Monday, July 30, 2018

The Sabres top-5 prospects to watch after Dahlin and Mittelstadt

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-27-2018


Once Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin was selected first-overall in last month's NHL Entry Draft he immediately took his place at the top of the Sabres prospect pool. The teenager just completed a full season competing against men for Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League and was impressive. After being drafted by Buffalo he hit development camp and showed why many feel he should be considered a franchise defenseman bordering on generational talent.

He's got that much going for him.

Dahlin displaced center Casey Mittelstadt as the Sabres top prospect. Mittelstadt spent last season playing for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Big-10. The Minnesota native was one-and-done in the NCAA finishing with 30 points (11+19) in 34 games for the Gophers but more importantly, Mittelstadt proved he could battle through tough defenses focused almost exclusively on him and produce against many players much older than him. It was with little surprise that he came to Buffalo after signing his entry-level deal and looked like he fit right in scoring a goal and adding four assists in six NHL games.

Those two represent great news for the future of the Buffalo Sabres. Even moreso when you add them to franchise center Jack Eichel and young workhorse defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.

The cool part about the prospect pool is that it doesn't stop at Dahlin and Mittelstadt. Buffalo is emerging from a period where the system was gutted as past draft failures and underachieving prospects left the entire organization with bottom-dwelling teams. That, however, is changing. A few players like Evan Rodrigues, Casey Nelson, Nicholas Baptiste, Justin Bailey and goalie Linus Ullmark have graduated but instead of a huge void in Rochester and the other developmental leagues, a wave of prospects and free agents drafted and acquired over the last few years (and maybe a bit beyond that) are ready to step up.

General manager Jason Botterill has done a fine job augmenting decent group of prospects ready to hit the pro ranks this season and it looks as if his two drafts (2017 ands 18) will continue to strengthen the prospect pool.

For this exercise the phrase "prospects to watch" is used because they may have the most impact at the AHL or possibly NHL-level this season. Talent is definitely a criteria but also the ability/probability of them reaching their potential this season and in the future. And we begin with:


1. D, Brendan Guhle

Prior to the drafting of Dahlin, Guhle was the Sabres top d-prospect. The 2015 second round pick (51st-overall) has surprised and excited the Sabres and their fan base since his first training camp three years ago. Until he got walloped by a clean Dion Phaneuf hit in the preseason, Guhle looked as if he was headed for the opening night roster. That hit set him back but when he did make his NHL debut as an emergency call up in December, 2016 for three games, he certainly looked the part.

The 6'3" 192 lb. Edmonton, Alberta native can really get up ice and although he wasn't drafted as a scorer has shown some serious touch. Both smart and athletic, Guhle was put on the slower developmental track last season by Botterill who is a firm believer in getting prospects as much development as possible.

Guhle played top-pairing minutes for the Amerks last season and was up for 18 games with the Sabres last season. Although he and the rest of his Rochester teammates faltered in the playoffs, everything he has to offer was on display at development camp as the  20 yr. old looked like a man amongst boys.

His waivers exempt status and the fact that Buffalo is overflowing on defense right now may mean he'll start the season in Rochester, which really isn't a bad thing for any party involved and you can bet your bottom dollar that if that's the case, he'll be the first defenseman called up and will retain that status throughout the season.

NHL Projection:  Top-four defenseman


2. F, Victor Olofsson

Simply put, Olofsson has proved to be a sniper. After plying his trade in his native Sweden since Buffalo drafted him with the 181st pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, the seventh rounder had a breakout season for Frolunda of the SHL. Olofsson lead the league with 27 goals in 50 games winning the Haaken Loob Trophy for the top goalscorer in the league.

The 5'10" 176 lb. winger found his niche while being deadly on the powerplay with a scorching one-timer. Because of that he's been labeled a powerplay specialist but he's a swift skater who has a knack for finding open ice. With the offensive skill there, Olofsson was said to have been working on his defensive game and a couple of things he'll also need to work on jumping the pond to North America is the smaller ice surface and a more rugged North American game.

If he can bring his defensive game to a respectable level and learn to avoid some of the North American aggression, especially as a smaller player, the Sabres could have found themselves a real seventh-round gem.

NHL Projection:  Top-nine winger/Powerplay Specialist


3. D, Lawrence Pilut

Pilut is a very intriguing free agent signing out of Sweden by Botterill and the Sabres as they landed the reigning SHL defenseman of the year.

The 5'11" 181 lb. Pilut had a breakout season for HV71 of the SHL as he lead all defensemen with 30 assists and 38 points on his way to the Borje Salming Trophy. When describing Pilut's game, we'll let HV 71 head coach Johan Lindbom tell it. "[Pilut] he wants to be involved in the play all the time," Lindbom told me over the phone back in May. "He's not the toughest, he's not the strongest in front of the net," said the coach, "but he reads the play really well.

" Larry (as the team called him) was very talented at a young age. Maybe a little too small from the beginning but he's a fighter. He takes his hockey very seriously. He practices very hard and that's what makes him successful."

Lindbom had Pilut working on his defense last season and we're pretty sure Amerks bench boss Chris Taylor will be doing the same in Rochester. But as we saw from the 3-on-3 tourney at development camp, Pilut has too much ability to be corralled. He'll definitely need to play defense in North America but look for him to be jumping into the play often once he gets his footing.

NHL Projection:  No. 4/5, offensive-minded defenseman


4. C, Rasmus Asplund

Asplund was the draft-eligible focal point of former GM Tim Murray when he mad a draft-day trade back in 2016. On the second day of the draft Murray pulled the trigger on a deal where the Sabres would move up from No. 38 to No. 33. There was no guarantee Asplund would be there but Murray was pretty sure to the point where the swap was insisted upon.

The 20 yr. old Asplund has been developing his strong two-way game in Sweden having spent almost four full seasons in the SHL. In 170 SHL games he tallied 62 points (20+42) and was a plus-17 for Farjestad BK. But stats aren't full where it's at with him.

Asplund plays an advanced two-way game where his high hockey IQ and hard working play were relied upon throughout the game. He has all the makings of a classic third-line/two-way center who's responsible all over the ice and can chip in on offense

NHL Projection:  Third-line center.


5. LW, CJ Smith

Smith is another good free agent signing for the Sabres. Buffalo signed him out of UMass-Lowell in 2017 and he just finished a very solid rookie campaign in Rochester scoring 44 points (17+27) in 57 games for the Amerks.

Although Smith doesn't have ideal size at 5'11" 185 lbs., he's got plenty of skill and chutzpah, is a solid two-way player, has a strong work ethic and plays the game fast with plenty of determination.

NHL Projection:  Top-nine winger


Honorable Mentions:

D, Brandon Hickey--a very intriguing trade with Phoenix this off season by Botterill brought in an excellent skating defenseman with size (6'2" 201 lbs.,) some physicality, leadership qualities and some offensive acumen.

LW, Alexander Nylander--if his desire ever rises to his skill-level, he's got top-six sniper written all over him. Key word 'if''.








Friday, July 27, 2018

"Prime Years"--A look at the 2011 NHL Draft. Terry Pegula's first as owner

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-22-2018


It's been just about seven and a half years since Terry Pegula took ownership of the Buffalo Sabres on February 18, 2011. If you're a fan of seven-year cycles, then the new one for him and his team is punctuated by the drafting of 2018 first-overall draft pick, Rasmus Dahlin.

To get to that point, however, Pegula's Sabres had an atrocious season on their way to a last place finish but were lucky enough to win the NHL's Draft Lottery to secure the right to draft what many consider to be the best d-prospect possibly dating back 45 years. Hockey Hall of Famer Denis Potvin was drafted first-overall by NY Islanders in 1973, was named captain of the team for the 1979-80 season and lead them to four consecutive Stanley Cups (1980-83.)

But as Dahlin begins a new seven-year cycle for the Sabres, those first seven years under Pegula were fraught with dysfunction and dismay as the first time pro sports owner struggled to find his footing. During Pegula's tenure the team missed the playoffs in all of his full seasons, never finishing higher than third in the division, and ending up in last place three times, two of them by design. In those seven full seasons Buffalo saw one President of Hockey Ops come and go in less than four months, is on their third general manager and fifth head coach.

The Sabres finished the 2010-11 season well as they rode the Pegula wave to the playoffs and were in a position to win their first round series against the No. 2 seed in the East, the Philadelphia Flyers, but lost in overtime in Game-6 then fell in seven games. They were being carried by GM Darcy Regier's core but their prospect pipeline was producing very little and after a disastrous first full season under Pegula, Buffalo began charting a new course that would lead them to a complete strip down of the roster and consecutive tank seasons in 2013-15.

Throughout the past few years we did a series entitled "Prime Years." In it we looked for Sabres draft picks who would have been in their prime (roughly 24-28 yrs. old) during any given year. We started with the 2005 NHL Draft wherein those players would be within those prime years (albeit at the high end) when the Sabres came out of their consecutive tank years in 2015.

That 2005 draft year was a train wreck beginning with the selection of Marek Zagrapan in the first round and it didn't get much better save for the 2008 draft where two first rounders--defenseman Tyler Myers and forward Tyler Ennis--cracked the upper half of the lineup with Myers playing top-pairing minutes in Buffalo.

From 2005-09 as found in the summation here (with links to individual years,) the Sabres drafted 37 players an outside of the two Tylers, only a handful played a significant number of games in Buffalo with most of them coming from the mid-latter rounds of the draft. The 2010 draft was better when it came to their first rounder, defenseman Mark Pysyk, but none of the other eight picks made it to the NHL.

Once again, at the time of the series, these draft picks would have been in their primes and with a record like that, it's not surprising they ended up in a scorched earth rebuild.

Those drafted in 2011 would be right in the middle of their primes right now at the age of 25 or so. This was Pegula's first draft and in an effort to enhance their drafting, they held the Sabres draft combine between the NHL Combine and the draft. In three years the Sabres hosted 75 player but individual team combines were deemed to be an "unfair competitive advantage" by the NHL and they were stopped.

Buffalo went into the 2011 draft with five picks beginning with the 16th-overall and with it they chose Assat (SM Liiga) right winger, Joel Armia. The Sabres had not selected a player from overseas since picking goalie Jonas Enroth in the second round (46th) of the 2006 draft.

Armia was an interesting pick in that the Sabres saw very little of him play live overseas. But a "friend of a friend" recommended they take a long look at him and sent along a video package. They also had the opportunity to see him up close at HSBC Arena as they hosted the 2011 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships. Although his performance was underwhelming, Armia did enough to pique the Sabres interest and with his first ever pick as an NHL owner, Pegula took the podium to announce Armia as their selection.

The prospect profile on Armia was that he was very mobile for a 6'3" 191 lb. player and that he was a sniper. However, it was also said by Goran Stubb, NHL's Director of European Scouting at the time, that "you might have to look for him during some shifts, but then, suddenly, he scores the winner."

Armia's sniping abilities never materialized in Buffalo. He played in 126 games for the Rochester Americans scoring 22 goals and adding 46 assists in three seasons and only dressed for one game with the Buffalo Sabres. He was part of the Myers/Evander Kane trade in 2015 and has played 179 games for the Winnipeg Jets since the trade.

Speed-demon Daniel Catenacci was selected by Buffalo with the 77th-overall pick. He played five seasons for the Rochester Americans posting 43 goals and 86 points in 247 games before being traded to the NY Rangers organization where he played a total of 61 games for their AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolfpack. Cantenacci played 11 games for the Sabres and one for the Rangers failing to register an NHL point. He signed to play overseas next season.

Big center Colin Jacobs was selected 107th overall by Buffalo and spent most of his years bouncing between the AHL and ECHL. At the AHL level he collected two goals and five assists in 46 games for the Amerks while posting 39 goals and 88 points in 190 games for three different ECHL clubs.

West Seneca, NY native Alex Lepkowksi (137th) had a brief taste of North American pro hockey when he played eight games for the Amerks and one in the ECHL after his 2013-14 OHL season ended. The big defenseman played in 62 more ECHL games the following year
 before heading overseas for the last two seasons.

Goalie Nathan Lieuwen was taken in the sixth round (167th) and got himself a taste of the NHL in the 2013-14 when the Sabres set an NHL record for most goalies dressed in one season--nine. Lieuwen got into seven games for Buffalo that year posting respectable numbers (1-4-0 record, 2.98 goals against average, .906 save %) for the worst team in the league. Although his career was proceeding nicely at the pro level, concussions knocked him off track forcing him to retire last June.

Brad Navin (197th) was Buffalo's final pick in the 2011 NHL Draft and has spent his entire pro career in the ECHL thus far playing for three different teams and compiling a stat-line of 147 games, 26 goals, 35 assists.
 



Sunday, July 22, 2018

Development Camp darling Vasily Glotov signs with the Rochester Americans

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-18-2018


The Rochester Americans announced today that they've signed forward Vasily Glotov to a one-year AHL contract. Glotov was selected in the seventh round (190th-overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft.

When he darted around the HarborCenter ice at Buffalo Sabres development earlier this month during the annual French Connection 3-on-3 tournament, Glotov looked a lot like another Russian who played in Buffalo--winger, Maxim Afinogenov. Although smaller than his predecessor, Glotov displayed the same speed and bursts of energy that Afinogenov parlayed into 10-year NHL career almost exclusively with the Sabres.

During the 3-on-3 tourney, Glotov burst through opening for many chances, some of which ended up being goals, and hopefully the 20 yr. old can build on that strong showing. For as much as we loved Max, and for as many times as he raised the excitement-level at the arena, save for a couple of good seasons, often times Afinogenov did a whole lot of choppin' with very few chips a flyin'.

Glotov finished off his 2017-18 hockey season with a five-game stint in Cincinnati (ECHL) where he scored a goal and added an assist for the Cyclones and also got in a game for the Rochester Americans. Prior to that he finished his two-year QMJHL career with 44 goals and 93 points in 128 games for both the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and the Shawinigan Cataractes.

The 5'11" 174 lb. Moscow, Russia native always seems to be thrilled to be where he's at and hopefully he can add even more positivity to the Amerks locker room. During D-camp, WKBW's Matt Bove asked Glotov why he was so laid back, pretty fun, easy going and always seemed to have a smile on his face. "You've got to have some fun," said Glotov, "you can be serious sometimes, but all the time? I don't see the point in this.

"You've got to enjoy your life. You only live once."
That living continues in Rochester this fall.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

C.J. Smith contract pushes Sabres pro contracts to 47. Only Reinhart left.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-17-2018


The Buffalo Sabres announced yesterday afternoon announced the signing of restricted free agent forward C.J. Smith to a one-year, two-way deal. Smith's contract will pay him $874,125 at the NHL level and, according to CapFreindly, a $70,000 minor league salary. Buffalo GM Jason Botterill sent qualifying offers to six RFA's late last month and to this point five have signed at that qualifying offer with all of those contracts being one-year, two-way deals. In addition to Smith, Sean Malone, Nicholas Baptiste, Danny O'Regan and Justin Bailey are now under contract with Buffalo.

The only remaining RFA is 2014 second-overall pick Sam Reinhart who just finished his three-year entry-level deal after a one-year entry-level slide.

The 23 yr. old Smith just came off of a stellar campaign where he was named Rochester Americans rookie of the Year. His 17 goals and 44 points placed the UMass-Lowell product third on the Amerks in scoring and 10th amongst AHL rookies. Although somewhat small at 5'11" 185 lbs., the Des Moines, Iowa native plays an honest two-way game on the wing and isn't afraid to take on whatever comes at him on the ice. He's also been able to produce at every level and showed off his competitive edge at the pro prospect-level by scoring six points (2+4) in three 2017 Prospect Challenge games last year.

Reinhart's contract negotiations are much more difficult than the previous five in that he has three full seasons plus a nine-game audition with the Sabres under his belt. In 249 games the 22 yr. old Reinhart has 65 goals and 140 points but his Jekyll and Hyde 2017-18 season makes projections extremely difficult. The 6'1" 192 lb. forward who does his best work on the wing was virtually non-existent through the 2017 portion of the schedule scoring only 11 points (5+6) through the first 38 games before blowing up for 20 goals and 19 assists in 44 games beginning January 1.

Which Sam Reinhart will the Sabres be signing? For how long? And how much?

The Smith signing brings the total number of pro contracts in Buffalo to 47 with only Reinhart left to go. The Sabres roster right now has 21 players--12 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies--while the rest of the organization has 26 pro player contracts including Matt Moulson who's contract was buried in the minors last season and looks to be so this season.

With August coming, the dog days of summer are upon us and the hockey world, but Botterill will still have some work to do. After the expected signing of Reinhart, the Sabres will have 13 forwards with both Baptiste and Bailey out of waiver options and likely to be claimed if sent down. Defenseman Casey Nelson is in the same boat and it's assumed the Sabres will want to keep him bringing the total to eight d-men right now. Add in the two goalies and that would be 25 roster players, not including defenseman Brendan Guhle who's expected to be in the mix out of camp.

Something's got to give.

Until then, all eyes are on Reinhart and his contract at this point.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

And then there were two. Sabres/Justin Bailey agree to deal.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-16-2018


It certainly makes sense that the two remaining Buffalo RFA's--Sam Reinhart and C.J. Smith involve deals that are more difficult to hammer out than putting ink to paper on qualifying offer numbers. Sabres GM Jason Botterill signed C, Sean Malone late last week and on Sunday morning the team announced that forwards Nicholas Baptiste and Danny O'Regan signed as well. Less than six hours later winger Justin Bailey was signed to a one-year, deal.

All four of those forwards signed for one-year, two-way deals for their qualifying amount at the following NHL numbers:

Malone--$787,500
Baptiste--787,500
O'Regan--874,125
Bailey--715,000

All of their AHL salaries are listed at $70,000 according to CapFreindly.

It's a sink or swim year for Bailey, whether it's in Buffalo or somewhere else as the Sabres are loaded with forwards and not enough room for all of them on the big club. The 23 yr. old powerforward has an intriguing size/skating package and although his skills seem somewhat limited at this time, the 6'3" 214 lb. winger has enough to draw interest should the Sabres waive him at any point.

Bailey was drafted in the second round (52nd-overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft by then GM Darcy Regier. He's one of those players who's on his third GM and a revolving door of coaches at both the NHL and AHL level. He showed plenty of promise in the OHL putting up career numbers in his final season split between the Kitchener Rangers and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. He turned pro for the 2015-16 season putting up a very solid stat-line of 45 points (20+15) in 70 games for  the Rochester Americans and also got a taste of the NHL with eight games played for the Sabres, but failing to hit the scoresheet.

In 2016-17 Bailey appeared in 32 games for the Sabres and only scored two goals and two assists. Last season he scored three goals and added an assist in 12 NHL games which shows some progress.

The right-handed Bailey was drafted as a right-winger but has spent the majority of his pro career playing his off wing as Buffalo is severely lacking left wingers. This may or may not have affected his play but regardless of what side he plays on inconsistency is killing whatever hopes he has of sticking with the big club. Bailey is like many we've seen over the years in that he'll look great for a couple of game, and in the process living up to every positive thing written about him, but fade to the point where he was sent back to Rochester.

This season, however if he doesn't stick with Buffalo and he gets sent down, he probably won't clear waivers and he'll be playing for another team.

The Sabres are loaded with players at this point of the off season. They have 12 NHL forwards right now not including Bailey or Baptiste and minus Reinhart as well. They have seven NHL defensemen which doesn't include Casey Nelson who would need to clear waivers and Brendan Guhle who many see as making a strong push to be on the opening night rosters, but is waivers-exempt.

Also something to keep an eye on is the number of pro contracts Buffalo has. After the Sabres sign Reinhart and Smith they'll have used up 49 of the 50 standard player contracts allowed by the NHL. Something's got to give as that's not a lot of wiggle room heading into the season.

That's something to worry about some other day as Botterill now shifts his focus to Reinhart and Smith. With Reinhart's contract being a more difficult to negotiate, we may see Smith singed sometime soon followed by a Reinhart deal at a later date.



Monday, July 16, 2018

Jason Botterill checks off two more from his RFA list.

Published by hockeybuzz,com, 7-15-2018


Buffalo Sabres GM Jason Botterill is beginning to kick it in gear with his restricted free agents. On Thursday the Sabres and Sean Malone agreed to a one-year, two way deal and it was announced today that Buffalo also came to terms with both Nicholas Baptiste and Danny O'Regan.

The soon to be 23 yr. old Baptiste, who was selected in the third round (69th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft, was signed to a one-year, two-way contract at his qualifying offer of $787,500. Baptiste has a lot going for him with his size (6'1" 205 lbs.) and his exceptional speed and skills augmented by a very nice repertoire of shots that he can score from anywhere with. However his pro career thus far has been marked by inconsistencies.

Look for Baptiste to have every opportunity to make it with the Sabres in a top-nine role as he is no longer waiver-exempt and it's doubtful that Botterill would send him down and risk losing him to waivers.

O'Regan came to Buffalo via the Evander Kane to San Jose trade. The 5'10" 184 lb. former Boston University standout has excelled at the AHL level but struggle a bit in the NHL and is waivers-exempt. He also signed a one-year, two-way deal which will pay him his qualifying offer of $874, 125 at the NHL level.

Botterill has three more restricted free agents left to sign, Sam Reinhart, C.J. Smith and Justin Bailey from a list that started out at six.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

What's in store for Botterill's five qualified RFA's? Today, C.J.Smith

Published by hockeybuzz.com.7-14-2018


Late last month Sabres GM Jason Botterill qualified six Buffalo restricted free agents. According to the Buffalo News, these were the players, their salaries last season and their qualifying offers:

--F Justin Bailey $650,000/$715,000
--F Nick Baptiste $750,000/$787,500
--F Sean Malone $750,000/$787,500
--F Danny O’Regan $832,500/$874,125
--F Sam Reinhart $832,500/$874,125
--F C.J. Smith $832,500/$874,125

On Thursday the team announced that F, Sean Malone was signed to a one-year, two-way deal for $787,500 at the NHL level with a minor league salary, according to CapFreindly.com, of $70,000. That leaves Botterill with five RFA's to sign.

Today we look at F, C. J. Smith.

Former GM Tim Murray signed Smith out of UMass-Lowell to a two-year entry-level deal on March 30, 2017. The 5'11" 180 lb. left winger got in two games for the Sabres that season burning one year of his contract and spent the entire 2017-18 with the Rochester Americans recording 17 goals and adding 27 assists. Those 44 points placed him third on the Amerks and 10th amongst all AHL rookies in scoring.

Smith came to Buffalo after an impressive career with the River Hawks leaving college after his junior season with 125 points (56+69) in 120 games. The 2017 Hockey East Tournament MVP was a coveted free agent when he decided to leave UMass-Lowell, but according to Buffalo Hockey Beat's Bill Hoppe, Murray was a "heavy influence" to sign with Buffalo. Murray was fired a month later and Smith, despite being unsure where he stood with the new GM and coach, ended up having a stellar season in Rochester and could surprise coming out of camp this Fall.

Although top-six left wingers are a position of need right now for the Sabres, Smith may not see that type of action in Buffalo this season. At least to start. The shifty Smith has speed and skill and can finish, as shown in his rookie campaign, but may end up being the type of player slated for top-line minutes in the AHL and/or a top-nine slot with the big club on a recall basis.

Smith's NHL salary was $925,000 the last two seasons but his two-way deal paid him only $70,000 in the AHL. With the way he plays, the honest effort he gives and the upside that he still has, a two-year deal may be in the offing for him with a possible structure having the first year a two-way and the second a one-way. It wouldn't be surprising to see his AHL salary jump to six figures with his NHL salary being in the $700,000 range.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Take him of the list. RFA Sean Malone signs a one-year deal with Buffalo.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-12-2018


The Buffalo Sabres announced today that the team has reached an agreement with restricted free agent forward Sean Malone. According to the press release Malone signed a one-year, two-way deal where the NHL salary is $787,500. His AHL number hasn't been released thus far.

Malone just completed his first pro season scoring 12 goals and adding 10 assists in 73 games for the Rochester Americans. The 22 yr. old West Seneca, NY native signed his two-year entry-level deal last April 8 and made his NHL debut that same night thus burning the first year of his deal. Malone got off to a rough start in Rochester while acclimating to the pro game but picked things up in February of this year. From February 16 until the end of the regular season, a span of 26 games, Malone scored eight goals and added five assists.

A lot of positive things have been said about the Harvard grad as he began to fully get a grasp on the pro game and many had him with a decent shot at making the Sabres out of camp. Jon Vogl, who with the Buffalo News before heading to The Atlantic wrote after the Amerks were swept out of the playoffs that "[Malone's] stock went up in a hurry. The West Seneca native started on the fourth line, but he was double-shifting by the end and was the Amerks' go-to guy on faceoffs."

Kris Baker has been following the Sabres prospects well before landing a gig with The Athletic last month. He tweeted this about Malone after the rookie scored his 10th goal of the season in Rochester, "Sean Malone is going to be a excellent bottom-six forward for the Sabres, but for now he continues to grow into his role on the farm."

With Buffalo GM being a staunch supporter of players incubating in the minors for as long as necessary, and with the additions of veteran forwards Patrick Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, along with the fact that the Sabres are deep down the middle, Malone's odds of making the Sabres out of camp are drastically reduced at this time. But like Baker said, he looks as if he'll be in the bottom-six mix for Buffalo for a long time beginning in 2019-20.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

What's in store for Botterill's six qualified RFA's? Today, Nicolas Baptiste

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-11-2018


Late last month Sabres GM Jason Botterill qualified six Buffalo restricted free agents. According to the Buffalo News, these were the players, their salaries last season and their qualifying offers:

--F Justin Bailey $650,000/$715,000
--F Nick Baptiste $750,000/$787,500
--F Sean Malone $750,000/$787,500
--F Danny O’Regan $832,500/$874,125
--F Sam Reinhart $832,500/$874,125
--F C.J. Smith $832,500/$874,125


Today we look at F, Nicolas Baptiste.


The story of Baptiste covers three Sabres GM's. He was selected by the Sabres in the third round (69th-overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft as Darcy Regier was nearing the end of his long tenure in Buffalo. When Tim Murray took over in January 2014, one of his earlier moves came in May when he signed Baptiste to his entry-level deal. Present GM Jason Botterill took over from Murray in May, 2017 and he qualified the restricted free agent this year.

Baptiste has a helluva package as a prospect that GM's can easily fall in love. He has size and skill and a great set of hands and is an extremely fast skater. Some of those traits are on display here, via sabres.com, as he scores his first goal of the 2017-18 season for the Blue and Gold:



That's the Baptiste that's so intriguing. He hits the afterburners in the neutral zone, skates in all alone and deposits the puck with ease.

Having not been able to remember when that goal was scored I had to do a little research and unfortunately, it was relatively easy to find and that's the downside to Baptiste--he only scored four goals in 33 games this season. For his career he Baptiste has 10 points (7+3) in 47 NHL games.

This is a big year for both Baptiste and fellow 2013 draft pick Justin Bailey as they're out of waiver options. The duo will be given every opportunity at camp to meaningfully contribute to the Sabres this season and it's up to them to get the job done.

A player like Baptiste who has blazing speed should be drooling at the opportunity to possibly play on a line with Jack Eichel. It's a situation he got a taste of in the OHL back in 2014-15 after the Erie Otters acquired him from the Sudbury Wolves. Baptiste was traded to the team that had Connor McDavid and although he had minimal playing time on McDavid's wing, Baptiste ended up tallying 53 points (26+27) in 41 games.

It's really all there for Baptiste from a skill and skating perspective but what's missing is consistency and confidence. One would be hard-pressed to see Botterill offer more than a one year deal to Baptiste as this is a 'show me' year, but even if it's stretched out to two years, we're probably looking at a $700K salary at best.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What's in store for Botterill's six qualified RFA's? Today, Danny O'Regan

Late last month Sabres GM Jason Botterill qualified six Buffalo restricted free agents. According to the Buffalo News, these were the players, their salaries last season and their qualifying offers:

--F Justin Bailey $650,000/$715,000
--F Nick Baptiste $750,000/$787,500
--F Sean Malone $750,000/$787,500
--F Danny O’Regan $832,500/$874,125
--F Sam Reinhart $832,500/$874,125
--F C.J. Smith $832,500/$874,125


Today we look at F, Danny O'Regan.


Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-10-2018


He was part of the Evander Kane trade at the 2018 NHL trade deadline when the Sabres sent Kane to the San Jose Sharks. He was also a team mate of Jack Eichel, Evan Rodrigues and Brandon Hickey at Boston University when the Terriers lost to the Providence Friars in the National Championship game.

A couple quick notes on that, O'Regan put the Terriers up 3-2 with less than nine minutes to go on an assist from Eichel and the Terriers peppered Friars goalie John Gilles with 52 shots, Eichel had six, O'Regan five, Rodrigues one, and Hickey three.

The 24 yr. old O'Regan was drafted in 2012 by the Sharks in the fifth round (138th-overall) and joined the Sharks organization after four years at BU where he scored 154 points (66+88) in 154 games. O'Regan followed his college career with an equally strong 2016-17 AHL season where the  rookie lead the San Jose Barracuda in scoring with 58 points in 61 games, lead all rookies in goals with 23 and was awarded the Dudley "Red" Garrett Award as the AHL's rookie of the year.

O'Regan was on the cusp of making the Sharks roster after camp last season but was sent back to the Barracuda scoring seven goals and adding 18 assists in 31 games as he was shuffled back and fourth between the two pro teams. He appeared in 22 games for the Sharks before being traded to Buffalo. He spent 18 games with the Rochester Americans scoring six goals and adding nine assists and dressed in the Blue and Gold for two games in early March.

O'Regan checks off a lot of boxes for Botterill as the 5'10" 185 lb. forward defies his smaller size with a strong work ethic and excellent skating while proving he can score at every level he's been at thus far. However, the NHL is the big jump and so far his scoring prowess hasn't transferred.

Which leads us to this coming season.

It wouldn't be too surprising to see him with a one or two year, deal with a little more added to his AHL salary. According to CapFreindly, O'Regan's NHL salary was set at $858,750 while making $70,000 in the AHL. He's a pretty big get for the Sabres in that he could really give a big boost to Rochester should he not make the Sabres out of camp. That might boost his AHL salary over six figures and we could see a Casey Nelson-type, two-year contract where the first year is a two-way deal ($650K NHL/$150K AHL) with the second year being a one-way $650,000 deal.




Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Rasmus Dahlin dialing it in with pen to paper on entry-level deal.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-9-2018


The three-year deal defenseman Rasmus Dahlin signed with the Buffalo Sabres is a pretty standard contract for player of his caliber. Dahlin is max-out as far as the Collective Bargaining Agreement dictates and according to CapFreindly, the breakdown looks like this for the 2018 first overall draft pick:  An $832,500 base salary plus a $92,500 signing bonus gives Dahlin a $925,000 cap-hit for all three seasons plus there are performance bonuses each year of $2.85 million that could bring his total salary to $3.775 million/season.

Over the course of the three years the total value of the contract could be as much as $11.325 million and he could be worth every penny.

The Sabres finally got lucky and won the draft lotter giving them the rights to draft a player they despearately needed. Dahlin is considered a franchise defenseman bordering on generational talent who's skating, skill-level and hockey IQ are amongst the best of any player drafted recently with some saying the NHL hasn't seen a defenseman like him since Denis Potvin was drafted first overall by the NY Islanders in 1973.

With the contract inked, Dahlin will hit the ice in Buffalo beginning this season. Most suspect a top-four role as he acclimates himself to the NHL with it's smaller ice surface with the thought that he could possibly start on the top-pairing.

Regardless of that, with Dahlin in the fold in a top-four role the Sabres defense looks like this:

Marco Scandella-Rasmus Ristolainen
Rasmus Dahlin-Zach Bogosian
Casey Nelson-Jake McCabe

Matt Hunwick
Nathan Beaulieu

The wild card in the group is Brendan Guhle who's rookied pro season in Rochester went swimmingly as a top-pair defender until the latter part of the season and into the playoffs where the Amerks got swept 3-0.

That's another aspect of landing Dahlin. Without him, the Sabers may have needed to put Guhle in the lineup to help shore up a struggling defense from last season whether he was ready or not. With Dahlin in the lineup Buffalo can take a good look at Guhle during training camp and be cautious with his development.

Hockey season's not too far off and although there's been no official announcement by the Sabres, it looks as if the third annual Prospects Challenge to be held in Buffalo will be the second week of September. With that comes the opportunity to see Dahlin and a group of Sabres youngins battling out with their peers from three other teams.

Most of us can't wait.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Botterill qualified six RFA's. What's in store for them? Today, Sam Reinhart.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-8-2018


Late last month Sabres GM Jason Botterill qualified six Buffalo restricted free agents. According to the Buffalo News, these were the players, their salaries last season and their qualifying offers:

--F Justin Bailey $650,000/$715,000
--F Nick Baptiste $750,000/$787,500
--F Sean Malone $750,000/$787,500
--F Danny O’Regan $832,500/$874,125
--F Sam Reinhart $832,500/$874,125
--F C.J. Smith $832,500/$874,125

Today we look at F, Sam Reinhart.

Reinhart would be the logical choice to work on first as he is the player with the pedigree, draft position, NHL stats and highest upside of this group. The 2014 second-overall pick tied with Jack Eichel for the team-lead in goals last season (25) and in three full seasons with the Sabres averaged over 21 goals and 46 points while missing only six regular season games.

The questions surrounding Reinhart include whether or not head coach Phil Housley will continue to use him at wing in a top-six role and whether the second half of last season was a jumping off point to a breakout campaign or a case of lighting it up in a contract year. Reinhart finished off the season with 20 goals and 19 assists in 44 games beginning with the 2018 New Year's Day Winter Classic.

Although Reinhart was drafted as a center, former head coach Dan Bylsma used him on the wing while also putting him in front of the net on the powerplay and the rookie responded with a 23 goal, 42 points season. Things reversed the following season to more "Reinhart-like" stats as the crafty distributor tallied 17 goals and 30 assists. But under Housley things fell apart for Reinhart as the rookie head coach put him back at center and they changed up the powerplay, which had been No. 1 in the league the prior season.

A flustered Reinhart struggled but found himself in New York City under the bright lights of the Winter Classis. He told reporters after the season that he found himself and his game and that's why he was able to produce at a more than point-per-game this calendar year.

Yet the cynics in Buffalo, and make no mistake, their cynicism is warranted, will point to a player like Drew Stafford who loafed around for much of his contract years before reaching his potential in a contract-year. In looking at Reinhart's season, their question is, "Where the hell was this Sam when it counted?"

That, undoubtedly, will be one of the questions for his agent and that will probably be one of the main reasons that he only gets a bridge contract.

A 25-goal, 25-assist season as a 22 yr. old on a lousy team is nothing to sneeze at so it seems to reason that he'll be at least in the $3.5-4 million price range. Term may ultimately dictate what Reinhart ends up with but I don't think either side should be unhappy with a 3yr./$11 million deal.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sabres could (should) help facilitate an Erik Karlsson trade to Tampa

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-6-2018


Former Buffalo Sabres forward Tyler Ennis has reportedly inked a one-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. According to CapFreindly the deal is worth $650K.

Ennis was selected by the Sabres in 2008 with the 26th overall pick. That pick was acquired by Buffalo in the Brian Campbell to San Jose Sharks deal consummated on February 26, 2008. In eight seasons with the Sabres the 5'9" 175 lb. forward known for his east/west, jitterbug style of play scored 97 goals and 236 points in 419 games.

Ennis was traded by Buffalo last summer, along with Marcus Foligno, to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for defenseman Marco Scandella and winger Jason Pominville. After being waived by the Wild, Minnesota then bought out the final year of a 5yr/$23 million deal he signed in Buffalo.

CapFreindly says that his contract is unconfirmed at this time.


*****

Also not confirmed is any trade between the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning involving Sens defenseman Erik Karlsson, but If (when) the deal is consumed, it would be a coup for the team and Bolts GM Steve Yzerman as the rich will just keep getting richer. In three of the past four seasons the Lightning have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals with one of those being a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. The other year was a weird aberration where they missed the playoffs by a smidge.

Tampa is a team that's loaded up-front with strength down the middle and a slew of wingers that are fast and can finish. Their defense is solid, anchored by 2018 Norris Trophy-winner Victor Hedman, and they've gotten excellent goaltending from starter Andrei Vasilevsky. By the looks of it, they should have gotten past the Washington Capitals in the 2018 playoffs instead of losing in seven games. However, they were beaten by a Capitals team in a game-seven that featured an Alex Ovechkin signature one-timer to open the scoring, two goals by Andre Burakovsky and the wall that was Brayden Holtby and his 29 saves.

Perhaps what stuck in the craw of Yzerman after that loss was that his offense went cold and was held scoreless by Holtby and Co. for the final 159:07 of the series, almost eight periods of hockey.

With Yzerman's forward ranks well stocked, he now has an opportunity to land a premier scoring defenseman in Karlsson who has averaged almost 16 goals and a touch over 70 points the last four seasons. The possibilities for head coach Jon Cooper on the back-end, should the Bolts add the right-handed Karlsson, are tantalizing as he could either ice a super duo with the left-handed Hedman and 2015 Norris-winner Karlsson on the top pair or split them in the top-four and give the opposition fits for 50 minutes a game.

Tampa is the class of the Atlantic Division as it stands right now so adding a player like Karlsson wouldn't change the dynamic within the division save for the fact that teams will now be even farther away from their talent-level. For a team like the Buffalo, who should be on the upswing after seven long years of struggles, it doesn't really matter if the Bolts land Karlsson or not, as they're still years away from catching up.

Which means they should be in on the Tampa/Ottawa Senators deal if a rumored third team is involved.

The NY Rangers, of course, are said to be the third team as they're retooling and have a ton of cap-space to work with this season. They, like Buffalo, finished last in their division and ended up with the third-worst record in the East. They have $23 million in cap-space, according to capfreindly, with seven players needed to fill out the roster and no big names to eat up chunks of cap-space.

Plus, it's the Big Apple, which could be attractive to players with modified (or even no-) trade clauses. Tampa has 10 such players, five on the back-end, and is just about $3.5 million under the cap right now. They would need to move out at least $4 million to take on Karlsson's $6.5 million hit and still leave some wiggle room with many of the movable pieces (like Brayden Coburn and Dan Girardi) protected by those clauses.

As for the Sabres, CapFreindly has them at about $13 million under the cap this year with a full roster minus unsigned restricted free agent Sam Reinhart, who at most would carry $5 million AAV. They shouldn't start seeing any serious cap-related problems until '21-22 when Rasmus Dahliln will be coming off of his entry-level deal and joins Jack Eichel as the highest cap-hits on the club.

The biggest favor the Sabres could do for the Lightning might be to take on the fairly lavish contract that Yzerman bestowed upon LW, J.T. Miller in June. Miller signed a 5yr./$26.5 million contract just after the draft last month and has a modified NTC that doesn't kick in until next year.

Miller checks off some boxes for the Sabres in that he's a versatile left-handed forward that can play the wing and of his 82 career goals only 18 have come on the powerplay, although the ratio has increased over the past three seasons to 11 of 46 goals scored on the powerplay. He's got speed and size (6'1" 214 lbs,) can work the corners and can play in all situations. In addition, the East Palestine, Ohio native played for the U.S. National Development Program and is in the middle of his prime at 25 yrs. old meaning at the end of his contract he'll be 30.

But if the Bolts really want the Sabres to take on a long-term contract like that, they'd need to add some incentive. Mikhail Sergachev or Callan Foote would be nice, but they'd probably be more inclined to move a prospect like F Brett Howden,, D Erik Cernack or LW Dennis Yan.

The Sabres in-turn would also throw some incentive Ottawa's way to help facilitate the trade. Buffalo has three first-rounders in the upcoming NHL Draft while the Senators do not have one as it was traded away in the Matt Duchene deal. One of those could easily be in play as could a prospect like Alexander Nylander. Depending upon the value of the pieces in the deal, the Sabres might want to ask for a prospect or player in return from Ottawa, like pending 2019 free agent forward, Ryan Dzingel who also checks off a lot of boxes for the Sabres.

In the process the Sabres would be sending a conditional 2019 first rounder and a player like 20 yr. old Nylander to the Senators, who would also be getting a package from Tampa Bay. The Lightning would be getting Karlsson and the cap-space to fit him in while the Sabres would land at least one top-nine forward in Miller, plus his $5.25 million cap hit for the next five years, and a mid-upper level prospect thus further remaking the Sabres the way GM Jason Botterill would like.

Ennis was a part of Botterill's first big trade and so far that one has gone well with both Scandella and Pominville still a part of the Sabres. Botterill also made other big trades involving Evander Kane to the Sharks and the just completed blockbuster sending Ryan O'Reilly to the St. Louis Blues.






Friday, July 6, 2018

A Sabrecentric recap plus a little food for thought on this Fourth of July

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-4-2018


The Buffalo Sabres opted to follow a defense-heavy/Swede-heavy 2018 NHL Draft by jumping into development camp earlier than normal. Sabres D-Camp was usually scheduled after the Fourth of July but this year it was moved up to the last weekend in June, which happened to butt up against the start of free agency. That, along with the trade of Ryan O'Reilly made for a very busy week.

Some things may have been missed in the process so what better time to play a little ketchup today as we munch on our All-American burgers and enjoy fireworks.

A quick recap of the draft had the Sabres and GM Jason Botterill taking five defensemen out of six picks, three of them being from Sweden and one with Swedish heritage. The parade of Swedes was lead by first overall pick D, Rasmus Dahlin followed later by the picks of defensemen Linus Lindstrand Cronholm (4th round) and William Worge Kreu (7th.) Hulking defenseman Mattias Samuelsson (2nd) was born in the U.S. and played in the USHL for the National Development Program. He is the son of former NHL d-man Kjell Samuelsson who was born in Sweden.

The Sabres selected Czech-native Matej Pekar, a center who played in the USHL, with the first pick of the fourth round and with their first pick in the seventh round they took defenseman Miska Kukkonen out of Finland.

Interesting to note that for the second year in a row under Botterill, the Sabres did not select a player from the Canadian Hockey League. Botterill's reasoning was that for later round picks, players attending college or playing overseas allows for more development time. "In a scenario where you have an extended period of four years (as opposed to two years for CHL players,)" he said at the draft, "in most situations for Europeans or college players it allows you more opportunity to develop."

All six of those draft picks were on the ice last week for D-camp.

One thing we were able to see at camp right off the bat was just how great a skater Dahlin is. For those of us who couldn't make it out to HarborCenter, there were tweets galore showing Dahlin almost effortlessly glide through drills. We also had the opportunity to see Dahlin level Pekar with a check after the feisty Czech was said to have delivered a cheap shot to the franchise defenseman.

Here's a quick shot of that hit thanks to Highlight Haven:





Sabres development camp is what the name says it is as it's mainly about teaching young players how to be professionals and getting them acclimated to the work involved at the professional level. Players from five different draft classes with Eric Cornel being the farthest reaching (2014, 44th-overall.) But it isn't all about drills as they do have some competitive fun as the camp closes with the annual French Connection 3-on-3 Tournament.

Four teams with nine players each played a round-robin to determine seeding for the semi-finals with the winner of the semi-final rounds playing for the championship.

The tournament was streamed live via sabres.com.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-4-2018


For the second year in a row, Casey Mittelstadt (2017, 8th) and his Team Martin (White) won the tournament. Mittelstadt must have learned something from the previous year as his team hit the win column until the final round robin game. They dismissed of Team Robert (Gray) in the semi-final and Team Perreault (Navy) in the finals.

Mittelstadt was the star of the show but it wasn't without some peril as Pekar hounded the hell out of him in their round-robin match. It got to the point where sticks were raised between the two and with a lot of in your face intensity. Pekar's focus on Mittelstadt frustrated the talented center but come the semi finals, Pekar laid off (perhaps at the insistence of management) and Mittelstadt was allowed to more fully play his game.

Pekar drew comparisons to Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand who's known as "The little ball of hate" as he's got a gadfly-like intensity that annoys the hell out of people. In addition to that, Pekar did have his moment of revenge against Dahlin in the tournament's first game as he smoked the defenseman with a nifty deek at the right dot and proceeded to send a wicked wrister far-side.

Defenseman Brendan Guhle (2015, 51st) was drafted for his skating and athleticism and was a man amongst boys as he breezed across the ice in a display of skating that was awe-inspiring. His finish wasn't quite there but he showed the type of talents that have him on the cusp of full-time NHL duty.

Other notes:

--Goalie Hunter Shepard was a camp invite and wowed the crowd with a spectacular display of goaltending in Team Robert's second game. Although the 6'0' 205 lb. Minnesota-Duluth junior is a bit small by today's goalie standards he impressed to the point where an eye should be kept on him once he finishes his college career.

--Rasmus Asplund was the object of former GM Tim Murray's desire in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft held in Buffalo. Since selecting him 33rd overall fans in Sabreland have been getting reports about a strong two-way player who's got a great feel for what's happening around him and that's what we saw 3-on-3.

--Winger Victor Olofsson (2014, 181st) was off the radar in Sabreland for three years until his breakout season in Sweden last year. His 29 goals lead the league and we had the opportunity to see his wicked shot during the 3-on-3. It's impressive.

--When the name Max Afinogenov is invoked, one thinks of a fast, dart-like skater who make a lot happen on the ice and that's what we saw with Vasily Glotov (2016, 190th.) Glotov was a wizard with his skating and had some finish, but did a lot of chopping with not a lot of chips flying.

--Undrafted left-winger Pascal Aquin was signed by the Rochester Americans in early May. The 6'1" 185 lb. native of Le Gardeur, Quebec was consistently in the mix throughout as he displayed plenty of speed and moves while also scoring the lone shootout goal in the Championship Game.

There were others who made a strong impression from goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (2017, 54th) to free agent signee Andrew Oglevie (2018, Notre Dame) to fellow free agent Lawrence Pilut (2018, SHL) to, of course Dahlin who simply wowed even without scoring much.


French Connection Tournament Highlights via sabres.com




*****

Botterill and the Sabres have had a busy off season dating back to early June when they relinquished the rights 2016 draft picks Vojtech Budik (130th,) Brandon Hagel (159th) and Buffalo native Austin Osmanski (189th.)

Buffalo signed three players from that 2016 draft class--Alexander Nylander (8th,) Asplund and Cliff Pu (69th)--to their entry-level deals while Casey Fitzgerald (86th) and Brett Murray (99th) are still in college with Philip Nyberg (129th) continuing his development playing in Sweden.

Also signed to his entry-level deal was Luukkonen.

Botterill and company also qualified six restricted free agents:  Justin Bailey (2013, 52nd,) Nicholas Baptiste (2013, 69th,) Sean Malone (2013, 159th,) Sam Reinhart (2014, 2nd,) C.J. Smith (2017, FA) and Danny O'Regan (2012, 138th, SJS) who came over from the San Jose Sharks in the Evander Kane deal.

The Sabres did not qualify a trio lead by last year's starting goaltender. Robin Lehner was arbitration-eligible and was allowed to walk, He recently singed with the NY Islanders. Russian free agent Victor Antipin was released and after searching for a home in the NHL, will head back to the KHL. Scott Wilson wasn't qualified but the Sabres signed him to a two-year deal on July 1, the start of free agency.


*****

Speaking of free agency, Botterill went to work filling a few holes in the organization when he signed UFA goalie Carter Hutton to a team friendly three-year deal. Hutton was a starter for the St. Louis Blues last season. They also landed another goalie to take the reigns in Rochester as Scott Wedgewood signed a one-year, two-way deal with Buffalo.

Defenseman Brandon Hickey was signed to his entry-level deal on July 1 as well. Hickey came to Buffalo in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes that saw Hudson Fasching head to the desert.

Hickey was drafted by the Calgary Flames in the 3rd round (64th) of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The 6'2" 204 lb. puck-mover spent a full four years at Boston University which included playing with present Sabres Jack Eichel, Evan Rodrigues and O'Regan. During that time his rights were traded to Arizona as part of the Mike Smith deal.

The acquisition and signing of Hickey adds more depth to the prospect pool and a quality defenseman for the Rochester Americans.


*****

Botterill did some wheelin' and dealin' in addition to the Fasching/Hickey deal as he continued to mold the Sabres to his liking. Between the draft and the start of free agency, Botterill hooked up with his former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, to land LW Conor Sheary along with D, Matt Hunwick.

Sheary was traded for to help fill a gaping hole at left wing for the Sabres while Hunwick may end up in Rochester.

But that trades and the moves before were small change compared to the blockbuster O'Reilly trade. Botterill moved O'Reilly, a player that just didn't seem to fit with where he wanted the team to go, to St. Louis for a lottery-protected first rounder, a second rounder, prospect Tage Thompson and veterans Patrick Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka.

The trade, which was consummated on July 1, firmly put Botterill's stamp on his club.



Have a Happy and Safe Fourth of July celebration.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Despite acquiring forward help, Sabres still have gaping holes at LW

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-3-2018


Buffalo Sabres fans should be somewhat happy about some of the moves GM Jason Botterill has made recently. Then again, shattered dreams of big returns for the likes of Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly may have soured their outlook as Botterill could only manage a pretty good combined return for the two. After all, he's no Darcy Regier. Right?

In all Botterill did well as he received two first round picks, a second, a conditional fourth rounder and two forward prospects--Danny O'Regan and Tage Thompson--in return for Kane and O'Reilly but those are futures Heading into this season, Botterill has a lot of work to do despite bringing in  some NHL forwards via trades.

The Sabres are center and right wing heavy right now and will need to rely on the notion that some of the centers they drafted and acquired can fill in at left wing. Jack Eichel is Buffalo's No. 1 center followed by Casey Mittelstadt who has top-six center written all over him but at 19 yrs. old is still raw. Despite having a high hockey IQ, upper-level skills and a determination to his game that should have him projected out as at least a No. 2 center, there's a lot to learn at the NHL-level and he may be in for a crash-course this season.

Behind those two are an array of centers both drafted and signed, homegrown and acquired, vets, young vets, rookies and prospects. Patrick Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka both came over in the O'Reilly trade and are centers by trade but can also play the wing. Undrafted Evan Rodrigues (2015) is also a versatile forward who can play wing and center. He's been in the Sabres organization for three full seasons and based upon last seasons results, he looks like he'll be a much better center than winger. The opposite could be said about Sam Reinhart. The 2014 second-overall pick was drafted as a center but in his three seasons in Buffalo he's proven to be more effective on the right side than at center.

Moving down the depth chart to the bottom-six and into the reserves, both Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons have been used in the Nos. 3 and 4 center slots with Larsson spending a good amount as a No. 3 and Girgensons being moved up and down the lineup bouncing back and forth from center to wing.

Some names also on the list of centers in the Sabres organization include Sean Malone who has been working his way up through the system. But with the logjam in front of him the second year pro will probably be slated for Rochester despite his impressive play as a rookie for the Amerks last season. Rookie centers Rasmus Asplund and Cliff Pu, as well as 2018 college free agent Andrew Oglevie (Notre Dame,) will be making their pro debuts this season and even if any of them had a monster camp, they're probably ticketed for Rochester for a year or more of seasoning.

Although Buffalo's right side isn't great, it's decent as Reinhart, Kyle Okposo and Jason Pominville look to be locks with the lone open spot being filled by any number of players

However, the left side is a different story as necessity dictates that some of the aforementioned will be moved to the left wing. The trading of Kane sent away Buffalo's only legit top-six left winger and in his stead a myriad of players from the departed Benoit Pouliot to Girgensons, Scott Wilson and Rodrigues all logged big minutes on the left side with little production to show for it. It was an area of focus for Botterill to begin the off season and he tapped his old team to land a top-nine left winger in Conor Sheary.

Sheary was an undrafted free agent who worked his way up the Pittsburgh Penguins system to a spot in the top-six scoring 53 points (23+30) in 61 games before falling off last season. Botterill knows him well and told the gathered media after the trade, "We were looking to improve our even-strength scoring and we had to try to get a little bit in scoring from our wingers…especially at even strength. He creates a lot of chances out there."

Where Sheary ultimately succeeds on the left side is to be determined but as of right now, he's the team's top left winger and if things stay as they are, come opening night he might be on Eichel's left side.

Behind Sheary is a mish-mash of forwards/wingers who coach Phil Housley will use to fill in the holes and barring a trade, Berglund might be the leading candidate to land in the top-six on the left side. Which may not be a bad thing as the 30 yr. old vet could be placed on Mittelstadt's wing (with maybe Okposo on the right) offering some protection for the kid as he maneuvers his way through his first full pro season. A move like that could also put also Rodrigues back in a more favorable position as the team's No. 3 center.

The No. 3 left wing slot is a tough call with many different possibilities. The 'old guard' would constitute a group including Wilson, Girgensons, Larsson and even Sobotka with the possibility that Housley could drop any of  those three down a line to make room for a rookie like C.J. Smith should he have a strong camp.

Smith was an undrafted free agent signed out of UMass-Lowell in 2017 and just finished a very successful rookie campaign in Rochester scoring 44 points (17+27) in 57 games for the Amerks. Although Smith doesn't have ideal size, he's got plenty of skill and chutzpah, is a solid two-way player, has a strong work ethic and plays the game fast with plenty of determination.

2016 eighth-overall pick Alexander Nylander has been getting plenty of work on the left side but unfortunately for him and the organization, it hasn't gone swimmingly. Leeway should be given to the 20 yr. old as he went directly from Mississauga of the WHL to the pro ranks as one of the youngest players in the AHL his first year, and it didn't help that he was sidelined by an injury that cost him training camp and the first six weeks of the 2017-18 season. Although he did make solid progress once he got his footing last season, where once he was looked at as a possible top-line left-winger for the Amerks, now he's just being looked for heading into this year's training camp.

There was hope that 2013 second round pick Justin Bailey also could make the switch from right wing to left, but that hasn't progressed as well as he or the team would have liked. The big powerforward has the size and speed to play the NHL game but hasn't found the skill or consistency yet. The 23 yr. old, is a restricted free agent is out of waiver options so this off season and training camp represent a major crossroad in his career.

As laid out with Sheary, Berglund, Smith and the rest as possibilities for the top-nine, there's plenty of room for upgrades at left wing but as of now that probably won't come from within, unless Nylander can find the incredible skill that lies within him. The Sabres do have some talent and serious skill in the form of left-winger Victor Olofsson, but the soon to be 23 yr. old is just coming over from the SHL and is considered more of a powerplay specialist at this point in his career. Many have pointed to Thompson but he was drafted as a center and played mostly in the right side if not on the dot.

That's about it for the foreseeable future on the Sabres at left wing. With all that said, this might be what the Sabres are looking at right now:

Sheary-Eichel-Reinhart
Berglund-Mittelstadt-Okposo
Smith-Rodrigues-Baptiste
Wilson-Sobotka-Pominville

One of Girgensons or Larsson might be headed for a reserve role (with the other one on the outs) while Nylander and Olofsson will probably start the season in Rochester.

Of note:  Restricted free agents Reinhart, Smith, Bailey, Malone and Baptiste were all qualified by the club.


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Digesting the Ryan O'Reilly deal

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-2-2018


Former Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier was a thief when it came to the return he got for his players. Tim Murray was a drunken sailor in respect to what he sent away to get his players. in the two years between the two when the Sabres were in rebuild-mode, the assets Regier got from trading is core group were thrown around by Murray and essentially wasted as none of the big three players Murray wanted to fast track his rebuild with are on the team are on the team. Jason Botterill came in as GM last season and in 14 months stopped the madness and began replenishing the cupboards that were left barren by his predecessor.

Murray's acquisitions of Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Ryan O'Reilly cost the Sabres two first-round picks, a second rounder, three young prospects (Brendan Lemieux, J.T. Compher and Nikita Zadorov) and two older prospects (Joel Armia and Mikhail Grigorenko) in various deals. He also completely emptied the organization in pursuit of the top-overall picks in two consecutive drafts. The two years after Murray and the Sabres tanked for Jack Eichel, his teams in Buffalo and Rochester were still left barren, he was fired and Botterill was brought in last May to clean up the mess.

Botterill took two of Murray's 'Big Three' and brought home some assets. At the 2018 trade deadline he traded Kane to the San Jose Sharks for what would end up being a 2019 first round pick, prospect Danny O'Regan and either a 2019 fourth-rounder or 2020 third round pick (at the discretion of the Sharks.) Last night he traded O'Reilly to the St. Louis Blues for a 2019 lottery protected first round pick, a 2021 second, big forward prospect Tage Thompson and two veteran forwards in Patrick Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka. Of the eight futures Murray traded away to get his trio, Botterill was able to receive six in return.

Which isn't bad considering the place Botterill was in. Everyone knew Kane, a pending UFA, was a goner by the trade deadline and an O'Reilly trade was becoming more and more a foregone conclusion with each passing day. Yet both were valued enough by their new teams for them to send a decent amount of assets Buffalo's way to land them. Did Botterill fleece his trade-partner? Not even close. But he did what he could with what he had and for the situation he was in.

Quantity over quality seems to be the theme of this trade with the picks, namely the first-rounder, being the highlights of the trade. The Sabres now have three first round picks at the 2019 NHL Draft which is strangely familiar to what the team had in 2015. Much to the dismay of some in Sabreland Murray traded two of those picks (Nos. 21 and 25) in separated deals for young vets. Three years later it seems as if the consensus is that they should be trading one of their 2019 first rounders for immediate help.

There were thoughts that Botterill could land a top prospect, hopefully a left-winger, in the O'Reilly trade but when that didn't happen and because of it there seems to be a movement that would like to see a package, including a first-rounder, sent to another team for a top prospect. Which probably won't happen (although many thought the O'Reilly to St. Louis trade was finished.)

Thompson is a former first round pick (2016, 26th overall) but in his brief foray into the NHL, hasn't shown much. After leaving school (UConn) early, the 6'5" 205 lb. Thompson played for the Blues AHL affiliate for 16 games then made the big club last season out of camp. He ended up playing 41 games for St. Louis scoring nine points (3+6.) However, he had more success at the AHL-level scoring 18 points (8+10) for the San Antonio Rampage.

"What we see with Tage," said Botterill in a conference call with the media last night, "is a kid that has a great shot, great size, a really good reach on the ice. We think he's going to be a really good player that will step into our lineup and grow with our young centermen." Botterill would add later, "we really like his hockey sense and he has a bit of a shooter's mentality."

Berglund and Sobotka were interesting acquisitions by Buffalo in that their combined cap-hit of $7.350 million is just shy of O'Reilly's $7.5 million AAV. Berglund has four more years left on his deal while Sobotka has two. O'Reilly is a top-two center on most clubs in the league and will fall right into place in St. Louis.

On the same conference call Botterill framed the acquisition of the two veteran forwards as "getting NHL forwards that come in and [provide] more internal competition for our group, which is very important." The versatile Berglund will probably be somewhere in the top-nine  for Buffalo and if he ends up at center he may be able to help ease the burden of 19 yr. old center Casey Mittelstadt who's right behind Eichel on the depth chart at center. Sobotka can anchor the fourth line in an energy role. Either player can play center or wing.

Although it's not a huge haul for Buffalo talent-wise, perhaps Botterill learned a lesson from the Kane deal. It was rumored that a couple of first-rounders were on the table for Kane in December but Botterill waited. At the trade deadline the Sharks were only team to put forth a viable offer for the talented powerforward and Botterill had to take it. Had he not re-signed with the Sharks, that first-rounder Buffalo got would have turned into a second round pick.

Both St. Louis and the Montreal Canadiens were said to be in on O'Reilly but the Blues came through, and did so prior to 12:01 am today meaning that they took on O'Reilly's $7.5 million bonus for this season. Botterill said that if it went past that deadline and the Sabres had to pick up the bonus, "the asking price was certainly going to be a lot different." In doing that, Botterill put together a package that might not have been the most enticing to Sabres fans, but it got Blues GM Doug Armstrong to consummate the deal. "[Picking up the bonus] certainly played a role in making sure the deal was done" he said.

Botterill played it cool when it came to the goings-on in Buffalo's locker room, of which O'Reilly was rumored to be somewhat of a problem. He wiggled around that notion saying that he and his management group felt that they "had to change the dynamic."
"Bottom line," he continued, "there's a lot of great people in that locker room,  but when you finish 31st you must look to make changes."

Eichel was drafted as a franchise center and ever since that day the Sabres were looked at as his team. Most feel that O'Reilly never subscribed to that philosophy, something that may have caused some friction in the locker room. With him being traded, that's now in the past. The Sabres will move forward with a very young core featuring Eichel, Mittelstadt and Sam Reinhart up front and will be anchored by 2018 first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin on the back end.

With O'Reilly now gone, Botterill's stamp is firmly on this team. Opinions will vary as to how good of a job he's done to this point but in 14 months he's been able to lay a foundation with his vision of what kind of team he wants and he may have moved out pieces that never fit his idea of the type of character he wants in his players.

Three years ago Tim Murray went out with the old and in with the new, as in young vets and two second-overall picks. Botterill flushed Murray's ideals away and starts anew with a very talented group of youngins cutting their teeth in new positions. He did what he had to do, now we'll see where it all leads.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Hutton, Wedgwood and Wilson. Law Firm? No, they're Buffalo Sabres

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-1-2018


The John Tavares 7-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs was the bombshell dropped earlier this afternoon in an otherwise lame "Free Agent Frenzy."

It certainly was a Happy Canada Day at the "Center of the Hockey Universe" as hometown boy Tavares shunned new management and a new coach on Long Island and went home to roost with the Leafs. He signed a relatively reasonable free agent deal that will pay him $11 million per season for the next seven years.

Most in Sabreland knew the Buffalo was never seriously in the running for Tavares so his signing somewhere else was barely a blip, save for the fact that one of the best and most respected centers in the league is head to a rival. There's a giddiness in Toronto, as there should be. For years any top free agent, especially with ties to the city and the surrounding area, was somehow destined for the Leafs no matter how far-fetched the idea may have been. But this time it came true.

Good for Tavares on his big money, long term deal and...ummm...you did good, Leaf Nation.

In Buffalo big fireworks were expected to emanate from a pending Ryan O'Reilly deal to any of a small number of teams. That never happened as the St. Louis Blues signed free agent center Tyler Bozak (TOR) to a three-year, $15 million deal and Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin is said to be content waiting on 2018 third-overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling, their 2017 first round pick (27th overall) to develop into the top-six centers they're projected to be. Both St. Louis and Montreal were said to be desperate for a top-six center, like O'Reilly, but apparently the price is a little steep.

Buffalo GM Jason Botterill is said to be fine with keeping O'Reilly and it may be a good thing, at least for this season that they do. Although the Sabres can't match the Leafs firepower on the wing, down the middle they can throw Jack Eichel, O'Reilly and Casey Mittelstadt against Toronto's top-three of Auston Matthews, Tavares and Nazem Kadri.

As for any hope that Buffalo would land some desperately needed help at left wing, about the only player they may have been interested in a very, very thin market would have been Michael Grabner (NYR) who ended up signing a three year deal with Arizona for a $3.35 million AAV, which is roughly twice what he made in NY.

Buffalo did sign a left winger as they brought back Scott Wilson. Botterill traded a fifth-round pick to Detroit last season and did not tender him an offer making Wilson a free agent. The club and the player agreed to a two-year contract with a $1.05 million cap hit.

Where Botterill really got to work was in goal, an area that desperately needed attention. With the team not tendering arbitration-eligible starter Robin Lehner and letting backup Chad Johnson walk, the Sabres only had one goalie for Buffalo--Linus Ullmark.

In the worst kept secret in the NHL, Carter Hutton (STL) signed a three year deal with the Sabres. The big question with him what the price would be as some rumors had him in the $4 million/season area. That was not the case, however, as Botterill got his 1A/1B goalie for $2.75 AAV for three seasons.

Hutton had connections to the Sabres as he played three seasons in Nashville as a backup when Buffalo coach Phil Housley was an assistant with the Predators and he also played two years in Rockford (AHL) when present Sabres goalie coach Andrew Allen was there. Hutton is said to be a high-character locker-room guy, something that the Sabres are focused upon.

The 33 yr. old is thrilled to be in Buffalo. He said via conference call that he was excited about Rasmus Dahlin being drafted first overall by the Sabres and looks forward to the future with him. He's a heck of a player and the excitement in Buffalo is just huge," Hutton said to the media on the call. "I'm so excited to go to this market. The last few years, they've just been dying for a team to win some games here. I'm excited to come and be a part of that. I think this young kid is going to be a big difference maker, and it's going to be nice having him in front of me."

The Sabres also signed goalie Scott Wedgewood to a one-year, two-way deal. He's expected to be the starter in Rochester this season.

For those who expected fireworks from the Sabres today, there weren't any, except the ones we could see from across the lake. However, what they were able to do today with goaltending, was a pretty big step for this coming year and hopefully beyond.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Malmo's Martin Filander talks Sweden, player development and d-man Linus Lindstrand Cronholm

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-30-2018


The first thing I asked Malmo Redhawks assistant coach Martin Filander about defenseman Linus Lindstrand Cronholm was whether they spelled his last name with a 'K' or a 'C'. Not that it mattered too much, but the fact that there was some uncertainty showed that the fourth round draft pick by Buffalo was a bit obscure. At least to most hockey fans in North America. Filander replied with a chuckle, "for us it's a 'C' but I saw somewhere where it was a 'K' and I don't know where that came from."  (A quick note, Cronholm said at Sabres development camp his family spelled it with a 'C' but the government spelled it with a 'K'.)

Filander was in a rather jovial mood when I talked to him this week as Sweden's soccer team just  earned a berth in the World Cup Round of 16 with a 3-0 win over Mexico. That win coupled with a 2-0 loss by Germany sent Sweden to the next round while Germany, the defending champ, went home after the group stage for the first time in 80 years. Such a win for a nation of 10 million with less resources than most nations is huge and Filander was quick to point out that there's been an emphasis in Sweden to focus upon home grown talent and groom them for a future in sports or coaching or in the business world.

"In general, I think we know we can't afford to lose kids from sports," he told me, "we need to keep them in sports as long as possible and that way we get more sponsorship. Some of them will be the future leaders of our companies, some will be the future leaders of our teams as coaches and some of them will actually be the stars we need.

"That's kind of our mentality. Sometimes when we look at other countries with their enormous of talent and resources we may feel a little jealous about it," he continued, "but sometimes those countries might have the tendency to veer away from their path and try a new one if it doesn't work. We need to work with what we've got and actually develop everyone. It's a big difference in mentalities and possibilities."