Monday, February 26, 2018

Random thoughs on Olympics, Sabres, Evander Kane, Kings and Habs

Published by, 2-25-2018

The 2018 Winter Olympics are over and here's a few things I'll walk away with:

--I'm not sure who built the Team USA men's hockey team, but whoever did could have done better. Way too many elder statesmen on the team and not enough young turks. From a Buffalo Sabre perspective one of their prospects was there, 21 yr. old defenseman Will Borgen, but didn't play and another prospect, 19 yr. old center Casey Mittelstadt should have been, but never got the call.

--Former Sabre Brian Gionta, who is 39 yrs. old, did play for the U.S. but had a very hard time keeping up. Gionta was with the Sabres last season in a third line role and was very effective. Perhaps it was his age. Or maybe it was the extra 15' width found on the Olympic ice at Pyeongchang. I know it will never happen in the NHL, but they should widen their rinks. Would give players so much room to roam

--The NHL did not allow it's players to participate in this year's Olympics which, no doubt, brought down the talent-level greatly. In particular both the U.S. and Canada were hindered by not having NHL talent at the games with Team USA getting bounced in the quarterfinals and Team Canada losing the bronze medal game. Without those players the U.S. was at a distinct disadvantage while Canada was not considered a favorite. Russia went into the Olympics as a prohibitive favorite and did in fact win the tourney.

--Steven Whyno of the Associated Press wrote today that the Russia (or Olympic Athletes of Russia, as they were known throughout the Games) matchup with Germany in the "exhilarating" gold medal game may have saved a "mostly listless tournament. Whyno writes about half-filled arenas in Korea with "tepid interest in North America." I'm sure there was still plenty of interest in North America, but the time difference may have had a lot to do with that. Hockey games were shown live either early in the morning around 7 am EST or late at night like the gold medal game which started at 11 pm EST. I don't know about anyone else, but those times are about the worst ones you can have for sparking interest.

--Those who stayed up for the men's and women's gold medal games were certainly treated to some intense hockey. The Germans took the heavily favored OAR to overtime while on the women's side, Team USA and Team Canada put on quite a show with the U.S. coming out on top in the shootout of an epic contest. The US/Canada rivalry is one of the best in sports and it showed for those willing to stay up until 2:30 am EST to watch it's thrilling conclusion.

--To the party spokesperson who inserted politics into NBC's ratings shortfall on twitter, the 15 hour time difference was huge, as indicated by the times of the men's and women's gold medal hockey games. And to the woman who defended her saying "everything is in prime time here, and live." Wrong. Even the fantastic ladies figure skating finale finished after midnight. If you wanted to watch the men's curling team win their first-ever gold medal, it finished at 1:30 am EST. I'd say those were "must see events" for a number of Olympic fans.

--Hockey fans in Buffalo now have the rest of the season to look forward to, which is akin to sticking needles in their eyes for the remainder of the season. The 18-33-11 Sabres lost 5-1 last night to the Washington Capitals as they were without their two of their top three scorers. Jack Eichel, who still leads the team despite missing the last seven games, is out since suffering a high ankle sprain and Evander Kane (third in scoring) was sat last night for precautionary measures.

--Kane was sat last night (finally, for some) because he is a pending unrestricted free agent whom the Sabres will be trading before the 3 pm trade deadline tomorrow. Buffalo has a home game this evening against the Boston Bruins who just made a trade for one of Kane's comparables. The NY Rangers, who had already traded winger Michael Grabner to the New Jersey Devils, traded winger Rick Nash today to the Bruins for a first and a seventh round pick and two players. The Rangers also ate some of Nash's salary and acquired two players that make the cap-hits a wash (about $45K difference.) Nash and Kane were the top two wingers available and one of them is gone.

--Sabres fans shouldn't fret about the market for Kane drying up just yet as all the big forward transactions have been in the Eastern Conference. Along with the Grabner/Devils and Nash/Bruins deal, Ottawa Senators center Derick Brassard was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That leaves the Western Conference wide open for a trade there. Kane plays a rugged north/south, Western Conference style of game to begin with so seeing him head west, if that's where he does land, wouldn't be that surprising to begin with.

--I'm still of the opinion that the Los Angeles Kings would be a great fit for Kane. They could find a spot for him in on the left side, possibly in a Phil Kessel-type role on the third line, and make a run for conference supremacy. The window is closing on the two-time Cup-winning Kings (2012, 2014) as the team is getting older and cap-space is getting tighter. Right now they're just outside a playoff spot in a with a rather large group of teams, but as we've seen in the past get them into the playoffs, especially with a goalie like Jonathan Quick, and they can go all the way.

--Kings GM Rob Blake has stated that he won't mortgage the future for a present run and so far he's done well at doing so while fortifying his team. This is a veteran team with high salaries that are winners. Their big three consist of Quick, captain Anze Kopitar and defenseman Drew Doughty. Of the three, only Doughty isn't signed beyond next season and if they're going to win, it needs to be now. This is their window and will Blake want to go for it right now would be the first question.

--The second question is, what constitutes mortgaging the future? If the Sabres receive a high pick and a mid-upper level prospect in the Kane deal, it would constitute a win for them. Any ancilliary pieces, like salary coming back (which may be necessary) and retention of salary by Buffalo (which may also be necessary, would make the price rise a little bit. If the Sabres had to eat some of Kane's salary while also taking on another $4 million for either Alec Martinez or Jake Muzzin, then so be it. But in that instance, it would be great if they could walk away with a first rounder and a defenseman like Paul LaDue, something that just might satisfy Blake.

--Buffalo shouldn't feel too bad about their dire straights this season. Sure they're on their way to a seventh consecutive season outside the playoffs. Part of it was a foregone conclusion and part of it was planned while these past two seasons were busts. But they have company in the Atlantic Division as Ottawa and the Montreal Canadiens are barreling to the bottom of the division. The Senators are look to be in full rebuild-mode while the Canadiens may end up heading in that direction.

--Montreal has a goalie in Carey Price who's signed long-term at a $10.5 million cap-hit who's been very average this season while rumors of off-ice personal troubles are said to be hanging over him. Their top defenseman, Shea Weber is out with an injury and is also signed long-term to a large $7.85 million cap hit. Big trade splash and re-sign Jonathan Drouin hasn't lived up to his $5.5 million cap hit, assistant captain Thomas Plekanec has been the subject of trade rumors and now we hear that captain Max Pacioretty wants out.

--The Canadiens were once the gold standard for NHL hockey but they're being reduced to a very expensive pile of rubble who's prized trade/re-sign might be former Sabre Nic Deslauriers.

--Having said that, word on the street is that the LA Kings have a heavy interest in Pacioretty, who like Kane, is a left winger. If that deal goes down, Buffalo GM Jason Botterill may be kicking himself for not pulling the trigger on a potential Kane deal earlier.

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