Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Catching up with recent headlines.

Published by, 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, 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 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.

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.

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