Nick, Cap’n and Pete recap the last two weeks of trades and first few days of free agency 2K19.
Nick, Colby and Pete assess the Philadelphia Flyers’ hiring of Alain Vigneault, the Los Angeles Kings’ hiring of Todd McLellan, where does this leave the Buffalo Sabres in their search for a head coach, as well as some of the good (CBJ and NYI sweep), bad and ugly from the ongoing First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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.
24-45-12, 60 points, Last in the NHL
Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres have had a busy summer, but that’s what you expect from a team that significantly under-produced and finished last in the league. The only positive takeaway from last season was winning the lottery and drafting Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall.
General Manager Jason Botterill was looking to shake things up more with his roster, making three separate trades to land Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Matt Hunwick and Jeff Skinner. Botterill only gave up Ryan O’Reilly, Cliff Pu and a handful of draft picks. The biggest parts of all three trades for Buffalo was keeping their three first-round picks in the 2019 NHL Draft. Botterill did a great job injecting speed and proven NHL players into a roster that lacked both last season.
With the No. 1 farm system (as voted by The Athletic), there are a few players from the minor leagues who, with a good camp, could crack the NHL roster.
In particular, C.J. Smith had a strong first pro season in the AHL that became derailed with an injury. Things never seemed to click after he returned to the ice, but the promise he showed while healthy will certainly warrant a look from Head Coach Phil Housley.
Victor Olofsson has a chance at making it to the big time as well. The former seventh-round pick led the SHL last season in goals and is proclaimed to have one of the best shots in the game.
Finally, Rasmus Asplund would also be coming from the SHL and could aim for the fourth-line center position, taking the spot from Johan Larsson.
Buffalo should have a much better season this year, so it’s time for Housley, entering his second season, to show he can coach in the NHL. This is a “prove it” season for a lot of people in the Sabres organization and they shouldn’t be in 31st again this season.
The biggest question mark this year will be in goal with the Sabres signing Carter Hutton to be the new No. 1 goalie ahead of Linus Ullmark. Hutton is coming off a career year with the St. Louis Blues. He has to show it wasn’t a fluke or Ullmark will take the starting job faster than expected. If Hutton and Ullmark don’t work out, the Sabres could be in big trouble without a solution in sight.
Offseason Grade: B
Overall, the Sabres had a good offseason overhaul, but there are still questions about top-six defenseman and lineup notes. But, Botterill did his job and it now comes down to Housley to get the most out of his players and have some success. I don’t think they will be anywhere near 31st with Ottawa and Montreal existing, but I think playoff hopes are too far away for the Sabres this season. I think they’ll finish fifth in the division.
The Buffalo Sabres were the lucky team that got to draft franchise-changing defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the first-overall pick. He automatically improves the team before stepping on the ice for his first NHL game.
But, the Sabres – a team that was dead-last in the league in three out of the last five seasons – need more than just Dahlin to turn the ship around . They need to keep improving through trades like the one GM Jason Botterill made with the Pittsburgh Penguins for Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick in exchange for a conditional 4th round pick.
Sheary, the major point of the trade, has had some solid years playing alongside one of the league’s best players in Sidney Crosby. In the 2016-17 season that saw him spend extended time on Pittsburgh’s top line, Sheary posted 23-30-53 totals, but those numbers dipped to 18 goals, 12 assists and 30 points last year while he floated between the top-three units.
The belief in Buffalo is that Sheary has the pace to skate with Jack Eichel, so he could be first-line LW this coming season.
Free agency is another way for Botterill to strengthen this team. The Sabres have roughly $18 million in cap space.
The left wing is a major void on the Sabres’ roster. Botterill tried to fill that void by acquiring Sheary, but there is still a decent hole in the left wing that they need to figure out.
In the System
If the hole can be filled from within the organization, they will do it. There are two names that stand a chance for me in this position: C.J. Smith and Victor Olofsson.
Smith had a great rookie season down in the AHL, registering 17-27-44 marks with the Rochester Americans. In fact, his campaign was so good, he would’ve been a favorite for the American League’s Rookie of the Year if he hadn’t gotten hurt and missed a couple months.
Meanwhile, Olofsson led the SHL in goals this past season as a 22-year-old. He has one of the best shots in the system, and the Sabres hope it can translate into the NHL.
Honorable mention: If Alexander Nylander has a good camp and preseason, he stands a chance for the spot. His style seems to fit the NHL more than AHL as proven in his couple games last season in the blue and gold.
Now to show my cards before I get into free agents: I hate overpaying guys on July 1 and weigh risk and reward more than anything.
Anthony Duclair is one of my ideal targets. He has to prove himself with his next contract/organization or he will be AHL-bound. Last season, he put up 11 goals and 12 assists between Chicago and Arizona.
Tobias Rieder is a fast-paced winger who could add speed to a very slow Buffalo Sabres team. He didn’t have very good numbers last year, with 12 goals and 13 assists again between two organizations (Arizona and LA).
Matthew Peca, formerly of the Tampa Bay Lightning, never got a chance to be a regular with the Bolts as they are a loaded organization at wing. He posted 2 goals and 3 assist in 10 games played.
All of these guys won’t require big contracts, but if they work out, Botterill would look like a genius for finding a gem.
The second-line center only becomes available if Ryan O’Reilly gets traded. There is a lot of speculation around him being moved, but the Sabres could move him and bump Casey Mittelstadt to the second-line if they feel he is ready. Other than him, Buffalo doesn’t have anyone ready for their second-line center position.
I have said many times that if the Sabres trade O’Reilly, Bozak could be a good replacement. Bozak and Ryan are players you use as the second-line center for half the season until Mittlestadt is ready to take over that role.
Stastny is a little different: if the Sabres overpay Stastny, which they would to land him, then he becomes theirr second-line center for a couple years.
Stat line comparison:
Stastny 16 G 37 A 53 P
Ryan 15 G 23 A 38 P
Bozak 11 G 31 A 42 P
Within the organization, this position is the total opposite of second-line center. The Sabres have this player in the system and don’t need to waste money on a free agent.
This position is either Justin Bailey‘s or Nicholas Baptiste‘s. Both guys have been trying to become NHL regulars and this is the season to do it. I favor Bailey over Baptiste, but I think either player complements Evan Rodrigues and Mittelstadt well and the pace of this line will be fun to watch night in and out.
It was no surprise to see Robin Lehner not get qualified after another poor year in the crease. Botterill says Ullmark will start off the season as the number two goalie. So, who’s the number one?
I feel goaltending this offseason is horrible as a whole; every team needed to land one of three goalies: Carter Hutton, Jonathan Bernier or Petr Mrazek. All three have had a lot of interest and I feel Hutton and Bernier will get overpaid. I also find it hard to believe two players from good teams last year would want to sign with the last-place team in the league.
So that leaves me with Mrazek, and I feel it’s not a bad thing. Mrazek posted a 14-13-6 record between Detroit and Philadelphia with a 0.902 save percentage and 3.03 goals against average. Ullmark will take the number one spot from him halfway through the year and, if all goes well, he won’t lose it from there.
With the most coveted trophy in sports being handed out Thursday night in Sin City, the 2017-18 season came to a bittersweet end. However, before the Washington Capitals had even finished taking their victory laps around T-Mobile Arena, Down the Frozen River was already taking a look ahead at all the exciting possibilities this summer.
Welcome to the 2018 NHL offseason.
Stay tuned to DtFR for the next 10 days, as we’ll be breaking down each and every team’s needs, wants, holes and excesses and how they might address them before training camps commence in September.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Forgive me for making too many assumptions, but I think this might be the most clear-cut decision of the offseason for any of the 31 clubs in the NHL. The first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft is scheduled for June 22, and it might as well start with D Rasmus Dahlin standing next to Commissioner Gary Bettman already wearing blue and gold.
Whether or not the 18-year-old Swede will be able to play the high-level defense demanded of this league right out of the gate is irrelevant, as Dahlin is clearly the most talented option available in this year’s crop of prospects.
Assuming they select him like everyone believes they will, the Sabres are hoping Dahlin develops into the two-way defenseman of any coach’s dreams: one cut from the same mold as Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, but potentially even better.
If the 2017-18 season in his domestic league is any indicator, Dahlin will only continue to impress. His 19:02 time on ice per game was third on his team (Frölunda HC in the SHL) behind two players at least nine years his senior, and his .49 points per game was 13th-best in the league among all defensemen that played at least 35 games (another group in which every other player was at least four years older than him).
Of course, what truly sets Dahlin apart is his scoring touch. In only 41 games played this season, the young blueliner buried seven goals for .17 goals per game. Among defensemen that played at least eight games, that was second-best in the SHL.
Seven goals may not sound like a lot, but the number grows much more impressive when we acknowledge that he managed one more marker than the Sabres’ current No. 1 defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, who had the benefit of 32 more games played this season.
In other words, Dahlin should slot in nicely as a bottom-four defenseman for Buffalo in his debut season.
Pending free agents
With a touch over $19 million in projected cap space, the Sabres – who finished the season with a league-worst 25-45-12 record – have only nine NHL contracts that expired when the campaign came to a close, split as evenly as possible among the three positions and between the restricted and unrestricted varieties.
F Jordan Nolan and LW Benoit Pouliot are Buffalo’s only forwards that could become UFAs come July 1, and it has rights to F Sam Reinhart and F Scott Wilson due to them being RFAs since they are under 27-years-old.
Of those, 22-year-old Reinhart is clearly the most valuable, as his (t)team-leading 25 goals and .61 points per game from the 2017-18 season easily dwarf the efforts of Wilson (six goals, .29 point per game), Pouliot (13 goals, .26 points per game) and Nolan (four goals, .12 points per game).
It would certainly not be unexpected for General Manager Jason Botterill and Reinhart to hammer out a four-year deal that saw the forward receive an increase in pay from the $3.5 million per year he’s been receiving from his entry-level contract, as a signing of that length would allow the player to test free agency at its completion. I’d estimate a pay increase to at least $4 million per year, likely more.
There is always the possibility that Buffalo could trade the natural center, who spent a lot of the season on the wing due to the Sabres’ plethora of talent at that position, but I’m led to believe the rumors that F Ryan O’Reilly could be on the move sooner than Reinhart, who has yet post a season worse than the one before it. That would free up $7.5 million and a center position for Reinhart, which would allow W Alexander Nylander to compete for a full-time roster spot of his own.
Defensively, D Victor Antipin is Buffalo’s only RFA, while both D Justin Falk and D Josh Gorges are slated to test free agency. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Falk in new colors come September, but the Sabres would be silly not to keep Antipin – who averaged .21 points per game in 47 showings this season, the fourth-best of any Buffalo defenseman with at least 38 appearances – in the organization.
Oh, he said he’s going to head back to the KHL next season? Dang… Well, the league’s (t)ninth-worst defense in terms of shots against just took another step back. All eyes are truly on you Dahlin, though D Brendan Guhle – Buffalo’s second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft – will likely have intentions of earning a full-time role with the Sabres instead of the Rochester Americans.
Where things are undoubtedly going to look different in the 2018-19 season for Buffalo is its goaltending depth chart, as G Jonas Johansson and G Linus Ullmark are the only two netminders with contracts in the Sabres’ system. Botterill has indicated that Ullmark will be one of Buffalo’s two goalies, which doesn’t look good for 31-year-old UFA G Chad Johnson‘s chances of returning to Upstate New York.
Sporting a .908 save percentage in 50 starts this season, RFA G Robin Lehner is also unlikely to get much attention from the Sabres this offseason. Since he made $4 million this season, Buffalo would have to offer him another one-year contract at the same price unless it took him to arbitration, which would only bring the deal down to $3.4 million. Instead of the club going through all that, I think Botterill will try to attract the services of a free agent from outside the organization or package Lehner’s rights in a deal for a more established netminder.
If free agency is the route the Sabres elect to take, one of the most attractive free agent goaltenders this summer is going to be G Carter Hutton. Though he is 32-years-old, it’s hard to knock Hutton’s .931 save percentage and 17-7-3 record in a season that saw him take home only $1 million. Hutton will likely earn himself a pay raise on what should be his last major contract, but he will likely still fall within Botterill’s budget.
It’s a Wednesday, so the NHL doesn’t have too many games on today’s schedule.
Like most nights, this evening’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with two tilts (Arizona at Buffalo and Montréal at Pittsburgh [RDS/SN]), followed an hour later by Boston at St. Louis (NBCSN/TVAS). Finally, Anaheim at Calgary (SN360) closes the night out with their fixture at 9:30 p.m. All times Eastern.
Throughout the season, I’ve jotted down some notes about a couple of tonight’s games.
- Montréal at Pittsburgh: It’s rare that a player can be so remembered in only three games with a club, but every Pens fan can tell you about G Antti Niemi‘s short three-game tenure with the squad to start the season.
- Anaheim at Calgary: Playoff rematches from a year ago aren’t so important at this point in the season, but this is the Flames’ last chance to exact any revenge against the Ducks this campaign.
Now, there’s certainly important games in terms of playoff implications being played tonight (looking at you St. Louis and, to a lesser extent, Calgary). However, for the last few days, my eyes have been drawn to the bottom of the league standings to what should be a better game between the Coyotes and Sabres than meets the eye, even if both clubs have a good chance at snagging the first-overall draft pick.
While the 24-37-11 Coyotes are still a ways off of challenging Vegas for the top of the Pacific Division, they have not been playing as poorly as their position as second-to-last in the Western Conference would indicate. In fact, Arizona has posted a 6-3-1 record in its 10 games this March.
The biggest reason for the Yotes’ most recent success goes by the name 16-16-6 G Antti Raanta. Even in the face of a defense that has allowed 31.3 shots against per game this calendar month (the 14th-fewest in the league in that time), Raanta has posted an impressive .941 save percentage and 2.01 GAA. This solid run has improved his season marks to a .925 save percentage and 2.41 GAA.
Even with the Coyotes traveling to Raleigh after tonight’s game for a tilt against the Hurricanes tomorrow, it appears Raanta will man the pipes tonight as Joe Yerdon reported he was in the starter’s crease at this morning’s skate.
Similar to Arizona, 23-37-12 Buffalo also hasn’t been as bad as last in the league would indicate lately. Not only have the Sabres posted a 3-4-1 record since March 2, but they’ve done it in light of facing a tough schedule (at Florida, vs. Toronto, vs. Calgary, vs. Vegas, vs. Toronto and vs. Nashville) that even the best of teams would struggle with.
That being said, the biggest reason Buffalo still has a losing record over this eight-game run has to be its struggling defense. Even with F Ryan O’Reilly (10 takeaways in his last eight games) and D Rasmus Ristolainen (three hits per game and 1.8 blocks per game since March 2) pouring their hearts out on the defensive end, the Sabres are still allowing 36.75 shots against per game since March 2, the third-worst mark in the NHL in that time.
As would be expected when faced with that kind of assault, the Sabres’ goaltenders have struggled to keep up. In his last three starts, 8-11-3 G Chad Johnson – tonight’s starter – has managed only a .9 save percentage and 4.11 GAA. While that save percentage is slightly better than the .897 he’s managed for the entire season, the sheer quantity of shots faced means his recent GAA is well over his 3.27 season mark.
It’s at this point where we turn this preview on its head. I’m almost always of the opinion that players have little to no interest in tanking or improving draft odds, hence my struggle with the idea of tanking. Unless they’ve given up on their teammates, players and coaches are always going to put 100 percent effort into their play.
However, I’m very certain General Managers Jason Botterill and John Chayka are keeping a close eye on this game and hoping that things go their clubs’ way… by things not going their clubs’ way. With that in mind, let’s discuss how much winning this game can do to impair either team’s chance at drafting first overall.
As things currently stand, the Sabres are 31st in the league and have the best shot at the first overall pick (in other words, they have an 18 percent chance of drafting
Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov or Brady Tkachuk whomever they think is the best fit for their organization). However, it’s still a tight race at the bottom of the NHL, as the last three teams are separated by only one point. Should Buffalo win this game, it will vault Arizona and Vancouver into 29th in the league. Third-to-last has a 10.5 percent chance of drafting first overall.
Speaking of 29th-place, that is exactly where the Coyotes currently reside since they’re winning (or losing, depending on how you look at it) a games-played tiebreaker with Vancouver. Should Arizona win tonight’s tilt, it will pull within two points of 28th-place Ottawa, the team that has a 9.5 percent chance of drafting first overall.
The last time these teams squared off was November 2 at Gila River Arena, and it was an incredibly entertaining affair. Even though First Star LW Benoit Pouliot had scored two goals and tacked on another assist to give Buffalo a comfortable 5-1 lead, the Sabres allowed Arizona to score three third period goals. Buffalo was saved by the final horn and escaped the Grand Canyon State with a 5-4 victory.
Based simply on defense, it looks like the Coyotes have the upper hand in this game. Mix in the fact that their offense has averaged 2.6 goals per game in March to Buffalo’s 2.25, and it becomes a no-brainer.
In desperate need of two points, the Dallas Stars still sit on the outside of the playoff picture after losing yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day against the Washington Capitals 4-3 at Capital One Arena.
The game started exactly how the Stars would have liked, as they entered the first intermission with a 1-0 advantage. With 3:56 remaining in the first frame, F Tyler Seguin (RW Alexander Radulov and Third Star of the Game D John Klingberg) took advantage of C Nicklas Backstrom getting thrown into the penalty box for tripping Klingberg to score a power play snap shot.
However, it didn’t take long after the start of the second period for the Capitals to take a lead of their own. F T.J. Oshie (C Lars Eller and Second Star W Alex Ovechkin) got Washington on the scoreboard at the 4:07 mark of the frame with a wrist shot, and D Matt Niskanen followed him with an unassisted wrister only 1:25 later to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.
Scoring subsided until 8:12 remained in the period when Radulov (Klingberg and LW Jamie Benn) leveled the game with a snapper, but Ovechkin (First Star D John Carlson and Oshie) regained a one-goal advantage for the Caps on a power play slap shot only 1:53 later. Benn completed the period’s scoring with a wrister, tying the score at 3-3 1:45 before the second intermission.
As would be expected from a a tie entering the final 20 minutes of regulation, there was tons of action at both ends of the ice. In total, 21 shots on goal were registered between the two teams in the third frame – split as evenly as possible. Unfortunately for Dallas, the Capitals take credit for the remaining shot on goal, and it proved to be the game-winner.
With 4:59 remaining in regulation and the teams playing under four-on-four conditions (C Radek Faksa and D Brooks Orpik were in the penalty box for respective slashing and roughing infractions against one another), Ovechkin collected a centering pass to nobody by Eller in the left corner. After advancing towards the trapezoid, the captain returned the puck to Eller waiting in the opposite corner, who saw Carlson wide open above the right face-off circle and delivered him a perfect setup pass. The defenseman one-timed a nasty clapper over G Kari Lehtonen‘s glove shoulder to set the 4-3 final score.
G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 24-of-27 shots faced (.889 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lehtonen, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).
Home teams are trying to reclaim their dominance in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’ve now earned points in three-consecutive games. As such, the 89-52-20 hosts now have a 35-point advantage over the roadies.
After NHLers were not allowed to participate in the 2018 Winter Games and due to the success of last week’s episode, Nick and Connor decided to create rosters with NHL players anyway for Team Canada. Also discussed, Alexandre Burrows, Max Domi and the New York Rangers plan for the future.