Tag Archives: Tim Murray

Buffalo Sabres 2017-2018 Season Preview

Buffalo Sabres

33-37-12, 78 points, 8th in Atlantic (‘16-‘17)

Key Additions: Viktor Antipin, Nathan BeaulieuSeth GriffithChad JohnsonJacob JosefsonJason PominvilleBenoit PouliotMarco Scandella, Phil Housley (Coach), Jason Botterill (GM)

Key Subtractions: Tyler Ennis (Traded to Minnesota), Marcus Foligno (Traded to Minnesota), Dmitry Kulikov (Signed with Winnipeg), Dan Bylsma (Fired), Tim Murray (Fired)

Unsigned: Cody Franson

Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres had a busy offseason to say the least, as both General Manager Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Byslma were fired following the club’s sixth-straight season missing the playoffs. The search for a new GM led Owner Terry Pegula to former player Jason Botterill, who continued the trend of hiring former players by offering former Sabres great Phil Housley his first NHL head coaching job. Housley was an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators for the past four seasons, helping to lead the club to its first Stanley Cup Finals appearance. This was a smart move to hire a former blue liner to lead the team, as he should bring Buffalo a smooth-skating team that allows the defensemen, Rasmus Ristolainen in particular, to carry the puck up ice similar to Nashville’s style.

The Sabres have struggled defensively for years now, so it was no surprise that Botterill’s first goal was to fix that issue. He started by signing KHL free agent defenseman Viktor Antipin, but didn’t stop there: he also acquired Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal for a 3rd round pick. Botterill still saw the need for a top pair defenseman, so he traded Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and a 3rd round pick to the Minnesota Wild for Marco Scandella, fan-favorite Jason Pominville and a 4th round pick.

Although Botterill addressed the Sabres’ defensive issues early in summer, he didn’t neglect his other positions. Among his most important additions are Benoit Pouliot, Chad Johnson and Jacob Josefson.

All in all, the Sabres’ offseason look pretty solid. They didn’t go out and overspend on any major free agents.

That being said, they still have a big hole among their top 6 forwards. Specifically, the need for a left wing is paramount, and it has top prospects Justin Bailey, Nicholas Baptiste and Alexander Nylander all itching for the chance to play with the big boys. I personally believe Nylander stands the best chance. He is a natural left wing and has added some needed muscle this offseason. A solid camp from him could see him playing on the left with Jack Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly.

Offseason Grade: B+

Overall, the Sabres had a tremendous offseason and I think the fans will see a better product on the ice this season. With a healthy Eichel and strong defense, I think the Sabres should be a playoff team.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #56- Bandwagon Exs

Nick and Connor discuss the ongoing First Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with incredible analysis of the Nashville Predators unbelievable sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks, as well as an in depth look at the Buffalo Sabres and where they go from here after relieving Tim Murray and Dan Blysma from their respective duties as general manager and head coach. Selke Trophy and Calder Trophy winners are predicted based on the finalists.

March 17 – Day 149 – Killing two birds with one stone, even though there’s only one bird team here

In preparation for Saturday’s action there’s not too many games happening tonight – four, to be exact. Half of those contests drop the puck at 7 p.m. (Florida at the New York Rangers [NHLN/TVAS] and New Jersey at Pittsburgh [SN360]), followed two hours later by Dallas at Calgary. Finally, Buffalo visits Anaheim at 10 p.m. to complete the night’s festivities. All times eastern.

Unfortunately, the action this evening, in addition to not being high-volume, is not expected to be exceptionally noteworthy. Since it’s been a while since we’ve featured either Anaheim or Buffalo, let’s kill two birds with one stone and catch their matchup at the Honda Center.

 

This season has not treated the 28-31-12 Sabres how they would’ve liked. Many fans came into the campaign dreaming of making the playoffs, but with the club currently sitting in 14th-place in the Eastern Conference, it seems those dreams will be dashed for the sixth year in a row.

Much of the reason for that is an offense that has managed only 177 goals in 71 games, which ties for the seventh-worst rate in the league. Of course, much of that is due to Jack Eichel‘s lower body injury suffered in a practice only a day before Buffalo‘s season got underway. Even though he’s missed 22 games this year, he still leads the team in points with 48, but Buffalonians can only dream of what he could have done playing a full 82-game season.

Another players who’s missed considerable time but has still produced is Evander Kane. He’s had to sit out a dozen contests, but his 25 goals still top the squad.

Believe it or not, the season’s injury list actually continues. In total, the top four forwards (Eichel, Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and the currently injured Kyle Okposo) have all missed a combined 41 games. With Kane and O’Reilly both playing on the top line, it’s proven difficult for the Sabres to maintain consistency and build chemistry.

But when Buffalo fights through the injuries and manages to put a quality roster on the ice, it’s more than proven what it’s capable of. That’s no more apparent than when the Sabres take to the power play, as their 23.4% success rate is second-best in the league. Rasmus Ristolainen, coincidentally one of the big-names on the Sabres‘ roster that hasn’t missed a game yet this year, has been at the head of that attack with his 24 man-advantage points.

Ristolainen has made a hobby of setting up linemates, as most of those are assists. Instead, it’s Matt Moulson who has scored the most power play goals on the team, with 10 to his credit.

Unfortunately, special teams giveth, and special teams taketh away. As great as the Sabres have been on the power play, they’ve been equally terrible on the penalty kill. Buffalo defends only 76.4% of its penalties, the second-worst rate in the league even though Josh Gorges has done all he can with his 34 shorthanded shot blocks (11th-most in the NHL).

Even with that effort, 19-22-8 Robin Lehner has still faced 255 shots against when his club is shorthanded, the third-most in the league. He saves a more-than-respectable .886 of those, but has not been rewarded with improved defensive play in front of him. Until Buffalo can improve on that defensive effort, it will not be a true Cup-contender. We will have to wait and see what Tim Murray has planned for the offseason.

Hosting the Sabres this evening are the 37-23-10 Ducks, winners of their past two games that currently occupy second place in the Pacific Division. Defense is the name of the game in Anaheim, as the Ducks have allowed only 173 goals against this season, which ties for the sixth-lowest total in the league.

At the core of that defense is 23-16-8 John Gibson, Anaheim‘s first-year starter. He’s done admirably in his new position, but recently suffered a lower body injury. In his stead, the Ducks are expected to start 14-7-2 Jonathan Bernier, whose .913 season save percentage and 2.62 GAA rank 29th-best in the league among the 60 netminders with at least a dozen appearances.

Randy Carlyle and Bob Murray prescribe to a decent philosophy: an under-worked good goalie becomes a great goaltender. That’s where Cam Fowler‘s group comes into play. Thanks in part to Fowler’s team-leading 118 shot blocks, the Ducks allow only 29.6 shots to reach Gibson’s (now Bernier’s) crease per game, the ninth-lowest average in the league.

The solid defensive effort continues when Anaheim is forced to defend a penalty. 85.1% of the time the Ducks are forced into a shorthanded situation, they do not yield a goal, which ties for the third-best rate in the NHL. Just like he is at even-strength, Fowler is very responsible for the Ducks‘ penalty kill success as he has a team-leading 24 shorthanded blocks.

With only 24 days remaining on the NHL calendar for the regular season, it’s not a surprise that this is the last time the Ducks and Sabres will meet this year. The Ducks visited Buffalo on February 9 and exploded for a 5-2 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (44 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and Buffalo‘s Ristolainen (38 assists and 154 blocks [both lead the team]).

A -210 line is never a good sign for the road team, and it’s definitely discouraging me from picking against the Ducks. Not only are they on The Pond, where they’ve won all but 11 of their contests, but they also have a defense that can cover for an injured goaltender (Exhibits A and B: the last two games). Anaheim should have another two points after tonight’s game is complete.

Hockey Birthday

  • Craig Ramsay (1951-) – This longtime Sabres left wing saved his best for the last season of his career. Selected by Buffalo 19th-overall in the 1971 NHL Amateur Draft, he retired immediately after winning the 1985 Frank J. Selke Trophy.
  • Andrew Ference (1979-) – Pittsburgh may have selected this defenseman in the eighth round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s spent most of his career with Boston. He was a member of the Bruins‘ 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team, and also earned the 2014 King Clancy Memorial Trophy.
  • Ryan Parent (1987-) – It simply never panned out for this defenseman, the 18th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Nashville. He played 106 career games in the league – 102 with Philadelphia – and only had three points to show for it.
  • Bobby Ryan (1987-) – Anaheim selected this left wing second-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent the first six years of his career. Since 2013, he’s called Ottawa home, where he’s registered 182 points.
  • Ryan White (1988-) – This center was selected 66th-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal, and that’s where he’s spent a majority of his eight-year career. That being said, he currently plays for the Wild after being traded from the Coyotes at this season’s deadline.

If I had to guess, the best way to break the resolve of a team is by by scoring four unanswered goals in a period. The Maple Leafs did just that to best Tampa Bay with a five-goal shutout in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Since Third Star of the Game Roman Polak (Tyler Bozak) was the first Leaf to score a goal – a slap shot 9:19 into the game – he gets to take credit for the game-winning tally. It’s a special statistic for a defenseman, as this is only the sixth of his 11-year career, and his first of the season.

Where Toronto truly won the game was in the second period. In the span of 13:17, Second Star Morgan Rielly (Nazem Kadri and Alexey Marchenko), Matt Martin (Matt Hunwick and Nikita Soshnikov), Connor Brown (Leo Komarov and William Nylander) and James van Riemsdyk (Rielly and Mitch Marner) all scored to set the score at the 5-0 final.

Frederik Andersen earned his First Star award in the final 40 minutes of the game. The Lightning fired a total of 26 shots in the second and third frames, but Andersen did not let a single one by to earn his fourth shutout of the season.

In all, Andersen saved all 33 shots he faced for the victory, while Andrei Vasilevskiy takes the loss after saving 11-of-15 (73.3%) shots faced. He was replaced following Brown’s power play goal (the score read 4-0 then) by Peter Budaj, who saved five-of-six (83.3%) for no decision.

For two days in a row now, the 76-53-22 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have scored five goals en route to a victory. Those offensive explosions has given the visitors in the series a three-point advantage on the hosts.

2017 NHL Trade Deadline Preview: Atlantic Division

Unknown-11. Montreal Canadiens– 30-16-8 (68 points- 54 GP)

The Montreal Canadiens are quietly dominating and that’s concerning for the rest of the league. Of course, dominating is a relative term, considering some of their counterparts in the Eastern Conference (namely the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins who are ahead of Montreal in the East standings by 10 points, three points and three points respectively). The Habs have been in first place in the Atlantic Division for quite some time now, despite only holding an eight point lead over the 2nd place Ottawa Senators.

For all intents and purposes, the Canadiens don’t have to do that much by March 1st. They shouldn’t sit back, especially if the right deal presents itself, but they don’t have to go out and do extremely necessary shopping at the deadline. Their forwards are in their prime and their defense got a little younger with the addition of Nikita Nesterov from a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning. And obviously goaltending is not something to worry about, because hello, Carey Price exists.

If anything, Montreal could move someone expendable, like Tomas Plekanec, in advance of the looming expansion draft in June and at least try to get something in return now as opposed to nothing later. Maybe they’ll add a rental for depth.

Potential assets to trade: F Tomas Plekanec, F David Desharnais

Potential targets to acquire: F Shane Doan (ARI), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), F Patrick Sharp (DAL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Patrik Berglund (STL)

Unknown-62. Ottawa Senators– 27-17-6 (60 points, 50 GP)

In a similar sense, the Ottawa Senators are like the Montreal Canadiens in that nobody expected them to be where they are for this long into the season, given how normally injuries occur. Then again, no one really knows how long the Senators can pull off this divisional standing given 1) how tight standings are in the current divisional alignment and parity of the league and 2) they’re a young team.

If anything, the Sens need to add without subtracting. There’s just one problem. Look at their roster. Who would you trade to add something substantial? Putting chemistry aside, who would you choose? Ottawa seems set on their defense that’s built as though every defenseman is really just a rover in disguise (you know, the position that doesn’t exist anymore). By some miracle the Senators could bolster their goaltending, but the reality of any transactions resides in their forwards.

Potential assets to trade: F Curtis Lazar, F Jean-Gabriel Pageau, F Zack Smith, G Andrew Hammond, G Mike Condon

Potential targets to acquire: F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Thomas Vanek (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), F Patrik Berglund (STL), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), G Ben Bishop (TB), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

Unknown3. Toronto Maple Leafs– 24-17-10 (58 points, 51 GP)

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a scary good team at times. Sure they’ve experienced growing pains here and there this season, but they’ve been biggest (and best) surprise of the season in terms of an organization that has really emerged as a solidified playoff contender. Head coach, Mike Babcock, provides a tremendous foundation of experience on the bench that he is somehow able to transfer into the playing styles of his players and their performances night after night.

Like every team on the cusp of the playoffs, the Maple Leafs need to add without subtracting. They could avoid making any moves and live with the results and still prosper from the experience gained in the long run, but the Leafs do have a few pieces to offer, should they look to float any trade ideas to other teams. Center, Nazem Kadri is 26, and has six years left on his current contract with a cap hit of $4.500 million.

Toronto has tried to move Kadri before, but remained committed to his on-the-edge playing style. Given the plethora of youths in Toronto, the Leafs could explore their package options including Kadri and more and/or just what it might take to land a solidified top-4 defenseman that won’t have to be exposed to the Vegas Golden Knights come June.

Potential assets to trade: F Nazem Kadri, D Matt Hunwick, D Martin Marincin, D Roman Polak, G Curtis McElhinney

Potential targets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Matt Duchene (COL), F Jarome Iginla (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), D Tyson Barrie (COL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Thomas Vanek (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), G Mike Condon (OTT), G Andrew Hammond (OTT), F Patrik Berglund (STL), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

Unknown-74. Boston Bruins– 26-23-6 (58 points, 55 GP) – one point behind Philadelphia in the Wild Card hunt

According to some website somewhere on the Internet the Boston Bruins do/don’t have a chance at making the playoffs this season. The answer to the question “will they be buyers or sellers at this year’s trade deadline?” seems obvious. The Bruins will more than likely be buyers, but at what cost and for how much? The organization would be wise to invest in something, but one question remains– how committed are the Bruins to making the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Boston could benefit from a playoff run to give their young players some playoff atmosphere experience, but bouncing out in the first round and obtaining a mid-first round draft pick might be unwise if there’s a chance the Bruins could really benefit from another season of ho-hum hockey and no playoffs. Boston could bolster holes in their roster now (at the deadline) or later (at the draft or through free agency) and still be better off for the 2017-2018 season. The ball, as they say, is in general manager, Don Sweeney’s court.

As for potential trade targets, well, depending on what direction Sweeney intends to bring the team, the Bruins have plenty of options for rental players and/or potential long time stands in Boston.

Potential assets to trade: F Ryan Spooner, F Jimmy Hayes, D Kevan Miller, D Joe Morrow, G Anton Khudobin, G Malcolm Subban, draft picks

Potential targets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Jarome Iginla (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), F Matt Duchene (COL), D Tyson Barrie (COL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Thomas Vanek (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), F Curtis Lazar (OTT), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL)

Florida_Panthers_logo_20165. Florida Panthers– 23-19-10 (56 points, 52 GP)

Despite a dismal start to the season, the Florida Panthers are still technically in the hunt for the playoffs with a few games in hand on the team directly above them in the standings (the Boston Bruins, for those of you that might have skimmed over everything I just wrote a couple of paragraphs ago).

Aside from several key injuries, a coaching change and a rogue GM some changes that were made in the offseason that have, well, yet to pan out, the Panthers don’t appear to be major sellers at the deadline on the grounds that they’re looking to add and further develop their youth. Could they move a defenseman? Certainly. Should they move a forward for anyone? Probably not. Could they acquire something with a draft pick or two? Absolutely.

It’s hit or miss for Florida at this point. They’ve got some resting up to do and if they’re smart this offseason, they’ll be right back in the hunt next year.

Potential assets to trade: D Jakub Kindl, G Reto Berra

Potential targets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Matt Duchene (COL), D Tyson Barrie (COL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI)

Unknown6. Detroit Red Wings– 22-21-9 (53 points, 52 GP)

It doesn’t appear to be the year for the Detroit Red Wings, but still 25 consecutive years of making the playoffs is something to be proud of, Detroit fans. This is more than a transition year, for sure, for the Red Wings. Why? Take a look at the roster. Gone are the days of Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom and friends– actually those days have been gone for quite some time now. Henrik Zetterberg is leading Detroit’s forwards into the future, while the organization is left playing catch up on the blue line.

Their youngest defenseman is 23 while their oldest defenseman is 36. Additionally, three defensemen are 31 or older. While all of this plays out, there’s the looming question of who will be the Red Wings goaltender next season and beyond? Jimmy Howard, Petr Mrazek or Jared Coreau could be on the move or staying put, but then again the Vegas Golden Knights could have a say otherwise, regardless of the trade deadline on March 1st at the expansion draft in June.

If things are going to get worse before they get better, then maybe it’s time to think of some big moves too. Like dumping large contracts (in term or salary).

Potential assets to trade: F Darren Helm, F Steve Ott, F Tomas Jurco, F Thomas Vanek, D Mike Green, D Nick Jensen, D Brendan Smith, G Jimmy Howard (if he’s healthy in time), G Petr Mrazek

Potential targets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), D Michael Stone (ARI), D Kevan Miller (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), F Matt Duchene (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), F Ryan Strome (NYI), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), F Patrik Berglund (STL), G Ben Bishop (TB), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

Unknown-27. Buffalo Sabres– 21-21-10 (52 points, 52 GP)

While their current standing in the Atlantic Division might seem disappointing, the Buffalo Sabres have made tremendous strides with their core group of skaters and could legitimately compete for a playoff spot next season in the highly competitive– though not always high quality– Atlantic Division. If they truly are about a year behind the Toronto Maple Leafs in this whole “rebuild” thing, then there’s a good chance they should seriously consider selling their expendables and buying in on a tank for Nolan Patrick.

Though it’s pretty hard to beat the Colorado Avalanche at this point. Looks like the luck of the lottery may be all yours, Colorado (and/or the Vegas Golden Knights, if you’re into conspiracy theories *ahem Colby*).

Buy low, sell high on the expendables, then work your magic in the offseason, Tim Murray.

Potential assets to trade: F Hudson Fasching, F Brian Gionta, D Taylor Fedun, D Cody Franson, D Dmitry Kulikov, G Jason Kasdorf, G Linus Ullmark, G Anders Nilsson

Potential targets to acquire: F Matt Duchene (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), D Tyson Barrie (COL), G Jimmy Howard (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

Unknown-38. Tampa Bay Lightning– 23-24-6 (52 points, 53 GP)

Despite their injuries and current standing in the Atlantic Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning are actually in the best place they could be. One way or another, Tampa could lose a valuable young player to the Vegas Golden Knights in June. There is no better opportunity to sell some of the guys you fear you won’t be able to keep this offseason at a premium on March 1st. Are you listening, Steve Yzerman?

The Lightning did not expect to be where they are two years removed from a Stanley Cup Final run and one season after an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion, Pittsburgh Penguins. But here they are. Two key players are still out of their lineup (Ryan Callahan and Steven Stamkos) and they could not be in a better spot to have a chance at saving their own future. Seriously, if they falter any more, they’ll line themselves up with a decent draft pick and they’ll move interchangeable parts like it’s nothing.

But there’s a catch and that’s the tremendous pressure that will be felt on the young guys left on the roster to perform (or else) next season.

Potential assets to trade: F Brian Boyle, F Erik Condra, F Gabriel Dumont, F Valtteri Filppula, F Tyler Johnson, F Ondrej Palat, D Braydon Coburn, D Jason Garrison, G Ben Bishop

Potential targets to acquire: F Cam Fowler (ANA), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), G Anders Nilsson (BUF), G Kari Lehtonen (DAL), G Antti Niemi (DAL), F Thomas Vanek (DET), G Mike Condon (OTT), G Andrew Hammond (OTT), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG), G Ondrej Pavelec (WPG)

December 23 – Day 72 – Kyle Okposo-ing the Isles

It’s here you guys. The last day of hockey until Tuesday. Get your tears out now.

I know, the world couldn’t get any worse. We just need to enjoy tonight while it lasts.

Fortunately, there’s a dozen games for us to choose from for our last night of hockey for the next 6810 minutes. The action starts at 7 p.m. with five contests (Buffalo at the New York Islanders, Minnesota at the New York Rangers, New Jersey at Pittsburgh [TVAS], Tampa Bay at Washington [SN1] and Montréal at Columbus [RDS]), followed half an hour later by another pair of games (Detroit at Florida and Boston at Carolina). 8:30 p.m. brings with it the puck drop of two more games (Colorado at Chicago and Los Angeles at Dallas), with another duo of matches waiting until the top of the hour (Vancouver at Calgary and Toronto at Arizona). Finally, Edmonton at San Jose, acting as this evening’s nightcap, gets green lit at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Buffalo at New York: Kyle Okposo played nine seasons wearing blue and orange, but he traded the orange for gold this offseason.
  • Boston at Carolina: Both John-Michael Liles and Riley Nash used to call PNC Arena home, combining for almost 400 games for the Hurricanes.
  • Vancouver at Calgary: No notable returns here. Just a good, old-fashioned rivalry.

Since Okposo has had such an impact on both his clubs, we’ll take in his warm reception this evening at the Barclays Center.

Unknown-2New York Islanders Logo

 

Okposo’s time with New York began in as the seventh-overall selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and by 2008 he was consistently earning regular playing time.

Although he notched 52 points in his 2009-’10 campaign, Okposo’s career really took off in 2013-’14. He buried 27 goals that year en route to a 69 point season – both career-highs (the 42 assists he notched that season, also a career high, was tied last season) – for the best point-mark on the club.

His next season was derailed by a detached retina (yes, like the retina in your eyeball) and its associated surgery. In 2015-’16, he got right back on track, equaling that 42 assist-mark from 2013-14 and scoring the puck on his own 22 times, the third-most on the squad.

This offseason, Okposo took advantage of his recent success to test the free agency market, and ended up in Buffalo on a seven-year, $42 million contract. He’s had an immediate impact, as his nine tallies are tops on the team.

Although he was one of many to leave the Islanders in a tough spot, New Yorkers should provide a warm welcome to their old friend.

Okposo’s new club enters tonight’s game with a 12-12-8 record, good enough for only seventh-place in the Atlantic Division. Although the defense and goaltending has been phenomenal, the offense has not done enough to earn the Sabres more victories.

That offense has managed only 69 goals so far this season, the second-fewest in the NHL. Although defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen leading the team with 23 points is not entirely a bad thing, it must be alarming for general manager Tim Murray given that 60.16% of his salary cap is being spent on forwards. As stated before, Okposo has lit the lamp the most on the team, scoring nine times.

Although the offense as a whole has struggled, the power play has certainly not. Scoring 22.8% of the time, the Sabres are the fourth-best team in the league with the man-advantage. Ristolainen has taken the lead in this department as well with 13 power play points to his credit, but it has been Matt Moulson who has finished many of those plays, scoring seven times.

Just as good as Buffalo is at scoring with the extra man, they are equally as unimpressive when defending against it. The Sabres have stopped only 74.7% of opposing power plays, the second-worst rate in the league. Although Josh Gorges (16) and Ristolainen (14) both have decent amounts of shorthanded blocks to their credit, they are the only two skaters with more than eight. I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before, but the penalty kill needs to be more of a priority for the Sabres if they want to take the next step towards returning to the playoffs.

Playing host this evening are the 12-14-6 Islanders, the worst team in the Eastern Conference. It is my opinion that the reason they haven’t found success yet is due to their struggles on the defensive end, as their 99 goals allowed ends up being the third-highest scoring-against average (3.09) in the NHL.

Three goalies have taken their try at New York‘s crease this season, but most of the time it is 5-8-5 Jaroslav Halak. Through 19 appearances, he’s earned a .907 save percentage and 3.13 GAA, the (t)31st and 43rd-best effort among the 49 goalies with nine or more appearances this season.

While this is no doubt one of Halak’s worst performances of his career, he can’t shoulder all the blame. His defense is not doing him any favors by allowing 33.3 shots-per-game to reach his crease per night, the second-highest average in the NHL. While Calvin de Haan has certainly been impressive with his team-leading 95 shot blocks, he is the only skater with more than 70 to his credit.  Just like I said for Buffalo, this is an aspect of New York‘s game that needs to change immediately if they want any hope of saving their quickly disappearing season.

As would be expected, those struggles have sneaked into the penalty kill, where the Islanders rank sixth-worst after neutralizing only 78.7% of opposing power plays. Once again, de Haan has been very productive with his 19 shorthanded blocks, but the rest of the club needs to step up to take pressure off Halak.

Unfortunately, the bad news continues on the power play, where New York‘s 13.5% success rate is the third-worst mark in the league. Both Nick Leddy and John Tavares have six man-advantage points to their credit, and the power play goal scoring title is currently shared between Anders Lee and Tavares, both with three tallies on their resume.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Buffalo‘s Anders Nilsson (.933 save percentage [tied for fourth-best in the league]), should he play, and New York‘s Dennis Seidenberg (+11 [leads the team]).

Vegas has marked the Islanders a -133 favorite to win tonight’s game, but I’m not so certain the spread should be even that large. I’ll side with the Isles simply because they’re playing at home and the Sabres played last night in Buffalo while tonight’s hosts were resting.

Hockey Birthday

  • Vadim Sharifijanov (1975-) – Last Saturday, we talked about draft picks that don’t pan out. Let’s revisit that real quick. This right wing was the 25th-overall pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey, but he ended up playing only 92 games in the league.
  • Scott Gomez (1979) – Another Devils draft pick, this center was selected 27th-overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. Although he spent most of his 16 seasons in Jersey, Gomez played with seven different clubs en route to two All Star selections, two Stanley Cups and the 2000 Calder Trophy.
  • T.J. Oshie (1986-) – The 24th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by St. Louis, he played seven seasons with the Blues before being traded to Washington before last season. Of course, he’s most known for his six shootout attempts at the 2014 Winter Olympics to give Team USA a 3-2 victory over Russia.

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a blowout like yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as Columbus whipped the Penguins 7-1 at Nationwide Arena.

It looked like Pittsburgh was off to a good start, as Sidney Crosby (Ian Cole and Conor Sheary) buried a snap shot only 2:39 into the contest, but that lead lasted only 10:22 before Cam Atkinson (Nick Foligno and Alexander Wennberg) scored a power play snap shot. That one-all tie held into the second period.

William Karlsson (Sam Gagner and Josh Anderson) takes credit for the winning tally with 9:45 remaining in the second frame, and 2:05 seconds later First Star of the Game Scott Hartnell buried the first of six insurance goals. The Jackets took their 3-1 lead into the second intermission.

It was the third period where things really went awry for Pittsbrugh. Starting only 2:44 after returning to the ice, Hartnell (Gagner and Jack Johnson), Second Star Brandon Saad (Wennberg), Boone Jenner (Brandon Dubinsky and Seth Jones) and Hartnell again (Dubinsky and Saad) combined for the Columbus onslaught to ensure their 11th-straight victory.

Sergei Bobrovsky earns the victory after saving 25-of-26 shots faced (96.2%), while Matthew Murray managed to save only 17-of-23 (73.9%) in the loss. He was replaced following Jenner’s goal by Marc-Andre Fleury, who saved four-of-five (80%) for no decision.

Columbus‘ victory is the third straight by a home team, setting the DtFR Game of the Day series at 40-23-11 in favor of the hosts, who lead the visitors by nine points.

Colby’s Corner Sabres’ Swords In the Playoffs

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. Unknown-2

The Sabres roster looks a little different going into this season as Chad Johnson, David Legwand and Carlo Colaiacovo’s contracts have expired and they are no longer with the team.

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.

Photo Credit: Bill Wippert
Photo Credit: Bill Wippert

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.

Vesey’s Pieces

By: Nick Lanciani

Bad forced play-on-word attempts are my middle name, so in “Vesey’s Pieces” I take a look at what teams have the right pieces in place to lock up Jimmy Vesey on August 15th (if he doesn’t re-sign with the Buffalo Sabres before then).

Here’s a list of teams that could sign Vesey:

Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Las Vegas, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets

Yes, that list includes Las Vegas, because wouldn’t it be funny if Jimmy Vesey decided to wait another year just to mess with everyone and give him 31 options instead of 30?

Also, I know the salary cap exists, but teams are allowed to exceed the cap by 10% without facing penalty in the offseason. By training camp each organization must be cap compliant, meaning that any team could sign Vesey to the maximum amount of $925,000 on August 15th and spend the rest of the offseason figuring out who they’ll trade or send down to the AHL to fit under the salary cap.

Realistically, let’s take a look at who’s in play, shall we?

The fact of the matter is that Jimmy Vesey’s agent seems to confirm just about anything that’s been asked. Are the Bruins interested? Are the Blackhawks interested? Are the Sabres interested? Is Toronto interested? Does Jimmy think a hot dog is a sandwich?

All of these questions seem to be met with a “yes” or “there’s a mutual interest something something they’re expected to be on the short list something something get out of here with your hot dog takes.”

Enough foolishness aside, Colby Kephart and I agreed on Tuesday in a private conversation that we’re both tired of the media circus that’s become the Vesey Decision 2016. It’s nothing against Vesey as a player, or his right to explore all of his options per the collective bargaining agreement in the manner that he is, but rather it’s the hype that we’re annoyed about.

Nobody is questioning his ability, having amassed 24-22-46 totals in 33 games this season with the Harvard Crimson and 32-26-58 totals the year before that in 37 games played. That’s 104 points in 70 games over his final two seasons with the Crimson, if you can’t do the math. Vesey’s numbers have grown and his playing style has developed as he’s gone through four years at Harvard, in the midst of one of the greatest college hockey cities in the United States- all while not being put against Hockey East universities on the regular, mind you.

That’s not to discredit the ECAC either. Vesey is a college standout. He’s the real deal, but like any prospect, there’s a chance he won’t make as much of an impact as one would expect.

And that is what hinges me from being able to say without a doubt he’s apt to be going to one team or another, because it all depends on how much of a risk teams are willing to take.

Could he sign with his hometown team in Boston? Absolutely, but it’s not like the Bruins won’t be fine offensively if they don’t sign Vesey. Their top-six forwards are Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Matt Beleskey, David Backes and/or Frank Vatrano (which technically breaks the rules of limiting the discussion to just six players if one includes Vatrano).

Would a solidified top-nine make the Bruins a better team? I guess you could say so, but that does nothing to improve their defense.

Buffalo has been trying their hardest to keep Vesey around longer than just for this summer with their Jack Eichel diplomacy, but even there, it’s not like they’ll be that much better of a team or that much worse if they lose out on Vesey for only the cost of a third round pick. Keep in mind Boston traded a third round pick for Zac Rinaldo after all.

The Sabres have a quality roster with the addition of Kyle Okposo this offseason and rising sophomore Eichel and friends. Tim Murray’s been making the right moves as their general manager and this could be the season that they get back into the playoffs if they play their cards right, their guys stay healthy and the right additions without subtracting reveal themselves throughout the season.

They won’t lead the Atlantic Division, because hello, the entire state of Florida is good at hockey right now. Yet Buffalo will definitely be more competitive against a weakened, P.K. Subban-less Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators (who’ll end up overpaying Cody Ceci, just watch), Detroit Red Wings (who’ll probably miss the playoffs for the first time in forever) and Bruins (what’s a defense).

As for Chicago, what are the odds that Vesey will win the Cup in his first season if he signs with them? Pretty great probably, but what are the odds that he’d get traded that offseason or in his first few years in the league from the Blackhawks? Also pretty good, since his last name isn’t Kane, Toews, Panarin, or Hossa (or any of their other core guys).

It’s hard to crack the core in Chicago, even if they are to move Marian Hossa in the coming season(s). But it also looks like poor salary cap management may finally be catching up to them, ignoring the fact that this is what is said every other year about the Blackhawks.

The Maple Leafs seem to be largely at play, what with Auston Matthews being a main attraction and Vesey’s family ties to the organization. While we’re on the subject of Toronto, why not take a look at the Arizona Coyotes who have done everything the Maple Leafs have dreamed of in one offseason at this point?

There’s a great chance he’ll end up with an Original Six team, because that’s where it seems his interest resides. In the end it’s all about the best fit, which could sway Vesey to a team like the Coyotes where he has the chance to standout on the roster and against other teams, if that’s what he’s after. Or he could stay with the Sabres.

Then again, he’ll probably sign with a team none of us expected him to sign with and disappoint every fanbase that was on edge, awaiting a signature on a piece of paper with their team’s logo on it.

But hey, for the record, I’ve never had Reese’s Pieces which might shock you even more than Jimmy Vesey getting your hopes up and signing with a different team. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

2016 Mock Draft: Picks 1-14

By: Nick Lanciani

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In the (dis)interest of the offseason for some teams and fans, I’ve completed my mock draft for the first fourteen picks of the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft that will be held in Buffalo, New York on June 24th. Rounds 2-7 will be held on June 25th. As we near the end of the Stanley Cup Final, I’ll be adding picks 15-30 and adjusting the rest of my mock draft accordingly. So take a look, tell me I’m on the right track or that I’m an idiot for thinking that [SOME TEAM] is going to pick [SOME PLAYER] over [SOME DIFFERENT PLAYER]. Let us know your thoughts–> tweet to @DTFrozenRiver or drop us a line on our Facebook page.

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1) Toronto Maple Leafs–> C Auston Matthews, Zurich (SUI)

Aside from the Raptors— finally! There’s hope in Toronto and its name is Auston Matthews. The 6’1”, 210-pound center is a two-way player reminiscent of the likes of Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles or Patrice Bergeron in Boston. His 24-22-46 totals in 36 games with Zurich this season earned him the Rising Star Award and 2nd in voting for the MVP of the National League A in Switzerland. Matthews is the franchise center that the Maple Leafs have been waiting for since the days of Mats Sundin. He led the United States to the bronze with 7-4-11 totals at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

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2) Winnipeg Jets–> RW Patrik Laine, Tappara (FIN)

Everyone keeps saying that Patrik Laine is one of the next best things and they might be right. The 6’4”, 206-pound right-winger, could easily fill the hole left behind by Andrew Ladd’s departure around the trade deadline. His size and skill combined with his maturity provide much strength for the increasingly young and talented Jets lineup. Laine had 10 goals in 18 playoff games with Tappara en route to being named postseason MVP and winning the championship in Liiga (Finland’s top professional league).

He had 17-16-33 totals in 46 games during the regular season and led all Liiga rookies in scoring. As well, Laine tied Auston Matthews in goals at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship while helping Finland win gold.

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3) Columbus Blue Jackets–> RW Jesse Puljujarvi, Karpat (FIN)

With the 3rd overall pick the Columbus Blue Jackets select the next best overall skater at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft behind Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. Puljujarvi is talented and has enough hockey sense to drive an offense. He’s best on the wing and would help continue the youth movement in Columbus as the Blue Jackets look to get back into competitive form and out of the basement of the NHL.

The 6’3”, 203-pound forward had 13-15-28 totals in 50 games played for Karpat in Liiga as a 17-year-old. In addition, Puljujarvi was one point shy of Jaromir Jagr’s record for U-18 players at the World Junior Championship level, having scored 17 points in seven games en route to winning gold with Finland this year at the 2016 IIHF World Juniors.

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4) Edmonton Oilers–> D Jakob Chychrun, Sarnia (OHL)

If the Edmonton Oilers keep the 4th overall pick, Chychrun is a no brainer. If Edmonton trades the 4th overall pick, Chychrun is a no brainer. Any questions? Good. The 6’2”, 214-pound, Boca Raton, Florida native is a two-way NHL ready defenseman and a surefire top-5 draft pick. While some may argue there is no clear cut number one defenseman in the draft (there’s three or four top defensemen), Chychrun is a cut above the rest based on his size and familiarity with the North American style of the game.

His physicality and awareness combined with his skating, should help any team strengthen their blue line. He had 11 goals and 49 points in 62 games, while amassing a plus-23 plus/minus, this season with the Sarnia Sting.

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5) Vancouver Canucks–> LW Matthew Tkachuk, London (OHL)

Tkachuk is a skillful forward with grit at 6’1”, 195-pounds. He tied Auston Matthews in scoring for the United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship with 11 points and had 30-77-107 totals in 57 games with the London Knights this season. Of note, 42 of those points came on the power play.

The way the Canucks have been heading in the last few seasons, finding someone who can play alongside Bo Horvat or Jared McCann is a priority. Offense can be groomed and defense can be brought in through trades and free agency. GM Jim Benning should keep that in mind as Vancouver heads into the offseason.

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6) Calgary Flames–> LW Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

The Flames have done a solid job with building youth from the ground up in recent years, despite making draft selections that have surprised just about every analyst. While Calgary is yet another team that needs to replace some parts on the blue line, taking a defenseman at the Draft is not an option for them this year. Instead, Pierre-Luc Dubois is a smart and versatile forward that can add some flexibility to their lineup.

At 6’2”, 201-pounds, Dubois packs a punch with a playing style that’s on edge and includes great hands. He led the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles with 57 assists and 99 points in 62 games this season and was a plus-40 rating. Dubois also finished the season in the top-six in the QMJHL in goals and points.

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7) Arizona Coyotes–> D Olli Juolevi, London (OHL)  

It’s always hard to predict where a defenseman will go in the Draft, let alone where anyone will go after about the first five picks usually. Juolevi is arguably as good as, if not better than, Chychrun depending on who you ask. Given how some teams are leary on taking a blue liner so high up, Juolevi slides to the seventh spot where the Arizona Coyotes see no problem in calling him one of their own.

While the Keith Yandle deal from the spring of 2015 paid in dividends for the Coyotes with the addition of Anthony Duclair, they still lost a defenseman that they put a lot of time and effort into forging. Juolevi comes ready made at 6’2”, 182-pounds and provides some solidarity should the Coyotes part with Oliver Ekman-Larsson in any fashion in the coming years. Juolevi had nine goals and 42 points for the London Knights this season with a plus-38 rating. He also won gold with Finland at the 2016 World Juniors and transitioned from Finland to the OHL with ease.

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8) Buffalo Sabres–> D Charles McAvoy, Boston University (Hockey East)

This one might be a stretch, but then again, maybe I’ll be right and prove anyone that’s doubting me wrong. The logic of the Sabres’ 8th overall selection is that they’re quite familiar with Boston University over the last couple of seasons, having taken Jack Eichel 2nd overall last year and signed Eichel’s BU linemate, Evan Rodrigues, in free agency. While Buffalo is set on offense, GM Tim Murray needs to set his sights on patching up their defense in the next couple of seasons.

McAvoy might not be NHL ready immediately, but he is an excellent 6’0”, 208-pound right shot defenseman that should turn into an NHL regular. He had three goals and 25 points in his freshman season with BU this season. In 37 games played, he had 39 blocked shots and was a plus-10. McAvoy also had a plus-5 rating with the bronze medal-winning United States at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

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9) Montreal Canadiens–> RW Alexander Nylander, Mississauga (OHL)

Nylander had four goals, five assists and nine points for the Swedes at the 2016 World Junior Championship. The 6’0”, 180-poung brother of Maple Leafs forward,William Nylander, Alexander Nylander is built for NHL stardom one day having led the Mississauga Steelheads with 28 goals and 75 points in 57 games in his first OHL season. The dynamic skater also had nine power play goals and can separate himself from other skaters on the ice with ease.

He’s going to be picked by a rival of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The question is which one?

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10) Colorado Avalanche–> C Logan Brown, Windsor (OHL)

Brown is a big— 6’6”, 222-pound— skilled center with speed and puck handling skills that will definitely come in handy for a team looking for a playmaker that could become like some of the best two-way players in the NHL. It’s hard to find someone like him with his size at his position (a la Joe Thornton), but the Avalanche could utilize his strengths given the uncertainty of their relationship with Matt Duchene.

Brown had 21 goals and 74 points in 59 games with the Windsor Spitfires this season. He also had 29 points on the power play and won 53% of his faceoffs, which is a big plus for a team like Colorado that is looking for their next Joe Sakic or Peter Forsberg.

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11) New Jersey Devils–> D Jake Bean, Calgary (WHL)

The Devils could use a young defenseman to pair with their existing protégé, Adam Larsson, especially considering the offensive upside of Jake Bean. The 6’0”, 173-pound offensive defenseman is an excellent skater that makes smart passes and carries his own weight. Given some time to strengthen up a bit, Bean could use his stick, body and talent to be a force on the blue line in New Jersey alongside the likes of Larsson. The Devils need to improve their offense, but they also need a more immediate plan for their defense to take some of the load off of the often-underrated Cory Schneider in goal.

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12) Ottawa Senators–> D Mikhail Sergachev, Windsor (OHL)

Sergachev is a big 6’2”, 208-pound defenseman that brings an offensive side to his game as the best defenseman in the OHL in his first season in North America. His two-way presence along the blue line should be enough to make the Senators happy to see the likes of another potential Erik Karlsson on their team. Sergachev plays with confidence and speed and had 17 goals and 57 points in 67 games with the Windsor Spitfires in his rookie season.

He also had 31 points on the power play this season. In the wake of the Dion Phaneuf trade, one would think that the last thing Ottawa needs is another temporarily unreliable defenseman, however, Sergachev brings the total package that Phaneuf may not be able to produce on the regular and adds some much needed balance to their youthful blue line.

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13) Carolina Hurricanes–> C Clayton Keller, USA U-18 (USHL)

Keller is a smart, skilled and speedy 5’9”, 168-pound center with a left-shot that could lead him to the NHL. He led the USA’s U-18 program with 70 assists and 107 points in 62 games and had four goals and 10 points in seven games at the 2016 IIHF World U-18 Championship en route to a bronze medal.

In the post-Eric Staal era (unless they bring him back in free agency), the Hurricanes need to rebuild down the middle. Keller is committed to Boston University in 2016-2017 and was also selected in the second round (40th overall) of the 2014 OHL Draft by the Windsor Spitfires. In either case, he’s got a chance of developing quite nicely as Carolina doesn’t need to rush things, despite lacking immediate depth at center.

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14) Boston Bruins–> RW Julien Gauthier, Val-d’Or (QMJHL)

The Bruins are trying to find their next Milan Lucic. Either that or they’re picking someone who will give Jimmy Hayes a run for his money. Gauthier is a 6’3”, 225-pound power forward that can skate and score. His 41-11-57 totals in 54 games for Val-d’Or are impressive enough to make him a tactical selection by Boston. Of note, he was the only 2016 NHL Draft-eligible player to play for Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship where he had two assists in five games played.

Colby’s Corner: Deadline Day Confessions

The NHL trade deadline is one of my favorite times of the year. At the start of the season it’s the most important date to locate during the season. It’s where all the rumors and speculation either comes true or proves to be fake. To me, as a Sabres fan, it was also saying goodbye to players and hello to draft picks. But this year was supposed to be different…or so I thought.

There were so many rumors and sagas going on, I felt any team could make a hockey deal and  add players. With names out there like Jonathan Drouin, Cam Fowler and Brandon Pirri, people thought that they could move. I was excited knowing that these young players could join Buffalo and make them a better team.

But it wasn’t just me who was excited, as Boston fans sat around waiting to see what was going to happen with Loui Eriksson. Loui was one of the biggest unrestricted free agents who could’ve gotten moved at the deadline. Bruins fans were following ‘will Loui sign an extension,’ ‘will they flip him for a big move and bring in defensive help’ or ‘will they treat him like a rental’.

Finally, we had Vancouver and Dan Hamhuis, arguably the biggest defenseman who could’ve been on the move. Everyone kept wondering if Vancouver would sell or do they still think they have a chance for playoffs.

Well, with all of these stories leading into the deadline, I expected a lot big moves. I don’t know if I got my hopes up too much or I read too much into the rumors, but this trade deadline was a complete bust. This trade deadline coverage was ridiculous; I felt bad for TSN and Sportsnet, they had to tell stories just to fill air time. The Deadline Day saw 19 deals and 34 players moved, highlighted by the move of Kris Russell to the Dallas Stars.

After all the rumors about Eriksson and Drouin, nothing changed for either of them. Loui is still looking for a contract extension and Drouin is still not playing hockey, sitting out because he refuses to play in the AHL.

The general manager of Buffalo, Tim Murray, described the deadline as ridiculous. He went on to complain how everyone waited until the final hour before they started trying to make moves. He compared it to a bunch of high schoolers waiting till right before the deadline to try and get their work done.

This deadline had huge potential for a lot of hockey trades that could benefit both teams, and the trigger was never pulled. This was a deadline highlighted by rental players and small ones at that. Andrew Ladd was traded to Chicago before deadline day, so excluding him for not being on deadline day. The big names moved on deadline day were Kris Russell to Dallas, Mikhail Boedker to Colorado, and Jamie McGinn to Anaheim.

If you think of past years names like Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash and Marian Hossa were all added to teams and improved them dramatically, and in most cases lead them to the Stanley Cup Finals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Russell, McGinn and Boedker aren’t going to help their new teams. I just think when playoffs come around these players aren’t impact players; they aren’t going to put huge points up and score the important goals for the teams.

With all this being said, I think when draft comes around, we could see more moves. But if you ask me, I am not buying these rumors and I will sit back until the deals are actually made. 

Colby’s Corner: Buffalo Sabres from #EmbraceTheTank to Playoff Contenders?

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 has a chance to become a number 1 goaltender with the Buffalo Sabres in the 2015-2016 season. Photo via QMI Agency
Robin Lehner has a chance to become a number 1 goaltender with the Buffalo Sabres in the 2015-2016 season. Photo via QMI Agency

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.

Jack Eichel is ready for a big debut season as the 2nd overall pick in this year's draft behind Junior superstar, Connor McDavid. (Getty Images)
Jack Eichel is ready for a big debut season as the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft behind Junior superstar, Connor McDavid. (Getty Images)

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.