Published by hockeybuzz.com, 12-3-2017
Let's get this out of the way early. The Buffalo Sabres dropped back-to-back games to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a combined 9-1 score. The first game was an utter embarrassment as the Pens treated them as a play toy while on their way toy 4-0 win. Last night was a much better effort by the Sabres but breakdowns coupled with a lack of scoring and the lack of key saves at key moments resulted in a 5-1 defeat.
In looking at last night's game, Buffalo skated hard and fast while barreling to the net, which is exactly the way coach Phil Housley wants his team to play but they couldn't score. Goal opportunities presented themselves on a few occasions, but with a 6-17-4 hockey club the puck usually takes the worst possible bounce, or in the case of Jack Eichel last night, the smallest area of the goalie's equipment, the shaft of the stick, makes the save.
At least they were able to score a goal to end a franchise mark for goal futility. Prior to Jason Pominville's tally with 9:42 left in the third period, the Sabres were shut out three games in a row and went 232:09, which is almost four full games, without scoring a goal.
Some will say it's the hockey gods bestowing their wrath upon the Sabres for the tank of 2014-15, which is a mythological way of stating it. Although karma can be a bitch, there are other, more tangible things that have lead this team to the point where they look like a 70's era expansion team. Lack of team speed in a fast league is one thing. Lack of finish is another. Defensive breakdowns and average goaltending, at best, combine for the blueline portion of the program.
Constant change isn't helping either as this edition of the Buffalo Sabres has been compiled by three different general managers, yet, as we'll see later, more change is on the way.
During the second intermission of Hockey Night In Canada's Toronto/Vancouver telecast, NHL insider Elliotte Friedman said that "there's a sense from other teams that the Sabres are sending signals that they are open for business."
Friedman also said that teams can "ask about anybody whose name isn't Jack Eichel," but he also qualified that statement by saying that some are off limits unless the price is right. "I do think that if you're going to ask about a Rasmus Ristolainen or Marco Scandella or a Sam Reinhart," he continued, "you'd better be coming with a serious offer because I don't think Buffalo is going to trade those guys unless the offer is great.
"But I think they are prepared to listen to [offers for] everyone except their franchise player (Eichel.)"
It's something you'd expect from a last place team who has some talented players that are struggling both individually and as a team.
Sabres GM Jason Botterill inherited a dysfunctional NHL club and a poor AHL club and he's been able to turn around at one team, their Rochester Americans affiliate. As of today the Amerks are sporting a 12-5-3-2 record, good for second in the North Division and some of his prospects and younger pros are leaving their mark.
Free agent winger CJ Smith cracked the AHL's top-10 in scoring last night with a three point effort (1+2) in an Amerks 5-2 win over Wilkes Barre-Scranton (PIT) last night. Another free agent signee, Evan Rodrigues, has been hot ever since he came off of injured reserve with 10 points (5+5) in eight games. Two of Buffalo's younger prospects are also doing extremely well. Defenseman Brendan Guhle is playing all-situations minutes on the top pair and has 14 points (5+9) placing him third in the league amongst rookie defensemen while Linus Ullmark is tied for third in the league with 11 wins.
The cupboards aren't bare in Rochester, however, neither one, nor even all four, could have that much of a positive impact in Buffalo right now meaning it looks as if the rebuild continues.
With his Sabres team a wreck and the season lost for all intents and purposes, Botterill will have an opportunity to continue filling the cupboard with picks and prospects by trading away desirable players. The most valuable of them right now is Evander Kane who, ironically, is the exact type of player they need moving forward.
Kane has been at the forefront of trade rumors since June 2016 when he was involved in an incident in Buffalo at the NHL Draft. They couldn't get a bag of pucks for him last season but things have changed dramatically and right now "alot of people are talking about Evander Kane," said Friedman last night.
Since coming back from injury, and staying out of the spotlight off the ice, Kane has 40 goals and 67 points in 96 games. He has the speed to keep up with anyone in the NHL and he's also has the physicality to play a more rugged, Western Conference-style game.
Friedman asked what the price would be for a player like Kane and he said that a couple of the people he'd talked to referred to a couple of deadline deals from the two previous years. He pointed to deals for Andrew Ladd (2016) and Martin Hanzal (2017,) both of whom got a first round pick in return with Ladd being sent to the Chicago Blackhawks for an additional pick (conditional) and former first round pick Marko Dano (2013, 27th-overall, CBJ.)
"The sense is that Buffalo feels that Kane is a better player then both of those players," said Friedman, "so they're going to be aiming higher. I don't think they'll get a franchise defenseman for him but I think that's the idea of what they want to be."
Kane would be an obvious play for Botterill as he'll be an unrestricted free agent at season's end. So would defenseman Josh Gorges, forwards Benoit Pouliot, Jacob Josefson and Jordan Nolan, all of whom will also be unrestricted free agents this summer.
The tougher play for Botterill would be trying to move higher-salaried players. Kyle Okposo has a $6 million cap hit for five more seasons. He's had rough go of it in 2017-18 which may be tied to the trauma he went through late last season and into the summer. Word from some of our own here in the Sabres thread is that Botterill would need to entice a team to take on the five-plus years remaining on his contract.
Should Botterill want to move Ryan O'Reilly, any team agreeing to that is taking on $7.5 million per season until 2023. Zach Bogosian, although shorter in term, has a $5.14 million cap-hit but will only have two more seasons under contract at the end of this one. However, he's averaged just over 60 games/season the last three years.
And then there's the (seemingly) immovable object that is Matt Moulson. Odds are that he remains in the Buffalo organization for the remainder of the season only to have the final year of his $5 million AAV contract bought out. On the positive side for Botterill, Moulson's actually salary for this season is only $2 million while next season drops to $1 million. Perhaps a cost conscious team looking to stay above the cap floor could be enticed into takin him on. Then again, he has modified no-trade clause, according to cap-friendly, and can submit a 12 team no-trade list.
Open for business.