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.
The Board of Governors meeting gets underway next week involving the Seattle expansion vote, Bill Peters took a puck to the jaw and Rick Middleton and Vic Hadfield are having their numbers retired this week.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes made another trade with each other, Karl Alzner is being Wade Redden’ed, Ron Hextall got ousted as the Philadelphia Flyers GM, the Buffalo Sabres win streak reached double digits and the Winnipeg Jets brought back their Heritage Jerseys.
Nick and Connor also encourage all of Long Island to go to the New York Islanders game at NYCB Live (it’s the Nassau Coliseum) this week and quickly plan a hopeful trip to see Sporting KC play in Atlanta.
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.
Nick checks in with Colby Kephart and Frank Fanelli (of Student Union Sports) on Radko Gudas’s suspension, the Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Chance The Rapper’s SNL skit for the ages. Also discussed, the overabundance of outdoor games featuring teams that are obviously stuck in a revolving door of outdoor games.
And be sure to check out our newest extension of the product, DTFR Overtime, this week where Nick retroactively wrote about a topic from last week’s episode.
33-37-12, 78 points, 8th in Atlantic (‘16-‘17)
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
1. 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)
2. 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)
3. 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)
4. 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)
5. 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)
6. 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)
7. 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)
8. 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)
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.