

Dreger's counterpart at TSN, Bob McKenzie, tweeted today, "Barring any last-minute hiccups, FLA and Bob Boughner are closing in on a deal for him to be the Panthers' new head coach."

The Panthers and the Sabres are the only two teams in the NHL without a head coach at this juncture and it would seem as if they were both interested in only a handful of candidates. Buffalo had already interviewed Boughner, according to reports, and it's somewhat of a surprise that he's slated to take over the Panthers bench. Many thought that they were the front-runner for Nashville Predators assistant coach Phil Housley and they, like the Sabres, would wait until after the Stanley Cup Finals to interview Housley before making a decision.

A move like that bodes well for Housley landing in Buffalo, but we should not count out Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet. Buffalo GM Jason Botterill and Tocchet worked together in Pittsburgh the last few years and both are very familiar with each other. As the Sabres start anew with a philosophy borne of Botterill and the Championship team he helped build in Pittsburgh, one would thing that Tocchet would be able to help transfer that philosophy to the KeyBank ice.

The latest the Finals can conclude is Thursday, June 14th which means by this time next weekend Buffalo should know who their coach is. Speculation here is that Housley is now the front-runner for the Sabres spot.


*****

The Stanley Cup Finals are probably holding up things in the trade market right now. Dreger suggested, as have many others, the a respect for the league's premier product has teams taking a back seat until they're completed.

Which is cool.

Come next Friday and Saturday I wouldn't be surprise to hear a number of deals involving the Las Vegas Golden Knights as they gear up for the expansion draft. Teams are required to submit their protected list by 5 p.m. June 17 and the Knight will then have a weekend window to look them over and see what else is available on the free agent market. Come June 20 they will have their roster in place and the following night it will be announced at the NHL Awards Ceremony held in Sin City.

Could one of the deals involve Buffalo? Many hope so. One of the keys for the Sabres will be to hopefully unload a undesirable contract whilst keeping the players they want. It may cost them a third, or even second round pick in the upcoming draft, but the have an extra one in each round anyway.

That said, my original protected list exposed as much salary to the Golden Knights as possible while retaining young players like Will Carrier and Linus Ullmark, both of whom have plenty of upside and have been paying their dues in the system.

Buffalo has one slot to protect on defense and hopefully they'll use it to protect an incoming top-four d-man. If Botterill can't bring one in, then it will probably go to Justin Falk, who did yeoman's work for the Sabres in a bottom-pairing/reserve role.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Is defenseman Timothy Liljegren the answer at No. 8?

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-9-2017


Using  a long-lost, 50's style, Leave It To Beaver-type expression revived by former FBI Director James Comey to answer the above question, "Lordy," he sure does.

If the Buffalo Sabres, who are without a coach right now, do end up bringing in Phil Housley, one can easily see his eyes lighting up at the thought of them drafting Timothy Liljegren at No. 8. Housley was a slick offensive defenseman who's style was compared to the great Bobby Orr and Liljegren has many of those same qualities.

Housley is an assistant coach for the Nashville Predators and is kinda preoccupied with that Stanley Cup thing, but once they finish he'll have a job waiting to coach either the Florida Panthers, who seem to be odds-on favorites, or the Buffalo Sabres. With Buffalo drafting eight and Florida 10th, one shouldn't be surprised if either team plucks Liljegren, if available, at either spot (although Detroit sitting at No. 9 might have something to say about that.)

Whether Housley or any other coach takes the reigns of the Sabres, Liljegren should be of supreme interest to any team with the way the NHL is played today. Teams want and need active defensemen that can join the rush and create. Liljegren does that as he can go coast to coast but he can also thread a stretch pass, which is another need. He combines speed, skill, hockey sense and finish to the point where he's been compared to Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But on his way to becoming one of the top picks in the 2017 NHL Draft, Liljegren was sidelined by mononucleosis, a disease that causes fatigue and is not cured by antibiotics. The usual recovery time is 2-4 weeks but it would seem as if Liljegren had pretty bad case of mono. He missed the first two months (after trying to come back too soon) and played a partial season for Rogle BK in Sweden's top league. In 19 games he scored a goal and added four assists, the exact same stat-line he had the prior season for Rogle. Two goals and 10 assists in 38 games total might not seem like a lot, but for a 16/17yr. old teenager playing in the top men's league it's very respectable.

SB Nation's Raw Charge, a Tampa Bay Lightning blog, put Liljegren's production in perspective. "In Victor Hedman’s U18 season in the SHL, he had four points in 39 games," they wrote before adding, "due to Hedman’s December birthday, compared to Liljegren’s April birthday, Hedman did have another season in the SHL before being drafted, and put up 21 points in 43 games. Erik Karlsson has a similar birthday as Liljegren. When Karlsson was a U18 player, he only played in thirteen SHL games between the regular season and playoffs, and only had one point."

Regardless of the comparisons, Liljegren's rankings dropped from near the top of the first round to somewhere in the 8-10 range right now. Mono didn't help, nor did an underwhelming performance at the Under-18 World Championships where the assistant captain for Team Sweden could only muster two assists in seven games. Because of that drop, it puts Liljegren right in Buffalo's wheelhouse.

For those excited about the possibility of drafting a prospect like Liljegren, it's best to keep in mind that we probably won't be seeing him in the Blue and Gold for at least two or three years. Liljegren is under contract with Bogle for one more season and more than likely it will take at least a year or two for him to adapt to the North American pro game. He'll need to deal with a smaller ice surface which will limit his free wheeling and he'll also need to add some bulk to his frame to play against the grizzled vets of the AHL and NHL.

However, if the Sabres and new GM Jason Botterill are serious about acquiring talent and developing them at their own pace, this is a pick that could pay off handsomely a few years down the road.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Would you take a 2nd round pick for Robin Lehner

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-8-2017


By now we should all be well versed in the trade for goalie Robin Lehner. Former GM Tim Murray was looking for a young-vet to put in net for Buffalo and on Draft Day 2015 he sent a first round pick (21st overall) to the Ottawa Senators for Lehner and aged forward David Legwand.

A quick note on Legwand before we move on:  Legwand was the first-ever pick of the Nashville Predators in 1998 (2nd) but never really lived up to that status.  Towards the tail end of his career he was a fourth-liner with solid defensive acumen. He played his last NHL season with the Sabres in 2015-16 and helped anchor Buffalo's penalty-kill which went from 30th the prior season to ninth that year. Last season the Sabres PK finished 25th-overall after spending most of the season at or near the bottom of the league.

At the 2015 NHL Draft the Senators used the 21st-overall pick to select center Colin White who appeared for Ottawa in the playoffs this year. White is a two-way center man with great hockey sense who could end up being in the top-six.

The general consensus is that you usually don't trade a first round pick for a goaltender although every couple of years a team does so. Cory Scnheider was traded by the Vancouver Canucks to the New Jersey Devils in 2013 for the ninth-overall pick (Bo Horvat) and Martin Jones was traded by the Boston Bruins to the San Jose Sharks on Draft Day 2015. The Bruins received the 29th-overall pick (Trent Frederic) and prospect Sean Kuraly. Prior to that the Washington Capitals traded the rights to Semyon Varlamov to Colorado for a first and second round pick.

Murray walked into the 2015 NHL Draft with two first round picks at his disposal along with two second-rounders and by the end of the day he selected Jack Eichel second-overall and defenseman Brendan Guhle 51st. He used the one first rounder on Lehner and a second rounder (31st) was sent to Colorado in the Ryan O'Reilly trade.

Lehner won the starting job in 2015 training camp and in his very first game as a Buffalo Sabre was felled by a high-ankle sprain that kept him out for months. He returned to the Sabres January 15, 2016 and had mixed results until he was shut down for he season in mid-March. This past season was all about seeing whether or not Lehner could/would/should be a starting goalie. He finished the season with some pretty solid numbers--2.76 GAA and .918 Sv%--but maybe more importantly, Lehner played in a career-high 59 games for the Sabres.

Along the way Lehner has been maturing as he plays more and looks as if he'll be a good No. 1 goaltender. But the season wasn't without question marks as he still looked shaky in some pressure situations, was known for giving up a weak goal more often than a goalie should, and was absolutely terrible in the shootout. Those weaknesses won't preclude him from being a bona fide starter, but it cold keep him from taking his team much farther than the first round if they make the playoffs.

The scoop with Lehner is that he was once completely secure in his starters role with Murray as GM, but now that Jason Botterill has taken over, there are question s arising as to how he fits in. Here's what Botterill told Sportsnet concerning Lehner, "“I have no problem starting next season with him in goal. There are more pressing needs. I liked what I saw from him when he won the Calder Cup.”

It's a statement that was far short of a ringing endorsement and it leaves plenty grey area for speculation. When Botterill said "starting next season in goal," it may be seen as Lehner might not be No. 1 after that. "I have no problem" may be looked at as "I'm cool no matter what happens with him." And Botterill didn't have anything to say about Lehner's NHL work as had to reach all the way back to the 2010-11 AHL season to give Lehner a compliment.

With that in mind, let the speculation begin.

If there's a team that needs a starting goalie, it would seem as if Botterill's answering the phone on Lehner. With all that's transpired since the Sabres traded for him, a first round pick might be asking too much in return. But, Sabres fans, would you take a second round pick in a trade of Lehner?

I wouldn't be opposed to that.