2020 Winter Classic sweater reviews, a standings update and Top-10 NHL power rankings.
Brayden Point re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a bunch of other RFAs signed extensions, the Boston Pride were sold, Dan Girardi retired and DTFR’s season previews continued with the Atlantic Division.
33-39-10, 76 points, 6th in the Atlantic Division
Longest active playoff drought, last playoff appearance was 2011
Additions: F Jean-Sebastien Dea, F Marcus Johansson, F Curtis Lazar, F Jimmy Vesey (acquired from NYR), D John Gilmour, D Henri Jokiharju (acquired from CHI), D Colin Miller (acquired from VGK), G Andrew Hammond
Subtractions: F Eric Cornel (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Kyle Criscuolo (signed with PHI), F Taylor Leier (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Sean Malone (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Matt Moulson (signed with Hershey, AHL), F Alexander Nylander (traded to CHI), F Danny O’Regan (signed with NYR), F Kevin Porter (signed with Rochester, AHL), D Jack Dougherty (signed with Belleville, AHL), D Brycen Martin (signed with Fort Wayne, ECHL), D Matt Tennyson (signed with NJD), G Scott Wedgewood (signed with TBL), G Adam Wilcox (signed with San Antonio, AHL)
Still Unsigned: F Jason Pominville
Re-signed: F Remi Elie, F Zemgus Girgensons, F Johan Larsson, F Evan Rodrigues, F C.J. Smith, D Jake McCabe, G Linus Ullmark
Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres are looking to be last season’s Carolina Hurricanes for the 2019-20 season and, in the process, end the current longest active playoff drought in the NHL.
Buffalo hasn’t been back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since being ousted by the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games in their 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup.
The Sabres only have four forwards under contract after this season.
Of the remaining nine forwards currently under contract, three are pending-restricted free agents (Sam Reinhart, Evan Rodrigues and Casey Mittelstadt) and six are pending-unrestricted free agents (Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Jimmy Vesey, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Scott Wilson).
Thankfully, new addition to their top-nine forwards– and likely to start the season on the first or second line– Marcus Johansson (13-17–30 totals in 58 games played) signed a two-year, $9.000 million ($4.500 million cap hit) contract in free agency after spending last season with the New Jersey Devils prior to being traded to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline.
Sabres General Manager, Jason Botterill, reworked the defense through the acquisition of Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a 2021 2nd round pick (originally belonging to the St. Louis Blues) and a 2022 5th round pick.
Miller has three-years left at $3.875 million per season and is a quality top-six defender addition to the team facing the uncertainty after this season, whereby half of the current defenders on the roster are set to become free agents.
Buffalo has three pending-UFA defenders (Zach Bogosian, Marco Scandella and Casey Nelson) and one pending-RFA blue liner (Brandon Montour– acquired around last season’s deadline from the Anaheim Ducks).
With no cap room available currently and a tighter wallet thanks to Jeff Skinner’s eight-year, $72 million extension ($9.000 million cap hit), the Sabres are going to be hard pressed to try to keep the band together.
Thankfully, a little relief will come via the long-term injured reserve at the likely career-ending expense of Matt Hunwick and his ongoing neck condition that Hunwick sustained last season, missed the first two months because of and was limited to 14 games.
The 34-year-old defender’s $2.250 million cap hit will be relieved thanks to the LTIR option, but still Botterill will have to press on to utilize his best penny pinching calculator when it comes time to ice a full-time roster by puck drop next month.
Oh yeah and Linus Ullmark only has a year on his contract, so before anyone can get comfortable with what’s likely the foreseeable future in the crease for the Sabres…
While Botterill also brought in the likes of Vesey (17-18–35 totals in 81 games played) in a trade with the New York Rangers that saw Buffalo give up a 2021 3rd round pick and trading Alexander Nylander to the Chicago Blackhawks for Henri Jokiharju, there’s yet another new face behind the bench in upstate New York.
Ralph Krueger, the Edmonton Oilers’ head coach in the 48-game lockout shortened 2012-13 season, is in charge of Jack Eichel and crew.
Nobody fully knows what to expect out of the coach that went 19-22-7 with Edmonton before being replaced by Oilers management after one season.
On paper, this is Buffalo’s best chance in at least the last few seasons– if not more– to contend for a wild card spot or better in the Atlantic Division.
The only problem is that everyone else is getting better just the same, even as Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a puck moving, gifted two-way defender.
Offseason Grade: B+
The wild card factor of Krueger behind the bench takes off a few points until proven otherwise, but the Sabres did a really nice job of cleaning up guys who need a second (or third) chance (Miller) and what was better of the more affordable free agents (Johansson) to help fill out a fuller roster than ever before.
Buffalo took a gamble with Skinner’s extension, but knows they finally have a winger locked up for Eichel. Now they just have to win.
Nick and Colby recap the headlines from the last month as well as take a look at all of the New York market teams and try to figure out if any of them are actually any good as Season Six of the podcast begins.
Nick, Cap’n and Pete mourn the Columbus Blue Jackets, review the Vegas Golden Knights front office moves, Ken Holland to the Edmonton Oilers and the Philadelphia Flyers new assistant coaches. Finally, the guys preview the 2019 Eastern Conference Final matchup between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes, as well as the 2019 Western Conference Final matchup between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues.
The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
We’re definitely starting to get close to the Stanley Cup Playoffs now! As of the completion of last night’s games, three teams (Detroit, New Jersey and Ottawa) have already been eliminated from postseason contention, and even more will surely join that list by next week’s featured matchup.
Of course, the only way to figure out which teams those are is by playing out the schedule. Here’s this week’s NHL offerings:
|NHL SCHEDULE: March 11-17|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, March 11|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Toronto||6-2|
|7 p.m.||Columbus Blue Jackets||New York Islanders||0-2|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Minnesota||3-0|
|9 p.m.||New York Rangers||Edmonton Oilers||2-3 (OT)|
|Tuesday, March 12|
|8 p.m.||Arizona||St. Louis||3-1|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Winnipeg||5-4|
|9 p.m.||New Jersey||Calgary||4-9|
|Wednesday, March 13|
|9:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Edmonton||6-3|
|10 p.m.||New York Rangers||Vancouver Canucks||1-4|
|Thursday, March 14|
|7 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||New York Islanders||1-2|
|7:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Ottawa||0-2|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Detroit||5-4|
|10:30 p.m.||Nashville||Los Angeles||3-1|
|10:30 p.m.||Florida||San Jose||4-2|
|Friday, March 15|
|9 p.m.||New York Rangers||Calgary Flames||1-5|
|10 p.m.||New Jersey||Vancouver||3-2 (SO)|
|Saturday, March 16|
|1 p.m.||St. Louis||Pittsburgh||NHLN, TVAS|
|1 p.m.||New York Islanders||Detroit Red Wings|
|4 p.m.||Florida||Los Angeles|
|7 p.m.||Chicago||Montréal||CITY, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||Ottawa||CBC, SN1, TVAS2|
|7 p.m.||Washington||Tampa Bay||NHLN|
|8 p.m.||New York Rangers||Minnesota Wild|
|10 p.m.||Edmonton Oilers||Arizona Coyotes||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1|
|10:30 p.m.||Nashville||San Jose||ESPN+|
|Sunday, March 17|
|3 p.m.||New Jersey||Colorado||SN1|
|5 p.m.||St. Louis||Buffalo||NHLN|
|6 p.m.||New York Islanders||Minnesota Wild||ESPN+|
|7:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||Pittsburgh||NBCSN, TVAS|
Another fun week of NHL action, no?
After all, we’ve been treated to a little bit of rivalry action already when the Capitals visited Pittsburgh and the Red Wings headed to Montréal on Tuesday, not to mention Wednesday’s Original Six contest featuring Chicago at Toronto.
The hatred continued Thursday when the Caps headed to the City of Brotherly Love and will resume today with the Hawks in Montréal and the Battle of Ontario. Finally, the Battle of the Keystone State will clean up this week’s derby action tomorrow night.
We were also treated to more than a few playoff rematches from last season, though it must be asked if they’re all that exciting anymore since we’re so close to this year’s postseason.
It’s all about the Capitals and Penguins in that department this week, starting with their Tuesday night tilt in a rematch of the Eastern Semifinals. Washington then heads to Tampa tonight in a rematch of the Eastern Finals, while the Pens host Philly tomorrow in a rematch of the First Round.
Finally, this week’s homecoming king is none other than LW Antoine Roussel, who spent the first six seasons of his NHL career in Dallas before signing with the Canucks this offseason. He’ll play his first-ever road game at American Airlines Center tomorrow.
Players also making important returns this week include F Jacob de La Rose (he was a second-round pick by the Habs in 2013) and C Ryan O’Reilly (he spent three seasons with the Sabres before being traded to St. Louis this offseason).
However, we can throw all of this information out of the window, as I’m instead choosing to feature the tilt fellow DtFR writer Colby Kephart and I are taking this evening featuring his beloved Sabres taking on the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes.
The growing pains for the 30-31-9 Buffalo Sabres have been all too real this season, but the fact that they’re having them should mean the club is growing, right?
Of course, we all remember the Sabres’ unbelievable 10-game winning streak they experienced throughout almost the entire month of November.
However, that winning run is certainly in the rear-view mirror nowadays, as Buffalo is currently riding a six-game losing skid (0-5-1) and boasts a lowly 2-10-2 record in its last 14 outings. Making matters even worse, the Sabres’ attack has been shutout for three-straight games, clocking in at 192:40 since their last non-shootout goal.
As might be indicated by a shutout streak of that magnitude, offense has been the Sabres’ biggest struggle of late. That’s not to say the 3.79 goals or 35.07 shots they’re allowing on average since February 15 is OK (those stats respectively rank third and fourth-worst in the NHL in that time), but the Sabres’ 2.07 goals per game in the past month ranks second-worst in the league and simply must improve to something closer to their 2.71 season average if they want to end their campaign on a positive note.
In the Sabres’ defense, they have been without their captain, C Jack Eichel, while he’s been suspended for the last two games for an illegal hit to F Carl Soderberg‘s head. That being said, even his 7-4-11 production in his past 12 outings is still slightly off his expected pace. On the season, he’s managed 25-47-72 points in 65 games and looks to be on pace for his first season averaging more than a point per game.
With his return to the ice, Head Coach Phil Housley will have high expectations that his club’s top line and first power play unit should rediscover its groove. If that proves to be the case, F Jeff Skinner (36-22-58 on the season, 2-5-7 since February 15) and RW Jason Pominville (15-13-28 on the season, 2-3-5 in his last 14 appearances) should see their numbers get back on pace as well.
You’re hard pressed to find a hotter team in the NHL right now than the 38-26-7 Carolina Hurricanes, the Eastern Conference’s current first wild card.
Despite losing last night in Columbus 3-0, Carolina has rattled off an impressive 16-5-2 record in its past 23 outings and is drawing ever nearer to ending its nine-year playoff drought by qualifying for the postseason for the sixth time in Hurricanes history (14th if the Hartford Whalers’ eight Stanley Cup Playoff appearances are included).
While the Canes are certainly finding success in almost every facet of the game during this run, their most impressive strength, at least in my opinion, has been that of their defense. A point of emphasis even before Rod Brind’Amour took over head coaching responsibilities, Carolina has allowed an average of only 28.61 shots against per game since January 20, the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the league in that time.
Leading the defensive charge for the Hurricanes during this run has been none other than D Calvin de Haan (2.5 hits per game in his last 20 appearances) and D Jaccob Slavin (1.7 blocks per game and 21 takeaways since January 20).
Unfortunately, de Haan suffered an eye injury in Colorado on Monday and will likely remain out of the lineup this evening. Taking up de Haan’s role as the rough-‘n’-tough blueliner has been Slavin’s linemate, D Dougie Hamilton, who’s averaged two hits per game since January 20.
Of course, the person in PNC Arena most appreciative of that incredible defensive effort is always 17-8-2 G Curtis McElhinney, who’s all but ensured of this evening’s start since 18-13-3 G Petr Mrazek was in net last night in Ohio. McElhinney boasts a .914 save percentage and 2.52 GAA for the season, and that’s almost the exact form he’s shown for his past nine starts to add his last six wins (his GAA is a 2.54 for his last nine outings, two-hundredths of a goal worse than his season mark).
Especially after last night’s poor outing, it’s hard to pick against the Hurricanes this evening. Having already won their first two meetings with the Sabres this season, Carolina will have its sights set on completing the season sweep and staying ahead of Columbus and Montréal in the playoff race.
That being said, just because the Canes have won the last two meetings doesn’t mean they were easy victories. Both tilts ended with only one goal separating the winner and loser, including their last meeting on February 7 in Buffalo that required overtime.
Being the better rested team that is regaining its captain, the Sabres will surely show their teeth this evening, but Carolina should still escape with two points.