Tuesday, July 25, 2017

After a busy two months, all's quiet on the Sabres front

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-23-2017


Jason Botterill needed a break. The first time GM came to the Sabres on May 11 right after the Pittsburgh Penguins just finished eliminating the Washington Capitals in Round-2 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. From there it was into the fire with his new club.

Botterill spent his first week on the job meeting with Sabres scouts to compare notes on the fast approaching NHL Entry Draft which was just six weeks away. And if that wasn't enough, he also had to prepare for the expansion draft as the Las Vegas Golden Knights were looking to build their roster with one player from every NHL team. Also on tap for Botterill was finding a head coach for his new team and building a management team to surround him which included finding an assistant general manager who could also serve as the GM of the Rochester Americans. The Amerks were also without a coach after Dan Lambert's contract wasn't re-upped.

The one reprieve from the huge pile of work that was in front of him was a on-ice Cup celebration with the victorious Penguins. Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford invited his former right-hand man to the celebration with Botterill gladly and rightfully accepting (he'll get a day with the Cup as well and said he's probably taking it to his hometown of Winnipeg.)

It was a nod to all the great work Botterill did with key role players that helped the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cup wins. Even if his presence at the celebration seemed awkward, it was a fitting way to turn the page on a long and very successful tenure in Pittsburgh.

With the expansion draft a few days away, it was onward and Botterill worked out a deal with Golden Knights' GM George McPhee to keep young goalie Linus Ullmark. He sent a sixth-rounder to Vegas to keep McPhee from selecting the exposed Ullmark and watched as McPhee nabbed Will Carrier. Three days later he was huddled with his scouts in Chicago and lead his first NHL draft as GM. The Sabres, who had been dropped from fifth-overall to eighth at the draft lottery ended up with a player in center Casey Mittelstadt that most viewed as a top-five pick anyway.

Botterill said at his opening presser that he was focused upon revamping the Sabres defense and building a strong Amerks club. On June 17 he traded a 2017 third round pick for Montreal defenseman Nathan Beaulieu and less than two weeks later he sent Buffalo's longest-tenured players--Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno--to Minnesota for defenseman Marco Scandella and former Sabres captain Jason Pominville.

The two trades allowed Botterill to head into July 1 free agency without the need to overreach for an expensive free agent and allowed the new GM to follow through on his promise to fortify Rochester. Botterill and Co. had a busy start to free agency as they landed eight players. Three of them--goalie Chad Johnson and forwards Benoit Pouliot and Jacob Josefson--will be looked upon as contributors to the big club while the other five were of the depth variety that will add talent and experience at the AHL-level.

Weaving it's way through all the player moves was the hiring of coaches and front office personnel. On June 15, just four days after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Finals, Botterill hired Nashville Predators assistant Phil Housley as the new head coach of the Sabres. On June 26 Botterill poached Randy Sexton from Pittsburgh to be his AGM and Rochester GM and on June 30, Chris Taylor was hired to be the new Ameks coach. Botterill retained Sabres goalie coach Andrew Allen on July 11 and he was bookended by the Housley hires of Davis Payne and Chris Hajt for his coaching staff.

Botterill downshifted a bit with a four-day Sabres Development Camp that ended on July 11 and now he's focused upon four restricted free agents to sign with two of them headed to arbitration--G, Robin Lehner and Beaulieu. Lehner's arb-date is this week, July 27, while Beaulieu's is August 4. Forward Johan Larsson had filed for arbitration but he and the Sabres settled while forwards Zemgus Girgensons and Evan Rodrigues remained unsigned.

After packing all of that into a two-month span, it's not surprising that all's quiet on the Sabres front right now. The additions of Beaulieu and Scandella certainly fortified the defense-corps for new head coach Housley and the Day-1 free agent signings will go a long way in stabilizing Rochester. Sexton is a very competent GM for the Amerks and Botterill hired Ryan Jankowski, who was director of player personnel for Hockey Canada, to head his amateur scouting department.

However, bubbling under the surface are contract extension talks with franchise center Jack Eichel as the history-making Connor McDavid contract (eight years and an NHL-record $12.5 million/season) serves as a backdrop. Botterill has already said that he'll wait on extending fellow second-overall pick Sam Reinhart and there's still the question of if or how Evander Kane fits into the grand scheme of things. All three players are in the final year of their respective contracts.

The Sabres are in a good place right now, which is a good thing after an extremely disappointing 2016-17 season. Perhaps Botterill took a little time to smash a brat and relax with a frosty adult beverage this summer. With his phone right by his side, no doubt. He got a lot accomplished, but there's still plenty to be done.



Sunday, July 23, 2017

On the NHL/Olympic thing.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-21-2017


Let's start by saying that I'm a big fan of the Olympics which dates back to my youth in the 70's. I remember Tommy Smith's black fist on the medal stand and being outraged at the end of the  USSR/USA basketball game in 1972 as well as being shocked at siege of Olympic Village in Munich that year. Names like Olga Korbut, Bruce Jenner, Dorothy Hamill, Mark Spitz and Teofilo Stevenson are all embedded in my brain and all because of their incredible achievements on the world stage during those years.

There were many other names and events that are etched in my brain from Carl Lewis to Greg Louganis, to the Atlanta bombing. I fondly remember the Sabres own Dominik Hasek thwarting the 1998 mighty Canadian Olympic team in the semi-final shootout which is right up there with some of my favorite Olympic moments. Tops amongst all of my memories, however, was the Miracle on Ice in 1980. I still get chills just as I did seeing it live (or what we thought was live at the time.)

Although none of this means I'm an authority on all things Olympics, it does provide a framework for where I'm about to go with this NHL/Olympic thing. The NHL announced today that they will allow players on AHL contracts to participate in the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, but as of right now they're not allowing their players to compete in South Korea. And that includes AHL'ers on two-way contracts.

North American professional athletes began participating in the Olympics beginning in 1992 with the USA "Dream Team" basketball squad. The NHL began participation in the Olympics beginning in 1998 and after five Olympics, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said at a press conference in April that the NHL players will not participate in 2018 and that they considered "the matter officially closed." According to Bettman, "the overwhelming majority of our clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017-18 NHL season for purposes of accommodating Olympic participation by some NHL players" and he was also mentioned that the International Olympic Committee won't be picking up any of the cost, which includes travel and insurance, for any NHL players participating in the games, like they'd done in the past. And from this writer's standpoint, even if the break could be accommodated and the IOC footed the bill for players, I'd still have reservations about sending athletes to a city that's a stone's throw away from North Korea and an unbalanced leader in Kim Jong-un.

I get what the NHL Players Association said in that patriotism is a driving force behind players wanting to participate in the Olympics and I can somewhat buy into the belief that the sport will increase in popularity because the best players will create a highly competitive atmosphere. Vancouver 2010 was great hockey, and for Canadians great theater, but it's also best to keep in mind that the Games were in the birthplace of hockey with a friendly border-country as a hockey adversary.

For this NHL fan, the disruption to the season isn't worth it and for players where the NHL season already consists of too many games, a condensed schedule is brutal, especially for players who competed in the Olympics. In fact any add-on to the NHL season, which includes the World Cup, seems to put undue strain on players. However, if the NHL wants to continue with the World Cup, fine as it's not during the season. If players want to participate in the IIHF World Championships, fine as it's after the season.

Keeping NHL'ers out of the Olympics undoubtedly means lesser star power and a lesser product skills-wise, but the competitive nature of players playing for their country will not be lessened. For many of the players the Olympics represents an opportunity to reach for the gold or even immortality. Many won't ever get the chance to compete for the Stanley Cup and even less won't make into the World Cup either so this is their shot, and as we saw in 1980, sometimes great things happen.

In fact, as an old-school type of guy, I have no problem going back to the time when only amateurs were allowed to play in the Olympics. I remember the late 80's when a semi-finals basketball loss by the U.S. furthered the case for inclusion of pro's in the Olympics leading to the ridiculously dominant "Dream Team." It was great watching them but the luster faded and apathy now rules basketball at the Olympics for me. I also remember how Team USA made asses of themselves by vandalizing Olympic Village after being ousted by Hasek and the Czech Republic in 1998.

For me, the meaning just isn't there any more. The U.S. proved that it can dominate when they put their best players on the court and Canada also proved that it's still the dominant force in the game right now. I'd rather watch the NHL's regular season, with all it's stars playing a regular schedule, and augment my hockey fixation by watching unknowns compete on a world stage.

However, those days are long gone but having the NHL allow lower-level pros and the best that college and junior have to offer seems like a good way to approach the Olympic dilemma. Having said this, I'm fully aware that if sound fiscal policy dictates NHL participation at some point down the road, I'll have no problem with that either.

It's hockey, and I'll watch it.





Friday, July 21, 2017

Botterill and Sexton's framework includes former Baby Pens and NCAA players

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-19-2017


Buffalo Sabres GM Jason Botterill and Randy Sexton, his Buffalo assistant and general manager for the Rochester Americans, have a couple of things in common. First off they both came over from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization on the heels of back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships and second, both Botterill and Sexton went to college in the U.S. and graduated with MBA's.

The two are in charge of building a winning culture from Buffalo to Rochester to Cincinnati, the Sabres new ECHL affiliate. To do so they need players they think will get the job done and to no one's surprise, they tapped into the roster of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins AHL affiliate to help jumpstart the program in Rochester.

It began on Day-1 of free agency when Botterill brought in a very familiar name in center Kevin Porter. The Detroit, Michigan native spent two seasons (2012-14) in the Sabres organization then spent a season with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins (DET) before landing in the Pittsburgh where he spent the last two seasons.

Sexton tapped into the Pens organization yesterday when he signed defenseman Barry Goers and center Adam Krause to AHL contracts. The 31 yr. old Goers spent the last four seasons in WBS compiling 30 points (7+23) in 127 games while Krause played in 29 games over two seasons with the Baby Pens registering four goals and seven assists. The 6'3" 210 lb. Krause started his pro career with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL scoring 26 goals and adding 26 assists.

“Our success story or what our model's been in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, what we'll try to implement in Rochester, is very much the same with an emphasis on creating a winning environment and a strong coaching staff that's very tied to what goes on at the National Hockey League level," said Botterill at his presser.

In a piece via Amerks.com, Sexton continued to lay out the philosophy of creating a winning environment, “We added depth across the organization, both in Rochester and in Buffalo, and there are three or four players that I think for sure will play games in Buffalo, and might even earn a full-time spot,” he said. “But if not, they’ll be the types of players that will come to Rochester. They will provide leadership, they will provide some offensive capabilities and some good defensive capabilities, so that our young kids can learn in an environment that has success. Building confidence and having success on a frequent basis in a winning environment, that’s about development.”

Part of that environment will also be leaning heavily on the influence of hockey players from the college ranks. From Jack Eichel to recently signed free agent defenseman Andrew MacWilliam, the Sabres organization is full of players and prospects with college ties. On July 1 Porter (Michigan) was joined by fellow college alum Kyle Criscuolo (Harvard,) Matt Tennyson (Western Michigan) and Adam Wilcox (Minnesota) in joining the Sabres organization.

Other college grads whom the Sabres  have signed recently include a group of C.J. Smith (UMASS-Lowell,) Adam Kile (Michigan,) Justin Danforth (Sacred Heart University, Atlantic Hockey Association) and MacWilliam (North Dakota.) Evan Rodrigues (Boston University) and Casey Nelson Minnesota State) were both signed out of college in 2015 and there are numerous drafted players that will either be attending college like 2017 eighth-overall pick Casey Mittelstadt (Minnesota,) are still in college like 92nd overall pick (2015) Will Borgen at St. Cloud State or graduated and have started their pro careers (Hudson Fasching, Minnesota.)

Sabres owner Terry Pegula has been focusing on the NCAA ever since he sold his interest in East Resources in 2010. The first thing he did was donate what would end up being over $100 million to his alma mater, Penn State, for a D-1 hockey program. Last month he was credited with laying the groundwork for the NHL's college hockey initiative, "a project to promote the growth of NCAA Division-1 men's and women's hockey," according to NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman.

The program is in it's infancy but it aims to explore adding D-1 college hockey programs across the U.S.

Bettman, who announced the program at the NHL Draft in Chicago last month, used Penn State as an example saying that they've already "achieved a level of great success in it's short history," noting that the D-1 men's hockey program, which began in 2012-13, was ranked No. 1 at one point in the 2016-17 season. Those direct results of Pegula's generous donation to Penn State was the driving force for an initiative that hopes to "incentivize and raise awareness for schools that may be interested in adding a D-1 hockey program," said Bettman.

The idea is to expand hockey's footprint in the U.S. using D-1 programs as a way of leading towards more youth hockey. "What we've found is, where high-level hockey is established," said Bettman, "youth hockey will also follow as well.

"By expanding our footprint at all levels for elite programs, we can inspire new players and parents to join the hockey family."

The reliance of NHL teams on college hockey has grown considerably as "a record 314 former college players skated in the NHL in 2016-17, comprising 32% of the league," wrote CollegeHockeyInc. "That number was just 20% at the turn of the century. The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins featured more former college players than any NHL team in history."

Botterill and Sexton both played hockey in college with Botterill making it to the NHL at a time when the NHL relied heavily on players from the Canadian Junior Leagues. A lot has changed since with Pittsburgh being on the cutting edge of the movement more towards college players. Contributions at the NHL-level, like with Jake Guentzel (University of Nebraska-Omaha) have been well documented, but it should also be noted that the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have made the AHL's Calder Cup playoffs the last eight seasons, all with Botterill's guidance.

It's certainly something of interest in Rochester where the Amerks have missed the playoffs the last three seasons and have only made them thrice since 2004-05, which happened to be with Botterill on the roster in his final pro season.











Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Nico signed and ready to headline 3rd annual Prospects Challenge. Plus…

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-16-2017


The New Jersey Devils found some serious luck when the vaulted from the fifth-overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft all the way up to No. 1.  Although the Philadelphia Flyers trounced them on the luck-scale by going from 13th-overal to No. 2, the Devils got the pick of the litter and selected center Nico Hischier from Halifax of the QMJHL with the top pick.

Hischier shot up the draft with a 38-goal, 86 point season for the Mooseheads during the regular season (57 games.) Dennis MacInnis of International Scouting Services told The New York Times prior to the draft that he'd "seen guys go from the 20s to the top 10, but I don't really recall the last time we had a guy go from 20s to contending for No. 1." With most expecting the Devils to take Nolan Patrick first overall, MacInnis has now seen something that's never happened before.

The 6'1" 176 lb. Hischier is described a "worth the price of admission," by Dan Marr, Director NHL Central Scouting. Marr continued in his predraft profile of Hischier as a player that "has a high skill level. But what's most impressive is the way he competes, his drive and work ethic. He is a player who is first on the forecheck forcing a turnover and when the play transitions, he's the first player back. He's in that category as a special player."

Sabres fans will get to see Hischier in a pro-style setting as he and the rest of New Jersey's prospects hit the HarborCenter ice in Buffalo for the 3rd Annual Prospects Challenge. The event is from Friday, September 8 to Tuesday, September 12 in a round-robin format. Buffalo takes on New Jersey in the headliner at 7 p.m. that Friday. The afternoon game pits the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins.

This will be the third year that New Jersey and Boston will be at the event while the Penguins are first-time participants.


*****

There are plenty of Pittsburgh ties when it comes to the Buffalo Sabres, which includes new GM Jason Botterill and new AGM, Randy Sexton so it's good that they were able to lure the Pens to Buffalo for the Challenge.

Although the Penguins won't have a Hischier attending the tournament we could see NCAA Scoring Champion Zach Aston-Reese (2017, FA) plus two 2017 draft picks in defensemen Zachary Lauzon (51st-overall) and Clayton Phillips (93rd.)

Boston, meanwhile, touts defensemen Charlie McAvoy (2016, 14th) and Jeremy Lauzon (2015, 52nd) plus 2015 75th overall pick, goalie Daniel Vladar.

Rosters should be announced early September.


*****

Our friend Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com/Sabres.com have us his projections for Buffalo's Prospect Challenge roster which includes names like Alexander Nylander, Cliff Pu, Brendan Guhle and Jonas Johansson. He's also quick to point out that players in college and overseas will be either playing games or in camp at that time of year.

Some of the Sabres' most intriguing prospects will not at the Challenge including centers Rasmus Asplund (2016, 33rd) and Casey Mittelstadt (2017, eighth) who were both forces in the recently completed Sabres Development Camp. College defensemen Will Borgen and Casey Fitzgerald will not be attending nor will goalie Ukka-Pekka Luukkonen. Luukkonen had a stellar D-Camp and his progress is one worth watching.


*****

I couldn't help but think this after reading that former Sabres bench boss Ted Nolan was headed to Poland to coach the National Team there. Nolan had two stints with the Sabres, and I have the utmost respect for what he was able to do in Buffalo. And from all accounts, he's been even better off the ice.

Nolan's style is rather simple when it comes to hockey--work hard and give it all you've got. It's a rather old notion that kind of got lost in this new world of analytics which reminded me of the beginnings of World War II when the Polish Calvary tried to fight Nazi tanks and armored vehicles while on horseback. Those were some brave and noble soldiers, but the end result wasn't very pretty.

Then again, a systematic coach like Dan Bylsma probably would've have the tanks strictly follow his plan even if it meant ending up at the bottom of lake or river while on their way to Warsaw.


*****

Dom Luszczyszyn of The Hockey News had an interesting article a couple of days ago entitled, Star power in the NHL: Which teams have it, and how much does it take to win the Cup?  With superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to the last two Stanley Cups, along with superstars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith leading the Chicago Blackhawks to three of the previous six Cups, it makes for good conversation.

Luszczszyn used a recent FiveThirtyEight NBA piece as a basis and came up with a way "to figure out how good a player needs to be to fit championship criteria." He tabbed the five top players on each of the last Cup Championship teams dating back to 2008. Using that info he established five tiers from "year-end award candidates" down to "very good players who are borderline stars in the right environment" giving him star tiers.

He then doled out points for each player landing in a certain tier and added up the top-seven players ranked by star tier to come away with a team ranking.

Like all analytics it does have quirks, like the Winnipeg Jets being ranked second overall lead by Blake Wheeler amongst the top-10 overall, but it does have the Nashville Predators (1st,) Penguins (3rd,) Washington Capitals (4th) and Blackhawks (7th) in star power.

The Buffalo Sabres come in at No. 23 in Luszczszyn's star power ranking with no player in the top "year-end awards candidates" tier but two in the next one--"elite players, among the best at their position." Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly are behind the likes of Malkin, Marc Schiefele (WPG,) Joe Pavelski (SJS,) Max Pacioretty (MTL,) and Alexander Ovechkin (WSH.)

Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo made the final, "very good plyaers who are borderline stars in the right environment" fifth tier while Evander Kane never made it on the list.

For those interested, Connor McDavid (EDM,) Nikita Kucherov (TBL,) Crosby, Patrice Bergeron (BOS) and Brad Marchand (BOS) were the top-five players.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

US making inroads into Canada's game via USNTDP and NCAA

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-14-2017


Yes, we’re well aware that Edmonton’s Connor McDavid just signed an 8yr./$100 million extension. The Oilers captain had a spectacular season in which he lead his team to Game-7 of the Western Conference Semi-finals while also bringing home a sweet trifecta of individual trophies at the NHL Awards Show.

The 2015 first-overall pick deserved every accolade sent his way.

McDavid was drafted out of the OHL where most Canadian hockey players develop their game. For years the U.S. has been trying to catch up as the gulf between Canadian and American players was more like an ocean. On one side you have Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, atop a slew of others as the greatest players of all time. The U.S. has produced some great players in Pat LaFontaine, Mike Modano, Brett Hull, and even Buffalo's own Phil Housley, but there's a lot of catching up to do.

There's still a huge gap on a superstar-level although Buffalo native Patrick Kane is making his way up the various lists. Kane spent two years in the U.S. National Team Development Program before playing one season with the OHL's London Knights. Kane was a player that put the USNTDP on the map and less than 10 years later, two more USNTDP products are looking like players who should help close that gap--Buffalo's Jack Eichel and Toronto's Auston Matthews.

Matthews is a particularly interesting case as he was born in northern California but was raised in the desert watching the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes. The two-sport athlete chose hockey over baseball and had two remarkable seasons in the U.S. before heading to Switzerland prior to being selected first-overall by the Maple Leafs in 2016.

Boston native Eichel went a more traditional route as he went to Boston University following his two years with the USNTDP and hit the ice for the Sabres after being selected second-overall in 2015.

While CHL has always been a main feeder for the NHL, the Euro leagues and NCAA are beginning to make their marks as well. College in particular is a growing source for NHL talent and we can look no further than the 2017 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Of the 33 players to suit up for the club for at least one game, 20 of them came from the college ranks.

The NCAA is no stranger to producing quality players either and that includes superstars. Hull attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth 1984-86, Chris Chelios went to the University of Wisconsin from 1981-83 and Brian Leetch played a year at Boston College. Montreal Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden put his pro career on hold after being drafted in 1964 and attended Cornell University. After sitting out his freshman year, played three seasons for the Big Red.

As a feeder for the NHL, college hockey has really made some inroads. According to College Hockey Inc., "a record 314 former college players skated in the NHL in 2016-17, comprising 32% of the league. That number was just 20% at the turn of the century." And they went on to write that "the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins featured more former college players than any NHL team in history."

Tonight two Hockey East powerhouse in Boston College and Boston University are having an alumni game for charity. The Commonwealth Avenue Charity Classic Hockey Game with all proceeds to benefit Compassionate Care ALS and The Travis Roy Foundation. A game worthy in and of itself for the cause, but one that features some very notable hockey names from only two schools.

Eichel (BU) leads the Terriers while "Johnny Hockey," aka Johnny Gadreau (BC) leads the Eagles. Other names of note are Charlie Coyle (MIN) who will be skating for BU plus goalie Cory Schneider (NJD,) defenseman Noah Hanifin (CAR) and Stanley Cup winner Brooks Orpik (WSH) who will be on the ice for the Eagles.

There's still a huge gap between Canadian players and those from the States, and although the CHL still produces a majority of NHL players, the USNTDP and the NCAA are churning out some pretty good players at a steadily increasing rate. The superstar quotient isn't quite there yet, despite the notable career of Kane thus far and the talent-level both Matthews and Eichel have displayed as teenagers, but for those of us who remember hockey as Canada's game almost exclusively the U.S. (and Europe) is beginning to change the conversation.






Friday, July 14, 2017

Randy Sexton's relentless pursuit to revitalize the Rochester Americans

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-12-2017


Late last month, new Sabres general manager Jason Botterill poached Randy Sexton from the Pittsburgh Penguins and made him GM of the Rochester Americans, Buffalo's AHL affiliate. Sexton was Pittsburgh's director of amateur scouting and played a big part in having young, dynamic role-players fill in around high-priced superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Rochester is not an unfamiliar city to Sexton as he was involved with the Amerks while with the Florida Panthers from 2007-10. Rochester was the dual affiliate of both Buffalo and Florida in 2005 and 2006 before the Sabres moved on to an affiliation with Portland, ME from 2007-11 leaving the Panthers as Rochester's lone parent club.

After being replaced in Florida after the 2009-10 season, Sexton joined the Penguins organization on July 3, 2010 as an assistant director of amateur scouting. He would spend the next seven years working with Botterill and helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup twice.

Botterill gave Sexton the dual responsibilities of being his assistant in Buffalo as well as the title of GM in Rochester but he also asked Sexton to lead the amateur scouting group for the organization. And if that wasn't enough on his plate, Sexton also said he offered his services to Rob Kopacz, Vice President of Business Operations for the Rochester Americans. In an interview with long-time Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens at the recently concluded Sabres Development Camp, Sexton said that he "has built franchises in the past from the business side" and "will do anything he can to help build a stronger business side in Rochester."

However, Sexton's role will be "mostly on-ice, mostly hockey related," he told Stevens. "We need to reshape our organization [in Rochester]. The guys before us have done a really solid job, now what we need to do is add more depth and strength and talent to the stable they've already built."

Botterill certainly helped in that respect as he had a very busy July 1 start to free agency. He began up-front when he started and finished the day by signing forwards Benoit Pouliot and Jacob Josefson, two NHL'ers who fill the NHL depth chart that will keep young players in Rochester for further development. He also signed forwards Kevin Porter and 2017 Calder Cup Champion Kyle Criscuolo to help guide the young Amerks players.

But maybe more important for the Sabres organization is what Botterill has done on the defensive side of the equation since taking over. The Sabres defense last season was a huge Achilles heal for the club and it was a main priority for the new GM. On June 15 Botterill hired Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Housley, who was a premier puck-moving, offensive defenseman in his playing career and was now having success in the coaching ranks with the Nashville Predators. As an assistant in Nashville Housley helped develop what was considered to be the most dangerous defense-corps in the 2017 NHL playoffs.

Botterill followed the Housley hire with trades that brought in defenseman Nathan Beaulieu (MTL) and Marco Scandella (MIN.) Both are mobile puck-movers who fit right into the direction Buffalo is headed with their defense and it's all an extension of what Botterill and Sexton were doing in Pittsburgh.

Sexton was running the 2017 NHL Draft for Pittsburgh before he left for Buffalo. The Pens took four defensemen in June that fit in with what they wanted. He told the gathered media after the Draft that the defensemen the Penguins were looking for "have to be mobile, they have to have vision and they have to be able to move the puck. We don't like Clydesdales, we like thoroughbreds. So all of these D-men can skate."

The additions of Beaulieu and Scandella, who are in that mold, would help transition Buffalo's defense by pushing the Sabres depth chart down to the Amerks. Solidifying the Sabres top-six means a player like Brendan Guhle will be able to stay in Rochester for a year of seasoning instead of being thrown into the fire in Buffalo. It gives Taylor Fedun another opportunity for top-pairing minutes on defense in Rochester and Casey Nelson will also be able to build upon a strong finish for the Amerks last season. Then there are the prospects that will (hopefully) follow like Devante Stephens, Will Borgen, Casey Fitzgerald and Oskari Laaksonen all of whom will be given ample time to develop at their own pace.

The key, according to Sexton, is building depth reaching all the way to their ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones. "The depth that's required across an organization, to ensure that all teams remain successful and competitive, is significant so we do need to add more depth," he told Stevens.

Buffalo's roster is looking pretty well set (barring a trade or unforeseen circumstances) and it looks as if there will be some stiff competition for a few roster spots. Those who don't make the cut will be sent to Rochester meaning Sexton will have some pretty good players falling to him from forwards to defensemen to goalie Linus Ullmark, last year's starter in Rochester. When Botterill signed veteran Chad Johnson to back up Robin Lehner, it meant Ullmark gets another season of development while the Amerks get their starting goalie back.

It's good news for the Sabres and real good news for the Amerks. Rochester has missed the playoffs the last three seasons and haven't made it out of the first round since 2004-05 when the NHL locked out its players for the entire season and Botterill played for the Amerks in his final season.

Botterill said at his introductory presser that he would focus upon revitalizing the Rochester Americans. Both he and Sexton have ties Amerks, both came from an organization in Pittsburgh that had a top-notch AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and it's something they both want for the Sabres. “We are not going to rest until we restore the Americans to what I think is their rightful place among the elite teams in the American Hockey League,” Sexton told the media during Sabres Development Camp. “It will come one day at a time, it will come one person at a time. But we will be relentless in our pursuit of that success.”


 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

2017 Sabres Development Camp closes. What's the word on the street?

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-11-2017


(Compiled from media outlets including The Buffalo News and Sabres.com)


The 2017 Buffalo Sabres Development Camp is in the books. The event which was shortened to four days concluded with the French Connection 3-on-3 Tournament, which was always the case, but missing this year was the popular Blue and Gold Scrimmage. New AGM Randy Sexton said that nixing the scrimmage, as well as shortening the camp from seven to four days, was in the best interests of the players.

"Summer training for players this age is critical," Sexton told the gathered media two days ago. "I've seen it happen in other development camps where you have these high-intensity scrimmages or practices. Kids are competitive by nature and now you've got five kids that are nursing injuries for 2-3 weeks. And that throws a serious wrench into their training regimens. So we need to be sure, back to helping these players becoming as good as they're capable of them becoming, that it includes a strong summer of off-ice training."

There was one injury, however, as defenseman Devante Stephens got tangled up with Hudson Fasching and crashed into the boards. Stephens incurred a shoulder injury "that won't require surgery," according to GM Jason Botterill. The injury will require a couple of weeks and Stephens "should be ready for training camp," said Botterill at the close of camp today. Stephens had just signed his entry-level deal with the Sabres two months earlier and there's an opening on defense in Rochester.

Other than that, the youngins were on display and from various reports, some players had themselves a pretty good camp.

Buffalo's 2017 first round pick Casey Mittelstadt looked to be the star of the show. The eighth-overall pick was mentioned often over the weekend and through Monday and with today's 3-on-3 tournament, his stature grew a little bigger. Before we anoint Mittelstadt as the next Jack Eichel, today's 3-on-3 tournament was played full-ice, similar to the NHL's overtime session. There was plenty of room to maneuver, plenty of ice to work with.

Mittelstadt's Team White marched through the tournament without a loss while on their way to the French Connection Trophy. In the championship game Mittelstadt twice was in the midst of wowing the crowd with some shifty maneuvering only to have the horn sound for a required line change. The next time, however, he weaved his way down low near the goal line and roofed a forehand from in tight to give Team White a 2-0 lead.

Winning seems to be a passion of Mittelstadt's. After he lead Team White to a semi-finals win, Brian Duff said that whether he's playing cards or checkers or whatever, "all Mittelstadt does is win." Place that atop his top-three skill-level and Sabres fans have a lot to get excited about.

The rest of Team White:
D, Bryson Martin
D, Erik Autio
LW, Brett Murray
RW, Hudson Fasching
C, Rasmus Asplund
F, Eric Cornel
G, Jake McGrath

Rasmus Asplund got some favorable mentions over the course of the camp and had some good words for Mittelstadt. "This is the first time I've seen Casey play, and I think he's one of the better players I've ever seen play," Asplund said to the media at camp's end. "He's so shifty and he's so hard to play against. I got to play with him today."

Asplund had himself a pretty good camp getting noticed for all the right reasons. Buffalo's second round pick (33rd-overall) heads back to Farjestad BK for his fourth season competing in Sweden's top men's league. Word is that he'll be placed in a scoring role for his final season in the SHL.

Autio, a camp invitee from Penn State also fared well as did Cornel in the tournament.

Finnish defenseman Oskari Laaksonen also appeared at Camp showing that he not only is real, but that he's got more on his frame than the 130 lbs. his bio's said he had on. The third rounder was selected out of no where by Buffalo, having not appeared on any draft lists.

In an interview after Day-2 of camp Laaksonen said to the media, "I was like, 'Oh my God, oh my God.' I ran to my mother. It was a special moment for me." After proving he was real he went about telling the media about the weight issue where he was listed at 103 lbs. "I was like, oh God, I have to correct that one," he said, smiling. He did. Laaksonen clocked in at just under 6' and weighed 152 lbs. It's still small for a defenseman, but the kid's got some definitive skills.

Fellow Finnish countryman Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen looked huge in goal, but was nimble and positionally sound. Laaksonen knows him from playing against him and said of the 6'4" 198 lb. Luukkonen, "He's great. He's a fun guy. He's so fun to be around. He's hugeee, man." On the ice he wasn't so fun to be around for the opposition as he was stout throughout most of the tournament.

Broadcast legend Rick Jeanneret was on hand for the play-by-play today and was joined by Rob Ray and Duff, among others. The Sabres had themselves a good crowd at HarborCenter with the team opening up sections as the fans filed in to fill the place for a 3-on-3 tournament in July. Which is not surprising.

Despite all the up's and down's Sabres fans have had, it's their team and they remained excited about them. Most players on the ice won't be representing the Sabres for a few years, but it's great to see where they are now, with that as a backdrop when we watch them three years from now. They're the future of the Blue and Gold.


*****

The future of the Blue and Gold can also be tied to 20 yr. old Jack Eichel. The No. 2 overall pick in 2015 is Buffalo's franchise player and will be entering the final year of his contract this season. Botterill and Co. know that, and they'd like to get an extension with Eichel done this off season.

"Our conversations with Jack and the group have gone extremely well," Botterill said to the media in HarborCenter after the close of development camp. "We'll continue this throughout the summer and see if we can find a common ground because, from our standpoint, we certainly want to get something done. And everything we've heard from Jack and his agents is they want to get something done too."

Connor McDavid, the first-overall pick in 2015 was re-upped by the Edmonton Oilers to the tune of 8 yrs./$100 million, or a record-breaking cap-hit of $12.5 million. That was on the heels of a breakout season where McDavid had 100 points (30+70) and won the Art Ross Trophy (most points,) the Hart Trophy (League MVP,) and the Ted Lindsay Award for most outstanding player as voted upon by his peers.

Eichel won't be getting too close to McDavid's cap-hit, but most think his AVV could be $10 million. An eight-year, $72 million deal might get the job done, but it might take the Sabres a bit more. Botterill wants to get it done, and one would assumed Eichel and Co. want to get it done as well.

Buffalo's other second-overall pick, Sam Reinhart (2014,) is also up for an extension but Botterill said that will be put on hold. "We're excited with Sam but I don't think Sam from a contract standpoint will happen this summer," Botterill said. "We have him under contract another year and we'll see how things play out."

Botterill also has two pending arbitration cases to get ready for--G, Robin Lehner and D, Nathan Beaulieu who the new GM acquired from Montreal for a third round pick.




Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A look at the Buffalo Sabres 2012 draft class

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-9-2017


On February 27, 2012 then Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier pulled off a trade at the deadline that sent Paul Gaustad and a fourth round pick to the Nashville Predators for a 2012 first round pick. After fans recovered from the utter shock of landing a first rounder for a fourth-liner in Gaustad, there was a realization that Regier's "Core" was about to be parceled off in a desperately needed rebuild for the franchise.

Over the course of the next two seasons, that group of Sabres, also known as "The Rochester Guys" as dubbed by then team president Ted Black, would be approaching free agency. It was a group of players that played together in Rochester during the 2004-05 NHL lockout and took over the reigns after the 2007 off-season when Buffalo couldn't retain their captain. "The Core" was very talented individually, something that would net the Sabres a cumulative haul when all was said and done, but they could not, as a group, get the Sabres past the first round of the playoffs. So in 2012 with Terry Pegula barely past his honeymoon phase as the new owner and the team looking the same as it had despite his injection of money and front-office freedom edict, Regier started dismantling his core.

The Sabres made two trades that 2012 deadline day. After Regier traded Gaustad, he sent forward Zack Kassian (2009, 13th-overall) and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani (2005, 87th) to the Vancouver Canucks in a hockey trade that brought back center Cody Hodgson and defenseman Alexander Sulzer. Although it didn't directly affect any of the Sabres drafts moving forward, moving those two Sabres picks contributed to what is now a complete overhaul of the franchise. With the trade of Tyler Ennis (2008, 26th) and Marcus Foligno (2009, 104th) to Minnesota on June 30, the Sabres have no homegrown player on their roster who was drafted by, and continuously played for, the club prior to the 2012 NHL Draft.

Buffalo went into the 2012 NHL Draft with an extra first-rounder from Nashville plus an extra second round pick in the trade for Robyn Regehr with the Calgary Flames. They entered the draft with pick Nos. 12, 21, 42 and 44 in the first two rounds. They also had an extra seventh-rounder from the Steve Montador trade to Chicago but lost a fourth-round pick when they traded for the rights to Christian Ehrhoff of the NY Islanders.

Kevin Devine, Buffalo's head amateur scout at the time, described the 2012 NHL Entry Draft as balanced but "not great up top." He said that they " having a real tough time coming up with a top-five." And to add to what he called "the most challenging" draft of his long tenure, "The Russian Factor" was coming into play as the threat of talented Russian players eventually heading to the Motherland to play in the KHL factored into most every GM's decision making process. Devine in called them "risky" picks and said, "if there's not an [Alex] Ovechink or [Ilya] Kovalchuk in the draft we're very leery of taking a player there and possibly losing that pick to the KHL."

He also discussed the possibility of moving up as the second tier stretched from No. 4 or 5 down to the  No. 12 area where the Sabres were slated to pick with their first of two first round picks. "Well, there's two views of [moving up,]" he said to the local media at the time, "first of all what's the price to move up and get that. If it's going to be your pick at 21 and you feel you're going to get a good player at 21, it's going to be hard to do...and, with all the players not distinguishing themselves, is it the year to move up? That's the question we're still asking ourselves."

The Sabres would eventually keep their 12th-overall pick but did in fact make a move up to No. 14, using their own second round pick to do so.

It's also worth mentioning that at the time, Buffalo's defense was considered a strength in the organization with their weakest area being center. Devine, like nearly every NHL GM (if not all,) had an openness to the situationally dependent, best player available approach to No. 12. "There are some defenseman in this draft who could turn out to be a #1 or #2 [defenseman,]" he said. "If there's a defenseman like that at 12, versus maybe a top-six or third line forward, then we'll definitely take the defenseman."

The Sabres watched as players started coming off the board:

RW, Nail Yakupov (EDM)
D, Ryan Murray (CLB)
C, Alex Galchenuyk (MTL)
D, Griffin Reinhart (NYI)
D, Morgan Reilly (TOR)
D, Hampus Lindholm (ANA)
D, Matthew Dumba (MIN)
D, Derrick Pouliot (PIT)
D, Jacob Trouba (WPG)
D, Slater Koekkoek (TBL)
RW, Filip Forseberg (WSH)

At No. 12 the Sabres selected center Mikhail Grigorenko.

Grigorenko was an enigma who's slot was all over the board in the various mock drafts. He had NHL size and an excellent skill set that had some thinking he'd be a top-five pick. Grigorenko was coming off of a 40 goal, 45 assist season for the Quebec Remparts in 2011-12 but some still had questions about his compete-level. His time in Buffalo was tumultuous as he was too good for junior in 2012-13 but not good enough to play in the NHL and because of rules he was not allowed to play in the AHL. The NHL locked out it's players in 2012 and play resumed in January, 2013. After a five-game "audition" with the Sabres, Girgorenko was sent back to junior a move which he initially balked at. He obliged and finished his junior career with 14 points (5+9) in 11 playoff games. From there he had a choppy career in Buffalo which had him yo-yoing between the Sabres and the Rochester Americans. On June 26, 2015 he was a part of the blockbuster trade with Colorado for Ryan O'Reilly. After two years with the Avalanche, and the turmoil there, on July 7, 2017 it was announced that the unrestricted free agent signed a three year contract with CSKA Moscow of the KHL.


14th--C, Zemgus Girgensons

After selecting Grigorenko and watching center Radek Faksa go off the board to the Dallas Stars, Regier hooked up with Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster for the second time in a year. Buffalo traded the pick they got from Nashville in the Gaustad trade (No. 21) plus their own second rounder (No. 42) to move up and select Girgensons. Where Grigorenko was about size and skill, Girgensons was about size and will. "The Latvian Locomotive" made the jump from the Dubuque Fighting Saints to the AHL as an 18 yr. old and was one of the youngest players in the league. Since his debut as a Sabre on October 2, 2013 (where he scored a goal,) Girgensons has played in 277 NHL games, is on his fourth NHL head coach and third NHL GM. Somehow the 23 yr. old has managed to keep his wits about him and is looking to rebound from two disappointing seasons. He's the longest tenured Sabres player.


44th--D, Jake McCabe

Defenseman Jake McCabe is the second-longest tenured Sabre behind Girgensons and has matured nicely. The McCabe pick came courtesy of a trade with Calgary where the Sabres received Robyn Regehr and took on the bloated contract of Ales Kotalik in exchange for defenseman Chris Butler and forward Paul Byron. McCabe had a very successful career at Wisconsin and also captained Team USA to the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship Gold medal under Phil Housley who now coaches the Sabres. He's been a top-four d-man for Buffalo who's been used often in the top-pairing. Many feel he still has upside at both ends of the ice and may get a shot at the top left-defenseman slot at training camp.


73rd--C, Justin Kea

The 6'4" 215 lb. Woodville, Ontario native bounced between the Rochester Americans and Elmira Jackals (ECHL) during his four-year pro career never making it to the NHL.


133rd--C, Logan Nelson

The Rogers, Minnesota native has spent his entire pro career in the ECHL.


163rd--G, Linus Ullmark

Perhaps it was the influx of overseas scouts that lead Buffalo to select the 6'3" 198 lb. Ullmark. After being taken by the Sabres in the sixth round, Ullmark stayed in his native Sweden and continued to impress for three seasons before coming to play for Rochester. His transition, however, was marked by elective double-hip surgery which was to keep him out until late-fall/early winter 2015. But a strange thing happened while on that timeline. Ullmark recovered quickly and stared in goal for the Amerks to begin the 2015-16 season. After Buffalo's starting goalie Robin Lehner went down in the first game of the season, the Sabres eventually called him up. Ullmark played in 20 games for the Sabres that season compiling an 8-10-2 record with a 2.60 GAA and .913 Sv%. Most respectable for a player that just came from overseas and was thrown into the fire after recovering early from major surgery. He fare well last season as the Amerks No. 1 goalie, despite being in a shooting gallery all season, and will be back in Rochester for another year of seasoning thanks the Sabres signing of back-up Chad Johnson.


193rd--D, Brady Austin

Austin was a London Knights d-partner for future first-round pick Nikita Zadorov before he turned pro. The big 6'4" 225 lb. left-handed defenseman spent some time with Elmira in the ECHL during his first pro campaign but played the bulk of the 2014-15 season in Rochester and never returned to Elmira afterwards. Austin is surprisingly mobile for a man of his size and got a five-game taste of the NHL last season in Buffalo where he looked pretty good. The Sabres, under new GM Jason Botterill never qualified him and Austin's now an unrestricted free agent.


204th--C, Judd Peterson

After being Buffalo's final pick in 2012, Petersen spent the next two seasons in the USHL before heading to St. Cloud State in Minnesota. It made fore a very long developmental curve for him while the Sabres benefitted by retaining his rights throughout. Peterson is at his fifth Sabres Development Camp and as a soon to be 24 yr. old entering his senior season for the Huskies, he's expected to take a big leap in his development.





Sunday, July 9, 2017

Players to watch at Sabres Development Camp 2017

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-8-2017


Much to the dismay of many a Sabres fan, the 2017 Buffalo Sabres Development Camp, which got underway today, will not include the annual Blue and Gold Scrimmage. That's too bad, because it was a fan favorite. Perhaps the Sabres decided upon a full-on business-like approach this year instead of having the prospects face each other in a live-game situation.

Back in 2015, hockey euphoria hit Sabreland with the drafting of Jack Eichel and the Blue and Gold Scrimmage that year brought in over 17,000 fans on a hot day in July. Last year Alexander Nylander wowwed fans with some penalty shot wizardry while Sabres broadcast legend Rick Jeanneret was in the booth making the call for a live stream at Sabres.com. Back in 2014, Zemgus Girgensons welcomed second-overall draft pick Sam Reinhart to the league with a heavy check and later on in the scrimmage Anthony Florentino and Justin Kea dropped the gloves, a rarity at D-Camps.

For as much as we fans like the scrimmage it's a camp, like the name says, that keys on development. Sabres management, the coaching staff and scouts will be in the stands evaluating the incoming draft class while also looking to see were the rest of the prospects are on the developmental curve. In looking as we laid it out here, there are plenty of lower round picks on long developmental curves wo are in the mix, which is one of the benefits of drafting players headed to college or those of whom are overseas.

After three days of various drills, the camp culminates with the 3-on-3 tournament named for the French Connection. This is a favorite of the organization as it pits many teams consisting of five, or even four, players going against each other in six minute games with :45 second shifts. Three players from each side are on the ice for the half-ice games and they're played without interruption during the round-robin portion.

Player's like Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste and even Brendan Guhle, are known quantities at this point but they're development will still be under scrutiny while the Sabres will be getting their first up-close look at 2017 NHL Draft newbies like Casey Mittelstadt, Marcus Davidsson and Oskari Laaksonen. There are also five invitees in camp looking to make an impression.

Here's a look at some of the 40 players to watch:

--D, Anthony Florentino (2013, 143rd overall):  "Flo" graduated from Providence this past year and got himself a five-game audition with the Rochester Americans on an AHL contract. As shown by the contract, the previous regime wasn't all-in on the 6'0" 207 lb. native of Boston but with a new regime in place, he'll have an opportunity to make a good first impression. The Sabres shored up their defense this off season and with new head coach Phil Housley liking mobile puck-movers, we're not sure how or if Florentino fits in. But there are openings in the Amerks lineup right now.

--D, Devante Stephens (2015, 122nd):  Stephens enters his first pro season after finishing his junior year with career highs in goals (13) and assists (35) for the Rockets and he's the type of mobile, puck-mover that fits right into what Housley and Co. may very well be looking for. At 6'1" 171 lbs. he still has room to grow into his frame and the athleticism the previous regime drafted him for is still there. He should be in the top-six mix in Rochester.

RW, Judd Petersen (2012, 204th):  At 24 yrs. old, the Duluth, Minnesota native is the eldest of the vets at camp this year. Petersen was on an uber-long developmental curve as he spent two seasons in the USHL before attending St. Cloud State. This will be the senior's final college season and after taking a statistical step back in 2016-17 from the prior season, Petersen should light things up this go-round. The Sabres will be looking to see how far he's come along in his fourth D-camp.

C, Connor Hurley (2013, 38th):  Hurley was the youngest player taken in the 2013 draft and he's needed every possible year of development. The skill-level is there as he has some of he best hands in the league, but lack of size and strength has hampered his confidence which in-turn has kept him away from the scoring zones. Hurley will have one more season at Notre Dame and if he cannot improve statistically, he'll be looking like a miss for the organization.

C, Casey Mittelstadt (2017, 8th):  There was a mini uproar in Sabreland when Mittelstadt, who plays a position that's a strength for the organization, was selected over a defenseman, most notably Timothy Liljegren. Mittelstadt was widely considered a top-five pick that dropped to Buffalo and Sabres fans will have the opportunity to see his skill-level at camp.

C, Cliff Pu (2016, 69th):  Pu had an excellent camp last year and an even better year for London in 2016-17 where he posted career numbers for the nights (63 games, 35 goals, 51 assists.) As shown by those numbers, he's well on his way developmentally.

D, Will Borgen (2015, 92nd):  A lot is being expected of Borgen as he'll be entering his junior season at St. Cloud State. Most expect him to leave college early and begin his professional career with an entry-level deal. Borgen and fellow 2015 draft pick Brendan Guhle are the cream of the prospect crop on defense for the Sabres.

LW, Alexander Nylander (2016, 8th):  Nylander got his taste of the NHL last season when he appeared in four games for the Sabres, while collecting his first NHL point (an assist.) Size and strength are his areas to focus upon this off season but also to be closely watched is his compete-level. The knock on Nylander at the draft was that he disappeared before pulling off a brilliant display of skill. Being engaged every second of every shift should be the goal for him. Showing the staff he's all-in on that concept at camp will go a long way towards convincing Buffalo that he's just about ready.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

2017 Sabres Development Camp Roster

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-7-2017


The Buffalo Sabres youngins will hit the HarborCenter ice beginning tomorrow for the start of Sabres 2017 Development Camp. The stated goals of the four-day event, as per the team are to "introduce prospective players to professional work habits and organizational standards" while giving the players "an opportunity to become familiar with the team and the resources available to them through the Sabres development staff and the performance team."

Forty players are scheduled to attend the camp lead by "veterans" like Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste, both of whom started their pro careers in 2015-16 and have well over 100 games of professional experience. Others like collegians Connor Hurley, Anthony Florentino and Sean Malone, all 2013 draft picks who are either still in school or recently graduated, attended their first D-Camp four years ago and are back again. Buffalo natives Bailey and Malone will be joined by another local product in Austin Osmanski of East Aurora.

Buffalo's entire 2017 draft class, lead by eighth-overall pick Casey Mittelstadt and Marcus Davidsson (37th,) is also scheduled to be introduced to their new team at camp and we also get visits from Victor Olofsson and Rasmus Asplund who both played in the top Swedish hockey league last year. There are also five invites including two 18 yr. old goalies who went undrafted in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

The list:  (Jersey number, Position, Name, League[s] last year, Drafted)


Pro

#56--RW, Justin Bailey (AHL/NHL) 2013, 52nd-overall
73--RW, Nick Baptiste (AHL/NHL) 2013, 69th
52--RW, Hudson Fasching (AHL/NHL) 2013, 118th (LAK)
86--C, Eric Cornel (AHL) 2014, 44th
74--RW, Vaclav Karabacek (AHL) 2014, 49th
54--D, Bryson Martin (AHL/ECHL) 2014, 74th
70--LW, Alexander Nylander (AHL) 2016, 8th


College
(* will be attending)

17--RW, Judd Peterson (St. Cloud State, NCHC) 2012, 204th
37--C, Connor Hurley (Notre Dame, H-East) 2013, 38th
42--C, Sean Malone (Harvard, ECAC) 2013, 159th
46--D, Anthony Florentino (Providence, H-East) 2103, 143rd
57--C, Maxwell Willman (Brown, ECAC) 2014, 121nd
13--C, Christopher Brown (Boston College, H-East) 2014, 151st
03--D, Will Borgen (St. Cloud State, NCHC) 2015, 92nd
42--D, Ivan Chukurov (UMass, NCAC) 2015, 182nd
38--D, Casey Fitzgerald (Boston College, H-East) 2016, 86th
81--LW, Brett Murray (Penn St., Big-10) 2016, 99th
##--D, Philip Nyberg (UConn, H-East) 2016, 129th
77--C, Casey Mittelstadt (*Minnesota, Big-10) 2017, 8th
05--D, Jacob Bryson (Providence, H-East) 2017, 99th
17--LW, Linus Weissbach (*Wisconsin, Big-10) 2017, 192nd
19--LW, C.J. Smith (UMass-Lowell, H-East) undrafted FA, 2017


CHL

45--D, Brendan Guhle (WHL) 2015, 51st
58--D, Devante Stephens (WHL) 2015, 122nd
61--C, Cliff Pu (OHL) 2016, 69th
79--D, Vojtech Budik (WHL) 2016, 130th
27--LW, Brandon Hagel (WHL) 2016, 159th
51--D, Austin Osmanski (OHL) 2016, 189th
41--C, Vasily Glotov (QMJHL) 2016, 190th
60--G, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (OHL) 2017, 54th


Overseas

50--G, Jonas Johansson (Almtuna, Swe-1/AHL) 2014, 61st
84--LW, Victor Olofsson (Frolunda, SHL) 2014, 181st
65--C, Rasmus Asplund (Farjestad BK, SHL) 2016, 33rd
20--D, Oskari Laaksonen (Ilves, SM-sarja/SM-liiga) 2017 89th
08--C, Marcus Davidsson ( Djurgardens IF, SuperElit/IF, SHL)2017 37th


Invitees

24--C, Bobby McMann (Colgate, ECAC) undrafted
10--D, Erik Autio (Penn St., Big-10) undrafted
06--D, Bill Sweezey (Yale, ECAC) undrafted
33--G, Kyle Keyser (Oshawa, OHL) undrafted
01--G, Jake McGrath (Sudbury, OHL) undrafted


For more info on the camp and a link to the roster from Sabres.com, click here.

Friday, July 7, 2017

A look at Buffalo's three arbitration cases

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-6-2017


A total of 30 NHL players elected for arbitration yesterday. If a contract can't be finalized before their scheduled hearings, both sides sit down and plead their cases to an arbitrator who makes a binding decision on salary. Hearings are scheduled between July 20 and August 4 this year and most are settled beforehand. In many cases player selected arbitration is a way to ensure a contract negotiations don't drag on all summer.

If the two sides do end up at the arbitrator's table things can get contentious as players and their agents espouse their virtues while teams highlight the players' shortcomings. CSN Mid-Atlantic's Chuck Gormley reminded us recently that in 2002, after the Brendan Morrison hearing, then Vancouver Canucks GM Brian Burke had this to say about the process, “After inviting us into the alley, you can't complain if you get kicked in the groin.”

Oh the pugnacity.

Some other examples of rough negotiations pointed out by Gormley, 2015 piece:

--in 1997 then NY Islanders GM Mike Milbury reportedly drove goaltender Tommy Salo to tears by telling his agent he was one of the poorest conditioned athletes he’d ever seen.
--in 2003, the Phoenix Coyotes called Mike Johnson the “worst forward in the NHL”
--during the Canucks/Morrison hearing metnioned to above, at one point during their briefing the Canucks likened Morrison to a mouse who was carried across a river by two elephants, linemates Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund.

In player elected arbitration the team can walk away from the deal if they get a result that's not to their liking. Since 1995 when the system was set up only a handful of players were left at the altar. The first was in 1999 when Boston said no to a $2.8 million award to Dmitri Khristich. Goalie Anti Niemi's case was a big one in 2010 as the cap-crunched Chicago Blackhawks walked away from that $2.75 million decision. Neimi's was one of three cases that year where teams balked as the Atlanta Thrashers said no to former Buffalo Sabre Clarke MacArthur's award and the Sabres themselves walked away from an award to Tim Kennedy.

That was the second time Buffalo had scoffed at a decision. The first time was in 2006 when they said no to JP Dumont's $2.9 million award. Just prior to that then GM Darcy Regier accepted the $5 million an arbitrator awarded forward Daniel Briere which put the Sabres in a bit of a cap-crunch of their own.

The Sabres have some flexibility under the cap for the 2017-18 season, but not too much. As outlined yesterday, if salaries for their roster free agents remain on the conservative side they'll be $8.5 million under the NHL's cap ceiling this year. However, they also need to take into consideration the possibility that $5.5 million could be paid out in performance bonuses to Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart which could reduce it to about $3 million.

Buffalo has five arbitration-eligible restricted free agents with two of them--Zemgus Girgensons and Evan Rodrigues--not headed to arbitration. Girgensons' eventual salary will affect the Sabres cap situation while Rodrigues is probably headed to Rochester for another year of seasoning. That leaves us with the three who are headed to arbitration.

F, Johan Larsson

Why he chose this route is a head-scratcher, unless he simply wants to get this over with so he can enjoy the rest of his summer. Larsson is a good forward and a real good bottom-six center when he's on his game. On a contender he'd be a pesky fourth-line center and he may end up there for Buffalo this year dependent upon how the roster pans out. It's really not a good time for him to be headed to arbitration as he hasn't played since suffering multiple upper-body injuries sustained when he crashed into the boards on December 31 in Boston. Larsson's statistical highs came the prior season as he had 17 points on a career-high 10 goals in 74 games.

Speculation:  Larsson was qualified for just under $1 million by the Sabres to retain his rights. Call it an even $1 million and be done with it.


D, Nathan Beaulieu

In the first trade of his GM career, Jason Botterill acquired the Montreal defenseman for a third round er. The 24 yr. old Beaulieu is a former first round pick (17th-overall) who spent five years with the Canadiens working his way up the ladder. Last season he was placed on the top-pairing with Shea Weber but was eventually dropped to the third pair. Beaulieu is an all situations defenseman who was fifth in overall time on ice for the Habs defensemen last season, sixth in even strength ATOI, although his 28 points (4+24) tied him for third in scoring amongst Montreal's defensemen.

Speculation:  Beaulieu made $1 million last season. It's a new team and a new system where he may be able to really ramp up his production but we're not sure how this will all play out. A $1.5 million deal gives Beaulieu a nice 50% increase and keeps Buffalo happy during this feeling out period.


G, Robin Lehner

This is the big one for Buffalo. The Sabres picked up goalie Chad Johnson to be Lehner's backup, but the good thing about Johnson is that he can play the role of a team's No. 1. It's not ideal, but he can make it work. Lehner is coming off of an escalating three-year deal that averaged $2.25 million/season but paid him $3.150 million last year and that will be their jumping off point as he proved to be a legit NHL starter. In 59 games for the Sabres last season Lehner posted a 2.68 GAA and .920 Sv% while facing the third most shots in the league (1,910.) Montreal's Carey Price set the new bar for goalies as his new deal pays him $10.5 million AAV and others above Lehner in save percentage have cap-hits in and around the $4.2M (Craig Anderson, OTT) to $5.3M (Jimmy Howard, DET) range

Speculation:  One can see Lehner and his agent expecting to land in that range while the Sabres probably want to max out at $4 million or so. Perhaps $4.25 million will be the number they settle at, but it will be interesting to see what Botterill does if an arbitrator puts the number at $5M.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

A quick look at Niederreiter and the Buffalo's current contract and cap situation

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-5-2016


First off, a big thanks to CapFriendly for their work, and second, Minnesota's Nino Niederreiter has filed for salary arbitration.

Niederreiter was taken fifth overall by the NY Islanders in the 2010 NHL Draft and his wish to be traded was fulfilled as he was sent to the Wild in exchange for Cal Clutterbuck and a 2013 third-round pick (NJD.) He went from scoring one goal in 55 games for the 2011-12 Islanders to a stint with their AHL affiliate, Bridgeport Sound, after the lockout ended then onward to Minnesota where he had 36 points (14+22) in 81 games for the Wild after the trade.

Since that season the 6'2' 212 lb. Niederreiter has steadily increased his point-total to a career high 25 goals and 32 assists last season.

The 24 yr. old is at the end of his second pro contract and had a $2.66 million cap-hit last year.

Why bring this up?

Niederreiter was the subject of trade rumors leading up to the expansion draft as GM Chuck Fletcher had some difficult decisions to make. Fletcher decided to protect Niederreiter and was forced into making a deal with the Las Vegas Golden Knights to keep them from nabbing unprotected players like defensemen Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba. Fletcher sent top prospect Alex Tuch to Vegas for a third-rounder and the Knights eventually selected F, Erik Haula in the expansion draft.

Scandella was eventually traded to Buffalo along with Jason Pominville, a former Sabres captain.

Although Fletcher has managed to keep his core together, Niederreiter seems to be like an electron that may eventually break free and the Sabres most likely are keeping an eye on the situation (as are other teams.)

Niederreiter is listed as a right-winger, of which the Sabres have many, but he's played both sides of center and would fit nicely in a top-six, left-wing role in Buffalo. It's possible that a $4 million or more arbitration ruling could be in the offing and although the Wild have the cap-space to absorb that, the ramifications of an arbitration hearing can lead to a messy situation.

But, onward to the Sabres.


*****

The trade for Scandella and Pominville added just over $3.3 million to the Sabres cap. As of right now, Buffalo is well under the $75 million cap ceiling with four restricted free agents they're expected re-sign for the roster--forwards Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu and goalie Robin Lehner.

A look at the Sabres cap situation.

Forwards

Ryan O'Reilly--$7.5M
Kyle Okposo--6.0
Jason Pominville--5.6
Evander Kane--5.25
Matt Moulson--5.0
Benoit Pouliot--1.15
Jack Eichel--.925
Sam Reinhart--.894
Nicolas Deslauriers--.775
Jacob Josefson--.700
Hudson Fasching--.925
Zemgus Girgensons--1.25 (estimate)
Johan Larsson--1.0 (estimate)

Total for 13 forwards--$37M (approx.)


Defensemen

Rasmus Ristolainen--5.4
Zach Bogosian--5.14
Marco Scandella--4.0
Josh Gorges--3.9
Jake McCabe--1.6
Victor Antipin--.925
Justin Falk--.650
Nathan Beaulieu--1.5 (estimate)

Total for 8 defensemen--$23M (approx.)


Goalies

Chad Johnson--2.5
Robin Lehner--4.0 (estimate)

Total for 2 goalies--$6.5M


Buffalo's total cap-hit for the 23-man roster as constructed above is right around $66.5 million leaving them roughly $8.5 million in cap-space.

We may also want to keep in mind a possible total of $5.5M in bonuses that could be paid out this year. Any cap-overage because of bonuses would affect next year's cap. Eichel's performance bonus number is $2.85 million while Reinhart's would be $2.65 million.

If play a conservative cap game and assume both players will hit their marks, the Sabres as of right now are $3.5 million under the NHL's $75 million cap-ceiling, which is a good cushion to cover injuries throughout the season.

Of note, the Sabres have a $41,667 cap-hit tied to the buyout of Cody Hodgson.

*****

As it stands right now Buffalo has 39 players signed to pro contracts with five RFA's to sign (the four roster players plus another one in F, Evan Rodrigues.) If the Sabres re-sign all five RFA's (which is likely) it will put them at 44 pro contracts, which is six under the league maximum of 50 NHL pro contracts allowed (last year they ran with 45.)

With 23 players projected to be signed to the Sabres roster, the rest of the Sabres pro contracts.


Forwards (11)

LW, C.J. Smith
W, Alexander Nylander
C, Sean Malone
RW, Nick Baptiste
C, Eric Cornel
LW, Vaclav Karabacek
RW, Justin Bailey
C, Kyle Criscuolo
F, Seth Griffith
C, Kevin Porter
F, Rodrigues (projected to sign)

Defensemen (6)

Matt Tennyson
Devante Stephens
Brendan Guhle
Brycen Martin
Casey Nelson
Taylor Fedun


Goalies (4)

Linus Ullmark
Jonas Johansson
Adam Wilcox
Jason Kasdorf



















Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Happy 4th. Stuff to ponder while smashing your burger.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-4-2017


It was a frenetic two weeks for Sabres GM Jason Botterill and Co. between the time Buffalo needed to submit their finalized expansion protected list on June 17. From there he had to wait out the process as the Las Vegas Golden Knights decided what they would do and it left him only a few days to get ready for the NHL Entry Draft that weekend. A week later was the start of NHL Free Agency.

During that two-week span players came and players went and when all was said and done, the Sabres will be entering the 2017-18 season with Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Ristolainen as their  who was drafted 14th-overall in 2012, as their longest-tenured Sabres player (by age and draft year.)

That fact was made possible by the departures of young vets Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno in a trade with Minnesota. On June 30, prior to the July opening of free agency, Botterill sent Ennis (2008, 26th-overall) and Foligno (2009, 104th) plus a third round pick to the Wild for defenseman Marco Scandella, former Sabre Jason Pominville (2001, 55th) and a fourth round pick.

Pominville was Buffalo's captain at the time of his trade to the Wild back on April 3, 2013 and with Ennis and Foligno gone, no one on that team is with the club any more. The Pominville trade to Minnesota (plus a fourth round pick) netted the Sabres Johan Larsson (who is still on the team,) Matt Hackett, a 2013 first round pick (Nikita Zadorov, 16th) and a 2014 second round pick (Vaclav Karabacek, 49th.)

As the roster stands right now, other than Girgensons, the Sabres have only four homegrown picks presently on it:

D, Jake McCabe (2012, 44th)
D, Rasmus Ristolainen (2013, 8th)
F, Sam Reinhart (2014, 2nd)
C, Jack Eichel, (2015, 2nd)

Barring any other moves, the overhaul of the Sabres in the Terry Pegula era is complete. It now spans three GM's (Darcy Regier, Tim Murray, Botterill,) five head coaches (Lindy Ruff, Ron Rolston, Ted Nolan, Dan Bylsma and Phil Housley, who was hired prior to the Ennis trade) plus one President of Hockey Operations in Pat LaFontaine.

Perhaps we jumped the gun a little bit thinking that the Sabres were well on their way at any point between the hiring of LaFontaine and shortly after the 2015 NHL Draft. Regardless of where anyone stood at any of those points, looking at what's left from Pominville's last game and his return the overall change is pretty stark.


*****

Buffalo's draft situation over the course of the last five years represents a team that bottomed out, yet found itself still spinning it's wheels.

In 2013, as the deconstruction of Regier's "Core" gained steam with the trade of Pominville, the Sabres finished 23rd in the league and selected eighth-overall. The following two seasons were dedicated to bottoming out which resulted in 30th place finishes and consecutive second-overall picks thanks to unlucky lottery results. The Sabres began their climb back to respectability in 2015-16 by finishing 23rd again and drafted eighth overall once again.

Buffalo entered last season with expectations that they could build upon the positives from the prior one. A multitude of reasons had them take a step back and finish 26th overall and under a new lottery system, they'd once again fall prey to the unlucky bounce of the pingpong balls and drop from fifth in the draft to eighth.

Prior to the 2013 draft, the Sabres had never drafted eighth-overall, and now they've done so in three of the last five years.

Also of note, this stretch of five consecutive top-10 picks is the longest in franchise history. The Sabres drafted top-10 three times in a row from their inaugural draft in 1970 to 1972. After that they'd drafted top-10 in consecutive seasons only twice:  1982-83 and 1986-87.


*****

Buffalo Sabres Development Camp begins this weekend with the schedule looking like this:

Sat., July 8: 2 to 3:30 p.m. and 4 to 5:30 p.m.
Sun., July 9: 10 to 11:15 a.m. and 2 to 3:15 p.m.
Mon., July 10: 10:30 to 11:45 a.m. and1:45 to 3:00 p.m.
Tue., July 11: French Connection Tournament: 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Not on tap is the Blue and Gold Scrimmage, which was a fan favorite. Who can forger over 17,000 fans showing up on a Friday in July to watch Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Co. go at it back in 2015.

Perhaps it's more of a business-like approach this year. The French Connection Tournament is an intra-squad 3-on-3 tournament with multiple teams playing games in rapid-fire succession on half-sheets of ice. For fans it's not super exciting but the Sabres organization uses it as a tool to gauge where prospects and players are on their developmental curves.

All on-ice sessions will be held at HarborCenter and will be free and open to the public.



Have a Happy 4th, y'all. Keep it safe.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Botterill continues to shape organization with busy July 1 start to free agency

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-2-2017


At his first presser in Buffalo, GM Jason Botterill said the defense would a main area of focus for him and true to his word he's been making moves to revamp the d-corps. He also said that Rochester would not be forgotten, and after a pretty busy day to the start of NHL Free Agency, the Amerks rebuild is well on it's way.

Botterill and the Sabres ended the day by signing eight players for the organization, in contrast to the prior regime who had only one July 1 FA signing in both 2016 (D, Justin Falk) and 2015 (F, Jason Akeson.)

The first signing of the day was former Sabres goalie Chad Johnson (1yr./$2.5M) who comes in as starter Robin Lehner's back-up but will also provide stiff competition. Johnson was Lehner's backup for the 2015-16 season and assumed the starters role when Lehner went down with a high-ankle sprain in the first game of the season. He feels that career-high 45-game season provided him with plenty of confidence in his abilities to be a legit NHL starting goalie.

Although competition is a great source of inspiration to take players, especially goalies, to another level, in the very least the Botterill likes where his goalie sitatuation is right now. "Having Robin and Chad, and [Linus] Ullmark in the three-hole," he said, "makes it a strength for our organization."

Botterill also said that Ullmark is "a very important piece" for the team and that he didn't want the 23 yr. old sitting on the bench for two, three weeks at a time. "He could probably handle the back-up role this upcoming year, but as a young goalie, I'm a big believer in he needs to be playing."

The new Sabres GM, who came over from a deep and talented Pittsburgh Penguins organization, is a firm believer in proper seasoning for players. Yesterday he added a player in winger Beniot Pouliot (1yr./$1.15M) who he said "can play anywhere in that No. 2, 3 or 4 hole [on the left side]." Prior to that signing the Sabres had Evander Kane in the top-six on that side and Matt Moulson, who landed in the bottom-six last season. Botterill just traded away F,Tyler Ennis who'd spent a majority of his time in Buffalo at left wing and LW, Marcus Foligno, a bottom-sixer who spent time in the top-six last season.

Pouliot played in Edmonton last season and had a down year to the point where the Oilers bought out the final two years of a contract that averaged $4 million per season. Botterill said yesterday that Pouliot had bounced back before from difficult seasons and said that he was looking for in Buffalo. "You look at his size, his ability to get in on the forecheck," said Botterill, "we just felt he was a guy who could complement our centers well and be a guy that sort of gets his career back on track."

For those who'd hoped, or thought that Alexander Nylander would be the answer in a top-six, left wing role, it doesn't look as if that will be the case. Nor should it. Botterill is big on development and Nylander needs more time to fill out his frame and acclimate himself more to how the pro game is played.

Botterill said he was "very happy with what we've accomplished on the back-end" yet he continued to add depth with the signing of defenseman Matt Tennyson to a two year deal ($650K/yr.) that's a two-way in year-one and a one-way in year-two. The 27 yr. old Minneapolis, MN native is a tweener who has played in 105 NHL games over the course of his six pro seasons.

He played 45 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season and Botterill said Tennyson plays "a strong two-way game" and "we view him as one of the guys who can step in right off the bat in training came and really fight for a position."

Competition is the name of the game going forward under Botterill and he wants that stretching all the way down to Rochester. He said there's always a scenario where there will be completion for spots but there will also be openings. Botterill also stated that the team isn't done and that they will continue to look at fits for the organization whether it's through free agency or via trades. "There is going to be competition for spots," he said, before changing that to, "there has to be competition for spots.

It's important that young players learn how to fight for their position so when they get to the NHL-level, they're comfortable with that and know how to handle that situation."

The Sabres do have some youth making there way into the pro ranks, but as they begin their journey in Rochester, they'll need vets to help guide them along. Forwards Kevin Porter (2yrs./$650K) and Kyle Criscuolo (2 yrs./$650K,) who were both signed to two-way contracts, will help that along.

The 31 yr. old Porter returns to the Sabres organization after stints in the Detroit and Pittsburgh organizations. Botterill has seen a lot of Porter the last two season. Porter he played in 85 games for Wilkes-Barre Scranton with Botterill as the team's GM. "He's a player I'm very familiar with," said Botterill. "[He] was a strong leader for Wilkes-Barre over the past couple of years, but also was a player, especially two years ago, that (Penguins head coach) Mike Sullivan really trusted at the National Hockey League level."

It's something we saw from Porter during his two-year stint with Buffalo and Rochester.

Criscoulo comes over from the Detroit organization where he helped the Grand Rapid Griffins bring home the Calder Cup this season. Botterill points out he's a Harvard grad who was on an AHL deal last year. The 5'8" 165 lb. forward "can play center," said Botterill while also adding that the 25 year old Criscoulo "plays with a lot of pace, with a high compete [level] and can play the type of pace that Phil (Housley) wants to play."

Botterill continued to add goaltending depth even after signing Johnson when he inked Adam Wilcox to a one-year, two-way deal ($650K.) The 24 yr. old product of the University of Minnesota has spent the last three season in the AHL playing for the Syracuse Crunch (TBL) and Springfield Thunderbirds (FLA) compiling a combined 34-27-15 record with a cumulative 2.90 GAA and .900 Sv%.

"We wanted to strengthen our goaltending situation throughout our organization," said Botterill, "and Wilcox is a player who is still in his mid-20's who was traded to Springfield and had a really strong end to the season (7-4-0, 2.02 GAA, .932 Sv%.)

Wilcox will be in a battle with recently signed Sabres draft pick Jonas Johansson (2014, 61st-overall) for back-up duty behind Ullmark in Rochester. Buffalo also has Jason Kasdorf signed for one more season and one of the three will be in Cincinnati with the ECHL's Cyclones.

Seth Griffith (1yr./$650K) had some pretty big numbers during his junior career with the OHL's London Knights. In 207 games with London he scored 102 goals and added 129 assists and he continued to contribute at the AHL-level for the Providence Bruins (BOS) and Toronto Marlies (TOR) with 202 points (66+136) in 203 games.

"Griffith is a player we think has an extremely high offensive upside," said Botterill. "We think in the right situation, he can provide scoring at the National Hockey League level in the future.

The 5'9"192 lb. right-winger has played in 58 NHL games scoring six goals while adding 10 assists.

The Sabres final signing was former first round pick (NJD, 2009) Jacob Josefson, whom they signed to a one-year, $700k contract.

Josefson played in 247 games for the Devils over the course of seven NHL seasons with a high of 62 games played in one season. The 26 yr. old center was called "an enigma" by Amanda Rosko of The Hockey Writers back in November, 2015. "Fans wondered what they were getting with the Stockholm, Sweden native and six years later some fans are still asking the same question.

"Just when people think they have his capabilities figured out something changes."

Rosko goes on to write that Josefson "exhibits a solid skill-set" but lacks "physicality and finish." She goes on to perpetuate the curious case of Jacob Josefson when she writes, "the mystery continues when a person examines Josefson’s shootout record and ability. When number 16 takes the ice for the Devils, it is almost automatically assumed that he will beat the oppositional goaltender regardless of whom it is when the game goes beyond 65-minutes. He excels and stands out in the skills competition."

Over the past five seasons Josefson has gone 11/20 (55%) in shootout attempts and is tops in the league over that period for players with 20 or more shootout attempts. The Sabres were 25th in the league scoring at a 22% rate (6/27.)

With New Jersey in the same division as the Penguins, Botterill has had plenty of exposure to what he has to offer and perhaps he thinks they can turn Josefson into a reclamation project, but that shootout performance certainly sticks out.

Like he said, he isn't done. Botterill is still looking to upgrade the forward group. "Do we still want to change things around from an offensive standpoint up at the forwards? Yeah, we'll continue to talk to people to see if there are some fits that can make us better, maybe make us a little quicker up front," he said.

Overall, when you consider the expansion draft, the trade with Montreal for defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, the trade with Minnesota for defenseman Marco Scandella, the NHL Entry Draft and Day-1 of free agency, Botterill said that they were happy with what they were able to accomplish and that "it's been a good week for our organization."

Botterill finished yesterday's conference call by continuing to espouse the virtues of a strong Rochester Amerks club and saying that "it's going to be a philosophy of making sure it's a priority for us."

"Whether it's through our players or coaches," he continued, "[it's] making sure that the two teams are certainly in unison with each other. [For] the long-term success of our organization, it's imperative that there's a winning culture, winning environment down in Rochester."


*****

One final note on from the call, Botterill admitted that he lost individual toughness when he traded Marcus Foligno to the Wild in the Scandella trade. "It's part of the reason we didn't want to lose Marcus because he does brings that element," he said.

Botterill shifted the focus saying that he was "a big believer in a scenario of trying to have more of a team toughness mentality," he said.

"We have players such as Evander Kane, [Rasmus] Ristolainen, [Zach] Bogosian and Scandella who have a lot of size to them and certainly can finish checks and play a very physical game out there." Botterill concluded, "So we do think we have some team toughness, but it is one of the aspects that we will continue to look at to see if there's a fit to our organization."



Thanks to CapFriendly for some of the contract numbers.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Goalie Chad Johnson back in Buffalo

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-1-2017


A well-travelled Chad Johnson has been chasing opportunity for a number of years and has done so while playing for six different teams stretching from the NY to Phoenix to Boston, back to NY with the Islanders, cross state to Buffalo and back to his hometown of Calgary Alberta. On June 17 his hometown Flames traded him to Arizona in the Mike Smith deal and now he's back in Buffalo with the Sabres.

Johnson said today that the move from his first stint in Buffalo to Alberta "was nice and an opportunity to be in my hometown of Calgary" but the move was also precipitated by an opportunity to play a big role for the Flames as well.

Throughout his five NHL seasons prior to being traded to Buffalo, Johnson was working his way up the ranks and served as a backup to Tuuka Rask in Boston and to Jaroslav Halak on Long Island. He was traded to the Sabres by the Islanders in the Michal Neuvirth deal at the 2015 NHL Trade deadline and even then he never dressed for a game in Buffalo. Johnson took a shot to the ankle prior to his first scheduled start for the Sabres (March 6) and was sidelined for the rest of the season.

He entered the 2015-16 season as a backup to Robin Lehner and as luck would have it, Johnson would play the role of Buffalo's No. 1 goalie for most of the season. He played in an NHL career-high 45 games for Buffalo won a career-best 22 games while posting a second-best GAA (2.36,) and Sv% (.920.) Johnson said he felt he had a really good second half to that season and "wanted to continue that" if given the opportunity.

"When I left," said Johnson, "I always felt that I had unfinished business [in Buffalo]."

Johnson was never given that opportunity under the previous regime, but now that the Sabres have a new coach and a new GM, he felt that Buffalo was a good fit for him. "Anytime there's change, there's always opportunity for new people coming into an organization," he said. "For me, seeing changes [in Buffalo] was a positive."

The GM and head coach may have changed, but other things haven't as a lot of familiar faces still with the club. "There are a lot of players that are still there that I know and have a lot of trust in and respect for," he said, which influenced his decision. "Looking at the roster and breaking different teams down," he said of the process, "it made sense for me to be able to come back. I have a good relationship with Robin and to be able to come back and compete with him and push this team into being a playoff team.

"I see this organization going in the right direction, [they are] committed to winning, that's what I want to be a part of."

There's a familiar face in new GM Jason Botterill, for Johnson as Botterill was in the organization when the goalie was at the University of Alaska--Fairbanks. And in coming back to the Sabres, Johnson will presumably be working with his goalie coach from 2015-16 in Andrew Allen. "Having a relationship with Andrew was important in my decision when breaking down the teams in the process.

"He understands my game and really took my game to the next level."

Fit and opportunity brought Johnson back to Buffalo and although he looks to be in a back up role for the Sabres, we know from experience that if anything happened along the way where Lehner wasn't the starter, Johnson is more than capable to handle that role.