Friday, February 23, 2018

Trades beginning to rain all around as Sabres visit Detroit

Published by, 2-22-2018

Who'd have thought Boston Bruins Frank Vatrano was on the block? Vatrano was a bit of a wunderkind as he pumped in 36 goals 36 games for the Providence Bruins, Boston's AHL affiliate, in 2015-16 after signing a free agent contract out of UMass. In two separate stints with the Bruins he did raise some eyebrows with 18 goals in 83 games while in a support role from 2015-17.

This season, however, Vatrano has struggled scoring only two goals in 25 games and suffering from a lower-body injury. According to Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald, as Vatrano took a step back, two young forwards, Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk, took advantage of their opportunity placing Vatrano down the depth chart. Rather than risk losing him to waivers, Boston GM Don Sweeney traded him to the Florida Panthers today for a third round pick.

Of note, the Panthers and Bruins meet four more times.

Things are starting to pick up on the trade front as seven trades have been made in the past four days. This was the second trade in three days for Boston. On Tuesday they strengthened their defense-corps by adding Nick Holden from the NY Rangers for a third round pick. The third they got for Vatrano recoups the pick they sent the Rangers and also, according to Conroy, "gives the B's a little more trade capital with which to work before Monday's trade deadline."

At one point in time the Sabres were said to have the most coveted free agent forward in Evander Kane and while that may still be true, as of this writing he's still donning the Blue and Gold. After Kane there's really not much the Sabres have to offer playoff-bound teams outside of depth. Forwards Benoit Pouliot, Jordan Nolan and Jacob Josefson, along with defensemen Josh Gorges and Justin Falk all, like Kane are pending unrestricted free agents, but all are considered depth players. Backup goalie Chad Johnson is also a pending UFA.

The most intriguing Buffalo player other than Kane is goalie Robin Lehner who is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, according to Lehner's name has been mentioned in a couple of scenarios which at one point included the Chicago Blackhawks and NY Islanders. With Chicago's playoff hopes fading and the Islanders probably focusing on shoring up their defense, the market for a starting goalie is drying up.

Two backup goalies have already been traded as the Philadelphia Flyers picked up Petr Mrazek from the Detroit Red Wings and the Arizona Coyotes traded forward Tobias Reider to the Los Angeles Kings for backup Darcy Kuemper and promptly signed him to a 2yr./$3.7 million contract extension. Two other backup goalies were traded in January as the Columbus Blue Jackets picked up Jeff Zatkoff from the Kings and the Edmonton Oilers traded for Al Montoya from the Montreal Canadiens.

So the Sabres will hit the ice in Detroit tonight with the same lineup they've had for most of the season. The report from this mornings skate has Lehner starting in net with the following lineup (barring anyone being pulled because of a pending trade):



Nolan and Falk are the scratches for tonight.


Some quick notes:

--This is the third of four meetings between the Wings and the Sabres. Buffalo won the first one in October as Lehner pitched the shutout in a 1-0 victory (with Pouliot scoring the lone goal and Antipin earning his first ever NHL points,) and the Red Wings took the last one 3-1 in November.

--According to Sabres PR, the Sabres are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games vs. the Red Wings; 3-6-1 on the road

--Forward Scott Wilson, who is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, is headed back to Detroit for his first game as a Sabre against his former team. Wilson was acquired by Buffalo on December 4th for a 2019 fifth-round pick and he's been heating up as of late with five points (3+2) in his last six games.

Also from Sabres PR, here's a few players who have picked up the pace lately:

--Ryan O’Reilly has recorded 19 points (9+10) in his last 19 games.
--Sam Reinhart has totaled 17 points (6+11) in his last 16 games.
--Rasmus Ristolainen has 18 points (5+13) in his last 23 games dating back to Dec. 29. Ristolainen’s 18 points during that span tied for eighth among NHL defensemen entering play Wednesday.
--Kyle Okposo has recorded 17 points (4+13) in his last 18 games.
--Evan Rodrigues has totaled six points (2+4) in his last seven games


Of note on the Kane front, according to TSN's Pierre LeBrun, [NY Rangers winger Michael] "Grabner expected to be pulled from Rangers lineup tonight given trade talks happening... Rangers might potentially do same with [winger] Rick Nash." That's a lot of competition for Kane's services and if GM Jason Botterill doesn't hammer out something soon, the return will lessen by the day.


And finally, congratulations to the U.S. Women's Olympic Hockey Team for bringing home the gold. The Americans outdueled archrival Team Canada in a game that went to the shootout. For as much as everybody hates the shootout in games like this, me included, it was still a very entertaining, yet nerve-wracking skills competition.

It was the ladies first Olympic gold in the sport since 1998.

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