Friday, June 2, 2017

A view from Waterloo. Seeing the situation through Cal Petersen's eyes.

Published by, 6-1-2017

Yesterday Sabres goalie prospect Cal Petersen announced that he would be forgoing his senior season at Notre Dame to turn pro. Buffalo is now on the clock as they have 30 days to sign the highly touted Petersen before he becomes a free agent.

Kris Baker of has been following the Petersen situation closely and has been telling us for months to look at the situation the 22 yr. old fifth-round pick has in front of him. This is the fourth June 1 that Petersen has had since being drafted in 2013 by the Buffalo Sabres and the Collective Bargaining Agreement allows him to forgo signing with the team that drafted him to become a free agent.

A situation like this is nothing new to Buffalo and their fans. Last year college standout and 2016 Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey took the same route. The Nashville Predators drafted him 66th-overall in the 2012 NHL Draft and after openly stating that he would not sign with them, his rights were traded to the Buffalo Sabres for a third round pick. Vesey waited it out and on August 20 took his talents to "The Big Apple."

In the immortal words of Yankee great Yogi Berra, "it's deja vu all over again" for the Sabres.

Petersen is a top college talent and would be the top college free agent on the market. Although he hasn't "earned" this type of free agency, the CBA allows for it. Much to the dismay of many a Sabres fan,  Baker has been saying all along that even though the Sabres have done everything right concerning Petersen, the allure of picking a franchise that might best suit his situation is something that would be very hard to pass up for a young player. And there's a city very close to Petersen's hometown of Waterloo, Iowa that presents a pretty good option for him--Chicago.

The Blackhawks are the closest thing to a dynasty we have in the salary cap era as they've won three Stanley Cups in five years. They have a top-notch organization with a GM in Stan Bowman who has managed to keep this team in Cup contention despite needing to move out valuable talent to remain cap compliant. The organizational structure is in place as well and despite a Rockford IceHogs AHL affiliate that's struggled in five of the last seven seasons, they continue to be a key feeder for the Hawks which allows the big club to remain annual contenders.

That's one of the main points in this situation, but also of importance is Petersen's path to the NHL and a possible starters role. The Hawks have Corey Crawford signed for three more seasons but nothing behind him. Three years would be a very good incubation period for a goalie as he learns the pro game.

Craig Rivet, co-host of MSG's "The Instigators," succinctly laid out what he believes young players are looking for in situations like Petersen's and Vesey's. "These kids want to be in a good environment, they want to be on a good team" Rivet said yesterday, "which makes them better, which will now expedite their movement to the NHL." Although Vesey started in the NHL, he openly stated that he's looking beyond his two entry-level contract years and wants to set himelf up for the next contract.

On the one hand, it's basic economics. Both Vesey and Petersen will be locked in at a capped rookie salary (plus bonuses if applicable) for their two-year entry level deals and the quicker they can come in and make an impression, the better their next contract will be. And the best way to make an impression is to have an organization that provides direction as well as talent.

Unfortunately for Buffalo, they have some talent, but it's not close to the level of the NY Rangers or the Blackhawks. They're also on their third general manager and will be hiring their fifth head coach since 2013. Rivet, a former player, pretty much summed the organization when he said this yesterday. "Does it scare you?" began Rivet. "As a player you look down in Rochester and it's kind of in shambles, there's no coach. Where's the direction?

"Yes we have new GM (in Jason Botterill) that is going to right the ship, but how long before that ship is going in the right direction? There's a lot of question marks."

Baker who was appearing on the show also brought up the goalie situation in Buffalo which has a direct impact on the situation as well. As mentioned, Chicago's Crawford is 32 yrs. old and is signed for three more years with no other goalie in the pipeline. Buffalo's starting goalie situation couldn't be more different with Robin Lehner and from a player's perspective, Baker believe, a prospect like Petersen "wouldn't want to be behind a 25 yr. old, No. 1 goalie who the NHL team spent a first round pick to get." Baker qualifies it by saying we're not sure what will happen with Lehner, who is an unrestricted free agent, but that's what Petersen was up against even before Botterill became GM.

With all that said, if given the choice, where would you rather start your NHL career?

As a Sabres fan I'm not planning on Petersen signing with the Sabres although I'll still hold out some hope. As Baker told me, "if he was going to sign in Buffalo it would have already happened." He rhetorically followed that up with, "When was the last time a college team announced a guy leaving without announcing that he signed a contract?"

Nor will I harbor any ill will towards Petersen should he sign elsewhere and in my opinion no Sabres fan should either. The CBA affords college players an out like this and choosing one's own NHL destination at that young age is a dream come true.

This isn't a knock at the Sabres organization either. They've done everything right with Petersen and God knows they've been trying to right the ship. Buffalo still has some very talented pieces to start anew with in players like Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and Rasmus Ristolainen, among others, but they have a long way to go to reach the level of a team like the Blackhawks.

Waterloo, Iowa is 300 miles from Chicago. It's 500 more miles to Buffalo with the gap between franchises even farther at this point in time.

If you're Cal Petersen, what makes more sense?

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