All in on Dahlin

All in on Dahlin

I was standing under the retractable seats of KeyBank Center interviewing Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley after a devastating loss that kept Buffalo out of the postseason when I heard it. Cheers. Loud cheers. Thunderous applause.

What was the cause of all the ruckus -  especially after the hometown Bandits had just lost?  The Sabres had won the draft lottery. We couldn’t celebrate in the midst of the interview, but we all knew what had happened and couldn’t wait to chat about it after the conversation with Troy.

Happy Dahlin Day!

Today has a different feel to it, doesn’t it?  It even seems a little different than the McEichel year! As good as Jack Eichel is, Buffalo fans still (rightfully) felt second best the year that Edmonton won the draft lottery and selected Connor McDavid.

 This is not Rasmus Dahlin. Just wanted you to remember where we came from. -Photo from LM Otero

This is not Rasmus Dahlin. Just wanted you to remember where we came from. -Photo from LM Otero

Today IS different. The Sabres are getting the best player in the draft. They won the lottery. They’re getting another generational player. This time; it’s a defenseman.

It can be argued that defensemen are more valuable than forwards. In today’s NHL, top tier defensemen are essential to sustained success. Rasmus Dahlin could be the best defenseman in Sabres history.

He’s certainly the most highly regarded defensive prospect in decades. It feels as though if he turns out to be half as good as he’s projected to be, this will be a very good thing to happen to the Sabres. He’s being compared to Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson. Time will tell if those comparisons are correct or not.

 Mike Weber played on Dahlin's team in Sweden last season. Also, dont forget where we came from. -  Courtesy Frolunda HC

Mike Weber played on Dahlin's team in Sweden last season. Also, dont forget where we came from. - Courtesy Frolunda HC

All of this brings us to another question: Will the Sabres finally turn a corner?

The years upon years of mediocrity have us starving for success. The tank years have us exhausted.

Did the tank work?  Yes. The goal of the tank was to guarantee either McDavid or Eichel. They finished last and got their prize.

We’re now learning that one elite level talent at center can’t overcome a terrible team, a piss poor defensive unit and average to below average goaltending (and some pretty good goaltending.) This team needs more talent than it has to be successful.

That’s what Dahlin should bring.

Former Sabres/Americans player Matt Donovan told WGR 550 on Wednesday that Dahlin is the best defenseman he’s ever played with. Matt also said that he considered himself an offensive defenseman but he was nowhere near the level that Dahlin is on.

There are surely more changes coming. Robin Lehner won’t be re-signed in Buffalo. Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen have their names swirling amongst trade rumors.

The picture will become more clear as time passes this offseason and we all see what the roster will look like on opening day. But ultimately, the picture won’t be clear until halfway through the 2018-19 season. Will this team be competitive?  Can they harness the same magic that Colorado did - going from worst to pretty great in one short season?

One thing is for certain; this feels great. Enjoy the day, enjoy the draft and please God let this be the end of bad hockey in Buffalo.

 Goodbye, for now. May you never forget Mike Weber. 

Goodbye, for now. May you never forget Mike Weber. 

More For ROR

More For ROR

Can you hear that? If not then it’s time to clean yo’ ears, because that’s the swirling sound of Ryan O’Reilly trade rumors, and boy is the swirling loud! Also, if you’re hearing a smashing sound behind that swirling noise, it’s probably just the sound of angry fans of EA Sports NHL series. More on that later, though...

Trading ROR has been a trending topic ever since the locker room cleanout day of infamy where fans misconstrued a quote, and multiple local media outlets irresponsibly reported that he “lost the love of the game.” But he didn’t quite say it in that fashion. Regardless, as the 2019 NHL Rasmus Dahlin Sweepstake approaches, the ROR trade rumors simultaneously get louder.

Most of this noise seems to involve our bilingual friends in Montreal. Ces rumeurs moslty impliquent Max Pacioretty et la trois ème sélection globale. For those of you fluent in American, that says, “These rumors mostly involve Max Pacioretty and the 3rd overall selection” (thanks, Google).

The question is, SHOULD the J-Botts trade him?

Ryan O’Reilly was in deep water the very instant Tim Murray associated a 7.5 million AAV cap hit with his name. In a town starved for offensive production since 2007, Sabres fans would likely expect a top 15 point producer for that kind of cheddar. O’Reilly doesn’t give you that. He normally sits anywhere between 55-65 points. Ryan O’Reilly is a rare breed of NHL player. He is a supremely skilled, very solid two-way center. A rare combination in professional hockey.

During his time in Colorado, O'reilly averaged .52 points per game. Meanwhile in Buffalo he has averaged a much improved .79 points per game. He also set a record for the most faceoffs won in a single season this past year. That is a very important stat for a pitiful defensive team that deals with a plethora of D-zone faceoffs such as Phil Housley’s Buffalo Sabres.

But there goes another problem. “PHIL HOUSLEY’s Buffalo Sabres.” Housley came in to Buffalo preaching a relentless north and south speed game with defenders often joining the rush (insert Rasmus Dahlin here ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️). Ryan O'Reilly can be described with many words and FAST AIN’T ONE OF ‘EM! The team as a whole, whole heartedly lacks speed. Especially on the wings. We have no wings! Thanks, Red Bull…

Outside of Sam Reinhart (who also isn’t a great skater) the depth on the wing is very slim. The Sabres offensive attack on the flanks features aging players such as Kyle Okposo and the 35 year old heartthrob, Jason Pominville. We have players like Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste waiting their turn but they’ve had so many trips back and forth from Rochester to Buffalo that they might as well pay Elon Musk to build them one of them there fancy underground tunnels. Boring (get it?).

There is almost no one on this team that can play the game at the pace (mentally and physically) as Jack Eichel. And that’s a problem. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I think the Sabres should look to trade ROR for a young, fast, skilled winger that will compliment Jack Eichel. Is there a place on this team for Ryan O’Reilly? MOST CERTAINLY. But not right now. He is best suited as a third line scoring center on a team built for the playoffs. He will shut down a team’s best players and give you production in the offensive zone as well. He is a number center on THIS team but a number two-three center on most good teams.

With the current state of the Sabres, I’m uninterested in paying a player like that 7.5 million dollars. If the third pick is seriously an option, pull the trigger on Friday evening without hesitation. My cup of coffee would hit the floor before a Starbucks barista could call the cops on me. Let’s get some young talent in here around Jack. This is his team now. I hate the back and forth of “is this Jack or Ryan’s team?” It’s Jack’s team! It always has been. ROR is just along for the ride. He doesn’t even like to high-five him any more!! Adios mi amigo! For those of you fluent in American, that was Spanish. Not French.

Also, NHL 19 is going to suck. You’re the best, EA. Thanks, Rammer.

Evaluating NHL's proposed point systems

Evaluating NHL's proposed point systems

This week, the 31 NHL general managers are meeting to discuss a handful of topics. One that's come up is, “How will the game be viewed in five or ten years?”

ESPN's Pierre LeBrun mentioned two different options that were being discussed:

·         1.) Giving teams three points for a regulation win, and

·         2.) Going back to two points for a win and zero points for any kind of loss

Obviously, we have no idea if either of these ideas will come to fruition, but why not take a look at today's NHL standings and see how they'd be changed if these options were in place?

Before we get started, here are the NHL standings by points, in both conferences prior to the games played Monday, March 6.

 

First, let's start off with giving teams three points for a regulation win. With this, It was suggested to add in the stipulations that teams get two points for an overtime or shootout win, and one point for an overtime or shootout loss. No points, of course, for a regulation loss.

Now, here's how the standings would look:

 

Things don't change a whole lot for the Sabres, who still find themselves thirteenth in the conference, but with 20 more points. Carolina, New Jersey and Detroit are seeded below Buffalo, in the fourteenth through sixteenth spots in the conference.

But there would be some changes above Buffalo.

Washington stays tops in the conference, but Pittsburgh moves up to second, and lots of other teams move up as well, with Columbus' 88 points no longer enough to be among the top in the standings. The Flyers also bump down two spots, despite having 16 more points than they would with the current standings. And Tampa Bay sees a jump from twelfth to ninth in the conference, with an additional 23 points.

In the Western Conference, Minnesota, Chicago and San Jose remain the big three, but there are a few small changes from there. Edmonton and Anaheim switch spots, and St. Louis gets bumped down two spots. Vancouver also drops down one, switching places with Dallas. Arizona and Colorado remain the last two teams in the conference.

It's certainly interesting to think about. At this rate, every game becomes a three-point game, which makes things quite different. Overtime and shootout wins no longer have the clout they do now, where they're worth the same as regulation wins. Keeping the 'loser point' also seems questionable to me…but we'll get there in a second.

Another option mentioned it to give teams a flat two points per win, with no 'loser points' for overtime or shootout losses.

Again, the standings would be a little different, but would not drastically change, if the NHL adopted this policy. In the East, the Rangers and Penguins would switch positions; Pittsburgh would miss those eight 'loser points.' Philadelphia would jump up two spots, while Toronto would fall a few places after shedding their 14 points earned from overtime or shootout losses. Once again, the Sabres would remain in thirteenth, with 54 points, as opposed to their current 66. Carolina, New Jersey and Detroit stay in the bottom three.

In the West, Calgary moves up, bumping Edmonton and Anaheim down one spot each. But all the other teams remain exactly where they are with the current system, so overall, not much changes here.

This system really comes down to the question of whether or not the NHL should get rid of the so-called 'loser point.' Should teams earn a point just because they got past sixty minutes? It's a good thing to consider. Switching to this system would hurt those teams who depend on the points they ‘earn’ in overtime and shootout losses, and push them to try harder for that win in regulation. Of course, sometimes all it takes is one miscue for a team to drop an overtime decision.

Whether the NHL goes with either of these systems, or sticks with its current system, there are some good questions at the heart of all this. Things to consider include a three-point game, the 'loser point,' and maybe even, on another level of discussion, if the league should even consider cutting the shootout completely.

What do you think about these two systems? Which, if either, would you like to see the NHL implement down the line?

The GMTM Deadline Defense

The GMTM Deadline Defense

Banner photo courtesy of BuffaloHockeyBeat.com

After Tim Murray's press conference and interacting on Twitter all day, I felt compelled to pen some thoughts I had about the press conference and how the day went. First, understand I'm not a writer.  It has been years since academia, where writing was the equivalent of cleaning a gymnasium floor with a toothbrush. 

But I am passionate about the Buffalo Sabres. 

After careful consideration toward the events today and listening closely to Tim Murray speak, my blood started boiling when I began to read the reactions and comments on Twitter about Murray and his "inability" to move players.

I'll just start with the opening of the press conference when Murray was asked about Brian Gionta...

Murray: "I took calls (on him). I took calls. I also spoke to Brian Gionta today. I asked (Gionta) a couple questions and...I got answers." 

I would venture to say Tim Murray said something like, "Gio, there are no cameras here... nobody's recording us. Don't bullshit me. Do you want a shot at some hardware again? If you do I will make it happen for you."

Gio was honest and that's why he's staying.

Next was Murray's statement on not moving unrestricted free agents and if It delays the rebuild. "It delays it (the rebuild) a little bit, because if you trade UFAs, you get picks. That didn't happen, so we move to the next situation." 

Pause for interjection here: Murray loves draft picks, and he knows the draft well. This is why I'm curious about what REALLY happened on his phone today.

Continuing, a reporter (possibly The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington?) asked how surprised he was that he couldn’t move his two defensemen, Cody Franson and Dmitri Kulikov. The reporter asked if it was because they had little value or if it was the price. Murray said, "A little bit. Detroit got a second and a third for Smith, for example..." then said "We have two guys on the back end I thought would create interest."

Thought they WOULD create interest? 

This is curious.

Then he underscores that recent and past player value had no bearing on his willingness to move players. He all but said "I would move them for a used puck bag."

The reporter then intimates he should have taken ANY offer (5th rounder). Murray again contends he's not a hard ass in negotiating and is not out to make other GMs look as though they've been duped. 

This is where Murray, in my opinion, intimates even more so (without bashing players esteem) that he may never really GOT an offer for Franson. He all but begs to the media, "These players are still (playing) here. I can't say, 'I couldn't get anything for them.' I don't want them to walk in here with their tails between their legs. We still have to play games."

After this, Murray segues into the interest teams had in Kulikov, and made it clear injuries were a deterrent. Part of trade negotiating includes mandatory disclosure of a players' injury record. There is a lot of political weirdness tied to the medical aspect of the National Hockey League (I could write a treatise on that alone).

Then he was asked about Evander Kane. Again, GMTM made it obvious he didn't like any offers for the winger and frankly, I'm glad he didn't bend on this. Kane is having one of the best seasons of his career. Other teams will try to use his off-ice issues as a way to lowball a trade. Darcy Regier may have fallen for it as a public relations move, but Tim wasn't having it.

The next question pertained to the expansion draft. Tim was forthright - like many GM's admitted today - in admitting the expansion draft was a poignant factor. An example he used was how bizarre it was that he had no phone calls on Ullmark. This is a salient point considering the current market. I truly believe he was subtly calling out the league's incompetence here. 

Next, the state of the team both on the ice and in the locker room surfaced. Tim initially seemed to take the heat off Dan Bylsma by blaming the players. As he talked more, he distributed the blame evenly amongst everyone. Personally, I think it was smart of him not to isolate the coach. This was not the proper venue for that, and there would been nuclear level fallout.

Lastly, Murray talked about the plan, fan expectations and the media and goes down a weird path talking about relationships and life lessons. Weird, I know.
 
What the general manager is trying to convey here (other than the patience and commitment required) is that there are things that happen behind the curtain he can't talk about. He can't show his cards about youth on other teams he's evaluating, or navigating around the salary cap, or veteran players he wants to go after, or his algorithms for scouting, or any of the other items that all teams keep quiet. Although Tim Murray recognizes variables will change that plan, I really find it refreshing that we have a GM that actually has a structured plan to get it all to work.

Look at how many names the Detroit Red Wings have on the Stanley Cup. Dynasty is an understatement. Also, look at how many painful years the Chicago Blackhawks were horrible. Eventually, the franchise won through the Cup with a good bit of luck in the draft and making some keen moves when players began viewing Chicago as a destination. 

It is very important as Sabres fans to understand that there's a difference between WINNING through the draft and BUILDING through the draft. 

Red Wings GM Ken Holland made an interesting statement today. He said, "It starts at the draft table. The teams of the '90s and 2000s were born at the draft table."

Tim's plan has been to patiently BUILD through the draft, and he has made that clear since Pegula hired him. What he may NOT have expected was the difficulty Sabres fans will have understanding that.
 

Sabres in the WJC

Sabres in the WJC

For the eleventh straight year, a Buffalo Sabres prospect has won a medal in the IIHF World Junior Championships. This year, it was Boston College's Casey Fitzgerald, who won a goal medal with Team USA.

Fitzgerald was a third-round pick of the Sabres in the 2016 NHL Draft. He finished this year's tournament with three assists and six shots in seven games, averaging 19:20 ice time per game.

 Sabres prospect Casey Fitzgerald

Sabres prospect Casey Fitzgerald

Fellow Sabres prospects Alexander Nylander and Rasmus Asplund, also both 2016 picks, finished fourth with Team Sweden. Sweden fell to Russia in the bronze medal game. Regrettably, Nylander was responsible for Russia's medal-clinching goal in overtime, as he gave up the puck and allowed Denis Guryanov to snag the game-winning goal.

Nylander, however, had an incredible World Juniors tournament. He finished as the leading scorer, with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) and was named one of three forwards on the media-selected All-Star Team.

Asplund registered seven points (1g, 6a) in as many games, finishing the tournament a plus-5. He averaged 16:14 ice time per game.

 Nylander ad Asplund could be a dynamic duo for the Sabres for years to come - photo cred to Getty Images, Nina Panagiotakis

Nylander ad Asplund could be a dynamic duo for the Sabres for years to come - photo cred to Getty Images, Nina Panagiotakis

Finally, Sabres defensive prospect Vojtech Budik was a late addition to the Czech Republic roster. He appeared in two games, registered no points and played a total of 11:32.

Fitzgerald's medal continues an eleven-year run in which at least one Sabres prospect has medaled at the World Juniors. In 2016, it was Will Borgen, earning a bronze medal with Team USA. Sam Reinhart snagged gold with Canada in 2015.

The 2014 tournament was a good one for Sabres prospects, in which Rasmus Ristolainen earned gold with Finland; Jonas Johansson got silver with Sweden, and both Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko snagged bronze with Russia.

In 2013, Jake McCabe captained the United States to a gold medal, while Andrey Makarov and Grigorenko won bronze with the Russian squad. That same pair also won silver in 2012, when Mark Pysyk won bronze with Canada.

Looking back to 2011, when the tournament was held in Buffalo, Marcus Foligno won a silver medal as Canada fell to Russia at the building now known as KeyBank Center. Luke Adam won silver in 2010, while Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis both won gold in 2009 - all with Canada. Jhonas Enroth won silver with Sweden in 2008, while Nathan Gerbe won bronze with USA in 2007.

That list doesn't include Johan Larsson, who won gold in 2012 when he was a prospect of the Minnesota Wild.

With the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships in the books, it is time to look ahead to the 2018 tournament, which will be held here in Buffalo. Ticket packages are already on sale, with schedules and more information coming soon.

 

A Visit From Murray

A Visit From Murray

‘Twas the night before Festivus – a game day, ‘twas said

Visions of victory danced in our heads.

The weather outside was balmy and gray

But a win for the Sabres would brighten our day!

As fans flocked to their seats for a tilt with the Canes

The joy of the holidays rushed through their veins

All catcalls of, “SHOOOOOOOOOT,” would be followed with, “Please,”

For fans knew that Santa was watching, you see.

The benches were filled with the boys blue and gold

The nachos were plentiful and the beer was quite cold.

But down on the ice something wasn’t quite right.

Eichel was benched for the PP that night?

Ol’ Coach Danny B said something was funny.

The sophomore star wasn’t earning his money.

Despite all the flashy .gifs, videos, and stats

The toe drags, blind passes, snipes, apples and that;

The coach wasn’t pleased with the young man’s production

It was working TOO WELL! HE HAD TO DO SOMETHING!

So he sat Jack on the bench and he tapped on the Moose  

“You’re up,” said Bylsma. He turned the Moose loose.

From up in the rafters, there arose such a clatter

The crowd peered above to see what was the matter!

A red-faced, bespectacled, furious sprite

Was rappelling from the rafters – it gave fans such a fright!

As he fell, he called out with a loud, rabid voice

Clearly unhappy with Danny B’s choice.

“Listen you line-juggling prim lunatic,

He’s the star of the team – you get him in quick!”

It was the Sabres’ GM, who was now on the ice

He dashed to the bench shouting things not-so-nice

The children were gleeful to catch the whole scene

Parents ignored questions of, “What does that mean?!”

As Tim Murray bounded down the redline so quick

He looked like a very angry Saint Nick!

His face was all red, his cheeks were puffed out.

He pointed his finger and continued to shout!

“If you like your job, you’ll listen to me!

Stop shaking the lines like the dice in Yahtzee!

Get Jack on the ice, keep McCabe with Risto!

The top line is O’Reilly, Moulson and Okposo!

Then Jack, Sam and Kane , then lines three and four

Now fix them back up or show yourself to the door!”

With a finger to his nose, he blew rocketed snot

Then jumped the boards – I kid you not!

He headed back to the lockers with high fives from fans.

Came back out for a moment, waved his hat at the stands,

He grinned his dark smile before disappearing from sight.

“MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL! AND TO ALL AN EICH SNIPE!


 
 Just another Christmas in Buffalo

Just another Christmas in Buffalo

 Hi, Dan. We need to have a chat.

Hi, Dan. We need to have a chat.

 Yes. Yes, you did fuck up.

Yes. Yes, you did fuck up.

 Fix it. Or else you'll be, "Unemployed Dan."

Fix it. Or else you'll be, "Unemployed Dan."

Lehner starts tonight, and THAT'S O.K.

Lehner starts tonight, and THAT'S O.K.

 Thanks, NHL.com

Thanks, NHL.com

The Buffalo Sabres (10-10-6) are home to the Washington Capitals (15-7-3) tonight at the KeyBank Center at 7:00pm.  The Capitals beat the Sabres 3-2 in overtime on Monday night and handed them a 3-1 loss last month.  Both of those losses came on the road.  Buffalo will be looking to turn the tide against Washington at home tonight with Robin Lehner between the pipes.

Lehner has had a solid season posting a .921 save percentage and a 2.41 GAA.  Backup goaltender Anders Nilsson has been equally good with his .932 save percentage and a 2.38 GAA.  The discrepancy between Buffalo's netminders can be found in their records.  Lehner is 5-8-4 on the year while Nilsson is 5-2-2. 

Lehner has been struggling to find wins of late, but hasn't given up more than three goals in a game in almost a month.  Nilsson has been winning recently, but has been giving up three goals per game.  What does all this mean about who should be the goalie tonight?

The idea of ‘riding the hot hand’ has come up a lot recently, and suggests that Nilsson should be starting more games than Lehner because he's been winning.  

The question remains: how is a ‘hot hand’ defined?  Nilsson has been earning wins in the past few weeks, but is giving up more than three goals per 60 minutes played.  He has not been posting shutout after shutout or stopping 95 percent of the shots he's facing; he's just played well. Is his hand really that hot?

Lehner, on the other hand, has been giving up closer to two goals per 60 minutes played in the past few weeks.  He's been a solid number one option between the pipes, but due to a lack of scoring support – a low number of goals for in the games he's played in – he's struggled to find himself in the win column.

 This is the face Robin makes when the Sabres score 1 goal for him and 4 for Anders.

This is the face Robin makes when the Sabres score 1 goal for him and 4 for Anders.

Is it possible that the Sabres simply score more goals when Nilsson is in net?  Is there a correlation between the number of goals a team scores and which goaltender is in the net?  That seems far-fetched.  It doesn't make sense that the skaters would say, "Because [this goaltender] is in net, we need to score more goals."

Robin Lehner is this team's starting goaltender until he plays poorly enough to lose the job.  Thus far, he's been plenty good enough to keep the starting job and deserves the majority of starts; including tonight against the Caps.

NHL 17 Sabres Jersey Design Contest - Win Free Sabres Tickets!

NHL 17 Sabres Jersey Design Contest - Win Free Sabres Tickets!

We will be holding a bracketed tournament to see who can design the best custom Sabres jersey using ONLY  EA Sports' NHL 17 jersey creator.  The winner will win a pair of tickets to a Sabres game to be named.  We are taking the first 16 entrees.  You will match-up as seeds based on the order in which we've received your input.  Voting will be decided via polls and voted on by readers.  Please send 2 pictures (one of the front and one of the back).  Entrees must be submitted by Monday 12/12/16. Please email to justen@716sportspodcast.com and include your gamertag and name.  Happy designing! 


You gotta have cope

You gotta have cope

If there is one word that can be used to describe the Sabres’ season so far it would be…interesting. Sure, the hockey can be boring as heck, and when the team is JUST starting to breech the 2.00 goals per game mark, it’s difficult to say that the offense has been remarkable in any way.

The season has been interesting, nonetheless. With 11 different defensemen that have dressed in blue and gold in only 25 games, it’s hard to keep track of the players on the ice.

I highly doubt that Terry Pegula was prepared to do some of the renovations he’s had to do at Key Bank Center when he plunked down his millions and bought the franchise, but here we are a few years later, and TPegs is tasked with installing a revolving door to the trainer’s room for all of the injured blueliners that have to limp through the tunnel and onto the exam table.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, it’s gotten so bad that the team has had to take advantage of a little-used loophole and call up Brendan Guhle from the WHL. The 19 year old defenseman is young enough to be Brian Gionta’s son. That’s where we’re at right now.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, the team had to reach back into the depths of the Rochester Amerks defensive core to call upon Eric Bergdoerfer. In his professional career, Bergdoerfer has floated between the AHL and the ECHL, so…yeah…desperation is an understatement.

Watching all of this helplessly and still gasping for air, probably, is the Finnish machine that is Rasmus Ristolainen. In the team’s last 13 games, Risto has played over 29 minutes in six. In four of those six games, he’s come within 10 seconds of playing 30 minutes – LITERALLY HALF OF THE GAME.

Few people on the ice have suffered from the atrophy of our defensemen as much as our goaltenders. At times, they have to feel like confused mothers, running through an ever-growing list of children to scold as they beg for coverage in the slot. “RASMUJAKJOSHDMITRY!!!!” Goal horn. Crestfallen netminder. Swedish swear words.

Tonight, Buffalo will take on Edmonton in the ultimate battle for…nothing. Hyped as McDavid vs Eichel, the pair will not likely be on the ice at the same time much. McDavid will be facing pair of defensemen that played half of the game last night, a pair of defensemen with three games of NHL experience, and the league’s best (?) backup goalie. To add insult to injury (see what I did there?) Eichel busted up his ankle again in an odd play against the boards. Though he played fine after the hit last night, he sophomore star will probably not be 100% for his primetime showdown.

Let’s take a moment to recognize the real heroes of the season so far – the medical and training staff. They’ve had a lot to deal with, and the bloodletting doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. If you see them out somewhere, buy them a coffee. They’re going to need it tonight when three more guys go down clutching ankles after McDavid crosses them up for yet another highlight reel goal.

 

Is this cynicism a coping mechanism? Absolutely. Expectation breeds disappointment, and no one knows that better than a Buffalo fan. Remember, though; the Sabres have taken at least one point in eight of the last 13 games. If they continue that pace, they’ll still be in the bottom third of the league. I’m not sobbing uncontrollably. You are.

Jacked Up: Eichel's impact on Buffalo's scoring

Jacked Up: Eichel's impact on Buffalo's scoring

After read this, tune into our latest episode of "The Blacksmiths." We talk Trick-Down Eichonomics. I


When Jack Eichel returned to the Buffalo Sabres’ lineup on Tuesday night, everyone knew it was a big deal. Not only was it Eichel’s season debut and the beginning of his sophomore season in the National Hockey League, but it signified a huge offensive boost to the team overall.

 In a span of just over nine minutes in the first period, Eichel contributed a goal and an assist to help the Sabres go up 2-0, en route to the eventual 5-4 win over the Ottawa Senators.
The best players are not only good in their own right, but also make players around them better. That’s exactly the impact we can hope Eichel will have on the Sabres as he and the team continue their season. His return may not only spark an offensive boost, but may also spark a boost in overall morale, too – two things we already saw in Tuesday’s game.

With that being said, here are five players that may see the biggest impact of Eichel’s return.

1.     Sam Reinhart

Everyone who’s watched a Sabres game in the last year knows that Eichel and Reinhart are a dynamic duo. They’re both young, both top prospects, and both incredibly talented. On their own, they’re good individual players, but they also make each other better.

Last season, Reinhart assisted on three of Eichel’s 24 goals. Conversely, Eichel assisted on five of Reinhart’s 23 goals. The pair also combined for assists on two more Sabres goals, one each from Evander Kane and Matt Moulson.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a player who worked better with Eichel last season.

This season so far, Reinhart has notched four goals and six assists for a total of 10 points in 21 games (as of November 29). Not too shabby, but a stat that will almost certainly see an improvement with Eichel back in the lineup.

Both Eichel and Reinhart were part of the on-ice product for Kyle Okposo’s power-play goal, which opened the scoring against Ottawa. Reinhart didn’t get credited with an assist, but was part of the play leading up to the goal; he was also on the ice for Eichel’s goal moments later; a goal that also on the man advantage. Reinhart’s tally later in the game came when Eichel was on the ice, though Jack didn’t get credited with an assist.

In total, Reinhart and Eichel played 15:04 together in Tuesday night’s win over Ottawa. That’s the majority of both of their respective ice times (17:18 and 17:08), and it paid off in a big way, as three Sabres goals came during that time.

2.     Matt Moulson

Matt Moulson hasn’t been the best offensively, but he is undoubtedly better with Eichel around.

Last season, Moulson put up just eight goals. A quarter of those came with assist from Eichel. Moulson assisted on two of Eichel’s 24 goals on the season, and the pair combined for assists on two additional Sabres goals, which came at the hands of Zemgus Girgensons and Sam Reinhart.

This season has already been an improvement offensively for Moulson. Just 21 games in, he’s already notched seven goals, which is one shy of his total for 81 games in the 2015-16 season.

Eichel slotting back into the Sabres’ lineup can only help Moulson maintain his offensive resurgence going forward in the season.

3.     Zemgus Girgensons

A lot of talk surrounding Zemgus Girgensons in recent months has been trade talk. It’s certainly not unwarranted, but it’ll be interesting to see how Eichel’s return could bring a spark to Girgensons’ play.

Girgensons notched seven goals in 71 games last season; three of those goals were assisted by Eichel. One of Girgensons’ 11 assists came on an Eichel goal, while three more came on goals also assisted by Eichel.

The pair work well together, and Girgensons needs to start producing offensively. He’s registered just four points (1goal, 3 assists) in the first 21 games of the season as of November 29. That’s also partially a product of diminished ice time, since he’s averaging just 12:36 this season, but it’s also a product of Eichel’s absence.

4.     Brian Gionta

Brian Gionta has registered just eight points (4g, 4a) in 21 games this season for the Buffalo Sabres. This number will need to improve as part of the team’s hopeful playoff run.

A piece that could help that? Eichel’s return.

Although the two don’t have as big of an impact on paper on each other as the aforementioned players, Eichel and Gio did work together at least a handful of times last year.

Gionta put up 33 points last year, totaling 12 goals and 21 assists. One of those goals was assisted by Eichel, with two of his assists coming on Eichel goals. They also both combined for assists on one additional goal, scored by Rasmus Ristolainen.

With Gionta as the team’s captain, and given that Eichel is undoubtedly one of the leaders among the Sabres’ youth, the pair will need to work together as the season goes on. The offensive spark that could result is only a part of it.

5.     Evander Kane

Evander Kane was arguably one of the Sabres’ top forwards last season; he totaled 35 points (20g,15a) in just 65 games last year, and at least a small part of that was helped by Eichel.

As I’ve said before, Eichel put up 24 goals last season; four of those were assisted on by Kane. Of Eichel’s 32 assists, three came on Kane goals. The pair combined for assists just once, on a Cody Franson goal.

Kane has obviously faced some injury troubles this season, and had registered two assists in just 10 games prior to Tuesday’s game. In Eichel’s return, Kane notched an assist on Reinhart’s goal, with Jack also on the ice. The two played together for over 12 minutes in the win, often on a line with Reinhart. It worked well.

With both Kane and Eichel now back from their respective injuries, it’s time for both of them to hit the ice and combine for some offensive power in the Blue and Gold.

Eichel’s presence has already made an evident impact on the team, in just one game. He played at least partly with each of these players in his season debut, most notably Reinhart (15:04) and Kane (12:04). 

 What do you think Jack Eichel’s point totals for the season will be, assuming he plays every game from here on out? What about these others played mentioned here? Just how much WILL they be impacted by Eich’s return?

Check out this link showing last year's advanced stats showing teammates with and without Eichel.

http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/showplayer.php?pid=1292&withagainst=true&season=2015-16&sit=5v5

Sabres' recent past is study in sub-mediocrity

Sabres' recent past is study in sub-mediocrity

There's no easy way to say it. The Buffalo Sabres are having a rough start to the 2016-2017season.

The scoring drought is real, and it's certainly troubling. Is it really any worse than it has been the last few years? That’s the question.

For a fair comparison, I've compared the first 21 games of each season dating back to 2013-14. Overall, statistics indicate that the Sabres are having trouble hitting the back of the net, but it isn't exactly anything new.

This season, the Sabres have 39 goals-for and 53 goals-against. Their goals-for is the lowest in the NHL, while their goals-against is eighth-most in the league.

At this point last season, both numbers were higher. The Sabres had put up 44 goals-for – roughly 0.238 more goals-per-game than this year. They'd also allowed four more goals (57).

Looking back, things were even rougher in the 2014-15 season. The Sabres had racked up one fewer goal (38) but allowed 18 more goals against (71).

One more season back; in the 2013-14 year, the Sabres had scored just as many goals as this season (39), but had allowed 11 more (64).

At the quarter-season mark, the Buffalo Sabres have been shutout twice. That's once more than last season at the same marker, but it's an improvement over both the 2014-15 and 2013-14 seasons, when the team had been shutout five and four times, respectively.

The Sabres have registered just one goal in nine games this season, which is the highest in the past four seasons. They've scored four or more goals in two games this season; compared to three last year, and four the year prior. The lowest mark was two games in 2013-14.

 

All in all, that is a lot of numbers, but what does it mean? The team isn't being shutout as much as in years past, which is an obvious improvement. They're having trouble putting more than one goal in some nights, but still scoring more than one goal a game at a pace that generally matches the past three seasons.

Take this season and the 2014-15 season into consideration. Here's how the numbers stack up through 21 games:

 

Looking at the numbers, some areas have improved greatly between those two seasons. The team's offense has been shutout just twice this season compared to a whopping five times in the 2014-15 year. While it’s true that the Sabres have managed only one goal nine times, it's certainly an improvement over no goals. Otherwise, the numbers are consistent.

Sabres fans have been through this before. While the loss of Jack Eichel before the season began has undoubtedly been a hit to the team's offense, a seemingly endless list of players have gone out with an injury, forcing a call-up from the AHL…or two…or three.

In the end, it's nothing we haven't seen before, and we can only hope that the offense will improve as the season goes on.

 

What Might Have Been: A Buffalo Story

What Might Have Been: A Buffalo Story

Picture it: a bustling floor at the then-named First Niagara Center as the NHL’s general managers gather to take part in the 2016 entry draft. Hands are being shaken. Laughs are being shared. Secret meetings are taking place in a bastardized version of Morse code, probably.

There is no question that the hosting Buffalo Sabres have the steeliest of GMs in Tim Murray. His cold, dead stare could rival Medusa for its ability to turn the most courageous of press members to stone. He’s got an agenda, and it’s best for everyone that his goals are met. No one wants to upset the Murray. NO ONE.

In walks Minnesota’s Chuck Fletcher. He’s fresh off the coaching hire of the offseason, nabbing a recently axed Bruce Boudreau, and like a certain fiery fiddle playing demon, he’s looking to make a deal. Running his finger down Buffalo’s depth chart, he finds the name of a dynamic and skilled individual…who has a bit of a checkered past.

Shrugging his shoulders, he picks up the phone and dials Murray. “Tim,” he says; “I need a winger.”

Murray, ever the droll conversationalist, replies, “Wings are great across the street. Stop by 716. Drop my name. They’ll give you two for one.” GMTM reaches for the END button, when he hears a name that freezes his extended finger.

“Kane.”

A light flashes in Tim’s eyes. This is it. Make no mistake where you are. This is his opportunity to unload a player that’s besmirched the Blue and Gold. His shining moment to rid the team of the missed practices and the off-ice debauchery. To once again restore order to the locker room.

Murray brings the phone back to his ear. “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?”

“I want Kane,” Fletcher says. Murray is now scanning the Minny roster and sees Jonas Brodin. Tall. Fit. Responsible. LEFT HANDED.

“I’m listening,” Murray says.

And they talk. And they come to a gentleman’s agreement. And they both head out of their offices with a set of smiles, knowing they’d just helped their teams.

Murray is on his way to his office to fax the paperwork to the league, when he sees a familiar face on a TV screen. It’s Evander Kane. Soon-to-be-former Buffalo Sabre. But the news isn’t good. Kane is once again in trouble with the law for harassing citizens of the Queen City.  Beads of sweat begin to form on Murray’s furrowed brow as he fumbles in his pocket for his phone. He rings up Fletcher, who doesn’t answer. He sends a quick text, but gets an odd reply: “New phone. Who dis?”

Murray, defeated, drops to his knees. The swell of anger and frustration overtakes Murray. “KAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNE!” He screams, and each reverbation off the corridor wall is another splash of the acid welling up in his stomach. There would be no Kane trade. The deal was dead just as it had started.


 

This, of course, is a fictional dramatization of reported events. On the November 1 edition of the Marek vs Wyshinski Podcast, insider Jeff Marek drops a bomb on listeners, stating (paraphrased) that Murray almost had a deal done to send Kane packing, but that his most recent run-in with the law had killed the deal dead.

Further salt in the very fresh wound was Michael Russo, who confirmed that it was Minnesota that was interested in Kane, and had walked away from talks because of Kane’s off-ice issues.

Now Buffalo is left pondering what could have been. What if Risto had gotten his left-handed defenseman? Would the analytics crowd finally see what Buffalo fans do? Would the ability to properly move the puck out of the zone increase his possession stats?

One has to wonder what threats Murray has levied at Kane behind closed doors. Time and time again, GMTM has had to answer questions about the troubled talent, and ultimately, the trouble hasn’t been worth it. Haunted by injuries and seemingly unable to conduct himself like a decent human being, Kane has brought little to the table.

Murray has a lot of egg on his face at this point. He took a flyer on a kid who had a spotty history because people deserve second chances. Unfortunately, Kane’s performances off the ice have garnered far more attention than anything he’s accomplished in agame.

As a fanbase, Buffalo wanted to believe so badly, too. They wanted to be the city that tamed Kane, brought him in under their wing, and gave him a heart of gold and a Stanley Cup.

The opportunity has passed – both for redemption and for a trade. Kane will likely remain on the Buffalo roster until the expansion draft, where he’ll have a chance to take his one-man show to Vegas.

In a time when trades are so few and far between, this would have been a blockbuster, but in hockey – as in comedy – timing is everything. Tragically, the Sabres appear to be the punchline.


Check out the 716 Sports Podcast's newest shows, "The Blacksmiths."  Our new Sabres ONLY show. You'll like what you hear.  We promise :)

 716 Sports Podcast is powered EXCLUSIVELY by Lockhouse Distillery and Bar located in downtown Buffalo's Cobblestone District.

716 Sports Podcast is powered EXCLUSIVELY by Lockhouse Distillery and Bar located in downtown Buffalo's Cobblestone District.

PROSPECTWATCH!

PROSPECTWATCH!

With the Buffalo Sabres limping into year two of their rebuild, several talented players are developing in the AHL, NCAA, or Junior hockey programs. Given Buffalo’s injury situation, a few of these young stars may even crack the NHL lineup in the 2016-17 campaign. Here are some names you’ve probably heard, and are looking forward to seeing on the ice in Buffalo.

1. Alexander Nylander

The 18-year-old, drafted 8th overall in 2016, is starting his rookie season in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans. He spent most of last season playing in the OHL with the Mississauga Steelheads, putting up 75 points (28G, 47A) in 57 regular-season games and earning All-Rookie Team honors. Nylander recently made his pro debut with the Amerks and is off to a hot start, earning three points in just three games, which included his first AHL goal. It's hard not to be excited about Nylander, and the fact that he's eligible to spend this year in the AHL will only further his development. Just imagine him in the blue and gold in a year or two. Yes, please!

2. Justin Bailey

If you're a Sabres fan, you know who Justin Bailey is. The 21-year-old Buffalo native was drafted by his hometown team in 2013 and made his NHL debut last season, appearing in eight games. He's an early favorite to get called up once again if the Sabres need a forward (though the recent call-up of Nick Baptiste is equally interesting.) Last year, Bailey had 45 points (20 goals, 25assists) in 70 games with the Amerks, and he heads into his sophomore AHL season on solid footing. It's only a matter of time before we see him in a Sabres sweater again.

 Nylander(left), Guhle(right) - photo from NHL.com

Nylander(left), Guhle(right) - photo from NHL.com

3. Cole Schneider

At 26, Schneider is the oldest on the list, and perhaps a wildcard of sorts, considering he wasn't drafted by Buffalo. Despite that, he's one to keep an eye on. Schneider is fairly new to the Sabres organization, having spent most of last season with Binghamton in the AHL, but he was brought into Rochester to shake things up. He kicked things off with a four-point night in the team's 2016-17 home opener. As a sign of the team's confidence in him, Schneider was named an alternate captain for the third game of the Amerks’ season. The season is barely underway, but it will be interesting to keep an eye on him and his impressive offensive production as the campaign progresses.

4. Brendan Guhle

For a while there, it seemed as though the Sabres were going to give Guhle his seven-game tryout, at the very least. Alas, the last-minute re-signing of Rasmus Ristolainen allowed Buffalo to send the 19-year-old back to Prince Albert in the WHL. The left-handed defenseman was drafted by the Sabres 51st overall in 2015, and spent all but six games in the last season with the Raiders. He did make his AHL debut before the end of the 2015-16 season, racking up four points (1G, 3A) in six games, and came into this season with an even bigger frame than last. He impressed many at training camp and is THE player to watch in the WHL for Sabres fans.

5. Cal Petersen

If you're looking for one Sabres goaltending prospect to check out this season, try 22-year-old Cal Petersen. Drafted by Buffalo 129th overall in 2013, Petersen is now in his third season with Hockey East's University of Notre Dame. Last year, he went 19-11-7 with a 2.20 goals against average, while starting all 37 games for the Fighting Irish. He led the nation in percentage of team minutes played (98.6%) and was nominated for the Mike Richter Award as the nation's top collegiate goaltender, for the second straight season.  Though the 2016-17 season is young, he's off to a hot start, going 3-1-0 with a 2.21 GAA and .917 save percentage. You can catch Petersen and the Irish on NBCSN against Penn State on October 22 at 7:05 p.m., with several other games also being televised on NBCSN throughout the season.

Sabres fans have a lot to look forward to when these prospects reach their full potential. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we can track their growth as they develop with their current organizations. 716 Sports Podcast will certainly be checking in with these players and more throughout the season. 


Check out our new Sabres ONLY show, The Blacksmiths! 

Oh the humanity

Oh the humanity

I fully understand that I am dating myself here. Surprise, Buffalo! I am old. But I digress; I vividly remember the Christmas that I got my first home video game system, the NES. It was glorious, with its directional pad and its two action buttons and 6ft controller reach, placing you just far enough from the television that you could play for hours without lambasting the image of an 8-bit Bo Jackson onto the forefront of your occipital lobe .

When I opened the box, the shrieks of joy likely prompted neighbors to wonder if they should call for help. It was the celly of all cellys – I rode the pony around the Christmas tree. I’m sure I spiked something. Was there an Icky Shuffle in there? Could have been.

Can you IMAGINE if I’d unwrapped that gift, unleashed my unbridled pleasure for the world to see and hear, only to open the box and find a brillo pad and some Mr. Clean?

Because that’s how this feels. Learning that Jack Eichel will miss the first month of the season was like expecting a kiss and getting hit in the head with a baseball bat. It’s like thinking you’ve won the lottery, but you’re looking at yesterday’s numbers. It’s like…terrible. That feeling deep down in your gut when you finally released the Jaded Buffalo Sports Fan that resides within us all and allowed hope to enter your cold black heart, only to have the hope painfully ripped from your soul like skin on a gym floor. The most pervasive and encompassing pain. Ever.

There are those who will try to sell you optimism. “It’s not that bad,” they’ll say. “We can still be OK.”

OK?  OKAY? WE WILL NOT BE OK!! We will be sub-mediocre. Again. It’s not like our third line has Bonino, just waiting to jump up and produce. We have Zemgus Girgensons. Take note – there are no bigger Girgensons fans than I. I’ll rock my ill-fitting Z sweater anywhere, unabashedly. I joined the Latvians in their quest to propel Girgs into the All-Star Game. But Girgnensons is no Eichel. In his best season, the Latvian Locomotive had 30 points. Eichel had nearly that many goals in his first season.

 Yeah. We feel you, Z.

Yeah. We feel you, Z.

 

On a team already suffering from opening day injuries, Eichel’s is the spoiled-milk frosting on a garbage pile cake. All of the hope for the playoffs, dashed on the stretched ligament of a 19-year-old kid.

Is there a possible bright side? Sure. For opening day, at least. The Montreal Canadiens have mismanaged all of the talent out of their locker room, so at least the Sabres’ roster doesn’t look so barren in comparison. Carey Price has not traveled with the team – he’s suffering from the flu. I bet he’s feeling a lot better now that Eichel is out, but, alas…he’s stuck hiding out in the bell tower of Notre Dame (or some other Montreal landmark.)

And we have Sam Reinhart, the Samwise Gamgee of the Buffalo Sabres. By season’s end, Reinhart had proven to be the future 1A to Eichel’s 1, the peach preserves to his peanut butter, the pepperoni on…well…you get the idea.

Buffalo fans are the discarded prom date, who had chased the class-president, cult of personality, brilliant foil to their worn-cardigan dressed persona. Reinhart is the one who comes and puts an arm around us, assuring us we have redeeming qualities, we just have to look deeper.

 Hugs welcomed.

Hugs welcomed.

 

Only if you look deeper at this team, you might start crying again. All of our third and fourth line players are veritable third and fourth line players. On any other team, they’d still be third or fourth line players, if not stars on the AHL affiliates. We don’t have depth that makes other teams jealous, and that’s what we need right now.

So on my way in to work this morning, I stopped by a wishing well. I tossed a penny back over my shoulder and said, “Help us, Derek Grant. You’re our only hope.” And I cried. Violently sobbing, hunched over like I’d been kicked in the gut.

I’m better now. I’m OK. I’ll be OK. I’m just…oh God…I can’t….does anyone have a tissue?

Did Murray make the grade?

Did Murray make the grade?

As I sat down at my laptop, ready to work on some season-preview pieces for 716 Sports Podcast ahead of the Buffalo Sabres’ season opener, I thought to myself, “How about a quick recap of this offseason and a review of general manager Tim Murray’s moves – a ‘grading’ of sorts…”

Okay, so first – a recap.

Let’s go back to June 20, which was the fateful day the Sabres traded a third-round draft pick to the Nashville Predators in exchange for the rights to speak with Jimmy Vesey. In the end, the Sabres weren’t able to close the deal with Vesey, and he signed with the New York Rangers once his free agency period opened.

On June 25, in the midst of the NHL draft, GMTM made a huge splash and sent defenseman Mark Pysyk to the Florida Panthers , along with a pair of 2016 picks (Adam Mascherin, Linus Nassen). In exchange, the Sabres picked up defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and a 2016 second rounder, which turned into Rasmus Asplund.

Later, on July 2, the Sabres picked up their potential backup goaltender, Anders Nilsson, from the St. Louis Blues. Murray sent a 2017 fourth-round pick off to The Gateway City in his stead.

Over the course of the summer, Buffalo’s general manager also brought in several players for the Sabres and Rochester Americans organizations via free agent signings.

Among the players acquired were Kyle Okposo for the big club, as well as Eric Burgdoerfer, Justin Falk, and Taylor Fedun; all for the AHL.  Derek Grant – originally thought to be an AHLer – made a strong push and jumped into the final Sabres’ roster spot.

He also re-signed restricted free agents Marcus Foligno, Daniel Catenacci, Jason Kasdorf, Zemgus Girgensons, and Rasmus Ristolainen.

“Now that we’ve got all the moves down on paper, let’s try grading them,” I said.

In all honesty, it’s hard to grade the Sabres offseason moves, since this upcoming season hasn’t started yet. We don’t know how Kulikov or Nilsson will perform with their new team, and the same can be said of Okposo. As for the Vesey situation?  Obviously Murray knew the risks ahead of the trade. While it didn’t result in Vesey signing with Buffalo, it was a calculated risk – one that was too costly, some may say, but the Sabres only gave up a draft pick, which was a small price to pay.

So how do we grade these moves when it’s impossible to know how they’ll pan out as the year goes by?

Well, in reality, we can’t – at least not yet. We can’t jump in and say that Tim Murray’s signing of Kyle Okposo was genius. We have no idea how he’ll do in his first season in Buffalo, or in the years to come. We can’t say that trading Mark Pysyk to Florida was a bad move, considering we have no idea how Pysyk will fare in Florida, nor can we predict how Kulikov will do here.

 Best wishes, Marky-Mark.

Best wishes, Marky-Mark.

The loss of Pysyk on the blueline is undoubtedly something to deal with, but the addition of Kulikov in his stead makes it a little easier to bear. Letting Chad Johnson walk may or may not have been the best move, but signing Nilsson to be the second goaltender could end up being a great deal.

Burgdoefer, Falk, and Fedun should be great additions to the Rochester Americans as the team starts to shape its new identity. The same can be said of Kasdorf, considering the losses of Nathan Lieuwen, who has signed with Colorado, and Andrey Makarov, who is playing in China with the newest KHL team.

In the end, the offseason is in the books. We can try to judge the moves GMTM and crew made this summer, but why not withhold our judgments for the time being and let them play out for a bit first?

Case in point: look back on some of the insta-reactions when the Sabres picked up Robin Lehner in the summer of 2015. Murray said Lehner is a number one goalie, and media even said PRIOR to the trade that he could be the next Sabres’ starting netminder. ESPN, however, said that the GM had paid a hefty price for the netminder.

 You said I'M not a #1 goaler??

You said I'M not a #1 goaler??

Despite the hype, and all the judgments, and one game into the season, he was down and out for much of the year. Let’s hold off on grading any of GMTM’s offseason moves for now. Get back to me in a few months or when this season is over and we’ll just see how things pan out.

Players to watch: Sabres upgrade keychain

Players to watch: Sabres upgrade keychain

A crop of players will hit the ice at KeyBank Center next Thursday, donning the Buffalo Sabres’ blue and gold as the team faces off against the Montreal Canadiens. While each player is a part of the team effort, there are undoubtedly a few “key” players we’ll be keeping a closer eye on as the season kicks off.

·         Robin Lehner: Last season was erratic for Lehner. In his first year with the team, he got hurt early in the season-opening game, when expectations were high. He missed most of the year, and when he came back, he re-injured his ankle. There’s no doubt he worked hard over the offseason to recover from his injuries and return to the ice stronger than ever - word has it he even took MMA classes! Heading into this season, Lehner is largely expected to be the starting goaltender for the Sabres, and he needs to be able to fit into that role. In order for the Sabres to have a solid season – even if they aren’t necessarily playoff-bound – Lehner needs to put up a strong showing between the pipes. He hasn’t fully proven himself yet and will need perform well; not only in the early games, but also over the course of the season.

·         Jack Eichel – Whenever someone’s designated as the ‘face of a franchise,’ it naturally puts a lot of pressure on that player to be good at their job. If that’s a forward like Eichel, it means putting up goals, of course, but it also means making strong plays to assist others, working to make other players better, and be a part of the overall team effort. Eichel came into his rookie year with a lot of weight on his shoulders, and his sophomore season is no different. With one year of NHL experience under his belt, Sabres fans should be excited to see what comes next from the young prodigy.

·         Nicolas Deslauriers – Deslauriers is one of those players you just love to have on your team. Hard-working, gritty, skilled; he’s willing to do it all, and his versatility makes him a key piece among the forwards on the Sabres this season. He’s not likely to be that guy scoring the big goal night in and night out for the team, but he’ll be the guy making the solid play in the background to get the puck to the net. He’s not afraid to defend his teammates and play the body, which is undoubtedly an important part of his game. It’ll be exciting to watch him this season and see where he can step up even further.

 Did somebody fill the bottles w/ tap water again?         -Photo courtesy of Sabres.com

Did somebody fill the bottles w/ tap water again?         -Photo courtesy of Sabres.com

·         Zemgus Girgensons – Freshly re-signed, Girgensons needs to have a good year for the Sabres. Last season, he put up a measly 18 points in 71 regular-season games - career lows in goals, assists and points. The forward simply didn’t make enough of an impression, but obviously it WAS enough to get him a new contract. This year is a bit of a test for both sides, as his deal is just a one-year contract. If he doesn’t do enough this season to impress the Sabres brass, they may choose to let him walk next summer. It will be up to him to put in the effort and produce.

·         Kyle Okposo – I didn’t want to put all of the newcomers on this list, but I think there is an onus on all of them – including Okposo – to perform well in their first season with the Sabres. Okposo is a player some Sabres fans may know well, since he has played in the Eastern Conference for his entire career. Over the last two seasons, he's put up four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in just five games against the Sabres, so it’ll be nice to have him scoring for us, rather than against us. How will Okposo fit in with his new team? After putting up an efficient 64 points in 79 games last year with the Isles – more than any Sabres player – what will he do this season?

 Kyle enjoys puppies and scoring goals.

Kyle enjoys puppies and scoring goals.

·         Zach Bogosian – Bogosian will once again be a key piece of the Buffalo Sabres defense – and even more so if the team can’t sign Rasmus Ristolainen in time for the home opener.  Along with guys like Josh Gorges, Jake McCabe, and newcomer Dimitri Kulikov, Bogosian will be a big part of the blueline for the Sabres. Last season, Bogosian appeared in 64 games with the Sabres. He put up 86 hits, 98 blocked shots and had 21 giveaways. He also ate up a decent amount of icetime, averaging 19:28 per game - two seconds shy of Ristolainen. Bogo was also second among Buffalo defenders with 121 shots on goal, the majority of which (63) were slap shots. He’s got the power, now he just needs to use it.

Of course, outside of these six, it’ll be interesting to see what Sam Reinhart does this season,  in his second full year in the big league. If Derek Grant makes the team, he could be a gem to keep an eye on, too. Another player to watch is Hudson Fasching, if he makes the final cut. We’ve only seen a limited amount of Fasching and he certainly seems to have some potential.

Stay tuned for more coverage as the Buffalo Sabres prepare to kick off the 2016-2017 season on Thursday, October 13 against the Montreal Canadiens.

Please Don't Be True-Ba

Please Don't Be True-Ba

 Rasmus, I'm already afraid of you.  -Photo from Buffalo News

Rasmus, I'm already afraid of you.  -Photo from Buffalo News

Bored hockey media everywhere are…well…uh…er…ummm…like…bored. Presenting a “possible” Rasmus Ristolainen for Jacob Trouba trade is like predicting a snowy winter in Buffalo – it’s an easy take. A simple way to rile up some small-market, hardcore fans before they write their next unclickable snorefest on hockeywebsiteblogosphere.net.ca.org. It's probably not going to happen. But for fun, I present you this unclickable snorefest of a comparison of the 2 players because #clicks.

Are you still here? This is really going to get boring.

The first noticeable difference between these 2 stud d-men is that Ristolainen is a 21 year old Finnish defenseman while Trouba is a 22 year old defenseman from Rochester, Minnesota (side-bar: I wonder if they have garbage plates there, too?) Seems pretty basic, right? But FINLAND! Finland’s education system is statistically much better than America’s, so Rasmus should be the smarter of the two. The graph below shows that Finland grades out higher in reading AND math. So IN THEORY Ristolainen will then be great at READING the play and then CALCULATING his next move. While American learned Jake Trouba may stutter through his reads, forget a decimal point and put the puck in his own net.  

When it comes to defense, something the Sabres could probably use more of is grit and toughness. Trading Risto for Trouba does not REALLY impact this much; Trouba is 6-2 205lbs and posses the ability to deliver bone-crushing hits. I still score this one in favor of Risto though. In Finland, it is their civic duty to serve at least one year in the Military. What does this mean? Risto is a hard-nosed, jagged-edged, immensely precise, well-trained, war-ready Finnish machine. I don’t know about you, but I prefer my defensmen hard-nosed, jagged-edged, immensely precise, well-trained and war-ready.

Next, a pie chart. The Sabres play 16 games on Thursday night. Why is this important? American defenseman may be too focused on Thursday Night Football and their team’s cool color rush jerseys to play a solid defensive game. Statistics show, Trouba performs well on Wednesday nights when there is nothing good on TV. This pie chart shows that Rasmus prefers apple pie and defensemen that prefer apple pie tend to perform better on wintery Wednesday AND Thursday nights. That’s a total of a possible 38 points (16 Thursday games and 3 Wednesday). Apple pie. Clutch.

 A pie chart depicting Rasmus's favorite pies

A pie chart depicting Rasmus's favorite pies

Risto’s European descent also means that he is a man that appreciates a quality piece of technology. So, obviously he is a Samsung Galaxy user. HUGE plus. Players with iPhones (Jacob Trouba) have a tendency to use SnapChat entirely too much, which includes over-using annoying photo filters and are generally less good at hockey than Galaxy users. If you don’t believe me on their phone preference; fact check me. I dare you.

When it comes down to it, I honestly feel like a Risto for Trouba trade would be silly. The proof is in the pudding ^^^^^^^ (or the apple pie). Both are great defenseman but Risto is what the Sabres need. This trade is merely speculation by the media. It’s like predicting Steven Stamkos to Buffalo because it’s close to home. It’s too good a puzzle piece to not try and squeeze into a wrong spot. I predict Risto will sign a lengthy 6 year deal worth about 34 million dollars this week

Who Doesn't Love A Wish-List?

Who Doesn't Love A Wish-List?

As the Buffalo Sabres prepare to enter the 2016-2017season, there are certainly some components – both on and off-ice – that could use some changes or improvements. I decided to sit down and think about what I’d like to see from the team this season and moving forward. Here is my short ‘wish list’ for off-ice upgrades the Sabres should consider.

5. More giveaways

This is one category that I’ve thought the Sabres needed to ramp up for several years. The Sabres seem pretty low on giveaways during the season, especially when you consider some other NHL teams. Fan Appreciation Night has included giveaways to selected fans in the form of the “Jersey off the Backs,” and “Rowards,” but I’m talking about regular giveaways throughout the season.

The Pittsburgh Penguins deserve credit; they are a great example. They have a solid promotional schedule already released for the upcoming season, with giveaways ranging from team calendars to yearbooks, and include caps, trading cards, banners, magnets and t-shirts. Each giveaway has a presenting partner, something the Sabres could certainly swing, and all in all, 12 of 41 Penguins home games this year have a giveaway at the door.

Why can’t the Sabres do something similar? I’m not talking about handing out those paper/plastic pom-poms from a few years ago during the playoffs (anyone else remember those?) and I’m not talking about handing out free jerseys to everyone either – just a happy middle ground.

The announcement of a DJ Kool performance in the Party in the Plaza prior to the home opener is awesome. While I don’t think the team needs to throw in a ton of gimmicks to attract fans, because people are going to come one way or the other, but it is nice to see some new things happening. It’s like “Fan Appreciation Night”…but, more than once a season.

4. Continue with Beyond Blue & Gold… and more.

As soon as the Sabres premiered their series of “Beyond Blue & Gold,” a lot of fans were hooked.  The video series is a great behind-the-scenes look at the team and its inner workings. It lets people get an inside glance at the draft room and learn more about players’ lives, for example.

All I’m asking is that they don’t stop. Keep this series going! It’s fantastic.

Just a few ideas of things I’d like to see:

- An episode surrounding Rick Jeanneret
- Feature on Sam Reinhart
- Prospects-themed episode (AHL/etc.)
- Episode surrounding Robin Lehner

3. Find more & better ways to acknowledge fans that don’t live in Buffalo.

This has been something I’ve been thinking about for a while. The previous Buffalo Sabres Fan Advantage mobile app offered lots of neat rewards, but if you weren’t a season ticket holder, it seemed pretty difficult to ever actually earn anything substantial. Even watching on TV and entering the broadcast codes wasn’t quite enough.

The new My OneBuffalo app sounds a little better in theory, but it hasn’t fully launched yet (at least not the Sabres part) and only time will tell if it’s actually any improvement.

Yes, the Sabres occasionally have fan events in other cities before games. But I still don’t think that’s enough; especially when you’ve got the team’s official Twitter account answering a question of “How can we watch this scrimmage?” with “Get tickets!” without even bothering to consider that the person may not live in the area.

Sabres fans are…. well, pretty much everywhere, it seems. Let’s all put our brains together & figure out some better ways to connect with the ones who *aren’t* in the 716.

2. Hockey 101 for new fans

Another thing I’d like to see the Sabres do would be to introduce some sort of “Hockey 101” series. Right now, the Sabres do have a section of their website with this theme, including definitions of some basic hockey terms and the like.

But why not expand this into some in-person events? Invite fans who are interested to come down to KeyBank Center, offer them a tour of the facility, and then have some informal, friendly meetings? They could range from lessons on the basics of hockey (basic terminology & plays, etc.) to more in-depth lessons. Players, coaches, and staff could come out and talk to the people. If you really want to stick with the “brand,” have the event at (716) Food & Sport.

Here’s the way I see it: you need to find a nice balance between trying to attract & show appreciation for new fans and respecting those fans who have been around a while. A Hockey 101 series of events could be a great way to reach that demographic of people who might want to get into the sport but have a hard time finding a way in. Provide a light, non-judgmental environment for newcomers to learn. Please, take a lesson from the mistakes of teams like the NY Islanders. For the love of all that is good, market the series properly. DON’T market it as an event ‘just for women’ or ‘for the boys.’

1. Acknowledge the Black & Red era.

For a while now, I’ve seen many fans online hoping the Sabres will do something to commemorate or recognize the black & red goathead era of the team, such as host a game night where fans are encouraged to wear their old merchandise and honor players from that time.

Just as the ‘Hockey 101’ series I mentioned earlier would target some of the newer fans, a Black & Red night would be a nice way to acknowledge some of the fans whose love for the team developed during this time in the Sabres’ history. Overall, I think this is a great idea to honor the team’s past and I would absolutely love to see the team do this sort of theme night at a game. It would be even better if the Sabres were able to bring players from that era, and play some of the old classic Jumbotron videos they used to have, because, let’s be real – who doesn’t love that old ’05-’06 intro video?

 

My personal favorite, however, remains the 2000 - 2003 “Through the City” introduction where players ‘skated’ around Buffalo. To this day…. still awesome.

 

Buffalo’s fandom is one of the deepest and most historic in professional sports, and the fans have stayed loyal throughout some of the longest droughts in the nation’s top four sports. Acknowledging the fans and the team’s history, working to offer them a more in depth look, and engaging new fans on their level are all great ways for the team to show their appreciation for our commitment. 

How Swede...It Might Be.

How Swede...It Might Be.

If there is one piece of the Buffalo Sabres puzzle that's questionable heading into the upcoming 2016-17 season, it is the goaltenders.

This season, the Sabres are seemingly ‘set’ with a pair of Swedes in net: Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson. This is arguably a big question mark for the Sabres, as Nilsson is new to the organization and Lehner barely played last year due to injuries, so really, what can we expect?

Let's take it one piece at a time, starting with Lehner.

The 25-year-old has played a handful of games in each of the last six NHL seasons -- but he's never been in a position to handle the majority of a team's workload. The most action he's seen in a single season came with the Senators in 2013-14, when he appeared in 36 games and racked up a 3.06 GAA and .913 save percentage.

Fast-forward to last season, when Lehner was locked in as the Sabres' starting netminder, with expectations high. That was all shattered in the season opener when Lehner suffered an ankle injury, sidelining him until mid-January.

He came back for about two months and appeared in 20 games before being shut down once again -- this time for the remainder of the season.

If all of this says one thing, it's that Lehner is largely unproven -- at least in the capacity of a starting goaltender, and that may be exactly the position he's heading into this season. The big question is whether or not he can stay healthy, and it IS a big question.

Lehner was recently named to Team Sweden for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, but was replaced by former Sabres netminder Jhonas Enroth on August 26. It's believed that Lehner pulled out of the World Cup in order to have more time to fully recover from his surgery earlier this year, and to be ready for the regular season. That would certainly be a smart move; there is no reason to rush back for a seemingly-pointless tournament when the season is right around the corner. Still, it remains unclear whether he will actually be ready to hit the ice when October comes.

Behind Lehner, Nilsson is also quite untested, with just 52 NHL games under his belt since 2011.

Like Lehner, he's never been in a position to be an NHL starting goalie (and likely isn't in that position here), but has been growing through the AHL over the past few seasons.

Last season, Nilsson bounced around a little bit, appearing in 26 games for the Edmonton Oilers and two games for the Bakersfield Condors. He also played three games for the St. Louis Blues.

Now, with his journey to Buffalo, he'll suit up with his seventh team in four seasons.

Personally, I'm uneasy at best about the Sabres goaltending situation this season. Lehner hasn't proven himself as a solid starter just yet, and his injury problems last season are troubling. If he goes out early like last year, can Nilsson step up? Even if Lehner stays healthy, he won't play every single game, so Nilsson has to be able to fill in.

Obviously, what's done is done, but part of me still wishes GMTM hadn't let Chad Johnson walk away. He was an uncertain piece heading into last season, but proved himself when he had to step up in Lehner's absence, and I wouldn't have minded seeing him back in the blue and gold.

Alas, that didn't happen, and the Sabres are likely to start the year off with the Lehner-Nilsson tandem. Can Buffalo finally find some consistency in net?

Over the past three seasons, 12 different goaltenders have seen the ice in at least one game for the Sabres, including four last season and five in the prior season. The Sabres need to return to a strong one-two punch if they hope to really step up their game this season, and while I'm nervous about this season's tandem, it is all we can do to hope they both step up.