The Original Trio reunite for a special look at the Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres, college coaches landing NHL jobs and Conference Finals takeaways. Also, we meant Andrei Svechnikov.
In the words of Sir Elton John, “Saturday night’s alright for fighting.” If there’s a lyric that better describes hockey, I have yet to hear it.
To take it a step further, Saturday afternoon must not be too bad either, as Nashville visits the New York Rangers (SN) at 12:30 p.m. and Philadelphia hosts Edmonton half an hour later. After the matinees are complete, five contests (Buffalo at Boston, Toronto at Ottawa [CBC/CITY/TVAS], Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay, San Jose at the New York Islanders and Los Angeles at Columbus) find their start at the usual time of 7 p.m., followed by Florida at Washington (NBCSN) 30 minutes after. Carolina makes its yearly visit to Dallas at 8 p.m., with Chicago at Arizona waiting an hour before dropping the puck. The stroke of 10 p.m. brings with it the start of Minnesota at Calgary (CBC), half an hour before tonight’s nightcap: St. Louis at Vegas. All times Eastern.
It’s nights like these that are hard to pick just one game to focus on, as there’s a good reason to watch at least half of them. Here’s a few that stick out to me…
- Buffalo at Boston: Rivalry night in Beantown is always a worthwhile experience.
- Toronto at Ottawa: Speaking of rivalries, the Battle of Ontario is another good one.
- Chicago at Arizona: Don’t tell anybody, but D Connor Murphy played his first four NHL seasons with the Coyotes.
- St. Louis at Vegas: W Chris Thorburn was one of Vegas’ expansion draft selections, but he ended up signing with the Blues instead.
Since we haven’t had the opportunity to feature the Bruins or the Sabres yet this season, what better way to make up for our transgression than by focusing on their rivalry tonight?
Let’s just put things simply: both these clubs have much higher aspirations for their seasons than the first two-and-a-half weeks have indicated.
The 1-5-2 Sabres have especially had a tough run of things, as they’re currently riding a two game losing skid after falling in overtime to Vegas on Tuesday and losing outright to Vancouver last night.
Since the Bruins don’t play for a city that starts with a ‘V’, maybe Buffalo has a chance this evening.
Averaging .8 points-per-game after his first two seasons in the NHL, C Jack Eichel was expected to lead the Sabres to one of the best offensive efforts in the league. Instead, Buffalo’s attack has averaged a (t)fourth-worst 2.5 goals-per-game effort, forcing the Sabres to be discussed in the same breath as the likes of Arizona.
Unless we’re talking about logo and sweater designs at a franchise’s debut, it’s rarely good to be compared to the Coyotes.
Though I threw Eichel under the bus, the Sabres’ struggles are certainly no fault of their first line. In fact, if not for the production of Eichel, LW Evander Kane and RW Jason Pominville, Buffalo might as well not have an offense at all. All three are averaging at least 1.13 points-per-game this season and they combine for 12 of the Sabres’ 20 goals. While it is nice to know that one line is capable of producing 60 percent of a team’s offense, I’ll bet the house that Head Coach Phil Housley would love for F Ryan O’Reilly‘s line to find their form sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, little has gone well on the Sabres’ defensive end either. Due at least in part to Buffalo’s 49.9 face-off winning percentage (11th-worst in the league), neither G Chad Johnson nor G Robin Lehner can claim a GAA under three. Lehner has certainly been the superior of the two netminders so far with his .9 save percentage and 3.14 GAA, and he’s likely to be tonight’s starter since Johnson was responsible for last night’s 4-2 loss to the Canucks.
If anything has gone well so far for the Sabres, it’s certainly been their penalty kill. Successfully rejecting 83.3 percent of opposing power plays, Buffalo ties for eighth-best in the NHL. Defensemen Josh Gorges and Jake McCabe have played exceptionally when shorthanded, as both have five shot blocks to their credit in that situation. But there’s an asterisk next to Gorges’ name: he’s hit that total in only four games played as compared to McCabe’s eight.
Alright, that’s enough laying into one team. Time to take on the 3-3-0 Bruins.
There’s little to complain about on the Bruins’ offensive end. Averaging 3.33 goals-per-game, Boston is tied for the ninth-best offense in the NHL. It’s been the LW Brad Marchand show so far this season, as his 4-5-9 totals are easily among the top-25 performances in the league so far.
Then again, that was before C Patrice Bergeron returned to action from his lower body injury. In only one game played against Vancouver on Thursday, the 32-year-old managed one goal and three assists for a four-point night, tying him for sixth-most points on the team with players that have five more games played.
Regarding Bergeron, I have two guesses: (1) he’s one of those guys that’s good at his job, and (2) last season’s not-so-great 53 points could be eclipsed rather easily.
Whether it’s Bergeron or Marchand leading the charge, the Bruins’ power play is one of the most intimidating in the league. Boston has found success on eight-of-27 extra-man opportunities for a fourth-best 29.6 percent success rate, including C David Krejci‘s team-leading four power play points.
Of course, for an offense to be clicking along as well as the Bruins’ has been and the club only have a .500 record, there might be a problem on the other end of the ice.
That problem’s name is G Tuukka Rask. Though he’s certainly been one of, if not the league’s best netminder since his debut in the 2007-’08 season (his .922 career save percentage is tied for best in the NHL since then among goalies with at least 50 starts, and his 2.25 career GAA is second-best in that group), he’s struggled mightily in his four starts to open this campaign, managing an ugly .882 save percentage and 3.3 GAA.
Could it simply be that he’s getting sprayed with pucks every time he takes to the crease? Unfortunately, not really. He’s seen an average of only 25.5 shots-per-game so far this season, which is right in line with the (t)fourth-best 29.2 shots allowed by the Bruins’ defense per game.
It’s a fact Bruins fans may not want to admit, but Rask has only seen his save percentage drop since his .93 performance in the 2013-’14 season, with the lone exception of last year when he matched his .915 effort from the 2015-’16 campaign.
This drop in play began at the same time Rask started seeing 50-60 starts per season, which hearkens back to a statement I’ve made countless times about the Bruins’ goaltender: you can only work a mule so much. He’s been overworked for the past four seasons to the point that his play is suffering. Hopefully with G Anton Khudobin in the picture, Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will be able to relieve some of the pressure off his starter so he can rediscover his true form before his best playing days are behind him. If not, the Bruins are in a deeper hole than even the most dire of pessimists could have predicted.
Of course, all that writing may have been for naught with Rask currently listed as day-to-day with a concussion after a collision with rookie F Anders Bjork Wednesday. Expect Khudobin and his .927 save percentage to start this evening.
The Sabres are just waiting for a breakout game, but they have yet to earn it. I truly do believe in their offense, but I have concerns about the defense going up against an elite scoring club in Boston. Though the TD Garden hasn’t exactly been friendly to its residents for the past few years, I expect the Bruins to win this game by dominating the scoreboard.
For the second-straight night, the DtFR Game of the Day required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. This time, it was First Star of the Game W Alex Ovechkin scoring the overtime winner for the Washington Capitals to beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3.
Featuring four total goals, the third period was absolutely wild. It was set up by a two-goal second period, as both F Darren Helm and W Andre Burakovsky (D Dmitry Orlov and W Tom Wilson) found goals to set the score at one-all. Helm’s wrist shot at the 4:31 mark of the frame was particularly noteworthy, as it was his first shorthanded goal since April 9, 2015.
Eighty-five seconds after the second intermission ended, the flurry of third period goals began when F Jay Beagle (RW Alex Chiasson) scored a shorthanded wrister to give the Capitals the lead. It was a lead that lasted only 3:59 though, as Second Star F Tomas Tatar (F Dylan Larkin and D Mike Green) leveled the contest with a tip-in. Scoring subsided until Tatar (F Henrik Zetterberg and D Niklas Kronwall) buried his second of the game, a power play snap shot, with 7:15 remaining in regulation to take a 3-2 lead for the Red Wings.
Detroit almost managed to earn the victory, but Larkin’s delay of game penalty for sending the puck over the glass set up a power play opportunity for the Capitals. Held off the scorecard in his last game played, F T.J. Oshie (Burakovsky and C Evgeny Kuznetsov) was sure to take advantage, scoring his wrister with 61 seconds remaining in regulation to level the game at three-all.
The Red Wings apparently didn’t learn their lesson when Oshie forced overtime. 68 seconds into three-on-three play, D Trevor Daley earned himself a seat in the penalty box for tripping Ovechkin. Ovi didn’t seem to like that very much, as he ended the game only 48 later with a game-winning slap shot from his usual spot in the face-off circle to Third Star G Petr Mrazek‘s right, assisted by C Nicklas Backstrom and D John Carlson.
G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 34-of-37 shots faced (.919 save percentage), forcing Mrazek to take the overtime loss, saving 37-of-41 (.902).
Not only was this the second-straight overtime game, but it was also a second-straight victory for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Visitors now trail the 10-5-3 home teams by only five points.
30 of the NHL’s 31 teams submitted their protected lists on Saturday by 5 p.m. ET. The protected lists were made public at 10:30 a.m. ET (originally scheduled for 10 a.m.) on Sunday. Additionally, the available lists of players to choose from were released.
The Vegas Golden Knights will now spend the next few days constructing their roster, with the full reveal set for Wednesday night during the NHL Awards Ceremony at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
To recap, here’s all of the protected players:
Forwards: Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Antoine Vermette
Defensemen: Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm
Goaltender: John Gibson
Forwards: Nick Cousins, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook, Tobias Rieder
Defensemen: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Connor Murphy, Luke Schenn
Goaltender: Chad Johnson
Forwards: David Backes, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Riley Nash, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller
Goaltender: Tuukka Rask
Forwards: Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, Evander Kane, Johan Larsson, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo
Defensemen: Nathan Beaulieu, Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen
Goaltender: Robin Lehner
Forwards: Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferlund, Michael Frolik, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar, Sean Monahan
Defensemen: T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton
Goaltender: Mike Smith
Forwards: Phillip Di Giuseppe, Elias Lindholm, Brock McGinn, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen
Defensemen: Trevor Carrick, Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy
Goaltender: Scott Darling
Forwards: Artem Anisimov, Ryan Hartman, Marian Hossa, Tomas Jurco, Patrick Kane, Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews
Defensemen: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook
Goaltender: Corey Crawford
Forwards: Sven Andrighetto, Blake Comeau, Matt Duchene, Rocco Grimaldi, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Nieto
Defensemen: Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Nikita Zadorov
Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov
Columbus Blue Jackets
Forwards: Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad, Alexander Wennberg
Defensemen: Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard
Goaltender: Sergei Bobrovsky
Forwards: Jamie Benn, Radek Faksa, Valeri Nichushkin, Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza
Defensemen: Stephen Johns, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell
Goaltender: Ben Bishop
Detroit Red Wings
Forwards: Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Frans Nielsen, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Henrik Zetterberg
Defensemen: Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Nick Jensen
Goaltender: Jimmy Howard
Forwards: Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu, Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Defensemen: Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Andrej Sekera
Goaltender: Cam Talbot
Forwards: Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck
Defensemen: Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk, Keith Yandle
Goaltender: James Reimer
Los Angeles Kings
Forwards: Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli
Defensemen: Drew Doughty, Derek Forbort, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin
Goaltender: Jonathan Quick
Forwards: Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Jason Zucker
Defensemen: Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter
Goaltender: Devan Dubnyk
Forwards: Paul Byron, Phillip Danault, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, Andrew Shaw
Defensemen: Jordie Benn, Jeff Petry, Shea Weber
Goaltender: Carey Price
Forwards: Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Ryan Johansen
Defensemen: Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban
Goaltender: Pekka Rinne
New Jersey Devils
Forwards: Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac
Defensemen: Andy Greene, John Moore, Mirco Mueller, Damon Severson
Goaltender: Cory Schneider
New York Islanders
Forwards: Andrew Ladd, Anders Lee, John Tavares
Defensemen: Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock
Goaltender: Thomas Greiss
New York Rangers
Forwards: Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello
Defensemen: Nick Holden, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal
Goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist
Forwards: Derick Brassard, Ryan Dzingel, Mike Hoffman, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith, Mark Stone, Kyle Turris
Defensemen: Cody Ceci, Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf
Goaltender: Craig Anderson
Forwards: Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Claude Giroux, Scott Laughton, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek
Defensemen: Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning
Goaltender: Anthony Stolarz
Forwards: Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin
Defensemen: Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz
Goaltender: Matt Murray
San Jose Sharks
Forwards: Ryan Carpenter, Logan Couture, Jannik Hansen, Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, Chris Tierney
Defensemen: Justin Braun, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Goaltender: Martin Jones
St. Louis Blues
Forwards: Patrik Berglund, Ryan Reaves, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko
Defensemen: Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson, Alex Pietrangelo
Goaltender: Jake Allen
Tampa Bay Lightning
Forwards: Ryan Callahan, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos
Defensemen: Braydon Coburn, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman
Goaltender: Andrei Vasilevskiy
Toronto Maple Leafs
Forwards: Tyler Bozak, Connor Brown, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Josh Leivo, Matt Martin, James van Riemsdyk
Defensemen: Connor Carrick, Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly
Goaltender: Frederik Andersen
Forwards: Sven Baertschi, Loui Eriksson, Markus Granlund, Bo Horvat, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter
Defensemen: Alexander Edler, Erik Gudbranson, Christopher Tanev
Goaltender: Jacob Markstrom
Forwards: Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson
Defensemen: John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov
Goaltender: Braden Holtby
Forwards: Joel Armia, Andrew Copp, Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler
Defensemen: Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba
Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck
If you have been following the blog at all or just me personally you know I am a huge Buffalo Sabres fan. With this being said, it has been a year since I have written an article about them, so it’s about time for the Sabres update.
At the 2016 draft, Tim Murray made another trade as the Sabres acquired a top four defenseman Dmitry Kulikov for Mark Pysyk. Another trade at the draft was a 3rd round pick for the negotiating rights of Jimmy Vesey. Jimmy Vesey was due to become a UFA on August 15th when Murray acquired him. This gave the Sabres a few weeks to talk with Vesey before that date. In the end, Vesey decided to become a UFA and eventually chose the New York Rangers as his new team.
The team continued to get better as they landed a top free agent in Kyle Okposo for a 7-year, $42 million contract. This figures out to be a six million dollar average annual value (per year cap hit). The Sabres added a few AHL players for Rochester in free agency, the biggest name being Justin Falk, who will fight to be the depth guy in Buffalo. Most of the Sabres offseason was trying to re-sign their current players.
The Sabres gave one-year deals to Zemgus Girgensons, Marcus Foligno, Daniel Catenacci, Cole Schneider and Johan Larsson. Jason Kasdorf, Casey Nelson and Nicolas Deslauriers got 2-year deals. Jake McCabe got a 3-year deal with $1.6M average annual value. There is only one RFA left and that is Rasmus Ristolainen. Not to worry, though, he is expected to sign a big long-term deal keeping him with the Sabres for a while. (As for why Murray is waiting, I have no clue and I am as frustrated as you are.)
So with all of these moves plus adding a top six winger and top four defenseman, what does this mean for the Sabres this upcoming season?
Here are my thoughts on the subject. The Sabres need to be playoff-bound this year for a few reasons:
First, the Atlantic division is completely up for grabs this year. Looking at the division, there isn’t one clear winner like years past. Boston and Montreal have questions defensively to figure out. The Florida Panthers have a lot of new faces, but will they all fit and work together right? Tampa might be the strongest team in the division after keeping Steven Stamkos.
Second, if the Sabres don’t make the playoffs, it could be the end of Dan Bylsma in Buffalo. Bylsma wasn’t Murray first choice to be coach of this team, and if the team doesn’t improve at the rate Murray wants them to, there could be big changes and Bylsma could be one of them.
Finally, do it for Marcus and Zemgus. Folgino and Girgensons had a few question asked of them about production last season. If the team doesn’t make the playoffs this season, these are two guys who could be playing their last season in Buffalo unless their production jumps up dramatically. You may call me crazy for this thought, but it really does hurt me knowing that my favorite player (Girgensons) may be traded at some point.
I don’t know about you, but yesterday’s Game of the Day did not end as I expected, as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 at the Verizon Center. Phil Kessel, assisted by Evgeni Malkin and David Perron, notched the game winner at the 3:49 mark of the third period.
Washington waited to open the scoring until the 1:28 mark of the final period. Karl Alzner assisted Evgeny Kuznetsov to his fourth goal of the season to give the Caps a one-goal lead, but it was short lived – only 24 seconds, in fact, as Nick Bonino and Olli Maatta assisted Beau Bennett to the game-tying goal. Bonino also scored an empty netter with under two minutes remaining in the game.
Marc-Andre Fleury earned his fifth win of the season by stopping 33 of 34 shots (97.1%) to set his record at 5-4-0, while Braden Holtby takes the loss, his second of the season, after allowing two of 24 shots faced (91.7%).
The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 13-6-3, favoring the home team by nine points.
Tonight’s schedule is another full one, with a total of eight games on the night. The action gets started at 7 p.m. eastern when three games get started (Carolina at the New York Islanders, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Buffalo at Pittsburgh [Bell TV]), followed half an hour later by Colorado at Tampa Bay. Beginning at 8 p.m. eastern are two games (Anaheim at St. Louis and Chicago at Winnipeg), followed half an hour later by Vancouver at Dallas. Finally, the night begins to see its end at 9 p.m. eastern when Montréal visits Edmonton (SN, SN360, RDS).
Of tonight’s matchups, three are divisional rivalries (Carolina at the Isles, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Chicago at Winnipeg) and only one game featuring two teams currently in playoff position (Vancouver at Dallas).
Those games being noted, there is another matchup that strikes my fancy, as it is the first return of an ex-coach to play against his ex-team. That man is none other than Dan Bylsma, who is featured in the Buffalo–Pittsburgh matchup.
I know, we watched Pittsburgh yesterday, but this is a significant return. Although under slightly bizarre circumstances, Bylsma is the last coach to lead the Pens to the Stanley Cup. Plus, it’s Game of the Day’s first opportunity to see Jack Eichel in action, so I shouldn’t hear any complainers.
Coach Bylsma returns to the home arena of the team he led to the 2009 Stanley Cup with only 25 regular season games coached after replacing Michel Therrien mid-season. Winner of the 2010-’11 Jack Adams Award, Bylsma is the winningest coach in team history (252 wins, 20 more than Eddie Johnston), as well as the coach with the highest win percentage (67%).
As we all know, the reason for Bylsma’s departure from the Triangle was not his regular season success, but his post-season letdowns. Under his direction, the Penguins improved every regular season until the 2013-’14 season, beginning in his first full season with a .616 point percentage that grew to .75 by the time of his release. However, his postseason win-loss percentage is a different story. During his tenure the team won the Cup, then fell in the conference semifinals, followed by falling in the conference quarterfinals twice in a row, improving to the conference finals, then finally the semifinals. While some teams would love to make the playoffs on a consistent basis and make it past the first round most of the time, the Pittsburgh teams he coached were built to win, and only one cup did not satisfy ownership.
The Buffalo Sabres are currently 3-6-0 coming off a 4-3 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday. While folks in Upstate New York may be excited to usher in the Eichel Era, there have been some growing pains so far this season. The team has scored four goals less and given up five over the league average. The offensive production may be more due to bad luck though, as the Sabres have put 283 shots on goal so far this season, 21 over the league average, but only 6.7% of those attempts are finding the back of the net.
Probably the most exciting part about this Sabres team is their power play. The special teams have accounted for nine goals so far this season (three over the league average) on 36 opportunities, giving them a 25% success rate that exceeds the league average by 6.39%.
Sadly, this positive comes with its own negative, as the penalty kill is vastly inferior to the rest of the NHL. Buffalo has given up seven power play goals so far on only 23 opportunities (seven under the league average), giving them an atrocious penalty kill percentage of 69.57%, 11.82% under the league average. Fortunately for the Sabres, they have been limiting penalties to a minimum to avoid man-down situations as much as possible, but penalties do happen and this statistic may be a monkey that hangs on the squad’s back for the entire season.
As explained yesterday, Bylsma’s old team is leaning heavily on Fleury and the defense, and there has been no indication that Jeff Zatkoff will see his first playing time tonight, although I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he did, given that Fleury has played every minute of all nine games this season.
Some players to watch in this one include Buffalo‘s Jake McCabe (two even strength goals [leads team] and 40% shot percentage [leads team]), Ryan O’Reilly (eight points [leads team], five assists [leads team], four power play assists [leads team]) & Sam Reinhart (+2 Corsi rating [leads team] and three even-strength assists [leads team]) and Pittsburgh‘s Malkin (seven points [leads team], four assists [leads team], three even-strength assists [leads team], two game-winners [leads team] and 13.6% shot percentage [leads team]) and, should he play, Fleury (five wins [tied for third in league], one shutout [tied for sixth in the league], 1.9 GAA [eighth in the league] and .936 save percentage [ninth in the league]).
Conventional wisdom points to the Penguins being favored in this one, but I think Pittsburgh‘s poor power play provides the Sabres a way to keep this one closer than expected.
In the final edition of Colby’s Corner for the 2014-2015 season- and unofficial first edition of Colby’s Corner for the 2015-2016 season- Colby Kephart takes a look into the future of the Buffalo Sabres based on their offseason moves. Don’t fret, Colby’s Corner will return next season on an even more regular basis!
#EmbraceTheTank –> #2016StanleyCupPlayoffs?
By: Colby Kephart
I have been holding back on writing about the rumor that the Sabres might be playoff-bound next year. I may not have that answer, but I do know that this might be one of the most controlled rebuilds I have ever seen.
Sabres fans were excited going into this year’s draft, knowing that they would almost definitely be drafting Jack Eichel. However, the day turned out even better as Sabres general manager, Tim Murray, the mastermind that he is, pulled off his first trade on draft day- acquiring goaltender, Robin Lehner, and center, David Legwand, from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for the 21st overall pick in the draft.
Robin Lehner is 6’4”, 23 years old and has experience in the NHL, having started in 86 games as the backup for the Senators for nearly 3 seasons. Lehner has a career save percentage of .914. With Lehner only being 23 years old and having a chance as the Sabres’ number 1 goalie, the big Swede has an opportunity to continue to improve, and for Sabres fans’ sake, he will become their new franchise goalie.
Also part of the deal was David Legwand, a veteran center at 34 years old, who according to Tim Murray, was “part of the deal, a take it or leave it situation”. Most people write him off and do not think he will have an impact on the team. As for me, I believe that his impact will be big off the ice.
He has more than a thousand games in the NHL under his belt. With young centers like Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart, Eichel, and Johan Larsson, Legwand will be able to give little tips and tricks, as well as show guys like Reinhart and Eichel that they don’t have to be center stage to be successful. Legwand was in Nashville for years racking up points, but still the average fan wouldn’t even know his name.
So at this point, the Sabres have their goalie, and I finally was able to breathe knowing Buffalo’s future. Then the mastermind, Tim Murray, struck again with the man everyone in the league wanted: Mr. Ryan O’Reilly. Murray traded defenseman Nikita Zadorov and forwards Mikhail Grigorenko and J.T. Compher, as well as the No. 31 pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft to the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn.
O’Reilly, a 24 year old center, is a high-caliber player who might turn out to be the Sabres’ first truly number one center in years, dating back to the days of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. O’Reilly comes with a year remaining on his $6 million AAV contract.
However, Tim Murray didn’t waste much time on locking him up longterm, giving O’Reilly a 7 year, $7.5 million AAV contract extension. Critics believe he was overpaid, as he received a front loaded contract, noting that when the contract kicks in beginning in the 2016-2017 season, O’Reilly will receive 11 million dollars (without a bonus).
Also included in the deal was 3rd/4th liner Jamie McGinn, a power forward with a scoring touch and is only 26 years old. In the 2013-2014 season, McGinn had a great total of 38 points (19 goals and 19 assists). He can provide some offense to 3rd or 4th lines, and could also be played with Marcus Folgino, as they have a similar style of play.
Or he could be put on the 4th line and hold his own with the big guys of the league and become a spark plug for the Sabres’ offense in games where they start off slow.
Finally, free agency opened up with the hopes of Sabres fans centered on finding a defenseman and, more importantly, a defenseman with a left-handed shot. Looking at big names like Johnny Oduya and Paul Martin (both of whom shoot left), the bar was set high and fans might have felt let down when the only moves made on July 1st were the signings of forward Jason Akeson and defenseman Matt Donovan, to one-year deals, while Martin signed a 4-year contract with the San Jose Sharks.
Both players are depth players, but Donovan has a chance to bust into the D pairs. He has some NHL games under his belt, but I, like the rest of all the Buffalo fans, was still waiting for a bigger name to help solidify the defense. The 3rd of July saw the Sabres sign 27-year-old Bobby Sanguinetti to a one year deal, who will more than likely be playing with the Rochester Americans in the AHL.
On our nation’s birthday, the 4th of July, the Sabres announced the signings of forward Cal O’Reilly (older brother of Ryan O’Reilly) to a two year deal. This adds another depth player to the Sabres and similar to Akeson, he will spend time in the AHL.
Buffalo signed another defenseman with a lot of NHL experience, and mileage around the league, Carlo Colaiacovo. Colaiacovo spent last year with the Flyers and played 33 games, amassing 8 points during that period.
The 32-year-old signed a 1-year deal worth $900,000. Colaiacovo is a left-handed shot, and with the experience that he has, will make the team on the Sabres 3rd defensive pair.
I envision Buffalo’s first D-pair will be Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges, followed by Rasmus Ristolainen and Mike Weber, with the 3rd D-pair of Mark Pysyk, if he re-signs, (he’s a current RFA with a qualifying offer having already been tendered by the Sabres) and Colaiacovo. I would imagine other depth defensemen would be Donovan and Jake McCabe, which would be perfect with the injury issues the Sabres usually face during the season.
Obviously, all of this could change since as of July 7th Cody Franson and Johnny Oduya are both still unsigned, left-handed shot, defensemen. If either are signed by the Sabres, they would walk into their defensive plans and into the fans’ open arms. Yet, both want long-term deals, and in this off-season, Murray has only been handing out one-year deals to players.
Other defenseman that could be targets would be Matt Irwin, Tim Gleason, David Schlemko and Ryan Wilson, all left-handed shots ages 27-31 and with cap hits around $1m- $2.2m. All of them also have experience within the NHL and could be a replacement if Pysyk doesn’t sign with the Sabres.
Now to the person that’s been all over Buffalo’s media, 2015 2nd overall pick: Jack Eichel. On July 1st, the Buffalo Sabres signed Eichel, or ‘the future’, as Sabres fans will eventually start calling him, solidifying himself onto the team. My expectation would be that Eichel slides into the second line center with a chance to play on the first line if he shines and has chemistry with Evander Kane or Tyler Ennis.
Speaking of 2nd overall picks, Sam Reinhart (taken 2nd overall in 2014), after having an amazing World Junior Championship tournament- leading the tournament in points- has a legitimate chance at making this year’s roster, according to some. But I am not one of those people.
I believe he will get all of the preseason to prove something, and depending on how he performs in the AHL with the Amerks, he will have a chance about midway through the season to make a run at truly breaking into the lineup.
Obviously, he will be one of the first choices to be called up should the team run into injury problems, like last season.
As for all the talk about the playoffs, here are my thoughts: I feel like the Sabres are one Top-4 defenseman away- and if everyone plays as expected, the Sabres will be looking at a wildcard spot or will be just out of the playoffs. The major issue is that nobody knows exactly how well Eichel will perform alongside Evander Kane; let alone how Kane will play in a new location. Everyone should be happy if Eichel puts up 15 goals and 20 or more assists in his first season. Another player to watch will be Girgensons. If he puts up a 20-goal season, then the Sabres will be set and fans should be eyeing a playoff run and a bright future.
As for the thinking surrounding a deep playoff run, I don’t think so. They will be matched up against a high seed, and fans should hope for a deep series to stand a chance. I understand this is a lot to think about, seeing how development camps just began. But this is for the Sabres fans who are unsure about next season and the other fans who will be caught off-guard by the Sabres next season.
I will end my prediction for next season with this; I believe the Sabres will be in an end-of-the-season battle for points, and we will either miss the playoffs by 2 or 3 points, or will steal a wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.
Colby Kephart is pleased with the hiring of Dan Bylsma as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, but he wants to know what’s next for the Sabres (and tries to answer that question) in this edition of…
By: Colby Kephart
Well it’s official, on Thursday May 28th, The Buffalo Sabres announced Dan Bylsma as their 17th head coach in franchise history. Bylsma had a Stanley Cup, in 2009, under his belt and won the Jack Adams Award in 2011, during his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was fired from the Penguins after 2013-2014 season after they lost in the playoffs to the New York Rangers in the 2nd Round.
However, despite being fired from his last head coaching position, Bylsma brings an impressive coaching record to Buffalo.
In 401 regular season games in Pittsburgh, he had a 252-117-32 record. Bylsma recently served as an assistant coach to the US 2015 IIHF team.
He worked with this year’s expected 2nd overall pick, and soon to be prospect of the Sabres, Jack Eichel, who had a terrific tournament. Bylsma signed a long term five-year deal, as Tim Murray continues to add the pieces to get Buffalo on the right track.
Why is this good for the Sabres?
This is great for the Sabres because this gives them a coach who has dealt with franchise centers, like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Bylsma has worked with Jack Eichel and he will be able to make Eichel a franchise center, a position Buffalo has lacked for years. Bylsma doesn’t just improve the players the Sabres already have, but also attracts the attention of bigger name free agents to strengthen the team.
It’s no secret that the Sabres do not have a Stanley Cup in their history, but they now have a coach who does. Bylsma brings experience to the table that words can’t describe, he knows what it will take to make the Sabres a top level team in the league.
Bylsma coached the Penguins to four 100-point+ seasons and finished no worse than second in their division during that span. After watching the press conference, it looks like Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma will have a good relationship and should agree on moves that the team will make down the road.
So what’s next for the Sabres?
The Sabres need a goalie- a true number one goalie that can handle the playing time and get the team the wins to make the playoffs. There were a few reports of the team trading with Ottawa for Robin Lehner or Craig Anderson that have since quieted down.
If Tim Murray decides to rebuild through free agency, he has to look at goalies like San Jose’s pending UFA, Antti Niemi (who has a Stanley Cup too). There are other big names out there, however, none of them have a ring on their finger.
Buffalo also needs help defensively. They will have a solid top 2 pair in Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian next season and they also have young prospects, Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen, who both played this season.
The team could have a lot of defensemen leaving with Andre Benoit, Tyson Strachan, and Andrej Meszaros’s contracts ending on July 1st. The Sabres have two top prospects (Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe) who could possibly be called up and play next season; otherwise they need to sign a top 4 player who can be a shutdown defender.
Offensively, the addition of Evander Kane and Jack Eichel (assuming all goes as planned) the Sabres would be one or two top wingers from having a complete offensive presence. Tyler Ennis played for Team Canada in the IIHF 2015 World Hockey Championship and shined like the star he was this past season. Ennis will likely be one of the wings of the 1st line with Evander Kane on the opposite side- with either Eichel or Zegmus Girgensons as the center.
The Sabres need a second line right-winger that can go out and score 10-15 goals and get 15-20 assists. Some potential free agents who could fit this role would be UFA Justin Williams or RFA Tyler Toffoli of the LA Kings.
Another leading candidate would be pending RFA Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Sabres have plenty of salary cap space to land these big targets.
I’m not saying the Sabres will be competing for the Stanley Cup next season, yet I feel like if you give Eichel and even Sam Reinhart 2-3 years of experience in the NHL, they will become good playmakers and could make a deep playoff run.
If Buffalo can add a few more pivotal pieces to the team the Sabres could be looking good for the future. They could even be looking at an Atlantic Division or Eastern Conference title within the next 3-4 seasons under Dan Bylsma’s leadership.