Sunday, July 21, 2019

A mid-July look at the Buffalo Sabres NHL depth-chart on defense

Published by, 7-19-2019

Please note the hyphenated word, "mid-July" as things could change with training camp still two months away. It also should be noted that the Buffalo Sabres traded for Jeff Skinner (CAR) on August 2 which goes to show that trades can happen at any time.

Buffalo's roster for 2019-20 will (must) change. As we saunter through the dog days of summer the Sabres have a full roster if you include the probable signings of three restricted free agents and two defensemen, Zach Bogosian and Lawrence Pilut, eventually coming back from off-season surgery. Bogosian is expected to be back for the start of the season while Pilut will take a little longer and will probably be spending time in Rochester before trekking into his sophomore campaign.

A crowded Sabres d-corps has eight NHL players already signed, another in Jake McCabe who's unsigned and filed for arbitration, and two more in Pilut and recently acquired Henri Jokiharju (CHI,) who played a significant time in the NHL last season. It's a good situation to be in as it's never a bad idea to have an overabundance of NHL-caliber defensemen but it will also force Buffalo to make some decisions.

For the sake of the following exercise we're going to move ahead under the premise that McCabe will re-sign with Buffalo.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Dylan Cozens could have had a legit NHL shot w/o thumb injury

Published by, 7-17-2019

The Buffalo Sabres walked up to the podium in Vancouver, BC in June and selected Lethbridge Hurricanes center Dylan Cozens with the seventh-overall pick in the NHL Draft. The 6'3" 183 lb. Yukon native has the NHL frame, skating, skill-level and two-way game to make the jump from draft prospect to NHLer quickly and it was possible that he could've at least got a nine-game run with the Sabres before they had to decide whether or not he should go back to junior.

However, a development camp injury may have scuttled that possibility.

Buffalo still has two holes in the top six up-front. They could really use a No. 2 center to give 20 yr. old Casey Mittelstadt some protection as he grows into that role and they also need a top-six right wing behind Sam Reinhart. As of now there are no legit options on the team at that center spot save for Mittelstadt, who struggled in that role as a rookie last season, and putting Cozens in that role as an 18 yr. old is not an option either.

However, Cozens has the ability to play right win and despite Buffalo's stated plan to let prospects properly develop before bringing them to the big club, there can be exceptions and Cozens may have fit that mold.

In a case of talent meeting need, Cozens has an NHL frame already as well as the skating, which is the big prerequisite in today's NHL. He's very quick on his skates which allows him to get to open ice, he's got enough speed to get into the play on the backcheck and his balance allows him to pivot in and out of situations at a moment's notice. Cozens can use his NHL-level shot to score and has the panache to set up as evidenced by his 34 goals and 50 assists in 68 WHL games. The fact that he was very aggressive in a tough Western Hockey League also bodes well for his powerforward projections and it not unusual for a center prospect to move to the wing at the NHL-level while he gets acclimated to the NHL game.

With the market for top-six right wingers very thin, the trade route could be a possibility but finding a top-six forward takes capital and the Sabres only viable trade chip for that job will more than likely  be spent on a center.

Right-handed defenseman Rasmus Ristolianen's name has been in the rumor mill for months and his name is still being bantered around at the national level as a top trade candidate. As a top-four d-man with size, skating and offensive ability (four consecutive 40-point seasons) who has snarl and can eat up big minutes, Ristolainen certainly has a package of attributes that could be very enticing to a team in need of a top-four defender. Hell, even Buffalo could use that although if the right offer comes along, he's not untouchable. And that "right offer" more than likely revolves around a top-six center.

Ristolainen is signed for three more seasons with at a very manageable $5.4 million cap-hit and he will have a fresh start in Buffalo under new head coach Ralph Krueger. Whether that's appealing to him is another story as there have been rumors of him wanting to be traded.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were said to be very interested in Ristolainen at the trade deadline and into this early part of the summer as they have a lot of talented forwards but could use a righty on defense. Ristolainen's name has been mentioned with a couple other teams but one that makes a lot of sense is the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers and the Sabres have been on parallel paths for years now and they both have what the other might need. Edmonton has Connor McDavid as their No. 1 center and have been playing center Leon Draisaitl on the wing. What they're lacking is defensemen and Ristolainen could pair with either Oskar Klefbom or Darnell Nurse in the top-four. Coming back in the deal for Buffalo would be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a 26 yr. old center with two-years left on his contract at a $6 million AAV. After eight seasons in Edmonton where he fluctuated between solid and potential breakout, "RNH" had himself a real nice season scoring 69 points (28+41) in 82 games for the Oilers in 2018-19.

In a scenario like that, RNH would be behind Jack Eichel on the depth chart and the Sabres would have three of their wings covered with 40-goal scorer Jeff Skinner and free agent signee Marcus Johansson on the left and Reinhart on the right. Using 31 yr. old Johansson and 26 yr. old young vet Nugent-Hopkins on the second line would provide plenty of skill, saavy and experience to offer up a sheltered landing spot for a player like Cozens who has top-six, or even top-line, potential.

Cozens' major hurdle right now is recovering from a development camp thumb injury. In the final day of camp during the 3-on-3 tournament, an attempted hip check by defenseman Brandon Hickey went array and dislocated Cozens' thumb to the point where he needed surgery. Recovery time is expected to be about three months which would take him right to the start of the season. All that potential for the upcoming season pretty much went out the window as lot of his off-season workouts will be tempered and training camp might be out of reach as well.

No doubt things needed to fall into place for Cozens to have a serious shot to make the team as an 18 yr. old and Sabres general manager Jason Botterill heavily favors proper development, but were it not for that thumb injury one never knows. Cozens just inked his three-year entry-level deal two days ago and should he go back to junior (which is likely) Buffalo will have a slide-year before his deal kicks in.

That said, they may not have minded losing that extra year if things fell into place and he fit into the lineup beginning in 2019-20.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Of this year and next, Botterill putting a big stamp on Sabres

Published by, 7-14-2019

When Jason Botterill was hired on May 11, 2017 as general manager of the Buffalo Sabres, the first-time GM had a lot thrown at him. The Sabres had been without a GM since April 10, they needed to find a head coach, the Vegas expansion draft was just days before NHL draft, which was coming soon, and there was the start of free agency on July 1st, less than two months away. Botterill had inherited a team that woefully underperformed the prior season and rumors of locker room tumult underscored a 33-37-12 record and a last place finish in the Atlantic Division (26th in the league.)

It wasn't supposed to be this way. In 2015, the Sabres greeted the post-tank years with the hiring of a Stanley Cup-winning head coach and their GM was able to land a true franchise center and a No. 2 center all in the same day as Buffalo announced the selection of Jack Eichel second-overall in the 2015 NHL Draft just after announcing they'd traded for Ryan O'Reilly. Then GM Tim Murray added other pieces and put together some fine individual players to surround Eichel and 2014 second-overall pick Sam Reinhart with but it never came together.

Botterill was left with a mess on his hands. The big club was floundering in a state of disarray despite a good amount of talent on the Sabres with Buffalo's minor league teams left decimated by the tank years of 2013-15. When he took over the job Botterill stressed a number of things which included the Sabres getting better, a rebuild of the farm system and a reliance on drafting and developing players. Much to the dismay of the fanbase and some in the media, this process would take time and when he told a local radio station the evening of his hire that "I think I have more of a patient, systematic approach to making decisions," he wasn't just whistling Dixie.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Larsson re-signs. Botterill keeping the 4th-line gang together?

Published by, 7-12-2019

As written on many occasions last season, the Sabres fourth line did their job and more than once were the best line out of the forward group. Sure, they didn't do a lot of scoring but Phil Housley didn't seem to want that from them. What he wanted from the likes of Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and whomever was on the other wing was to forecheck their asses off and flip the ice, which they did quite often. Although it didn't result in too much offense outside the top line of Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart, it wasn't their fault that the middle six was as inept as anything we've seen dating back to the 2014-15 tank season.

Both Girgensons and Larsson are young vets who were restricted free agents with arbitration rights. Buffalo general manager Jason Botterill qualified both of them (along with five others) in late June and Girgensons signed a one-year deal on July 5 for $1.6 million, which was the same average annual value he signed for on his previous two-year deal. Larsson, who did not file for arbitration, and the Sabres agreed to a one-year deal today for $1.55 million which was slightly above the $1.475 million AAV he signed on his previous two-year deal.

And with those two signings, two-thirds of the fourth-line gang are under contract and will be fighting for those minutes.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The many layers of the Alexander Nylander for Henri Jokiharju trade

Published by, 7-10-2019

Buffalo Sabres GM Jason Botterill has been rather active this off season and he continued in that vein with the trade for Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju. The 20 yr. old Jokiharju was selected in the first round (29th-overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft held in Chicago that year after the Hawks traded down from No. 26. In turn the Sabres sent forward Alexander Nylander to Chicago in the player-for-player swap. Nylander was a the eighth-overall selection in 2016, a draft that was held in Buffalo, NY.

For Sabres fans, and obviously for Botterill and the team, this is the end of a saga that started the almost the moment that Nylander's name was announced in front of the KeyBank Center crowd. Fans, as well as most media members, were pretty sure that then GM Tim Murray would start to bolster his defense corps which had been bludgeoned by the 2013-15 tank years. Prize d-prospect, Olli Joulevi, went off the board at No. 4 and when the Arizona Coyotes went with forward Clayton Keller at No. 7, it left two strong d-prospects sitting there for Buffalo--Mikhail Sergachev, who was picked by Montreal at No. 9 and Jakob Chychrun, who was eventually taken by the Coyotes with the second of their two first round picks.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

New Sabre Marcus Johansson looking for a fit, regardless of position

Published by, 7-8-2019

Is he a center? Is he a winger? That's what fans in Buffalo want to know about new Sabres forward Marcus Johansson. With Buffalo's top-six bereft of talent outside of their top line, and with the trade of No. 2 center Ryan O'Reilly last season virtually eliminating the middle-six in a scoring role, Sabres general manager Jason Botterill had some huge holes to fill. Yes, they need help at right wing behind Sam Reinhart but the biggest hole on the team to fill is that of a second line center behind Jack Eichel.

If you have a strong feeling of deja vu with the signing of Johansson as a possible center, welcome to the club. Back in 2011 the Sabres were in the same predicament heading into the off season needing to fill a top-six center spot and but couldn't land the big fish--Brad Richards. This year Matt Duchene was the prize center catch and he opted for a very team-friendly deal in Nashville. With Buffalo out of the Richards running (with some even saying they never were to begin with,) the Sabres turned their attention to winger Ville Leino, who was coming off a strong 53-point season for the Philadelphia Flyers. Buffalo's brass witnessed a strong performance by Leino in the playoffs against the Sabres that year and convinced themselves they could turn him into a center. Then GM Darcy Regier laid a 6yr./$27 million contract on Leino that they're still paying for it after buying him out in 2014.

The parallels between Johansson and Leino really aren't that strong and end there, however, but the Leino signing and the position change will always stick in the craw of Sabreland.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Where might Johansson slot in plus a look at Buffalo's forward depth chart

Buffalo's new forward, Marcus Johansson, just finished a 3yr./$13 million contract signed in 2016 while he was with the Washington Capitals. The Caps selected Johansson 24th-overall in the 2009 NHL Draft and traded him to the New Jersey Devils in 2017 (for a 2018 second and 2018 third round pick) to alleviate cap-problems. This past spring Johansson was on the move again as he was sent to the Boston Bruins as a rental for a 2019 second rounder and a 2020 fourth. After performing very well for the Bruins in their run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final he became a free agent it was assumed that he'd be getting a nice bump from the $4.583 million AAV he was running with on his last contract.

It didn't happen like that as Johansson signed a two-year deal with the Sabres for an AAV of $4.5 million.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Girgensons signs, four Sabres RFA's are in a group of 40 to file for arbitration

Published by, 7-6-2019

Restricted free agent forward Zemgus Girgensons and the Buffalo Sabres reached an agreement yesterday on a one-year, $1.6 million deal, the same dollar amount he played for last season. The former first round pick (2012, 14th-overall) is the longest tenured Sabres player on the roster and will be entering his seventh season with the Blue and Gold. During his six years the organization has seen major changes which include the dismantling of owner Terry Pegula's inner circle, the dismissal of two team presidents, a six-month stint for a vice president of hockey operations, two general managers and five head coaches.

Both he and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (2013, eighth-overall) have endured a lot of changes since being selected by the Sabres in the NHL Draft yet the full force of fan disenchantment has been directed at these two players. The gist of the consternation,which has also been started by and/or fostered by local media, is that both have a part of a losing culture and that if the team wants to start turning their fortunes around, moving on from either or both would really get the team moving in the right direction.

Such is the life of a whipping boy.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

With no more additions up-front, this is what the Sabres could look like

Published by, 7-5-2019

The Fourth of July has come and gone with fireworks all over the place, except for the offices at KeyBank Center, home to the Buffalo Sabres. General Manger Jason Botterill had plenty of key holes to fill on the roster was relegated to adding some depth for the Sabres and the Rochester Americans so far this off season..

Buffalo has tough road to hoe again as this year's free agent market didn't offer a wealth of higher end players and the ones that were at the top, like Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene, chose their homes in NY (Rangers) and Nashville (Predators,) respectively. Bot Panarin and Duchene signed seven-year deals as did goalie Sergei Bobrovski (FLA) and Anders Lee, who re-signed with the NY Islanders.

Impact players for the Sabres didn't come from the free agency route, although there's a good possibility they're after one or more forwards still available, but they managed to land some viable NHLers via trade. Botterill sent a second (2021) and a fifth round pick (2022) to the Vegas Golden Knights for RHD, Collin Miller and he also sent a 2021 third-rounder to the Rangers for top-nine forward Jimmy Vesey. Miller adds to a pool of NHL defensemen that's overflowing while the forward ranks still needs a lot of work.

As of today (and if, God forbid, Botterill does nothing else this summer) a potential Buffalo roster construct would look something like this up-front:

Jeff Skinner-Jack Eichel-Sam Reinhart
Jimmy Vesey-Casey Mittelstadt-Tage Thompson*
Victor Olofsson*-Evan Rodrigues-Alexander Nylander*
Connor Sheary-Johan Larsson-Zemgus Girgensons

C.J. Smith
Scott Wilson
Vladimir Sobotka
Curtis Lazar

(*On entry-level deal and waivers-exempt)

Ideally Botterill can find a top-six forward (or two) to move others down the depth chart. As mentioned here on numerous occasions, signing forward Marcus Johansson and plugging him into top-six, right wing role would do wonders for the right side. Free agent forward Ryan Dzingel is another player still available offering plenty of flexibility in a top-nine role. Both might end up playing on a line higher than their ideal spot in Buffalo but with those two in the lineup and a little rearrangement, this is what it could look like up-front:



Although it isn't a Cup-contending forward group, it should be enough for them to take a big step in the right direction.

Friday, July 5, 2019

A light, semi-productive opening to free agency for the Sabres

Published by, 7-2-2019

The Buffalo Sabres went into the start of free agency with some holes to fill up front and left with those holes mostly still there. There's a need at No. 2 center that needs to be filled and another top-six spot or two on the wing as well. Buffalo did nothing to address those with a free agent signing but were able to pull off a trade for top-nine forward Jimmy Vesey.

If that name sounds familiar, it should as the rights to Vesey were acquired by then Sabres GM Tim Murray for a third round pick. Vesey was drafted 66th overall by the Nashville Predators in the 2012 NHL Draft and finished his four-years stint at Harvard by winning the Hobey Baker Award as NCAA's top player. Upon finishing up he let the Predators know of his intention to become a free agent in August. Nashville then sent his rights to the Sabres for a well-traveled third round pick that was originally Minnesota's but changed hands five other times before Nashville used it on center Rem Pitlick (76th-overall.)

Murray conceded it was "a gamble" at the time but also asked, "Why not us? Why not give it a shot?" The team just spent the prior four years drafting 34 players including 10 first rounders and were also seen as a team on the rise with a young core bolstered by a trio of young vets. However, Vesey's camp had repeated time and again that they would be testing the market come August 15. Vesey's father Jim, who had played for the Boston Bruins ever so briefly, said he was "surprised the deal went down.

"It's still my understanding that he's going to free agency," the elder Vesey said of his son. "The gameplan was to have a list of possible teams ready, get to Aug. 15 and then decide. I know nothing has changed. I bet Jimmy's surprised by [Buffalo trading for him] too."

Sure enough, Vesey tested the market and signed with the NY Rangers. Three years later the Sabres sent another third-round pick, this time to New York to acquire Vesey.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Noon is the official start of NHL free agency, but the action is already hot

There was a time in the NHL when the morning hours of July 1st was filled with anticipation as the noon start to free agency was set to begin. Chat rooms would be filled all morning with rumors and tidbits and waited for the stroke of noon like handicappers wait for the bell to open the gates of a horse race. We knew certain teams were interested in certain players and seemingly with every surprise move fans screamed "tampering!" as the player they thought had a surefire destination headed elsewhere.

That changed with the latest collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players Association with the two sides agreeing on a "courting period" where teams could contact free agents to find out what they're looking for. Although they may not enter into any agreements--written or oral--with a player, teams are free to find out what the parameters of a potential deal might look like from a player's perspective. At high noon, any potential deals can be finalized and sent to the league.

Beginning in earnest yesterday, various insiders started leaking probable deals set for the start of free agency today, which takes the surprise out of what once was "Christmas Day" for many fans. If there were some in Sabreland who were fired up about the possibility (however small) of landing free agent center Matt Duchene, reports from insiders have him staying in Nashville, in what looks like a very team-friendly deal for seven years at around $8 million per season. 

Here's a partial list of projected signings based upon what was floating around social media the past 24 hours:

--F, Mats Zuccarello 5 yrs./$30 million (MIN)
--F, Joe Pavelski, 3 yrs./ $21M (DAL)
--G, Segei Bobrovsky $9.5M AAV (FLA)
--D, Tyler Myers 5 yrs./$30M (VAN)
--F, Corey Perry 1 yr./$1.5M incentive-laden deal (DAL)
--F, Richard Panik, 4 yr./$10M (WSH)
--G, Cam Talbot, 1 yr./$2.75M (CGY)

Of course nothing with the big UFA fish, Artemi Panarin, has been settled although it's said to be a race between the NY Islanders, Florida Panthers and NY Rangers with a late, high-end bids from the Columbus Blue Jackets and Colorado Avalanche.

In the case of the Buffalo Sabres, they never seemed to seriously be in the running for any of the aforementioned even if they wanted to be. However, word on social media is that Buffalo's name has been attached to forward Marcus Johansson, who ended up in the Stanley Cup Finals with the Boston Bruins. 

That would be more along what the Sabres normally do in what's considered "silly season." The Sabres are rarely involved in big name signings preferring the trade-route as a way of improving the roster. The hot rumors out the past day or two involve a deal with the Panthers. Looks as if they're in the market for a defenseman with both Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe having their names attached to the rumor. Buffalo general manager Jason Botterill is said to be in the market for a top-six forward and Florida has an excess of those. Names like Mike Hoffman and Jonathan Huberdeau have surfaced as potential Cats headed back to Buffalo and either would be a good get for the Sabres. Also mentioned, rather briefly, was 21 yr. old center Henrik Borgstrom who's upside would make for a prime get for the Sabres. 

With Botterill stating he's comfortable with the depth on defense we'll be looking for him to make a splash in the forward ranks. How it happens is up in the air but he seems pretty determined to upgrade the forward ranks.

Monday, July 1, 2019

We probably shoudn't count on any big fish when the Sabres go FA shopping

Published by, 6-30-2019

Anyone who's against having pending UFA center Matt Duchene on the Buffalo Sabres is pretty much crazy. Having him anchor the second line for years to come behind Jack Eichel would be a formidable one-two punch. What's not crazy is having to pay the price he'll be commanding come July 1, the start of free agency.

The Sabres have been mentioned to be in the running for top free agents ever since Terry Pegula bought the team. The summer after he bought the team Buffalo was said to be one of the team's vying for the services of 2011's premier free agent, center Brad Richards. They fell short as Richards signed with the NY Rangers a 9yr./$60 million deal. Buffalo went with their backup plan that year and decided winger Ville Leino could move to center and with their playoff loss to Leino's Philadelphia Flyers still fresh in their memory, signed him to a 6yr./$24 million deal. Both teams are still paying for those mistakes. The Rangers bought out Richards in 2014 at a total cost of over $20 million until 2025-26 and Buffalo bought out Leino that same year paying him $7.333 million until the end of next season not to play for them.

Regardless of a dubious track record, NHL general managers still go all in on July 1 dishing out huge contracts for UFA's and most time end up regretting it.

Duchene's contract is probably going to land somewhere in the $11-12 million/season range and adds another dimension to the premise we opened up with. Whereas one would be crazy not to want him on the team, Buffalo would be crazy to dish out that kind of money and term (seven years) for a second-line center.

Such is the start of free agency which begins tomorrow.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Of the trade for Colin Miller, plus who to watch 3-on-3 this morning

Published by, 6-29-2019

Much to the relief of many in Sabreland, Buffalo general manager Jason Botterill made a move yesterday when he acquired right-handed defenseman Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights for a 2021 second round pick (acquired from St. Louis and a 2022 fifth rounder. The well-traveled Miller was drafted in the fifth round (151st-overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft by the Los Angeles Kings and won a Calder Cup with the Manchester Monarchs in 2015 before being traded to the Boston Bruins that off-season. Miller played two seasons in the Bruins organization and was left exposed in the 2017 expansion draft where Vegas picked him up.

The Golden Knights took the league by storm becoming the first team in league history to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season and they came to within an overtime goal in a controversial Game-7 to advancing in this year's playoffs. The by-product of this immediate success, as well as smart, yet expensive, front office moves, has been cap-issues this off season and Vegas has been forced to makes some tough decisions. The cap itself came in a bit lower than anticipated and the Golden Knights have been over it all off season. They traded Erik Haula and his $2.75 million hit earlier in the week and moved Miller's $3.875 million AAV to Buffalo yet are still about $900K over the cap with five roster spots to fill, according to CapFriendly.

Miller's acquisition adds more depth to the Sabres top-six on defense. Last season Vegas head coach Gerrard Gallant had him on the top-paring while Nate Schmidt was serving a 20-game suspension for violating the league's PED policy and was eventually dropped down the depth chart. Miller also served some time in Gallant's doghouse including a press box stint for Game-1 of the San Jose Sharks series but it looks as if he'll be in at least a solid 4/5 role for Buffalo dependent upon how these next few months shake out.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

2019 Sabres Development Camp player breakdown and schedule

Published by, 6-26-2019

The Sabres head into their 2019 Development Camp with 40 players set to hit the ice at Harborcenter for three days of workouts and skills sessions before bringing it to a close on Saturday with the annual French Connection 3-on-3 tournament. 

An array of youngins from draft picks to free agents to camp invitees with the eldest being Andrew Oglevie, who was signed out of the University of Notre Dame is the oldest with a February, 1995 birthdate. Jonas Johansson and Victor Olofsson are also 23 yrs. old and were a part of Buffalo's 2014 draft class and are a part of Buffalo's longer development curve. On the opposite end of the spectrum are members from the 2019 Draft class. Some, like center Dylan Cozens, hit the pros in a year or two, others we may see five years from now as a part of the Sabres stretching out their prospect pool, and some may not make it at all. 

Development camp is all about seeing individual progression amongst the youngins, seeing how they've developed physically, mentally and skills-wise along with how they stack up against their peers. Although the fun part of the four days comes with the 3-on-3 tournament, it's more about finding out what they need to be working on this summer and into the future. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

What would you do if Sabres GM Jason Botterill made minimal moves?

Published by, 6-25-2019

If Buffalo Sabres GM Jason Botterill went into next season with virtually the same lineup that got him to 26th in the NHL last season, one would expect the collective psyche of Sabre fans to be a blown gasket. The Peace Bridge Authorities would be on high alert for fans wanting to jump from the bridge. Ace hardware and big-box DYI stores would run out of tiki torches and pitchforks while police in and around KeyBank Center would be on the lookout for any and all potential signs of trouble.
Yeah, it would be bad. Maybe not as bad as described above save for social media and various chat-rooms. The furor there would be fueled by the rage and angst of a pertetually afflicted Buffalo sports-base venting mushroom clouds of anger and blame directed at anyone and everyone even remotely associated with the organization. Hell, it might even include Rip Simonick, Brian "Spinner" Spencer or Taro Tsujimoto as well as the entire fictitious Tokyo Katanas hockey club. 
Yes, Sabres fans, after eight playoff-less seasons centered around a tank-induced suffering, it really is that bad but it's on the upswing. Ever so slowly. Two team presidents, three general managers and six coaches later, Buffalo's hockey club has shown signs that it may be lifting itself off of the canvas, but there's a long way to go before they begin to smell respectability
For the 2019 off seasons, anything less than at least a top-six forward or a top-four defenseman (preferably both) would mean utter failure to most in Sabreland and one might strongly believe that GM Jason Botterill is aware of his teams holes and is trying to address them, albeit in his own methodical and calculated way. Buffalo is in need of a No. 2 center, a top-six winger and a top-four defenseman, preferably one who can play at least 70 games and not look as if he's fresh from Junior-A playing in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

If given the choice Sabreland, Duchene or Malkin?

Published by, 6-24-2019

The Buffalo Sabres are in need of a No. 2 center. Yes, we know, they had one but it seems as if said No. 2 was never going rediscover his love of the game in Buffalo and he ended up finding it in a fairy tale ending with the Blues. C'est la vie.

Buffalo GM Jason Botterill thought he had a stop-gap No. 2 in Patrik Berglund but that blew up in his face but luckily he also lost his love for playing North American Hockey and walked away from the three-plus remaining years on his contract, or over $12 million. Actually it was a bit deeper than that as Berglund was fighting his own demons and opted for mental health over money. Berglund's issues are nothing to take lightly and he deserves nothing but best wishes in his battle.

That said, the Sabres did get lucky in that his $3.85 million cap hit is off the books giving Buffalo some added flexibility this year and beyond. What they do with that flexibility is still up in the air but that extra cushion may come in handy this year as the 2018-19 NHL cap-ceiling came in at about $1.5 million under recent estimates. Botterill may use that extra cushion to sign a free agent, he may trade for a player with a large salary or he has the ability take on a high-dollar, albatross contract from another team for a more desirable player.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Filling out the Sabres 2019 NHL Draft, Day-2

Published by, 6-23-2019

The Buffalo Sabres were set up for a few long bouts of inactivity yesterday on Day-2 of the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver. Buffalo selected 31st on day-one and wouldn't be selecting again until pick-67 after trading their second rounder to the Carolina Hurricanes as part of the Jeff Skinner deal (for posterity, the 'Canes selected goalie Pyoter Kochetkov with the 36th pick.) The Sabres would also have long wait between their own pick in the third round and a late pick in the fourth round (via the Evander Kane to SJS trade) as they had dealt their own to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the deal for Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick.

Buffalo had also traded away their fifth-rounder to Detroit in the Scott Wilson deal and weren't set to draft until the 6th round but used two of their three sixth-rounder (plus their own seventh-round pick) to move up in the fourth and to acquire a fifth rounder.

When all was said and done the Sabres used six picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, two on the first day and four yesterday.

Buffalo selected center Dylan Cozens with the seventh-overall pick on Friday and ended Day-1 of the draft by taking defenseman Ryan Johnson 31st-overall. Of the 12 picks (six each year) general manager Jason Botterill has made since taking over in 2017, seven have been on defensemen and three have been centers so it's not surprising that he added to those counts on Day-1.

Botterill took goalie Ukka-Pekka Luukkonen and winger Linus Weissbach in 2017 but went strictly defense and center last year. On Day-2 yesterday he added to those positions selecting a goalie in the third round followed by three consecutive picks on the wing.

With the 67th pick of the draft Buffalo drafted goalie Erik Portillo who was draft-eligible last year as a 17 yr. old but went undrafted. Portillo is a native of Sweden who struggled in his initial draft year but came on strong in 2018-19 with a 1.99 goals-against average and .931 save percentage for Frolunda of Sweden's Super Elit junior circuit. The huge 6'6" 209 lb. Portillo adds to the Sabres depth in net but is a "longer-term project," according to Botterill, as he'll be headed to the USHL (Dubuque Fighting Saints) next season before heading to the University of Michigan the following year.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Botterill picks Cozens and Johnson and NHL Draft, builds around Eichel and Dahlin

Published by, 6-22-2019

While those of us in Sabreland may have been screaming for Buffalo to draft an elite-playmaker like Trevor Zegras or a pure goal-scorer in the diminutive Cole Caufield with the seventh-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, general manger Jason Botterill went in a little different direction by drafting center Dylan Cozens. Although his skill-set lacks the dynamics of the other two, Cozens has the traits the Sabres are looking for in a future top-six player. His skating is exceptional, he has a high compete level, he has great size, plays a 200' game and does his scoring 5v5 which has been a focus of Botterill's since he took the Sabres GM position (see Jeff Skinner.)

As fans it’s pretty easy to get caught up in immediate needs of a bottom-feeding team at the draft and as we look at the Sabres they need certain things right now, like scoring. And, as is often the case, we the fanbase of a team that hasn't made the playoffs in eight seasons scoff at patience while forgetting that players drafted outside the top-three or so usually take while to incubate and most won't hope to have an impact for at least a few years. Although it doesn't offer immediate relief, Sabres fans should take solace in, and be reminded of, the fact that they have two premier pieces in place and that the future holds great promise if Botterill builds this thing properly.

Buffalo's window is just beginning to open again after it was shut on the fingers some two years ago. Coming out of the tank years and taking a couple steps back from where they want to be is going to take some time regardless of how quickly we want it. Yes, we know, the clock is ticking on Jack Eichel's contract and a three-year build into (hopefully) a Stanley Cup contender means that half of it will have been wasted. However, should everything fall into place in the latter part of his contract, methinks Eichel will have no problem leading the parade down Delaware Avenue after captaining Buffalo’s first Cup-winning team.

That’s the dream and as we found out with the previous general manager there are no short-cuts, as a host of Cup-winning teams this decade have proven.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Sabres news, notes and items of interest on NHL Draft day, 2019

Published by, 6-21-2019

Housley hired by the Arizona Coyotes

Phil Housley's time in Buffalo was a train wreck with the final four-plus months of his tenure being an utter disaster. Housley's Sabres went 58-84-22 during his two seasons as Buffalo's head coach and he had a 10-game winning streak to his credit but other than that the team took a huge step backward.

The Sabres were the worst team in the league from November 29, the end of their streak, until the end of the season managing only 40 points in 57 games (16-33-8.) They went from first in the entire NHL to a 26th place finish and within that downward spiral they failed to win consecutive games from December 13 until the final two games of the season. Buffalo was also shut out three games in a row (for a franchise record 199:58) for the second consecutive season, the first NHL team since 1929 to have that dubious distinction.

The month of March was a particularly bad month as the Sabres went 2-12-2 with a pair of seven-game losing streaks with the latter stretching one game into April. In both instances Buffalo was threatening to do what no other team in NHL history had done--have a 10-game winning streak and 10-game losing streak in the same season.

Those are just the overall numbers. The fallout from Housley's tenure can be found in players like Patrik Berglund, who walked away from the game and over $12 million while in Buffalo. Berglund came over from St. Louis in the Ryan O'Reilly trade.

O'Reilly infamously said after the 2017-18 season (Housley's first as head coach) that he "lost his lover for the game at times" that season and was traded to the Blues. What followed was a remarkable run by St. Louis buoyed by  the type of play O'Reilly was originally traded for. The Blues won  their first-ever Stanley Cup with O'Reilly winning the Conn Smythe and he added to his mantle of awards with the Selke Trophy.

Some coaches are better off as assistants and right now it looks as if Housley is that type of coach. He'll be doing in Arizona what he did for the Nashville Predators--activating the defense to become a force on the ice.

Too bad we wasted two seasons finding out that he wasn't a head coach.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Draft weekend is a good time for trades, here's a look at some names out there

Today marks the lead-in day to the NHL Draft as general managers meet to discuss various league issues before hitting the stage in what might be the second-most popular draft amongst the big-four major North American pro sports. The season finished, the NHL Awards ceremony was last night and scouting departments are putting the final touches on their list and all that's left to do is hit the floor and make your selections.

Pending, of course, whatever deals might be made between teams.

GM's burn up the phone lines leading up to this week and today in Vancouver they'll all have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with parties of interest regarding possible deals. Sure, they'll discuss issues like video review, etc. but one area of focus involves deals discussed over the phone, or even those that begin this day. The Buffalo Sabres have been in the rumor mill on many fronts for a while now and it seems as if they'll be active during a potentially busy trade weekend. 

We've all heard the rumors and all have our opinions on what the Sabres should or should not do and we've all heard from Buffalo GM Jason Botterill that he's looking to add talent to the team. Just what that talent will look like and the cost of attaining that is still up in the air, but it's safe to say that we'll here something involving the Sabres in the next two or three days. It might be a deal that involves moving up or down in the draft or it might be some kind of blockbuster, but whatever the deal may be it will illicit strong opinions from a fan-base dying for a winner.

Having said that, fans can get over-emotional as their impatience rises to high levels. Just because the fan in all of us wants something now doesn't necessarily mean it will happen no matter how well it might be backed up by stats, sound capology or opinion. Botterill is the GM of the Buffalo Sabres and it's his responsibility to structure the organization as he sees fit. What he's looking at is an obviously flawed team, with a new head coach that will be playing in a tough division and an even tougher conference. Botterill is under some pressure to do something, but the general consensus is that the high-point of prognostications would center on just making the playoffs. There is no need for the Sabres to mortgage the future for a rental-type piece at a high cost.

What we're in the middle of is...

The Process.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

2019 NHL Mock Draft--Picks 22-31

The 2019 NHL Draft will be held in Vancouver, B.C. June 21-22

22. Los Angeles Kings--C, Philip Tomasino

Los Angeles gets a little lucky and have Tomasino drop to them at No. 22 and it's just what the doctor ordered. The 6'0" 180 lb. center has good size, something that will never go out of style with the Kings but he also has speed, plays a 200' game with pace and is a very hard worker. Fits right into what GM Rob Blake is looking for. 

23. NY Islanders--RW, Bobby Brink

Back in 2014 the Isles used the 28th-overall selection to snag RW, Josh Ho-Sang who elicited strong opinions from both ends of the spectrum on his draft worthiness. Five years later the Islanders select another right wing in the lower portion of the first round. With size no longer that big of an issue league-wide, drafting a 5'8" 163 lb. player is more common place than it once was and the Isles get themselves a slippery David Pastrnak-type of player in Brink who scored 68 points (35+33) in 43 USHL games.

24. Nashville Predators--LW, Nicholas Robertson

With their pipeline still well stocked on defense, the Preds add the dynamic Robertson to their prospect pool. Although small at 5'9" 161 lbs. Robertson tops off his high skill level with a large dose of compete in all three zones. The Arcadia, California native opted to play junior in the OHL and had himself a solid season with 55 points (27+28) in 57 games as a 17 yr. old and he won't turn 18 until September 11, 2001. Yes, that 9-11.

25. Washington Capitals--D, Ville Heinola

The Caps pluck Heinola from Finland where he had a solid introduction to the Finnish elite league with 14 points (2+12) in 34 games. Heinola is another of those heady defensemen coming out of Sweden and Finland who possess great puck-moving skills and excellent skating ability, traits that could put him in a top-four role with proper seasoning.

26. Calgary Flames--D, Tobias Bjornfot

The Flames need defenders in the pipeline and it's getting to the point in the draft where there's not much left in the first round. Make no mistake as Bjornfot isn't that much of a reach as ISS has him at No.27 while McKeen's has him ranked as the 19th best prospect in the draft, seventh amongst defensemen. Expectations were very high for him as a 16 yr. old but he dropped after struggling a bit at the next levels. However, Bjornfot has good size at 6'0" 193 lbs. and has a skill package that includes excellent mobility within a solid two-way game that keeps him in the first rounds with projections as a possible top-four NHL defender.

27. Tampa Bay Lightning--D, Alex Vlasic

The Lighting learned a little from getting swept in the first round of the playoffs this year. No, they're not going to throw their entire system out the window but they do realize they need a little more of an edge to their game and add that by drafting the 6'6" 198 lb. Vlasic. The Boston University commit will use the next couple of years to fill out his huge frame and work on a skill-set of decent offensive qualities that will allow him to contribute offensively when he hits the next level.

28. Carolina Hurricanes--LW, Nils Hoglander

Although the name may drum up visions of a powerforward on the wing, or a guitarist for some European rock band, Hoglander is a speedy and highly-skilled forward that the 'Canes are looking for. And after his career is over he can start his own restaurant chain in Carolina. Who wouldn't want to eat at Hoglander Barbeque?

29. Anaheim Ducks--RW, Samuel Poulin

The Ducks have a well balanced prospect pool with players set to hit the bigs with more frequency beginning in 2019-20, and that would include d-prospect Brendan Guhle who came from the Sabres (along with this pick) in the Brandon Montour trade. As with Cozens selected ninth overall in this mock, Poulin has size although his skill isn't quite up to that of Cozens. However, Anaheim does get a  smart, competitive player with an NHL frame who showed he could carry a huge weight for his team while also showing some nice year-over-year progression.

30. Boston Bruins--D, Ryan Johnson

Much to the dismay of those in Sabreland and elsewhere in the NHL, the Bruins remain competitive while continually filling their prospect pool with quality and that doesn't change with the addition of Johnson. Sure, the loss to St. Louis in the Stanley Cup Finals was a bit embarrassing and extended the city's championship drought to over 140 days leaving the chowdaheads grimacing (boo hoo,) but they'll always have the opportunity for another championship as long as Tom Brady's in the NFL. As for the B's, Johnson is a good, all-around, puck-moving, two-way d-man who won't replace Zdeno Chara, but could be one of those pieces that makes for a strong defense by committee.

31. Buffalo Sabres--LW, Jakob Pelletier

Odds are that the Sabres will use this pick in a trade for immediate help but if they don't, they have plenty of options and a real good skater like Pelletier who's both smart and competitive fits in rather nicely for what they want. It doesn't hurt that he had a solid season in the Q with 89 points (39+50) in 65 games for Moncton either. The Sabres need scoring and they'll either add some now by trading this pick for immediate help or they'll draft someone here who'll need a couple years of development and Pelletier isn't a bad choice for the latter. 

2019 NHL Mock Draft--Picks 11-21

Published by, 6-18-2019

The 2019 NHL Draft will be held in Vancouver, B.C. June 21-22

11. Philadelphia Flyers--C, Kirby Dach

Dach has a lot of the traits that the Flyers like, he has the size (6'4" 198 lbs.) and has a strong skill-set attached to a somewhat physical game. And he dropped to Philadelphia at No. 11. The Fly-boys just traded for the rights to C, Kevin Hayes and his addition makes them even deeper down the middle. With the best defenders already gone and the second tier of forwards near it's end, Philly ends up taking the best player available, which isn't really a bad thing as the can let Dach develop into the all-around center he could potentially be. And just in time as three years from now Claude Giroux will be 34 yrs. old and Sean Couturier will be closing in on 30.

12. Minnesota Wild--C, Peyton Krebs

God knows what they're doing in Minnesota and with the way the draft unfolds they end up taking a great prospect in Krebs but not without some reservation. The highly touted Krebs is on the smallish side at 5'11" 181 lbs. but has a lot of skill, is highly competitive and has a very high hockey IQ. All of that should have made him a top-10 pick this year but he ends up at the bottom of his tier due to an Achilles tear. According to a Scott Cruikshank tweet, Krebs was cut by another players skate and underwent surgery for a partial tear. A full recovery is expected with no time-frame for his return. Although it's not the end of the world, it sure puts a damper on his draft stock.

13. Florida Panthers--D, Cam York

The Cats are in a good spot for drafting 13th. They could add to their stable of forwards by selecting C, Alex Newhook or pick one of two defensemen who project out to be solid blueliners. They choose the latter and go with York. Although he's definitely small for a defenseman, York's skills, especially as a powerplay quarterback allows for plenty of upside. You really can't blame new Panthers GM Dale Tallon for going that route as he was left loaded with prospects up front beginning with RW, Owen Tippett (2017, 10th-overall,) C, Henrik Borgstrom (2016, 23rd) and LW, Grigori Denisenko (2018, 15th.) There's also a strong possibility that they might add Artemi Panarin on a long-term deal. Florida is packed with forwards and is looking for capable defensemen yet I never hear Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen mentioned in Panthers rumors. Perhaps they should start.

14. Arizona Coyotes--C, Alex Newhook

For many Newhook is taken right about where he should be in this draft and the 'Yotes are happy to bring him aboard. Arizona GM John Chayka has been piecing together his roster for the past three years and he's got a couple of great cornerstones in Oliver-Ekman Larsson and Clayton Keller and he jumps at the opportunity to land Newhook who's an extremely gifted skater with high-end skill and an impressive hockey IQ. The 'Yotes have made progress lately finishing 9th in the Western Conference with 86 points which represented a nice jump from the 70 points they snared in each of the prior two season. However,  as a team with the second-longest playoff drought behind the Buffalo Sabres at seven seasons, Chayka needs to start making some waves. Newhook won't help the cause this season, but perhaps in a few years he will. If Chayka is still around.

15. Montreal Canadiens--C, Ryan Suzuki

Les Habitants have a nice stable of prospects including top goalie prospect, Cayden Primeau and they can do what most teams do, pick the best player available. The player they choose also happens to be the brother of Nick Suzuki who was drafted 13th-overall by the Vegas Golden Knight at the 2017 NHL Draft. Both Suzuki's are incredible playmakers and both have plenty of smarts. At 6'0" 172 lbs, the younger Suzuki has some room to grow into his frame and he skates much better than his older brother. Although the Habs have been moving away from their Smurf years, they'll take high-end skill and excellent skating, but would prefer it on a bigger frame, Ryan Suzuki fits that mold rather well.

16. Colorado Avalanche--G, Spencer Knight

About the only thing better for the Colorado Avalanche in this draft would have been to land in the top-two via the NHL Draft Lottery. It didn't happen but they still got a helluva player picking No. 4 overall. With that being said, their own draft pick becomes a bonus pick and they can use it on the clear-cut, best goalie in the draft. It seem as if the 'Lanche have been struggling in net since the end of Patrick Roy's reign but it's only a matter of time before the full-time goaltending duties are handed over to Knight. The pick comes at a bit of a price because there are some very good skaters on the board, but Joe Sakic finds it too hard to resist plucking a goalie prospect that immediately goes to the top of a rather deep goalie depth-chart.

17. Vegas Golden Knights--D, Thomas Harley

The Golden Knights could really use an influx of talent on the blueline and they opt for the OHL's Harley instead of a player like Kailev whom has all the skills but lacks compete and pace that has been a hallmark of Golden Knights hockey ever since their inception. Harely is big and mobile, has a wide wingspan and plays a strong two-way game. He can start the transition from the back-end with a good breakout pass and also has played big minutes. The cool part about Vegas is that they really don't need high-end defensemen to be effective in head coach Gerard Gallant's system. Sure, anyone would want a Rasmus Dahlin but when you make the playoffs and/or make a long playoff run, this is where you'll be picking so having a strong system like Vegas has makes a huge difference.

18. Dallas Stars--D, Victor Soderstrom

As with every draft there's a little run on defenseman and we see that here with the Stars taking Soderstrom. Dallas has a lot of forwards in their prospect pool but watched 18 yr. old defenseman Miro Heiskanen make the jump and play 82 NHL games last season. Soderstrom fills a need in the pool but isn't a reach. Soderstrom pulled in at No. 3 in Central Scouting's Final rankings for International skaters but is he a reach or is he a steal at No. 18? There's no doubt he can skate and made the jump to the Swedish Hockey League last season as a 17 yr. old. Soderstrom has all the traits of a modern Swedish defenseman like exceptional skating, high hockey IQ and is a pretty smooth player. However he is on the smallish side at 5'11" 178 lbs., therefore the conundrum.

19. Ottawa Senators--D, Moritz Seider

The Senators have been a mess ever since a long playoff run in 2017 that gave them the false impression that they were much closer to Cup-contention than they really were. Credit to them for moving on from players like Erik Karlsson who wasn't going to re-sign in Ottawa and Matt Duchene, whom they gave up a first round pick for, which ended up being fourth-overall in the draft this year, while getting this pick and a top prospect in return. Center Josh Norris, who came over in the Karlsson trade, and defenseman Erik Brannstrom came in the Duchene deal, top their prospect pool so all was not lost. The Sens are at No. 19 and add another solid defensive prospect in Seider who projects as a defensive-minded, shutdown blueliner with big size (6'4" 198 lbs.) and an impressive wingspan.

20. Winnipeg Jets--C/RW, Raphael Lavoie

The Jets went circular in the Jacob Trouba trade in that they traded this first-rounder (among other pieces) to the NY Rangers for center Kevin Hayes at the NHL trade deadline then got it back when they traded Trouba there last night. Winnipeg needed to do what needed to be done and with the pick they get themselves a center with Western Conference size and enough skill to possibly put him in a scorer's role. There are many on the fence as to whether this will happen but he showed enough in his draft year for the Jets to think he will fit in their system and reach his potential. Hayes has had a solid career with highs of 25 goals and has had point totals that averaged in the low-mid 40's. Lavoie might not reach those levels but could come close in the right system.

21.  Pittsburgh Penguins--LW, Arthur Kaliyev

Pittsburgh's prospect pool has been decimated in the Sidney Crosby/Cup contender era but hey, they've won three so it was well worth it. However, there comes a time when a team needs to start adding assets instead of trading them away and it may be time for them to start doing that. The Pens have not had a first round pick the past four year and no matter how good their scouting staff is at finding gems, eventually it levels off and a team needs first-round talent. Luckily for Pittsburgh some bona fide talent dropped to them at No. 21. Kaliyev scored 51 goals as a 17 yr. old in the OHL and he joins the likes of Alex Debrincat, Steven Stamkos and Jeff Skinner in that regard. He's got a wicked shot and has the hockey IQ to be a helluva playmaker (51 assists last year as well.) What he doesn't have is consistency in the drive/compete department leading Corey Proman to write of him, "Kaliyev can often look like he's not going that hard and will have long stretches of indifference." Ouch!!!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

No Trouba for you...Buffalo

Published by, 6-17-2019

Talk in Sabreland this off season had revolved around adding top-six talent up front and strengthening the blueline and one of the names thrown around as being a possible target for Buffalo was Winnipeg defenseman Jacob Trouba. With the Jets in trouble cap-wise and their relationship with the 25 yr. old Trouba strained, rumors concerning his movement have been in the air dating back to last summer.

Some Sabres fans salivated at the prospect of landing the right-hander in a trade to help solidify the top-four and maybe more importantly, especially for advanced stats fans, giving the club a upgrade over defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who they can't see leave fast enough.

Whelp, that thought's out the window as it  was announced tonight that the NY Rangers have acquired Trouba for a 2019 first round pick (20th-overall) and defenseman Neil Pionk whom the Rangers signed out of Minnestota-Duluth back in 2017. The pick New York sent to Winnipeg was actually the Jets pick to begin with. On February 25 the Rangers sent center Kevin Hayes to Winnipeg for that pick, prospect Brendan Lemieux (who was drafted by Buffalo in 2016) and a conditional 2022 fourth round pick.

As the NY Post pointed out, the circular deal was, "in essence, Lemieux and Trouba for Pionk and six weeks of Hayes."

Where do I sign up for that?

The catch, however, is that the Jets did not allow any team to talk to Trouba and his agent about a possible contract extension beyond 2019-20 when he will become an unrestricted free agent. For the Rangers it was a gamble worth taking as even if they loose him, they'll still get a season out of him or if it's clear he won't re-sign in the Big Apple they can move him at the deadline if they're out of contention in a very tough Eastern Conference.

As for the Sabres, they're preparing for the draft and word has it that Botterill has been working the phones. Buffalo owns two first round picks (Nos. 7 & 31) and are said to be looking to change their roster either with a top-six center or winger or a top-four defenseman. Or both.

What Botterill's working on remains to be seen but we can now take Trouba off the list of possibilities.