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  1. Micheline V | Rochester Americans The Amerks are now the owners of a 7-game losing streak. Amerks Games This Week Friday - 1/22 - 7:00pm - at Cleveland (18-20-1-2) Saturday - 1/24 - 7:05pm - vs Laval (21-17-3-1) Sunday - 1/25 - 7:00pm - at Syracuse (20-18-2-2) AHL North Division Standings as of January 22nd The Amerks barely hold on to third place in the North division after another winless week. They’ve been by far the worst performing team in the division over the past 10 games and if it wasn’t for their red-hot record in November 2019, they would already be on the outside looking in at playoff positioning. What Happened Last Week? Record Jan 15-Jan 21: 0-2-0-1 Check out our latest Amerks Review post for details on last week’s performance. Notable: While the stats didn’t live up to expectations for Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in his first two AHL outings of the season (0-1-0-1, .887/3.38), his actual performance was much better. He made a large number of key saves on Friday night to keep the Amerks in the game, particularly in OT. There is absolutely no reason to feel anything but optimistic about UPL’s future. Also Notable: Three Stars .1. Casey Nelson - Despite not having collected any points in the past 13 games*, Casey has consistently been the team’s most effective defender this season, and he was especially noticeable last weekend, leading the team in shots in Saturday’s 4-0 loss while maintaining a 0 +/- rating. *Coincidence or not, Nelson’s drought lines up perfectly with the Amerks recent struggles, as the team has gone 3-8-0-2 in their last 13 games. .2. - Nope. Not this week. .3. - Sorry. There are no “participation trophies” in Amerks Weekly. Stats Leaders Look Ahead No rest for the weary. The team is right back in action on Wednesday night with a trip to Cleveland where they’ll try to get revenge for last Friday’s shootout loss. They’ll follow that up on Friday night at home vs Laval and Saturday down the road in Syracuse. The good news is that they’ve received some reinforcements from Buffalo. The Sabres sent Scott Wilson, Rasmus Asplund, and Lawrence Pilut back to Rochester while the big club is on their bye week. Asplund has been in Buffalo since November 15th. He was a major part of this team for the first month of the season and we can only hope that his return (perhaps only temporary) provides a spark to the team. It’s unsure if Pilut will get any game action or if the Sabres only made that move so that he could play in the AHL All-Star game; we’ll find out on Wednesday night. Transactions Video Room Game 38 - 1/17/2020 - Home Loss (SO) vs Cleveland Game 39 - 1/18/2020 - Away Loss at Lehigh Valley Game 40 - 1/19/2020 - Away Loss at Hershey Injury Report Taylor Leier - Neck - Week-to-WeekFarmville The Cincinnati Cyclones are 25-9-6-0 in their quest to return to avenge last season’s premature ending. They finished 2018-2019 with the best record in the league but fell to rival Toledo in the second round of the playoffs. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (G) is performing great in his return from offseason surgery, with a 12-5-3-0 record, 3 shutouts, 2.12 GAA, and a .917% save percentage. His impressive performance has earned him a trip to the ECHL All Star game. Old Friends Justin Bailey: 22+14=36 in 3842games with AHL UticaFor those keeping track... Bailey has scored a hat trick in 3 of his last 4 games... With six goals in three games, @UticaComets forward Justin Bailey is the @CCMHockey / AHL Player of the Week. → https://t.co/GNWEuYpAAf pic.twitter.com/Ex7J1Eq0pM — AHL (@TheAHL) January 20, 2020 Nicholas Baptiste: 3+5=8 in 24 games with AHL Toronto. Kyle Criscuolo: 5+6=11 in 26 games with AHL Lehigh Valley Jack Dougherty: 3+7=10 in 41 games with AHL Belleville Brendan Guhle: 3+6=9 in 17 games with AHL San Diego, 1+3=4 in 18 games with NHL Anaheim Hudson Fasching: 14+9=23 in 37 games with AHL Tucson Alexander Nylander: 6+11=17 in 46 games with NHL Chicago Danny O’Regan: 9+18=27 in 42 games with AHL Hartford Matt Tennyson: 0+3=3 in 7 games with AHL Binghamton, 0+3=3 in 19 games with NHL New Jersey Scott Wedgewood: 8-4-1-0, 2.93 GAA, .893 SV% in 14 games with AHL Syracuse View the full article
  2. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports Shallow scoring pool has team behind in standings As the NHL heads into the all-star break, the league’s trade deadline is quickly approaching on the horizon. Player evaluations are obviously an ongoing process, but at this time of year, things ramp up in preparation for a slew of calls from general managers on players and prospects ripe for the trading. With that in mind, Die by the Blade has committed to evaluating the three player groups for the Buffalo Sabres - forwards, defenders, and goaltenders - to see how things have gone so far this season. Are they performing as expected? Who could be key down the stretch? FORWARDS Good. Bad. Ugly. All of these clichéd terms describe the Buffalo forwards almost exactly. From Jack Eichel’s astounding race for the Hart Trophy to Evan Rodrigues’ 40-game dry spell, there isn’t a lot of gray area for the Sabres’ top twelve...which is especially true given how frequently head coach Ralph Kruger forgoes a twelfth forward for an extra defender. It’s an interesting choice while the team struggles to score as a complete unit, and a very telling one. The fact is that, for the most part, Buffalo’s forwards are performing as expected. If you were told at the beginning of the season that Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Victor Olofsson would lead the team in goals and points, you probably would not have been surprised. The first two listed have been atop the team’s scoring list for the entirety of their young careers. The latter, prior to his injury, was all but a lock for the Calder Trophy, explosively leading rookies in scoring - in fact, with five fewer games played, Olofsson still has more overall points than goalscoring leader Dominik Kubalik. Good looks all around #Sabres50 pic.twitter.com/vICHNLvjun — Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) January 19, 2020 The bottom-six are unsurprisingly mediocre. Names like Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Kyle Okposo routinely get tossed about as nearly identical players that contribute here and there, but lack consistency and overall performance. Evan Rodrigues can’t get out of his own way most nights that he cracks the lineup. Occasionally Conor Sheary or Jimmy Vesey catches fire for a few games, but never enough to really make a difference. The second line is the biggest head-scratcher. Marcus Johansson came to Buffalo in the summer and had a hot start to the season. It seemed like pairing him with Jeff Skinner would work out really well for the team, and with Sam Reinhart lining up with the noted scorers, Buffalo’s second-line woes were theoretically solved. Johansson has run cold, however. Skinner is injured. Reinhart spends significant time on the top line filling the Olofsson injury gap. Once one looks past the top line, production falls off significantly. Skinner is contributing 1.77 points per 60 minutes, and Johansson 1.4. Skinner’s tally is third; which seems right, but nearly half of a point slower than Reinhart. Somewhere around 2.0 seems attainable, and Buffalo is depending on Skinner to get there. Johansson is eighth in P/60. That’s not where you want to see a player of his caliber. Down the stretch, it feels like so many players could be key contributors, but that is largely because so many skaters are underperforming right now. If Johnasson could find his groove again, that second line could be a consistent scoring threat. Conor Sheary is somehow always on the precipice of performing above expectations, and could get hot which would be great - maybe he can bring Jimmy Vesey along with him for the ride. Once Skinner and Olofsson return from injury, that third line is going to need to contribute more regularly. Depth scoring changes the outcome of so many games already this season, and will be the make-or-break in the last 30 games. View the full article
  3. Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images The Sabres may not be in the renal market, but there are players they could add for this season and the future by the trade deadline The Buffalo Sabres sit eight points out of a playoff spot entering play last night as they sit idle on their bye week. It’ll be a large mountain to climb for the Sabres to get back into the race in the Eastern Conference and they’ll likely need some improvement on the roster to do so. Last week, Anthony put together an extensive breakdown of values for the players on the roster if Jason Botterill wants to be a seller at the trade deadline. I’m going to go with the opposite approach here and will look at some players that could help them climb up the standings. I’m not going to get into rental pieces like Tyler Toffoli, Chris Kreider, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. It’s unlikely the Sabres will be in the rental market or want to pay the price to acquire those players. I’m going to focus on players that can help this season and beyond. Similar to the type of deal we saw last February with Brandon Montour. Ryan Donato (F) | Minnesota Wild Up first on the list is Boston-native Ryan Donato. The 23-year-old winger was a promising prospect for the Boston Bruins a few years ago but hasn’t lived up to the hype at this point. Last year he was traded to Minnesota Wild in the deal that saw the Bruins acquire Charlie Coyle. Donato hasn’t played a full season in the NHL yet and has been rumored to be on the trade block for most of this season. He has nine goals and 15 points with the Wild this year. The 2014 second-round pick has the offensive talent to blossom into a top-nine forward in the right situation. Ryan Donato has some sweet hands pic.twitter.com/6QHle7Jt52 — Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) November 29, 2019 He’s spent the majority of the season in a bottom-six role with the Wild playing with Victor Rask and Ryan Hartman as his most common teammates. It’s possible in a bigger role, that he could be more productive. He’s second on the Wild in expected goals per 60 (0.84) at 5 on 5, according to Moneypuck and has shown flashes of offensive upside in his brief NHL career. In a small sample, Micah McCurdy’s isolated impact model rates him as a solid two-way forward. If the price is right, Donato would be a player worth taking a risk on. He’s a cost-controlled forward with only one more year on his contract after this season that carries a $1.90 million cap hit. After that, he’d become a restricted free agent. Josh Anderson (F) | Columbus Blue Jackets The big power-forward is an interesting player to look at. He’s battled injuries this season and is currently out a few more weeks with a shoulder injury. After scoring a career-high 27 goals and 47 points last season, he only has one goal this season. A lot of the numbers point to a rebound on the horizon for the 25-year-old winger. He’s only shooting 1.6% this season and is shooting 3.6 goals below expected at 5 on 5, according to Moneypuck. He’s also second on the Blue Jackets in expected goals per 60 (0.86) this season and has continued to drive offense when he is in the lineup. The question is whether or not the Jackets will want to move on from Anderson after one down year? He’s currently 19th on TSN’s Trade Bait list. They could look to move on from him because he’s headed into restricted free agency with arbitration rights. However, it likely won’t come cheap. Ondrej Kase (F) | Anaheim Ducks My favorite idea of this list is Anaheim Ducks forward, Ondrej Kase. The 24-year-old winger plays a style of hockey that could be a fit in the Sabres top six. His production numbers are not going to wow you. His career-high in goals is 20 and that was back in the 2017-18 season. He’s battled injury issues throughout his career, but when he’s on the ice he’s an impactful forward. Last night Ondrej "The Energizer Bunny" Kase netted his first of two goals after a steal in the opposing zone! Watch out the @AnaheimDucks' young forward is getting hot #LetsGoDucks | @Ondrej_Kase pic.twitter.com/mziYVRiEux — FOX Sports San Diego (@FOXSportsSD) January 8, 2020 Micah’s isolated impact chart grades Kase out as an excellent two-way, play-driving winger. He’s also good at drawing penalties, which is something a handful of Sabres forwards do well. Kase has one year remaining on his deal after this season that carries a $2.60 million cap hit and then he’ll become a restricted free agent. The Ducks are in the middle of another disappointing season and are looking to make changes to the roster. We know that Kase was available recently. He would have been traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in the summer if Justin Faulk did not refuse to waive his no-trade clause. The Sabres and Ducks have worked out a deal in the past and Botterill should be inquiring about the winger’s availability. Alexandar Georgiev (G) | New York Rangers I’ll end the list by discussing a goaltending option in Alexandar Georgiev of the New York Rangers. The Rangers are looking to move the 23-year-old with their log jam in goal. Along with Georgiev, they have Henrik Lundqvist and promising young goaltender Igor Shestyorkin. The Bulgarian goaltender has played well this season. According to Evolving Hockey, he ranks 23rd among goalies to play 500 minutes in goals saved above average and ninth in goals saved above expected. The Rangers as a team bleed shots at 5 on 5 and give up a lot of high-quality chances as you can see below. To put it in perspective, here’s a look at the type of shot quality against that Linus Ullmark has faced this season. Although goalies are voodoo and hard to predict, Georgiev could have success behind a good shot suppression defense that the Sabres have in place this season. A source has indicated to me that the Sabres are among a handful of teams that have expressed interest in Georgiev. However, unless the price drops, I wouldn’t expect them to pull the trigger in a trade for the goaltender. Reports have the Rangers seeking a young roster player or prospect on the verge of making the jump to the NHL. Carter Hutton has struggled this season and the Sabres are leaning heavily on Linus Ullmark. It’ll be interesting to see what the Sabres do after this season with Hutton, as he still has one more year remaining on his contract. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is at least two years away from seeing the NHL and the Sabres may want to add another goaltender to tandem with Ullmark to bridge to Luukkonen stepping into the NHL. Even if the Sabres are not real contenders in the playoff picture, they can still look to add players to help them beyond this season. We’ll see how the team performs coming out of the break with an easy looking schedule in February. That’ll determine the route that Botterill takes on the February 24th trade deadline. Data via Evolving Hockey, Hockeyviz.com, and Moneypuck View the full article
  4. Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images Get caught up on the latest around the NHL NHL News TSN Trade Bait list was updated yesterday. [TSN] The Athletic Miami reports that the 2021 All-Star game will go to the Florida Panthers. [The Athletic Miami] Brandon Manning was suspended five games in the AHL for using a racial slur on the ice. [Sportsnet] The Evolving Hockey twins did a really cool AMA on reddit in which they share a lot of interesting information on analytics. [Reddit] View the full article
  5. Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images Sabres prospect developing in Rochester with Amerks Recently, a Die By the Blade reader hopped into my email inbox to ask for an update on Casey Mittelstadt during his current stint with the AHL’s Rochester Americans, so I figured I’d give a little update in case you haven’t kept close eye on him or the struggling Amerks. Mittelstadt was reassigned to the Amerks on December 15, just a few days after I wrote that the Sabres should send him down. At the time of his reassignment, he wasn’t getting a lot of ice time in Buffalo and was often being scratched, so sending him down - especially when he didn’t need to go through waivers - made a lot of sense. Since his reassignment, Mittelstadt has appeared in 14 games with the Amerks. If you’re the type to put any stock in plus/minus, well, he’s a minus-9 — but the team as a whole has struggled, especially lately; they’re now on a seven-game skid. Regardless, Mittelstadt has put up four goals and added three assists for seven points in his current AHL stint. Two of his four goals have come on special teams. When interviewed by the team earlier this month, Mittelstadt didn’t shy away from the fact that it took some time for him to adjust to the AHL: Casey Mittelstadt on the AHL: "It's a lot different. I think it took me 3-4 games to get used to it and get adjusted. I'm feeling better now, but it's definitely a different game." pic.twitter.com/aO0dX9S3Gr — Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) January 13, 2020 In his first game with Rochester, a 2-1 loss to the Binghamton Devils, Mittelstadt recorded two shots on goal. He was in the starting lineup for the next game, alongside Andrew Oglevie and Brett Murray. Highlights of his current AHL stint include a six-shot performance, where he also scored once and was a plus-1, in a 4-3 overtime win over the Belleville Senators. As I mentioned when he was first sent down, Mittelstadt’s reassignment just made sense for all involved: the player himself, the Sabres and the Amerks. It’s easy to look at the numbers right now and see that Rochester didn’t magically become a top team with his reassignment, but that was never the expectation (or shouldn’t have been, at any rate). The assignment seems to be doing good things for the player’s overall development, and that’s what matters most here. I thought this quote from Sabres GM Jason Botterill from WGR550 earlier this month was particularly appropriate: Jason Botterill - Casey could be up here right now surviving, but we don't want him for that. We want him to be a consistent part of our offensive punch. #Sabres50 — WGR 550 (@WGR550) January 14, 2020 Would you rather have a Mittelstadt in the NHL, surviving but struggling to find consistent ice time or production? Or would you rather have a Mittelstadt in the AHL, growing and doing more than just ‘surviving?’ Here’s a clip of one of his recent goals: .@jsdea10 ➡️ @CMittelstadt Mittelstadt's fourth of the season. pic.twitter.com/0wrPxTEZxi — Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) January 18, 2020 So, what should we expect from this point forward in regards to Mittelstadt? Well, for starters, I wouldn’t expect to see him back in Buffalo anytime soon. There isn’t a roster spot open for him here, and bringing him back up just to put him in the exact same position that he was in before his assignment - being healthy scratched, getting limited ice time - would be pointless. Let him keep developing in Rochester, where he likely should’ve started the season anyways. Sure, he’s not dominating the AHL, but he’s certainly doing more and better than he would be with the Sabres at this point. As the Amerks try to pull out of this seven-game losing stretch, perhaps Mittelstadt jumps into a bigger role and is able to provide a little ‘veteran’ leadership to the team. Or, perhaps he just continues to develop his game, contribute offensively when it’s possible and keep growing over the next few months of AHL action. Either way, it’s better than having him sitting in the press box at KeyBank Center. View the full article
  6. Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images Even though Ristolainen is having perhaps his best season as a Sabre; they should still explore trading him During the offseason, one of the major topics that were discussed continuously was what the Buffalo Sabres should do with Rasmus Ristolainen. Various reports had him on the trade block and we even heard reports that the Finnish defender would have welcomed a trade out of Buffalo. Yet, no move was made. Ristolainen showed up to training camp under a new head coach with determination to turn some things in his game around. To his credit and my surprise, he’s done that so far this season. He has bought into the defensive system under Ralph Krueger this season. Career Season The 25-year-old is having arguably his best season to this point for the Sabres. According to Evolving Hockey, he’s having his best season at 5 on 5 in goal differential (49.98%), shot quality share (47.12%), goals for per 60 minutes (2.45), and his lowest on-ice shot quality against since the 2015-16 season (2.19). Ristolainen has reversed a downward trend in his goals above replacement this season and his GAR/60 this year is the highest it has ever been (0.211), according to Evolving Hockey’s model. The Sabres have finally reduced his minutes at 5 on 5 and are being rewarded for it. His 16:53 TOI/GP at 5 on 5, according to Natural StatTrick, is the lowest of his career since the 2014-15 season. He’s also continued to produce offensively even though he’s not receiving the minutes he has in the past on the top power play unit. As of late, he’s been utilized on the power play with Victor Olofsson out of the lineup and it has helped get a struggling unit going again. At 5 on 5, he’s having his second-highest points per 60 minutes (0.8) of his career. He is currently on pace to score 38 points this season, which is just slightly under his career average. There are still parts of Ristolainen’s game that can drive you nuts, but there’s no need to drag him down on it at this point. He’s done a good job rebuilding his value and being a key part of the Sabres defensive turnaround this season. Trade Asset Now, having said all that… *takes a deep breath* The Sabres should still try to trade Ristolainen as soon as the right deal presents itself. Before you start yelling at your screen, just hear me out. There are still shortcomings in his game, but that’s not what I’m going to focus on here to explain my reasoning. We all know that the Sabres have an overabundance of defensemen on their roster and in the system in general. This about dealing from a position of strength (defense) and acquiring a player for a positional weakness (forward). Of the players that the Sabres realistically would trade on the blue line, Ristolainen still holds the most value around the league. Having a career season will only help the Sabres move the player for fair value. The only other argument for a player close to his value that would be a realistic trade option is Brandon Montour. However, after trading a first-round pick and a prospect for him less than a year ago, you would think Jason Botterill wouldn’t want to go down that road. Looking at the organizational depth beyond this season, the Sabres are set on the right side of their defense. Henri Jokiharju and Montour would be your top two right-shot defensemen. Followed by Colin Miller as a bottom-pair defender, if he remains with the Sabres. Don’t forget about Will Borgen that is still developing in the AHL. This is one of the reasons that many believed he would be moved in the summer. Botterill made it a focus to add three right-shot defenders to his roster in a matter of six months and invested heavily into the players he acquired. He gave up Brendan Guhle, Alex Nylander, a first-round pick, a second-round pick, and a fifth-round pick to revamp the right side of his blue line. Expansion The other factor that comes into play here is the expansion draft for the new Seattle franchise coming in the summer of 2021. The draft will operate under the same rules that the league used back in 2017 for the Vegas Golden Knights. The Sabres can go with the eight skaters and one goalie protection list or the 7-3-1 breakdown. Looking at the roster right now, the two obvious players on the blue line that will be protected are Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju. That leaves a decision between Montour and Ristolainen for that third spot on the protected list. The Sabres could play it out one more season and decide. The problem is, if they wait until after the 2020-21 season to move Ristolainen, his contract becomes an issue. After this season, the Finnish blueliner has two years remaining on his deal with a $5.4 million cap hit. If they wait until after next season to make a decision he’ll only have one year remaining before becoming an unrestricted free agent and his value drops on the market. Do the Sabres want to hand Ristolainen a new long-term contract? He’ll probably be looking for a deal higher than what Tyler Myers received (five-years, $6 million cap hit) from the Vancouver Canucks last summer. If not, it makes sense for the Sabres to move on from Ristolainen as soon as a fair deal can be completed. He’ll have two years remaining on his contract with a decent cap-hit for a defenseman that can give you top-four minutes. In return, the Sabres would be able to acquire the top-six forward that the roster is in desperate need of. Regardless if you believe Ristolainen is good or bad, the truth is that he remains the Sabres’ most-valuable and expendable asset in the trade market. View the full article
  7. MICHELINE VELUVOLU / Rochester Americans Rochester continued their painful, losing ways this past week. Rochester’s struggles continued this past week, with three more losses in three games. Thankfully for the Amerks sake, they were able to salvage one point on Friday night against Cleveland but the remainder of the weekend was a bust. Here is to looking back at the weekend that was: Results January 17 - Cleveland 4, Rochester 3 (SO) ROC: J. Gilmour (5), C. Mittelstadt (4), C. Smith (7) ROC: U. Luukkonen – 23 saves (SOL - 0-0-1) January 18 - Lehigh Valley 4, Rochester 0 ROC: No goals scored ROC: A. Hammond – 19 saves (L - 10-9-2) January 19 - Hershey 4, Rochester 1 ROC: R. Elie (4) ROC: U. Luukkonen – 32 saves (L - 0-1-1) Three Big Things 1: Luukkonen’s AHL Season Debut With three games in three days, it appeared that this weekend was circled on the calendar for the return of Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen to the Rochester Americans. Luukkonen ended up bookending the weekend, going 0-1-1, with Andrew Hammond playing in goal against Lehigh Valley. While the results were not there for Luukkonen, being back was just the start. “It stinks to lose, especially at home,” Luukkonen told media following Friday’s loss. “I thought we played a solid game tonight and there are some bounces that I would have liked to go the other way. There are some things I still need to sharpen up and some things that I am happy about. Overall, it was not a bad game.” Luukkonen will likely head back to Cincinnati (ECHL) shortly to continue his development but it is clear that Rochester is not too far for Buffalo’s top goaltending prospect. 2: Mittelstadt Still Scores After failing to score in two straight games, Casey Mittelstadt showed more signs of progression on Friday night, when he scored his fourth goal of the season. Mittelstadt’s confidence continues to return, which is evident by his play on-ice. “I feel like J.S (Dea), Remi (Elie) and myself have been playing well together as of late,” Mittelstadt told the media following Friday’s loss. “It took us a while to build the chemistry, but it was good to see a goal go into the net tonight. The chances and the goals will come, but one wasn’t enough for our line tonight.” Rochester seemingly continues to struggle scoring in bunches, which earlier this season was not an issue at all. If Mittelstadt continues to progress, his offensive momentum might be the linchpin in Rochester’s second-half resurgence. 3: Halfway Home With the completion of Friday’s game against Cleveland, the halfway point of the 2019-20 AHL season has been reached. After the long weekend, Rochester still finds themselves in a desirable position in the North Division. While the losing ways will have to subside, Rochester’s white hot start continues to keep them afloat, as they figure out how to bounce back. Standings Coming Up Wednesday, January 22 - Rochester Americans vs Cleveland Monsters Friday, January 24 - Rochester Americans at Lehigh Valley Phantoms Saturday, January 25 - Rochester Americans at Hershey Bears View the full article
  8. Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports Get caught up on the latest with the Sabres and remainder of the NHL Sabres News Sabres assign Lawrence Pilut, Scott Wilson, and Rasmus Asplund to the AHL for the bye week. [DBTB] Amerks lose all three games this weekend. [Amerks] NHL News Patrick Kane scored his 1,000th career point last night. [Second City] Justin Williams scores the shootout winner for the Hurricanes in his season debut. [Sportsnet] View the full article
  9. With the All-Star break approaching, the Sabres have sent reinforcements back to the Amerks This morning, the Buffalo Sabres announced that Rasmus Asplund, Scott Wilson, and Lawrence Pilut have been assigned to the Rochester Amerks. With the NHL All-Star Break (not the mention the Sabres’ “bye week”) taking place this coming week, these moves aren’t exactly a surprise. Roster Moves: The Sabres have assigned forward Rasmus Asplund, forward Scott Wilson and defenseman Lawrence Pilut to the Rochester Americans (AHL). — Sabres PR (@SabresPR) January 19, 2020 For Pilut, there’s a good chance he’ll be recalled to Buffalo once the AHL All-Star Game is complete. The 24-year-old will represent the organization for the second consecutive year as the Amerks’ top blueliner. Though he has yet to register a point in his six appearances since his call-up earlier this month, he’s provide steady defensive play and excellent zone-exit capabilities, similar to what Sabres fans saw from him last season. Asplund has been a bit of a mixed bag. Initially, he fared quite nicely with Johan Larsson out of the lineup. Even when Larsson returned to action, Asplund remained in Buffalo, and deservedly so. The past couple weeks haven’t been as impressive for the 22-year-old. He’s gone 15 consecutive games without a single point, and he’s quickly become one of the team’s negative assets (among many others, mind you) in terms of expected goal-differential. Perhaps another stint in Rochester will be good for him in order to reset, and work on some things against lower-tier competition. As for Wilson, his time as an extra body seems to be at an end, for now. Since his call-up at the beginning of the month, he’s only appeared in two contests, often serving as an extra forward with players like Victor Olofsson and Jeff Skinner out of the lineup. Skinner is expected to return after the bye week, so Wilson will likely remain with the Amerks as they push for the Calder Cup Playoffs. These reinforcements for the Sabres’ farm club couldn’t have come at a better time. Rochester has lost eight of its last 10 games, and their current standing as a playoff team grows more unsteady by the day. Hopefully the return of these few players (for however long) helps them get back on the winning track. View the full article
  10. Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports Lackluster offense and special teams overshadows solid performance from Ullmark Final Score: Nashville 2, Buffalo 1 Shots: NSH-36, BUF-31 Buffalo Goal Scorers: Sam Reinhart, Nashville Goal Scorers: Ryan Johansen, Craig Smith Minus-1: Slow start Sure, Buffalo took the 1-0 lead...with just over a minute left in the first period. The team took over 12 minutes to register a shot, and at one point, were down 10-1 in the category. There is some statistical evidence that the goaltending has been suspect this season, but it is games like this that really stand out for the netminders. Linus Ullmark kept the team in the game in the first, and deserves credit for that. Minus-1: Playing with the lead Buffalo scored first, which should be a plus. Vancouver scored next, and the Sabres spent the rest of the game trying to play catch up. How this team continues to fail at keeping a lead is utterly mystifying. It’s not something that can be practiced; there is no drill for playing with a lead. It’s just a matter of continuing to do the things that work and adjusting the things that don’t, and somehow, for more than a decade, the Buffalo Sabres can’t do that with any sort of regularity. Minus-1: Special teams In one-goal games, special teams routinely makes a difference in the outcome. Such is the case tonight. Buffalo failed to score on its advantage opportunities, and gave up a goal while on the penalty kill. There are five teams in the NHL worse on the penalty kill than Buffalo. That’s not the type of thing that you expect to see from a contender. It has to be better. On both sides, it has to be better. Plus-1: Ullmark Yes, goaltending was mentioned a few paragraphs ago. Yes, it’s something that people point to when they talk about a lack of success from Buffalo this season. Tonight, though, Ullmark was a difference in the game. Outshot 37-31, Ullmark not only kept the Sabres in the game, he gave them chance after chance to get back into it - including a last-minute disadvantage in which me made several key saves. Say what you will about the coming-of-age netminder, tonight he looked great and his team could not manage more than one goal. Plus-1: Reino Watching fans assess Sam Reinhart is like listening to someone dissect Picasso. We all understand you don’t get it, but that doesn’t mean you’re right. Reinhart is going to get 20 goals again this season. He’s done that every year but one so far in his professional career, which has yet to reach its peak, and still, he has to deal with the hate from the fans. Why? He’s top-5 in scoring on the team EVERY YEAR. Don’t hate. Appreciate. Overall: Minus-1 It was a winnable game against a beatable opponent that saw the team slowly convince itself out of a win. You can’t head into someone’s building and get outshot and hope to win. You can’t go on the road and wait more than 12 minutes to take a shot. You can’t give up a goal on the penalty kill and not even it out on the power play. You can’t take a penalty down 2-1 with 200 seconds left. You have to be better. At some point, this team has to be better.. View the full article
  11. Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports Sabres face the Predators tonight looking to keep their winning streak going Game 49 Buffalo Sabres (22-19-7) vs. Nashville Predators (21-18-7) Puck Drop: 8:00 PM EST | Bridgestone Arena | Nashville, TN TV: MSG-B Radio: WGR 550 SB Nation Predators Blog: On the Forecheck View the full article
  12. Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports Buffalo looks to extend three-game win streak Game 49 Buffalo Sabres (22-19-7) vs. Nashville Predators (21-18-7) Puck Drop: 8:00 PM EST | Bridgestone Arena | Nashville, TN TV: MSG-B Radio: WGR 550 SB Nation Predators Blog: On the Forecheck Know Your Opponent Nashville Predators Record: 21-18-7 | 49 PTS Last 10: 3-6-1 Division Ranking: 6th in Central Division Conference Ranking: 11th in Western Conference PP: 25th (16.6%) PK: 30th (73.1%) What to Watch 1. Eichel’s Second Point Streak of the Season Earlier this season, Eichel tied Gilbert Perreault for a franchise high point streak with 18 consecutively played (minus a brief injury) games. While that streak has since been broken, Eichel remains red hot with a new one: nine games. The Sabres captain is tied with fellow superstar David Pastrnak of the Bruins as the only player to record two separate point streaks of at least nine games this season. The last time the Sabres and Predators met in December, Eichel scored twice to lead his team to a 4-3 victory. Let’s see if history repeats itself tonight. 2. Even Steven Not only do both teams have an almost identical record and are struggling with some significant injuries, Nashville and Buffalo have also found themselves under new coaches this season. With the recent firing of Peter Laviolette, the Preds are working through a small two-game skid with new head coach John Hynes. The Sabres should look to use this and their own win streak to their advantage. 3. Lazar Making Noticeable Impact Due to some unfortunate injuries this season, the Sabres have had to call upon some younger players to step up and fill in the lineup gaps. Curtis Lazar has been a breath of fresh air and has tallied points in each of the Sabres’ last three games. He has also provided some grit and intensity on the penalty kill. Lazar currently ranks third on the team in penalty-kill ice time and second in blocked shots for forwards. He’ll be looking to continue his hard work and prove his worth in hopes of becoming a permanent NHL player. Projected Lineup Based on Practice Buffalo Sabres Forwards Jimmy Vesey - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart Zemgus Girgensons - Johan Larsson - Kyle Okposo Curtis Lazar - Marcus Johansson - Michael Frolik Scott Wilson - Evan Rodrigues - Rasmus Asplund Defense Lawrence Pilut - Rasmus Ristolainen Brandon Montour - Henri Jokiharju Rasmus Dahlin - Jake McCabe Zach Bogosian Starting Goaltender: Linus Ullmark Nashville Predators Forwards Calle Jarnkrok - Ryan Johansen - Craig Smith Filip Forsberg - Matt Duchene - Mikael Granlund Rocco Grimaldi - Nick Bonino - Viktor Arvidsson Colin Blackwell - Kyle Turris - Austin Watson Defense Roman Josi - Yannick Weber Mattias Ekholm - Dante Fabbro Dan Hamhuis - Matt Irwin Starting Goaltender: Pekka Rinne (unconfirmed) View the full article
  13. Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports Sabres visit the Predators before heading into their bye week The Buffalo Sabres wrap up their road trip tonight in Nashville and then head into their bye week. View the full article
  14. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports Sabres pick up another big win and UPL will make his season debut in the AHL Sabres News Sabres pick up another nice win against the Dallas Stars last night. [recap] Ukka-Pekka Luukkonen will start tonight for the Rochester Americans. [DBTB] NHL News Dougie Hamilton appeared to have suffered a bad leg injury last night for the Hurricanes. [Canes Country] Get some more trade rumors from TSN’s Insider Trading segment. [TSN] NHL announced the roster for the Elite’s Women 3 on 3 game during NHL All-Star weekend. [NBC] View the full article
  15. Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images Several players on expiring contracts could be sought-after commodities on the trade market For what feels like eons, national media members have reported the Buffalo Sabres’ involvement in trade talks around the league. For a fan base that has been subjected to perpetual mediocrity (or worse), trade deadline speculation is often the most exciting time of year. Buffalo is currently sitting outside of the playoff picture and with the deadline just over a month away, it may be time to start looking at which players on expiring contracts (or otherwise) could garner a return as a rental asset for an aspiring contender. While Jason Botterill probably won’t be able to shed every pending UFA from the ledger before this summer, there are players on the roster who he’d be remiss to let walk for nothing. This all could change of course if the Sabres pull themselves into the thick of things in the next few weeks. After all, they’ve won three-in-a-row without two of their best offensive threats. Still, with the deadline right around the corner, let’s take a preliminary look at who could garner some value, if the Sabres are indeed sellers. First-Tier Assets Some of the players in this section may stick around if the Sabres is willing to work out an extension, but all of them would theoretically have a market for their services, should Botterill make them available. Topping the list is winger, Conor Sheary. As a veteran player with a couple deep playoff runs (and a Stanley Cup) under his belt from his time in Pittsburgh, he is probably the most marketable “rental player” on the roster. Though he has, at times, been the subject of criticism from the blue-and-gold faithful, his year-by-year production has been consistent (the year as Sidney Crosby’s wingman notwithstanding). As a middle-six winger in Buffalo, he’s provided some offense (albeit on a very inconsistent, streaky basis), and is metrically sound. He’ll never cost you anything defensively, but he’s also never going to drive possession on his own. At the end of the day, he’s an underwhelming yet responsible presence. An analytics-savvy general manager might see him as a low-risk fit. A team looking to fortify their forward depth for a deep playoff run could perhaps be convinced to part with a third-round pick for his services, especially if they miss out on a bigger target elsewhere. On the flip side, Botterill may want to look into an extension for a player he actively pursued via trade two summers ago. If Sheary would agree to a short-term extension at a similar rate as the $3 million he’s currently making, there may be some interest there. On the back end, Colin Miller is probably the most likely defensive asset to be dealt before the deadline, which is a sentence nobody anticipated reading after the Sabres sent multiple draft picks to the Vegas Golden Knights for him this summer. For some reason, he’s been the most consistent odd-man-out on the Buffalo blue line under Ralph Krueger. While his play hasn’t been spectacular, his consistent presence in the press box is a bit of a head-scratcher. It’s hard to believe that Botterill will get an equal return on his initial draft capital investment, but if Krueger really doesn’t see him as a fit in his system moving forward, the trade deadline might be an ideal time to sell. An injury-riddled team looking to give themselves a boost could have interest, especially if they didn’t plan on spending high-value assets for a top-six defender. The only potential issue with a Miller trade is his cap hit of $3.875 million which doesn’t expire until summer of 2022. I’ll preface this next paragraph by saying that the Sabres would probably be wise to extend this player rather than trade him, but not knowing what Botterill’s vision is for the future bottom-six, he must be mentioned here. For the better part of two seasons, Johan Larsson’s contributions as the team’s fourth-line center have been vastly underappreciated. All season long he has been the Sabres’ xG leader and his work as a defensive possession forward has been one of the few consistently good things about the 2019-20 campaign. For this exercise, a clever general manager will see Larsson’s impacts and realize just how valuable a player like that could be in a playoff atmosphere where possession battles are the key to series wins. Should Botterill make him available, the acquisition cost probably wouldn’t be too high for a team looking to improve their possession metrics up front heading into the postseason. Second-Tier Assets In this next section, we’ll take a look at a few guys who might be a little tougher to deal (though certainly not impossible). It’s not as though they’re completely useless assets, but every struggling team has players like this, and the market for their services could be relatively sparse. From the moment he was acquired via trade with the New York Rangers this past summer, Jimmy Vesey was seen by fans as a potential rental asset if the Sabres were to fall out of contention by the deadline. To be honest, I waffled for a bit as to which section to place him in. Though he is currently on pace to post career-low point totals, his underlying metrics have experienced a modest improvement (they’re still not great overall). His year-over-year isolated even-strength impacts are probably the most intriguing selling point. Depending on whether or not Botterill would be willing to take a smaller return than he paid, Vesey could be of interest to a fringe team hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with a player who is capable of producing goals in bunches. Barring a big production uptick over the next month, nobody is going to give the Sabres a third-round pick however (which is what they paid initially). Still, his cap wouldn’t be overly difficult to fit onto another team’s ledger, so if the Buffalo brass is willing to accept something in the neighborhood of a fifth-rounder for him, there’s probably a buyer out there. Nothing Vesey has done in Western New York has warranted talk of a contract extension, so the team should be eager to get some sort of last-ditch return on their investment. Michael Frolik’ name would raise a few eyebrows in pretty much any other context, given the fact that the Sabres acquired him only two weeks ago. As a pending UFA this summer, the only way he might be a candidate for an extension is if he agrees to a significant pay cut from his current salary of $4.3 million AAV. In terms of a return, it’s tough to imagine the Sabres doing any better than the fourth-round pick they recently sent to the Calgary Flames in order to obtain him (barring a crazy scoring uptick leading up to the deadline, of course). Any way you slice it, Frolik’s arrival was always sort of a band-aid on a bullet wound up front, and in all honesty, a limp-wristed effort to fortify the team’s offensive ranks in the second half. Next up is a player who has reportedly been on the trade block for most of the 2019-20 season. It’s been a bit of a rough go for Evan Rodrigues. The new head coach doesn’t seem to be a fan of what he brings to the table (which has left him in the press box for a good chunk of the year), and when he has received opportunities, he isn’t producing points. After being awarded $2 million by an arbitrator this offseason, he’s struggling in what is, by definition, a “prove it” year. For the past two seasons, Rodrigues has been praised for his underlying metrics. With very strong advanced stats and 25 points in 48 games during the 2017-18 campaign, fans were excited about the then 24-year-old. Unfortunately, his base production had continued to dip despite his xG and possession metrics remaining relatively strong. At the end of the day, he’s a solid bottom-six player who brings energy and some scoring ability in the right situation. As previously mentioned, reports indicate that he’s been made available, but it doesn’t seem like there is much interest right now. We’ll see if that changes any time before the deadline. Otherwise, the organization will likely end up letting the pending RFA hit the open market. Rounding out the second tier is a player who has experienced what is probably the most significant nosedive in terms of overall performance. Last season, Carter Hutton was unexceptional. Analytically, his numbers were a sliver below average, but far from terrible. Leading up to 2019-20, fans were expecting an even split of starting duties between Hutton and Linus Ullmark. Following a handful of exceptional performances to start the season, the 34-year-old has fallen off a cliff posting a .873 save percentage in his past eight starts. His last win came on October 22 against the San Jose Sharks. He’s started eleven times since then, posting a record of 0-7-4. In terms of GSAx, he ranks near the bottom-third of backup netminders around the league. With the starting role firmly in Ullmark’s possession, rumor has it that the Sabres have started gauging Hutton’s trade value. It’s hard to believe there’s much of a market for an aging goaltender with another year left on his current $2.75 million AAV contract. Most playoff contenders already have backups who are performing better than Hutton. Compounding on that issue is the fact that very few teams are in a position to absorb his salary, especially for an additional year. Maybe Botterill can find a deal in the form of a “dollars in, dollars out” scenario, but it would be somewhat of a surprise to see a team part with a future piece of any sort, given how badly Hutton appears to have regressed. Probably Not Happening Rounding out our trade bait spectrum are a few players who probably won’t be dealt, but for varying reasons. Of the three assets to follow, one of them is too much of a financial (and performance) burden, one is probably too beloved by the organization, and trading the third would just be a monumentally foolish decision. Fans raised a collective eyebrow when the Sabres entered training camp with virtually 12 NHL-caliber defensemen. It took the front office half a season before loosening the logjam a little by dealing Marco Scandella to the Montreal Canadiens. Still, veteran incumbents remain, despite alleged efforts being made by the general manager to ship them out. Trade speculation surrounding Zach Bogosian picked up a little steam when he expressed frustration about being a healthy scratch upon his return from injury. Soon after, there were reports that he had formally requested a trade. The only problem is that nobody is biting. The situation is pretty simple. There are only a handful of teams who could even fit his $5.14 million cap hit on their ledger. Even fewer (if any) would have an actual use for him. Despite Bogosian’s claim that he feels like he’s at full-strength, the on ice results say otherwise. He’s no longer a sharp skater, and despite his frustration about not being a top-six regular, there are too many good defensemen on the roster to justify his presence. Fortunately for the Sabres, his contract is set to expire after the season comes to a close. It would be pretty surprising to see him dealt before that unless Botterill is willing to take salary back, which obviously wouldn’t be an advisable course of action. Shifting gears toward a defensive asset who is actually tradable, Jake McCabe could probably fetch a decent return. That being said, it seems as though Krueger likes having him, and as one of the team’s alternate captains, there is a leadership element there as well. Intangibles aside, from a skill standpoint, McCabe’s reputation balances largely on his physicality and non-stop motor. Analytically, he’s made some improvements in Krueger’s system. Though he’s still a tick below break-even in terms of overall impact, he’s still a solid defensive defenseman. Despite all of this, McCabe is second among Sabres defensemen in average ice time (16:27 at even-strength). With a reasonable cap hit of $2.85 million for next season, there would probably been a significant market. Depending on how the team feels about players like Will Borgen and Jacob Bryson heading into the summer, he could be someone Botterill dangles out there for some much-needed forward help, but don’t expect anything before then. Last, but certainly not least, is probably the most polarizing player among fans, Sam Reinhart. The blue-and-gold faithful are surprisingly split when it comes to speculating what type of price tag the 24-year-old should demand as a pending RFA. As arguably the best winger on a team that desperately lacks talent up front, his consistency alone should be enough to convince the Sabres brass that he is deserving of a long-term contract. With 39 points in 47 games this season, he’s on pact to break his career-highs in both goals and points. Currently, he ranks third among Sabres forwards in both goals, and wins above replacement. Some want to attribute a great deal of that success to his consistent role playing alongside Jack Eichel. Obviously, some of his base statistical production is a result of playing with the Buffalo captain, but the underlying data indicates that Reinhart does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of zone-exits and overall possession on that line. Whether or not the organization realizes his value remains to be seen. Just two years ago, Botterill elected to sign him to a bridge-deal in lieu of a cheaper, long-term agreement. Reinhart has exceeded his previous levels of scoring production and he’ll probably seek something in the $7 million AAV range. Botterill cannot create another hole at forward in an attempt to shave a few dollars off his bottom-line. Wingers like Reinhart aren’t easy to obtain. Trading him would make his job of fortifying the team’s scoring depth that much more difficult. Closing Thoughts When he was hired, Botterill was frequently lauded as a master of asset management. That skill set has appeared in flashes (i.e. acquiring Henri Jokiharju for Alex Nylander), but a team with its back against the salary cap limit should be on pace to finish well over their current projection of 82-86 points. Flipping expiring assets for futures is the only logical move if Buffalo remains stagnant (or worse) in the standings come mid-February. The Sabres are without a third-round pick for the next two drafts. That fact shouldn’t be lamented because of the lottery scratcher that mid-round picks represent in the NHL, but those picks could be valuable pot-sweeteners this summer. For that reason, there is no reason not to get whatever draft or future assets you can for veteran anchors who would otherwise join the rest of the mass exodus (hopefully) set to take place on July 1. View the full article
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