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  1. Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images Buffalo vs. Ottawa has always been a classic As SB Nation continues to commemorate “Rivalry Week,” we’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss the ongoing, historic rivalry between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators. In recent years, the rivalry has cooled off a little bit - as the Sabres’ rivalry with the Toronto Maple Leafs has continually ramped up, and the Sabres have put up less of a fight in the division - but historically, the Sabres and Sens have squared off with quite a bit of heat. First and foremost, who can forget the epic bench-clearing brawl in 2007? It all began when Chris Neil threw a vicious hit on Sabres captain Chris Drury. All hell broke loose after that, when Lindy Ruff sent out a ‘line’ of Andrew Peters, Adam Mair and Patrick Kaleta on the next play. All three were involved in the melee - including Kaleta, who was playing in his first NHL game - alongside Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips. Not to be left out, the goaltenders also got involved, as Martin Biron squared off against Ray Emery. Goalie fights always add an extra layer to a brawl like this, and there’s no denying that it makes the events of that night all the more memorable. It didn’t last long before Peters stepped in for Biron and continued from there. Don’t forget the time in 2009 when Peters got into it with Jarkko Ruutu, who.... bit him. Of course, the Sabres-Senators rivalry isn’t all about throwing hits and landing punches. The two teams have an illustrious history, particularly in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals are just one memorable example. Three of the five games went to overtime, while the other two games were settled by a one-goal decision in regulation. In game one, the Sabres came out on top of a wild 7-6 game when Tim Connolly tied the game with seconds left in regulation before Drury sealed the win in overtime. It was Connolly’s second goal of the night, as Mike Grier, Teppo Numminen and Derek Roy (2) also scored for Buffalo. Buffalo took a 2-0 series lead in the next game, thanks to goals from J.P. Dumont and Jochen Hecht. The Sabres continued to power on, with Dumont scoring the OT winner in game three. Although the Sens took game four, Buffalo won the series with a 3-2 victory in game five. Jason Pominville scored the game-winning goal, in overtime and with his team shorthanded. Ryan Miller recorded a .923 save percentage in that series, allowing 13 goals on 169 shots faced. Another moment in Sabres/Sens history that sticks out in my mind: Derek Plante’s overtime game-winning goal in 1997. Game seven, quarterfinals. I’ll never forget being in the arena for that game, and that goal. Six-year-old me was enthralled - but also felt bad for Mens goalie Ron Tugnutt, as he turned his head to watch the puck roll into the net, then collapsed onto his back with his hands over his face. Later, I’d watch the replay, and to this day, I can’t get Rick Jeanneret’s call out of my head. Over the course of the teams’ history, these division rivals have faced each other 145 times. The Sabres have gone 70-55-10-10 in their history against Ottawa, scoring an average of 2.80 goals per game and allowing 2.64 goals per game. Perhaps someone more mathematically inclined, or historically inclined, than I can tally up just how penalty minutes the two teams have amassed in their histories against each other. Although the Sabres/Sens rivalry has cooled off in recent years, as both teams have fallen from the top of their division, games between Buffalo and Ottawa are still always fun. After all, you never know when the next “Derek Plante” style OT game-winner or “Peters/Biron vs. Emery” fight will break out. View the full article
  2. Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images The 18-year-old defensive prospect recently completed his first season of collegiate hockey at Minnesota. The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of seven staff writers and over 250 fans that ranked players under the age of 25 as of July 15th, 2020. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production to rank each player. This is our 2020 pre-draft rankings. Fans of the Buffalo Sabres had mixed feelings when Jason Botterill opted to select Ryan Johnson with the 31st pick of the 2019 NHL Draft. With a handful of high-octane scoring forwards left on the board, the organization instead drafted yet another defenseman (after picking five of them the year prior). In his first season of collegiate hockey at Minnesota, Ryan Johnson’s performance was underwhelming, but not necessarily cause for concern. While nobody expected gaudy offensive numbers, his eight points on the year did leave a little to be desired. For a first-round selection, the organization would have probably liked to see a little more dominance in the NCAA. That said, his talents as a smooth-skating transitional defender were on display (two of his biggest strengths leading up to the draft). According to multiple reports, he showed continued competence in the defensive-zone as well, which is encouraging to hear. The leap in talent level from the USHL to the NCAA is obviously significant. Ryan Johnson highlights #sabres pic.twitter.com/sMrrPX2hXV — Buffalo Hockey moments (@SabresPlays) June 22, 2019 The only real concern with Johnson is his ceiling. Though there’s nothing wrong with a potential mid-pairing defender, you’d hope for a little more “boom potential” for a first-round draft pick. On draft day, he seemed like a very “safe” pick for a team that had next to nothing in their prospect cupboard at forward. Johnson likely has another year or two to spend in the NCAA before joining the ranks in Rochester. As the roster currently stands, he’ll have some tough competition if he wants to make his way into the Sabres’ top-six at some point. Buffalo has a full stable of young defensemen in Rasmus Dahlin, Henri Jokiharju, Jacob Bryson, Will Borgen, Mattias Samuelsson, and Oskari Laaksonen. That’s not to say that there is no road to an NHL future with the Sabres, but he certainly has his work cut out for him in terms of internal competition. Hopefully his sophomore campaign with the Golden Gophers forces Buffalo to make some tough decisions on the future complexion of their defense. In Melissa’s breakdown of Oskari Laaksonen this week, she included his PNHLe chart from Dobber Prospects, which I found interesting. Below is what they have for Johnson. #25 Linus Weissbach #24 Aaron Huglen #23 Miska Kukkonen #22 Lawrence Pilut #21 Linus Cronholm #20 Jonas Johansson #19 Marcus Davidsson #18 Oskari Laaksonen View the full article
  3. Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images Laaksonen prepares to come to North America The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of seven staff writers and over 250 fans that ranked players under the age of 25 as of July 15th, 2020. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production to rank each player. This is our 2020 pre-draft rankings. Oskari Laaksonen is preparing to come to North America for the 2020-21 season. The Sabres signed the young prospect to a three-year entry level deal — just one day before GM Jason Botterill was fired. Laaksonen, 21, dropped a little bit in this year’s T25U25 rankings, but that’s not entirely surprising given that he battled injuries. His offensive production also dropped slightly, as he went 39 games without scoring a goal and had 11 fewer assists. Laaksonen spent this past season with Ilves Tampere, along with fellow Sabres prospect Arttu Ruotsalainen. Your daily Finnish lesson is brought to you by Oskari Laaksonen and his simple shot through traffic. Laaksonen's second goal and 12th point of the year puts Ilves up 2-0 on SaiPa at the 2nd intermission. Arttu Ruotsalainen picks up his 25th helper of the year on the play. pic.twitter.com/MUMgUgtqOI — Kris Baker (@SabresProspects) February 22, 2020 The Sabres’ decision to sign Laaksonen to an entry-level deal this summer, which will bring him to North America to presumably play with the Rochester Americans next season, may have been fueled - at least in part - by Lawrence Pilut’s decision to head overseas. When I spoke to Randy Sexton a few weeks back, chances were already good Oskari Laaksonen was coming to North America. With Lawrence Pilut off to Central Russia, that decision was a lot easier for the Sabres to make. — Joe Yerdon (@JoeYerdon) June 15, 2020 Assuming Laaksonen makes his North American debut next season - whenever that may be - it’ll be interesting to see how he transitions from the European game. The altered season schedule will also undoubtedly have an impact on many players, but as the years go on, will Laaksonen pan out as a gem or will he be just another prospect in the Sabres organization that fizzles out? DobberProspects Courtesy of DobberProspects#25 Linus Weissbach #24 Aaron Huglen #23 Miska Kukkonen #22 Lawrence Pilut #21 Linus Cronholm #20 Jonas Johansson #19 Marcus Davidsson View the full article
  4. Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports Details emerge regarding RTP agreement, CBA extension Despite growing concerns about spiking COVID-19 numbers in North America, which includes 35 NHL players (nearly 10 percent of the player pool,) the NHL and the NHLPA are reported to have reached an agreement to recommence play on August 1. The deal comes after the parties found common ground on an extension of the CBA. 35 confirmed cases of COVID among NHL players (23 of 396 players tested 2,900 times by NHL as part of Phase 2 protocol, 12 tested outside of Phase 2 protocol) since June 8. League keeping names a secret. No word on how many (if any) had symptoms/are suffering/have recovered. pic.twitter.com/STrTH1fjLm — Kevin McGran (@kevin_mcgran) July 6, 2020 According to Sportsnet, the 24-team tournament will take place in Edmonton and Toronto. If the agreement is ratified, training camp will begin on July 13, with teams travelling to the hub cities two weeks later on July 26. Western Conference competitors will head to Edmonton and their Eastern Conference counterparts to Toronto. Players will share in a $32 million bonus pool, in which more money is earned by each player the longer their team remains in the tournament. Players who wish to opt-out of the return to play are able to do so without penalty, and must submit their wishes in writing to their team before the start of camp. Regulations are in place to attempt to protect the players and staff in what is being called ‘the bubble.’ Elliot Freidman wrote, “There will be pre-testing before everyone travels to the hub, and in the final week before arrival everyone will be asked to stay at home as much as possible, besides going to the rink. Once there, testing will take place on a daily basis, as each team will have a set time each day depending on their schedule...Face covering will be mandatory at all times in the bubble, with social distancing practiced — including restrictions on the number of people allowed in the lobby and on elevators. Everyone will get their own room...And, there will be rules if someone needs to leave for an emergency, in terms of if re-entry will be allowed and the conditions for that.” Several significant changes were made to the CBA in order to reach an agreement on the return to play. One of the most interesting is that NHL players will return to Olympic play, as long as an agreement can be reached with the IOC. Also notable, there are no more conditional picks in trades based on a player re-signing with the acquiring team. Additionally, in regard to trades, no-move and no-trade clauses now travel with a player who has agreed to lift one, even if they haven’t kicked in (previously, the acquiring team had to agree). Further details will likely emerge once ratification takes place. Die by the Blade will continue to cover the events leading up to the August 1 return to play. View the full article
  5. Photo by Nicholas T. LoVerde/Getty Images Davidsson comes in at #19 after another underwhelming season in Sweden The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of seven staff writers and over 250 fans that ranked players under the age of 25 as of July 15th, 2020. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production to rank each player. This is our 2020 pre-draft rankings. Marcus Davidsson is one of the more interesting Buffalo Sabres prospects. His development path has been a roller coaster ride over the last few years. His D+1 season was his best performing year with Djurgardens in the SHL. That season he registered 21 points in 39 games as a 19-year-old playing against men in the Swedish pro league. However, every year after that, his production has declined. After a down year in 2018-19 and limited ice time with Djurgardens, he moved over to play for Vaxjo this past season. I had high hopes for him with more opportunity and playing under arguably the best coach in the SHL in Sam Hallam. Unfortunately, his production did end up where he would have liked this past season. He scored seven goals and 13 points in 31 games. It is important to note that he battled with a concussion issue this season that likely had an impact in his on-ice performance With one year remaining on his contract in the SHL, he’ll play next season in Vaxjo. He was shooting the whole way: Marcus Davidsson takes a pass and fires glove side for his fifth goal of the year as Växjö loses to HV 71 4-2. pic.twitter.com/uPfahc7YBr — Kris Baker (@SabresProspects) November 28, 2019 The 21-year-old forward remains unsigned and the Sabres need to make a decision on him. I wonder if he’s a player they’d consider floating out in trade scenarios this offseason. They only retain his rights for one more year and if the new staff doesn’t have long-term plans for him they could look to maximize on his value now. His ceiling looks to be a bottom-six forward and the Sabres do have a handful of those types of forwards in their prospect cupboard. Data via Rank King View the full article
  6. The Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto is rumoured to be part of the bubble, containing a hotel, Coca-Cola Coliseum, home to the AHL Marlies, and the surrounding CNE complex could also host games, practices and the players themselves. | Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images Discuss the latest going on in the hockey world Here’s the weekly open thread for this week, with the major headlines. Mon 7/6 The Buffalo Sabres are always a part of the 8-team NHL Prospect Tournament, but the 2020 edition has been canceled by the hosts Detroit Red Wings due to the coronavirus pandemic. The NHL and NHL Players’ Association have a tentative agreement on Phase 3 and 4 protocols that will allow teams to open training camps and resume the 2019-20 season, all in two bubble cities - Toronto and Edmonton, with the latter hosting the Stanley Cup Final. In the longer term, the two parties are also close to putting the finishing touches on an all-encompassing new six-year Collective Bargaining Agreement. Per Pierre LeBrun, the NHL is still planning on a full 82-game season for 2020-21, starting in December or January. Reminder, the Sabres last played a competitive game on March 9th, 2020. View the full article
  7. Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports Swedish netminder may have missed on his one shot The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of seven staff writers and over 250 fans that ranked players under the age of 25 as of July 15th, 2020. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production to rank each player. This is our 2020 pre-draft rankings. Heading into the 2019-20 season, Buffalo fans had high hopes for goaltender Jonas Johansson. After a handful of roster moves, the Swedish netminder was finally going to get his chance to show the Rochester Americans he was for real, and after going 13-3-3 in his first 20 AHL starts, it seemed he had done just that. His then-fourth-best .925 save percentage and a third-best 2.19 goals against average earned him a spot in the AHL all-star game. He followed that up with a callup to the NHL, where he would serve as option 1A to Carter Hutton. He played just under half of his first game in the big leagues, relieving a flailing Hutton and making 14 saves, allowing only one goal. Everything was coming up Jonas. Then...things took a turn. The organization set him up for a solid confidence boost, giving him the start against the Detroit Red Wings. Johansson allowed three goals in regulation and lost the in the shootout 4-3. The Red Wings scored two percent of their total season goals in one game against Johansson. The team gave him another shot a couple of nights later against the Anaheim Ducks. Again, Johansson failed to make his mark, allowing three goals on 28 shots. He began his NHL career 0-1-1, and a goaltender operating with one good eye had replaced him as a full time option. Johansson’s time with the Sabres wasn’t all bad - it took a couple of weeks for the team to turn to him again, but on February 23, he took the net against Winnipeg and held his own, taking a 2-1 decision from the Jets. He followed that up by allowing four goals in his next two starts. Johansson went back to Rochester after Linus Ullmark returned to the lineup, watching Ullmark post a shootout win against the Washington Capitals. Johansson got two more starts for the Amerks before the truncated season came to a close. He finished with a .894 save percentage and a 2.94 goals against average in the NHL and a .921 save percentage and a 2.19 goals against average in the AHL. It’s probably not quite fair to evaluate Johansson on these six games, but the problem is that he’s got Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen coming hot on his tail, and Linus Ullmark did well enough to stay around next season - this really was Johansson’s ‘mom’s spaghetti’ one shot, and unfortunately, he may have blown it. #25 Linus Weissbach #24 Aaron Huglen #23 Miska Kukkonen #22 Lawrence Pilut #21 Linus Cronholm View the full article
  8. Photo by Bruce Bennett/NHLI via Getty Images Plenty to chew on this week with the NHL Draft Lottery and Kevyn Adams making his first front office hirings We’re back this week with a new episode and actually a decent amount of Buffalo Sabres content to discuss. Before we got into the Sabres talk we kicked this episode off with an impromptu discussion on the best flavors of milkshakes and juice. A riveting conversation for sure. After that we jumped into the results of the NHL Draft Lottery. What the Sabres should do with the eighth overall pick and some players they could trade it for if that’s what they decided to do. Then we talked about the promotions of Jeremiah Crowe and Jason Nightingale in the scouting department. What that tells us about Adams’ approach to building his hockey department and what it could mean for the team moving forward. In the second half of the podcast we answer fan questions on trades, free agents, NHL Draft, Canadian food, and more. You can catch the entire episode on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and at the link below. View the full article
  9. In the final segment of this conversation, we spoke to Ndur, James, and Grand-Pierre about their playing careers in the Sabres organization In part one of our conversation with Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, Rumun Ndur, and Val James, we discussed the issue of racial inequality in both hockey, and society as a whole. Their responses were illuminating and added to an ongoing dialogue that is long overdue. For the second half of the interview, we asked these men about their respective playing careers - specifically their time with the Buffalo Sabres organization. From favorite memories to past mentors, their responses and recantations will surely bring a smile to fans in Western New York. The following Q&A segment took place in two parts, one including Ndur and Grand-Pierre as a duo, and one with James individually. All players were asked the same line of questions. Question #5: You were all part of some Calder Cup runs with the organization. Can you tell us about your favorite memories playing in WNY, whether it be with the Sabres or Amerks? Ndur: “My time in Western New York, specifically Rochester was… I feel so great to be part of that part of America. I mean, growing up, you get thrown in there. You’re 20 years old. You know, I lived with billet parents when I was in Guelph in the OHL.” “You’re thrown in there, and you’re on your own. Just the relationships that I made off the ice… Not even teammates, just guys in the community, guys that I still talk to to this day. It was great. Obviously, I think winning plays a great part in how you remember things, you know, positively or negatively.” “Winning a championship my rookie year in the American Hockey League. You know, I think it was tweeted the other day. June 13th was the day we won the championship. That is so long to spend with a group of guys that you’re just going to war with every day. Everybody is on the same page, and everybody tugging on the rope to get to that goal and just the relationships and everything that I forged in those years…” Photo by Robert Skeoch/Getty Images “I love to say that I’m a product of Western New York. I was raised in Canada, but I feel a great connection with Western New York. I loved my time there. I was so proud to be drafted by Buffalo. I was so proud to be an Amerk. Those are great memories that I will always remember.” Grand-Pierre: “My first year was not as memorable as Rumun’s. We were awful. It was a completely different first year, but you know, I did learn a lot from that season. We had a lot of rookies. I think we had 10 or 11 first-year players that year.” “We had Brian McCutcheon that year. It was his first year coaching in the American League. We had no assistant coach. It was very unusual. For a little bit, we didn’t have a coach because we got in a bus accident and Brian was hurt. All of the sudden Scott Metcalfe was running practice and Buffalo sent their video guy to coach us. It was a different year.” “I will tell you, Rochester and Western New York, same thing for me. Starting when I got traded to the Buffalo organization, I spent the summers training in Buffalo. We had a six-week camp there. That’s where I really learned how to be a pro. That’s where I bought my first car. That’s where I got my first apartment. A lot of firsts.” “I still talk to some people from Rochester to this day, and Buffalo as well. I was not happy when I got traded. My connection with Rochester was definitely more my first year. In year two and three, although we had two trips to the Calder Cup, I was up with Buffalo. It almost creates a disconnect with the city when all of the sudden you bail out on them.” “I remember not being happy, especially my third year when right after our last game of the regular season, and I knew that was our year to win the championship because the year before we lost to Providence. I was so pumped to come back, and I knew that was our last game.” Photo by Robert Skeoch/Getty Images “I still remember Brian McCutcheon coming to my stall and saying ‘hey, you’re going to Buffalo’ and honestly that was probably the most disappointing day of my life. It’s like, how is that possible? You’re going to the NHL. It’s just that you worked all season long with these guys to get to the ultimate goal and all of the sudden they’re like, ‘okay, now you’ve got to go up to Buffalo and sit in case somebody gets hurt.’ ” “That was really disappointing for me that year. But yeah, definitely great memories from Western New York. To this day, every time in the summer when I go to Montreal, I’ll loop through Buffalo and Rochester and sometimes I’ll sleep over there just to kind of reminisce and show my kids my first few places.” James: “I’ll tell you about both. When I was playing with the Amerks, our first year wasn’t all that great. I don’t even think we made the playoffs. Our second year is when we excelled and the thing was that Mike Keenan… He kept pretty much his whole core for the second year. The first year was mostly him teaching us all his drills and getting us to be able to actually execute them to perfection.” “That’s what he did. He groomed us the first year, and the second year we started to excel. Once you get to know a program, you know where your players are, you know who is going to be where at any point in time. That’s what the learning process of playing with a line is, so you can ‘gel.’ That’s what that word means for anybody who’s listening, wondering what ‘gel’ means. It’s getting a team together so they can play with each other, and knowing where that player you’re playing with is going to be at any given time.” “My experience with the Americans came to pinnacle when we were able to advance through the league and win the Calder Cup. The players were fantastic, the coaches were fantastic. I know there have always been raps and talks about certain things about certain coaches, but you know what… results are what matter, and that’s what people are looking for.” “My stint with Buffalo was great. I couldn’t believe I got called up to begin with. Then to find out I was playing the ‘Bad Boys,’ you know, the Boston Bruins… I knew there was always this huge rivalry between Boston and Buffalo.” Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives “I felt very honored to be able to slip on a Buffalo Sabres uniform and actually step on the ice and represent the organization. We had a great coach, Scotty Bowman, and all the other coaches that were there helping. We had quite a few legends who were actually teaching that team at the time. They were just great people. When you came in, they welcomed you, they talked to you, and any mistakes you were making, they tried to clear them up.” “I know that when I did go up, the experience I got there made me have to always work my behind off to keep up with the guys because when you take that next step up, everybody is a good skater. Everybody could fly, so you have to adapt.” “By the time I came back (to Rochester), which was that Calder Cup year, I had already been up there (in Buffalo) for three weeks to a month. So, I had lots of time, and lots of practice with guys who were a hell of a lot better than I was… And I thought I was pretty good.” Question #6: Who was your favorite defensive partner or linemate? Ndur: “I have a couple that I definitely have to mention. My first year, Doug Houda came down (to Rochester). I don’t know if you remember the story because it was a while ago now, but we were a last-place team in that ‘95-’96 season. I think we were second-last at Christmas and we ended up winning the Calder Cup.” “A few things happened that year. Steve Shields came down from Buffalo and Doug Houda as well. When Houda came down, he… obviously, he’d been an NHL veteran and that demotion at that time in your life, it can be a killer. Let’s be honest, you don’t want to be sitting on the bus, going to Providence or Portland.” “It can be tough, and he came down and he was the most professional pro, and that was one of the first kind of guys that I latched onto. Every day at practice working hard, working on quick feet, working on making that first pass. He just took me under his wing.” Photo by Scott Levy/Getty Images “So Doug, it was a brief half-season. I never played with him again but that half season… we did great things and he really changed the culture that we had. We were a young team that year, but he came in and really stabilized everything on the defensive corps.” “Charlie Huddy came in the following year and again, it was playing with a guy who just had a presence, and a great demeanor to him. Playing with guys like that really kind of set me up for my future career.” Grand-Pierre: “As far as a defensive partner, I want to say my first year in Rochester, which was 1997-98, I think they just signed Mike Hurlbut. I think he’s in the Amerks Hall of Fame now. He was my D-partner and he was a very calming presence on the blue line. I was a 20-year-old trying to prove myself, so I would get caught out of position quite a bit, just chasing guys, trying to put them through the glass. So he was definitely a great partner for me. Again, he was an older guy. A true pro.” “I learned a lot about how to take care of yourself, and how to conduct yourself like a true pro, and obviously on the ice he was a big help as well. I would say he was the one that changed me the most.” “Then in Buffalo, for me it was Darryl Shannon. It was literally the exact same thing. I’d play with Shannon or Jason Woolley. For me, Darryl Shannon was the same thing. I spent a summer at his house in Buffalo the one year and he was like a father figure, taking me under his wing and showing me things.” “Rumun only got me in trouble (laughs).” James: “I have a couple… I’ve got to tell you Chris McRae. There was Don Keller. There was Clint Fehr, Mark Wichrowski. Those were linemates in Rochester. Kevin Maguire was another one. There’s a lot of guys that I played really good with, that were some of my favorite players.” “I can’t forget my friends from Erie, Pennsylvania as well. There’s been a whole host of guys who were just wonderful guys. I tell anyone who asks me – pretty much every team I played on, all the players were great. We were just one big family. That’s why we were able to win together, because we actually cared about each other. That’s the difference between winning and losing championships.” Question #7: What led you to your next steps in hockey? Jean-Luc, you’ve had success in broadcasting, Rumun, you’re coaching youth hockey, and I know Val has stayed involved with alumni events in both Buffalo and Toronto. What attracted you to those post-playing roles? Ndur: : “For me it was staying with the game. It was pretty simple. You know, hockey has given me so much in my life. I got to travel the world. I played in Europe, I played in three or four different countries. I played with Wayne Gretzky… It’s given me so much and those moments in the dressing room… guys talk about it all the time. You miss those moments in the dressing room when you forge great relationships.” “I miss all that and I just wanted to keep that feeling going as much as possible. Just to give back, you know? Stay with the game and give back to a generation to come. Giving back what I’ve gotten out of this game which is so much.” “I want to get back into coaching in the National Hockey League, or as high a level as I can. I’m just a competitive guy.” Grand-Pierre: “For me, it was a little bit different, but I like what Rumun said about giving back. That’s where it kind of started with me. Once I retired, I was actually offered a job in broadcasting but I was honestly so burnt out by hockey by the time I was done, I literally wanted nothing to do with the game anymore.” “Not in a bad way, but almost… I just needed to redefine myself. So I actually went into real estate and really found a passion. Like Rums said, we’re such competitors. I found myself being very competitive in real estate, like I just need to sell more than everyone else. Then, about four or five years into it, as the sales were mounting and mounting, somebody approached me in our area, and our high school did not have a high school team. So, we created a board, and started a team here and that’s when I got into coaching.” “It almost rekindled my love with the game. For me, it was more than winning and losing. It was really about helping these kids understand how much power… and again, trying to give them back what hockey gave me. Discipline, relationships, responsibility. All these things, I think in any sport you need all these things, but hockey has given me so much and I wanted to give back.” “I coached high school here [in Columbus] for like five years. Then as my son was getting closer to high school, I’m like, there’s no way I’m coaching that kid (laughs). I just want to be a dad.” “Then the broadcasting job just came out of nowhere a couple years ago when Bill Davich decided he was going to retire. He kind of reached out to me and was like, ‘hey, if you’re interested, you should go for it.’ “ “I needed to take that step away from the game. You hear a lot about guys going through depression and all these things once they’re retired because they miss the camaraderie and the relationships they built. For me, the best way to deal with it was to literally step away completely and forget about it. I was not in a bad way, but I thought personally, that’s the way I had to deal with it. Honestly, I’m really grateful I did because I’ve still got the real estate going, and I’m back in the game and I absolutely love it and enjoy every moment.” James: “First off, I want to let the fans know that I appreciate the support they have given me, and that (alumni and charity involvement) is just my little thing that I can give back for the years that they supported me. Also, us older players have seen a lot of things that these younger players will never see. It’s up to us to teach them the right way too.” “Of course, I was an enforcer, which is one of those banned obstacles right now but in doing that, I did get to meet a lot of people. Let’s face it, the game is 100-percent, maybe 200-percent more gentlemanly than it was when I played. Guys aren’t running guys from behind anymore. Guys aren’t trying that knee-to-knee stuff anymore…” Photo by Cole Burston/NHLI via Getty Images “It was just one of those things where the enforcer enforced the goon. Hockey fans are now knowledgeable enough to know the difference between the two, because there was a time where everyone thought they were the same.” Final Thoughts Because this series’ entire intent was to open dialogue about the issue of racism in hockey, we asked these men if there was any final thoughts they wanted to add. Below are their open-responses and final thoughts on the overarching issue. Ndur: “I think we were kind of brought together today because of what’s happening in the world with certain injustices. So, let’s continue that talk. I know we’ve talked about it already, but let’s make sure we continue these conversations. These are tough conversations but we have to do it.” “I said it earlier, I think… something’s different this time around. We keep talking, and we keep changing and generations to come will have great lives. I guess I hate that we came together in these circumstances, but let’s have the difficult conversations now.” Grand-Pierre: “Right now it’s the hot topic. It’s bigger than protests, or posting on social media. At the end of the day, I don’t care if you don’t protest. The biggest impact is going to be at home. It’s looking at yourself in the mirror, and having this conversation with your family.” “It’s simply about how to respect each other as human beings. It’s how to treat each other with respect, and look at your neighbor. You know, it’s something that I taught my kids really young and it’s as simple as opening the door for someone. It doesn’t matter if they’re old, or young, or Black, or gay. It doesn’t matter.” “Open the door for someone. Smile. Look up and get your face away from the phone. It’s bigger than race. I think it’s just about interaction between human beings that needs to be greater. Again, I have a lot of hope. I think it’s only getting better. There’s still some evil in this world, but we’re doing things to change it.” James: “At this point in time, with the way society has turned this corner, we have an opportunity to put everyone on an equal footing now. It’s not going to be one of those things that’ll happen overnight. It’s going to take time. Everyone involved has to have a little patience.” “As we said before, you’ve got to learn about each other and what things hurt people. You’re going to have people out there that don’t care and they want to get under somebody’s skin no matter what, and they will do that. Those are the types of people you have to try and reach. You’re not going to reach them by screaming at them. It has to be an intellectual conversation where, at that moment, it clicks.” “All you really want someone to do is to look at you as an individual. Not as a color. And if anyone can get someone to look at them like that, if they are a racist, you have done something. Because as long as they start to think about it, now maybe they’ll want to go a little deeper and find out why they’re so pissed off at a certain race.” Are you a hockey fan who is now asking “How can I educate myself? How can I help fight racism in hockey and in society?” We recommend visiting this website, which is a work in progress put together by Jashvina Shah (@icehockeystick). The website features ‘resources to support minorities and tools to educate yourself on systematic racism and biases.’ View the full article
  10. Getty Images In the first of a two-part series, we sat down with former-Sabres, Rumun Ndur, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, and Val James to discuss diversity in hockey The discussion surrounding racial injustice has always existed in sports. As movements championing racial equality have finally made it to the forefront of the American social agenda, we must examine these injustices, and how they manifest in our everyday lives, and keep the conversation going. In the hockey world, Akim Aliu sparked the conversation in a big way. His recantations pertaining to the racism he faced on his journey to the NHL served as a sobering reminder that the league has a long way to go to make the term “Hockey is for Everyone” more than just a catchy phrase. The onus doesn’t just fall on professional leagues. In order to enact meaningful change in our society, we must each do our part to help amplify the voices of those being discriminated against. We must listen to their stories, and observe the world from another perspective. This is particularly important for those of us who are white. We don’t have the same lived experiences as BIPOC, and we will never know what it feels like to experience racism. It’s critical that we play a part in not only calling out racism when we see it - including in the locker room, on the ice and on the Internet - but also actively working against racism in hockey, in sport at large, and in society as a whole. In a special segment of our “Sabres of Yesterday” series, we decided to speak with three Black former-NHL players who spent time with the Buffalo Sabres organization. In the first article of a two-part series, we spoke to Rumun Ndur, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, and Valmore James about the issue of race in hockey, and society in general. A bruising defender in the late-90’s and early-2000’s, Ndur was selected by the Sabres in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. As the first Nigerian-born player in NHL history, he spent six years with the organization. In 1995-96, he helped lead the Rochester Americans to a Calder Cup victory. Grand-Pierre arrived in Buffalo in 1996 as part of a deal that sent Yuri Khmylev to the St. Louis Blues. While he did appear in 27 games for the Sabres from 1998-2000, he too made a big impact with the Amerks, helping them reach the Calder Cup Final two consecutive times. In 1981, Val James became the first American-born Black player to dress in an NHL game. He debuted with the Sabres for seven games that season, serving as an enforcer during an era where physicality was king. He too was a Calder Cup champion with the Amerks in 1982-83. Five years later, he would become the first person of color to don a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform. The following Q&A segment took place in two parts, one including Ndur and Grand-Pierre as a duo, and one with James individually. All players were asked the same line of questions. Question #1: As most people know, Akim Aliu was at the forefront of the re-ignited conversation about racism in hockey this past season. It seems like his experiences surrounding racism in hockey were very severe, and also very common. Can you give us your thoughts on Akim opening up this conversation, and the positive impacts it will make as we try to eradicate racism from the sport? Ndur: “Now, I don’t want this to sound like it’s anti-Akim, but I didn’t feel it was ‘very common.’ It was there - I was called the N-word. But in the dressing room, I never felt like it was a common thing to have racism thrown in my face and to be confronted with it. Now, I don’t want it to sound like it’s not there, I just didn’t think it was a common thing for me.” “Just having the conversation… I think things are different now. I cannot believe the shift that’s happening and Akim, he kind of opened the conversation up, but I think other things obviously that have come to pass, have really ignited a fire in the world. I think that’s great. We’ve been having these conversations for too long and nothing has happened.” “I think something is really different in the way people think and feel, and in their actions. That will be a great thing. We’ll have to wait and see. We’ll have to keep talking because it can’t just be this moment. It can’t just be this little moment in time. We have to keep going and make sure things like what Akim has gone through doesn’t happen again. What George Floyd went through... Those are the things that have really sunk in with people.” Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images Grand-Pierre: “Personally, I’ve never encountered it in a locker room or a coaching staff, or anyone I worked with in an organization, one-on-one. It’s something that is very unfortunate when you hear what happened to him (Aliu). I personally can’t imagine having to go through that, especially coming from a coach, which is kind of incredible.” “I can see why some players were afraid to speak up, or why for him at the moment it’s hard to speak up. If I put myself in his shoes, and there you are trying to chase a dream, which is to play in the NHL, and all of the sudden you’re like – am I going to make noise…?” “Pro sport is different than the corporate world in some ways, where you don’t want to ruffle feathers and have this… let’s call it a “tag,” because you’re speaking up for yourself, trying to earn respect. All of the sudden you become a “troublemaker”, right?” “I’ve never been in his shoes, thankfully. Now, have I heard the N-word in buildings or from opponents on the ice? I probably did, but honestly, you almost shield it where as a kid it happens to you and it hurts you, but once you become an adult it’s almost like it bounces right off your back. You know, you hear a fan say the N-word when you’re in the penalty box… I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I’m old.” “For me, it just kind of bounced off of me and I forgot about it. I didn’t have any further problems or ‘Oh my god I’m so angry I heard the N-word from the stands.’ Of course it doesn’t make you happy, but you’re so focused on achieving your goal, which is reaching the NHL, that you almost forget about it. But to have my own teammates, who I’m fighting with and for every game, or my own coach, it’s unacceptable. Thankfully I was not in that position.” James: “Well, I have to say it’s a gallant effort. Hopefully, everybody keeps going in the right direction and they don’t get derailed by other things. Now, I think that it probably was… his statements about what happened to him were a catalyst to get everyone to become aware of what was going on. Then with everything that has happened socially, that just brought everything to light even more. So now, people started revisiting all of these things from the past and realized that there’s some truth to it. Even now, people are actually starting to send in footage of things that have happened.” “I guess the bottom line is, it was always there, it was just that it was… people just thought it was so unbelievable that it couldn’t be true. It’s like with anything else. How does it go? If you’re from Missouri, you know, you’ve got to show me first.” Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives “Now that we have a world stage, it’s opened up the racial situations that are happening all over the globe. As the human race, we have an obligation to each other to set things right, and now that everyone is becoming so aware, this is the opportunity to do that.” The newly-established Hockey Diversity Alliance is obviously part of the push toward progress here. What types of things would you like to see them enact, and focus on in order to make impact in short order? Ndur: “You hear so much about the youth, and ‘changing the culture’, and just their way of thinking. I think that’s the only way you can change things. You know, you hear the word ‘systemic’ and I don’t think it’s a planned, organized group of people. I mean, of course there are certain groups that are extremely racist, but I just think it’s kind of ingrained in people from centuries. So, it has to start with the youth and just making sure they’re brought up in a different culture.” “You know, ‘we’re not racist’ but if you don’t say anything, you’re kind of feeding the beast a little bit, you know? Everybody has to change. It starts, I guess, from a generation that is coming up right now, then maybe we’re talking years and it changes for the better but let’s have the conversation.” “Let’s start talking about it in a real way. Let’s not just bring it up because it’s a hot-button topic right now in the world. Let’s really put systems in place where we can make change, and change the way people think and act, and change the culture for the generations to come.” Grand-Pierre: “I’ll give you an example. If I’m a youth hockey coach, and all of the sudden we’re playing a game and I have a player, and all of the sudden I hear somebody in the locker room drop the N-bomb on him and calling him names… Yeah, I’ll go ahead and suspend the player or whatever. As the youth coach you suspend the player, talk to the parents, but it doesn’t resolve the issue, right?” “The issue is so much bigger. It’s a cultural thing. Nobody is born saying “oh, I hate Black people” or “I hate Jews.” It comes from your home or from other people. You’re not born racist. You can be born into racism because it’s within your household, but it’s really hard to… I don’t want to say it’s too late, but the NHL is doing all these actions, which is awesome. It’s great, but it’s such a bigger issue.” “It’s going to take 50, 60, 70 years and the history will always be there, but you can’t change it with just tapping people on the fingers, or saying ‘guess what, you’re banned from the NHL.’ Yeah, you learned your lesson. You might resent the other race even more because technically that’s what made you lose your job. Again, if I was smart enough, I’d figure it out and that problem would be gone, but it’s so much bigger than sports, or just saying the words. It’s basically an attitude or resentment toward a race that was instilled in you some time in your life and to get rid of that is going to be really, really hard.” “As far as the NHL, paying close attention to that situation, and taking these guys out of the NHL… I get it but hey, this guy (Aliu) lost his career over it. It’s too late for him, unfortunately. So yeah, other people paid with their jobs, but this guy’s whole life got ruined over this.” James: “Well first, everyone has to be educated on what happened in the past. If you don’t know what happened in the past, you can’t take that step forward into the future and change things. It would be a painful learning experience for everyone involved but in the end, people would come to understand. We can’t take someone who was born 10 years ago, who has an attitude, and expect them to understand how this all evolved and got started. We have to go back 400 years and see how things were run then.” “You have to look at it from both sides. You have to look at it from the white perspective, and you have to look at it from the Black perspective. You can’t just take one side and say ‘this is how it is’ because there are a lot of things that were catalysts, and things that made changes.” “If everyone can be educated to that depth, then there will be a better understanding of why society has advanced the way that it has. It’s like anything else. Once you understand your history, the history you can make will definitely be better and that’s where we sit right now.” “There’s a lot of people who don’t understand history. They don’t understand the pain and suffering behind the N-bomb… You could go on and on, and it’s not just the Black race. You have to think about the Native Americans who owned this country before we came along. We have to think about gay rights, and things like that too. When you get down to it, when you’re calling people names, the feeling is the same. It doesn’t change. Only the subject matter changes.” Rumun, a couple times now you’ve brought up a very valid concern regarding the sustained progress of this movement. Do you believe that an organization like the HDA can prevent this from just being a “trendy” topic right at this moment? Ndur: “That’s all our goal, because it has to change. If I’m being honest, personally, I feel it. I feel something different in the world. You know, we’ve had the Rodney Kings, and we’ve seen other things like this all our lives.” “I’ve experienced it in arenas and during games like Akim has, or like Jean-Luc has, but I think things are different now. Whole leagues, like the GTHL is overhauling their whole diversity initiatives. Things are moving in the right way and I think it’s meaningful now.” Grand-Pierre: “So, to Rumun’s point - why are we saying there is hope? Our children and the generation after them. They’ve changed the way of life more than we can think of. Sometimes I look at my son and wonder why is he so sensitive? This new generation, they’re softer. You know, you look at the LGBT community and all the steps, and how much we’ve progressed. There’s so much progress happening with them. This new generation, they’re out here. There’s definitely more love than there ever was before. This generation, they really want a better world. Yes, they may be selfish, but it’s in a good way.” James: “Well, that’s the aim of the program. Now it’s just a matter of what sub-programs you’re going to put in place to hold it all together. The thing is that it’s easy to come out and say this, that, and the other thing, and then walk away. You have to follow-up. You have to nurture it.” “It’s like a child. If you don’t stay on it, it’ll go awry on you. As long as they stick to the facts and help the people that need to be helped... I’m sure that you want to help people of color, but you also want to help everyone else who doesn’t have the same opportunities that other people have.” What advice would you give to young players of color in pursuit of a hockey career? Ndur: “It might sound very generic, but I’d say to them what I would say to any kid. If you really want to play in the NHL, or to play in the OHL, or whatever – you have to have a laser-focus. So things like that (racism), they cannot get to you. If you want it that bad, you can’t let… If we’re being perfectly honest, maybe we’ll have a better world. A world with less racism, but I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of it completely, so you have to have a laser-focus and a determination and things like that won’t stand in your way.” “Those are ways for other people to get you down. You have to be strong. You just can’t let things like that get you down and tear you apart, because there’s going to be things that you don’t like to hear. That’s just the bottom-line of life, you know? So, I would just tell them like I’d tell any kid. You have to be strong-willed. You have to be determined and things like that won’t affect you as much.” Grand-Pierre: “Let’s go all the way back to Jackie Robinson, and Willie O’Ree and what they had to go through back then, compared to what Rumun and I have been through. It’s only getting better and better. Is it perfect? It’s not. It may never be, but my biggest message to these kids is… and again, in Canada, the way I was raised by my parents, it was not like “Hey, Jean-Luc, you’re a Black kid, so you need to know that you’re not going to be treated the same way.” Honestly, in America I see it a little bit different. It’s almost like, sometimes in the household, there’s that warning that you’re not going not be treated the same.” “For me growing up, I walked in the locker room and I didn’t look at myself as the only black person. I just saw myself as a hockey player. I think it makes a big difference. That shift, that little shift in your attitude and how you perceive the world and whatever situation you’re put in… You can’t say ‘I’m Black, or Italian, or Jewish and I’m the only one on my team.’ You have to look at yourself going in and there’s 20 players.” “You’re just a teammate, you’re just a classmate, you’re just a co-worker. You have to look at yourself as an equal, and that’s inside of you.” James: “The first thing I would tell a young kid of color is – you’ll probably have to face some adversity as you rise among the ranks. It’s going to be racial, it’s going to be… hopefully not as bad as it was for people who came before them, and hopefully at some point in time it’s stamped right out so the child can just go out there and just try to play the sport and not have to worry about all of that.” “That is extremely stressful on a young child and it all stems back to not being wanted. Because if you feel like you’re part of something and that everybody wants you to be there, all your inhibitions are lifted and you can actually get down to concentrating on what you’re there for, which is to play the sport.” Are you a hockey fan who is now asking “How can I educate myself? How can I help fight racism in hockey and in society?” We recommend visiting this website, which is a work in progress put together by Jashvina Shah (@icehockeystick). The website features ‘resources to support minorities and tools to educate yourself on systematic racism and biases.’ Stay tuned for part two of this segment where Ndur, Grand-Pierre, and James discuss their time with the Sabres’ organization, and their lives after hockey. View the full article
  11. Beauts’ bitter battles with former statements are those for the ages For fans of the NWHL, the Buffalo Beauts and New York (now Metropolitan) Riveters have provided five seasons of bitterly contested games. These tilts are just that - physical matchups that frequently go outside the rules and have ended in more suspensions than any other matchup in league history The rivalry hails back to the inaugural 2015-16 season, when the Beauts and Riveters slugged it out for last place in the regular season in an attempt to avoid the high-powered Boston Pride in the playoffs. The teams first met on November 29, 2015; a game in which the Beauts come out on top - the organization’s first win in its history. The two same-state rivals clashed again after the holiday break, with the Riveters securing a 7-3 victory. Between the two matches, 20 penalties were called, with an increasing number of violent infractions - roughing, elbowing, and body checking. The January 17 iteration took things to a whole new level. There were 19 penalties assessed in the game, including three game misconduct calls. The game itself was bananas-in-pajamas - a melee that featured 98 shots on goal and 10 goals in regulation. The shooting gallery was topped by the Riveters’ Brooke Ammerman, who unleashed 11 shots, and Buffalo’s Megan Bozek, who took 10. Ultimately, Buffalo came out on top 6-5 in the shootout. Because of the size of the league and the schedule, these two clubs became very familiar with each other. Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt, which is proven true in this instance. The next meeting came only two weeks later, in which 25 percent of the penalties called were body checks. The final matchup of the season saw two unsportmanlike conduct penalties, and the Buffalo victory sealed their fate for the playoffs. Sarah Casorso leaves the ice for the final time as a Buffalo Beaut. pic.twitter.com/oiEU2MWAtU — Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) January 12, 2019 The Legend of Sarah Casorso will live on in infamy, of course. She and Madison Packer have had a contentious history that began when Casorso delivered a questionable hit on Packer in a losing effort for the Isobel Cup in 2018. On January 12, 2019, Casorso announced pregame that she’d be retiring from hockey to focus on her career as a brewer at Bench Brewing. Packer made sure to give Casorso a fitting goodbye - with 33 minutes left in Sarah’s final game, the two squared off in a grappling match that ended with both being tossed. As noted by The Ice Garden’s Casey Bryant, there have been eight suspensions in league history, and six have been assessed following Beauts/Rivs games - most recently following the league’s first outdoor game at Buffalo’s Riverworks facility. Five years later, the most heated rivalry in the NWHL rages on. The game resulted in 11 goals, with Buffalo losing 7-4...and 12 penalties, seven of which were (unsurprisingly) violent infractions. The rivalry shows no signs of slowing down, and with an exciting season six on the horizon, these two will surely provide the fans with the intensity we’ve all come to expect from their matchups. View the full article
  12. Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports The Swedish defenseman makes his series debut after a modest season The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of seven staff writers and over 250 fans that ranked players under the age of 25 as of July 15th, 2020. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production to rank each player. This is our 2020 pre-draft rankings. After he went unranked in last year’s edition of the DBTB Top 25 Under 25, Linus Cronholm makes his debut to the series at number 21. Considered a steady, stay at home defensive prospect, the native of Malmo, Sweden won’t wow you with his point totals, rather, he relies on his positioning and defensive-zone awareness to provide value to his team. As for which team that is, the Swedish defenseman saw himself on loan to HockeyAllsvenskan, his country’s second-highest league, for the second straight season. This past season, Cronholm played for Karlskrona HK when on loan from his parent club and hometown team, the Malmo Redhawks of the SHL. Linus Cronholm (21:01 TOI) connects from the point for his second goal of the season in Karlskrona's 3-2 loss to HC Vita Hästen pic.twitter.com/kx3KE9QAzY — Kris Baker (@SabresProspects) October 12, 2019 This transition was somewhat to be expected as part of the defenseman’s development path, as playing in the SHL at only 19 years old against full grown men can be a tough leap for many prospects of that age. Cronholm did manage 10 games in the SHL, although he was unable to get on the scoresheet as a bottom-pair defensman. As far as what the future holds for Cronholm, he will probably have to take a full-time leap to the SHL next season in order to continue on a positive track towards North American hockey. He signed an extension with Malmo back in December, so he will likely get a shot to do so. If he becomes a steadying presence on the backend for the Redhawks, then it is likely we will see Cronholm approached with a qualifying offer. If he is bounced down off the roster again, well, there will be much more concern over his true NHL potential. #25 Linus Weissbach #24 Aaron Huglen #23 Miska Kukkonen #22 Lawrence Pilut View the full article
  13. Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images Time to take another run at putting together the Sabres roster, post draft lottery edition Back in March, I put together a 2020 offseason projection for the Buffalo Sabres. I had some fun putting together some trades and attempting to rebuild the club into a playoff contender. That seemed to go over well last time, so I’m back to try it again. Now that we officially know where they’ll be drafting in the 2020 NHL Draft and a new general manager is in place, we have a little more clarity moving forward. Just like last time, I’ll go through re-signing restricted free agents, the draft, trades, and unrestricted free agency to put together a roster that could be competitive next season. I did my best to be reasonable in trades and used Evolving Hockey’s contract projections as the guide to give new contracts. Remember, this is just for fun and to spark some discussion. Not like anyone was there to tell me no in any of these moves. Restricted Free Agents and NHL Draft Alright, let’s start with the easy part of this and get the restricted free agents out of the way. Not much is going to change from the last time I did this. I re-signed all of the major RFA’s, except for Brandon Montour. We’ll get to that later. Here are the contracts they were all signed to: Sam Reinhart - 5 years, $6.9 million AAV Dominik Kahun - 2 years, $2.75 million AAV Linus Ullmark - 2 years, $2.5 million AAV Victor Olofsson - 4 years, $4.75 million AAV Casey Mittelstadt - 1 year, $900k AAV Tage Thompson - 1 year, $800k AAV Curtis Lazar - 1 year, $800k AAV Now, that we have that out of the way, I moved onto the NHL Draft. There has been a lot of talk about whether the Sabres should keep the pick or move it to acquire that second-line center that they desperately need. In this situation, I decided to keep the pick at eighth overall and selected center Anton Lundell out of HIFK in Finland. He’s a solid two-way center that may one of the more NHL-ready prospects in the draft. Lundell put together a great season as an 18-year-old in the Finnish pro league, Liiga. It’s more likely than not that if Lundell is the pick that he’ll return to Finland for one more season. Especially when you consider European leagues are on track to begin their 2020-21 season well before the NHL. However, in this scenario, I’m going to keep him on the NHL roster. I plan to use him in a fourth-line center role that will shelter him and play to the strengths of his defensive game. He’ll step in as a replacement for Johan Larsson who I did not re-sign, along with all of the other pending unrestricted free agents. After some discussions this week with team sources, it appears that the team is not planning to return any of the unrestricted free agents. They’d like to bring back Larsson, but the feeling doesn’t appear to be mutual on his end of things. We’ll see if they throw enough money at him to convince the defensive center to re-sign. Trades Let’s move onto the fun part of this exercise, the trades. I made three deals in total. Trade 1: Sabres acquire Alex Kerfoot (F) from the Leafs in exchange for Brandon Montour (D) As I mentioned above, I didn’t re-sign Montour and this is why. I sent him to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a center to play behind Jack Eichel and bridge to the developing centers in Dylan Cozens and Lundell. The Leafs need a right-shot defenseman with Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci both likely to depart as unrestricted free agents. After acquiring Kerfoot in the deal with the Colorado Avalanche for Nazem Kadri last offseason, his name was floated out as being available for help on the blue line. He’s not that flashy center that you may be looking for, but he can take the pressure off of Cozens. Kerfoot can also play in defensive zone situations and could be that “grinder” center that has fit well with Jeff Skinner in the past. Trade 2: Sabres acquire Elias Lindholm (F), 2021 conditional third-round pick, and rights to Cam Talbot from the Flames in exchange for Rasmus Ristolainen, Rasmus Asplund, and Carter Hutton ($1 million salary retained) Here’s the big move of the offseason for the Sabres. I’ll start with what they brought in. They pick up a young top-six forward, draft pick, and a goaltender from the Flames. Lindholm was a player that was on the Sabres radar back in 2018 when Ryan O’Reilly was traded. He was their main target in trade discussion with the Carolina Hurricanes about O’Reilly. When the Sabres wouldn’t move off their desire to not pay the bonus due to O’Reilly, the Hurricanes moved on and made the big trade with the Flames that offseason. The 25-year-old carries a contract with four years remaining at a $4.85 million cap hit. Not bad for a player that is as productive offensively as him. He’s not a play-driving winger, but he’s one of the top forwards in the league at impacting scoring for his team, as you can see below in Micah McCurdy’s isolated impact chart. He could be a good fit to play on the wing with Cozens to get him up to speed quickly in the NHL. Talbot comes over as a pending unrestricted free agent. I signed Talbot to a new two-year deal with a $1.75 million cap hit to back up Linus Ullmark until Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is ready to come to the NHL. The 32-year-old goaltender did bounce back last season behind David Rittich. You’re hoping he can provide more over the next few years than the Sabres got out of Hutton. The draft pick in this trade is a conditional 2021 third-round pick. It becomes a second-round pick if Ristolainen plays in 50% of the games and the Flames make the postseason in 2020-21. The main piece going out the door is Ristolainen. Putting aside the is he good or not argument, I think it’s time for both the player and organization to get a change. He’s been under the microscope for years in Buffalo and is one of the faces of all the losing. It’s no secret that he wouldn’t be opposed to a new opportunity elsewhere. The Flames are about to lose a few right shot defenders in free agency, including possibly TJ Brodie. Ristolainen is a younger player than can take his spot. Asplund is a young forward they can add to their bottom six. It feels like he missed an opportunity to stick in Buffalo last season and may make him trade bait this offseason. Hutton is the final piece and he’s shipped out to replace Talbot for a year in Calgary. The Sabres retained $1 million of his salary in this scenario. Essentially acting as a buyout, but it’ll only be on their cap for one year as opposed to two. Trade 3: Sabres acquire David Savard from Blue Jackets in exchange a 2021 second-round pick and Marcus Davidsson (F) Earlier this week, reports from Aaron Portzline of The Athletic surfaced that the Blue Jackets could look to trade David Savard in the offseason. Aaron Portzline, TheAthletic: “I’ve been told by people across the league to expect the Columbus Blue Jackets to shop Josh Anderson and a defender (David Savard?) this off-season. I suppose it’s not out of the question that Joonas Korpisalo is added to the mix.” #CBJ — NHL News (@puck_report2) June 28, 2020 The 29-year-old defender is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the 2020-21 season. They could be looking to clear some cap space and don’t have plans to bring him back after his contract expires. Savard plays a lot of tough minutes for the Blue Jackets and would be a perfect fit to play on the top pair with Rasmus Dahlin next season. The right-shot defender would be a nice defensive compliment to allow Dahlin to be more involved in the game offensively at 5 on 5. After acquiring him, I immediately signed him to a two-year contract extension with a $5 million cap hit to carry him through the 2021-22 season. This costs the Sabres a second-round pick, but hopefully, they recoup that in the trade with the Flames. Davidsson is a prospect that hasn’t lived up to expectations yet after being selected in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft. He remains unsigned and is 21-years-old with a ceiling that looks like a bottom-six forward. The Sabres have enough of those players at this point. Free Agency Onto the last step in this process. I made two free agent signings. The first signing was forward Jesper Fast with a three-year contract that carries a $3 million cap hit. I’ve talked about Fast plenty, so I won’t get into the details for the 10th time on why I like the player. The other signing was on defense in Jon Merrill. I signed him to a one-year deal worth $2 million. This gives Jacob Bryson another year to develop. Merrill most recently played with the Vegas Golden Knights. At only 28-years-old he can fill the need short term on the left side of the blue line. He’s underrated in terms of his impact defensively. Merrill was 12th in even-strength defense in Evolving Hockey’s expected goals above replacement (xGAR) model this year. He also has been one of the top impact defensemen defensively over the last few years. After all of the moves here is how the roster looks with $2.8 million in cap space to spare: Expansion With the expansion draft for the new Seattle franchise coming in the 2021 offseason, it’s important to keep an eye on that when building a roster. Therefore, let’s quickly look at how the Sabres will look in the expansion draft with this new roster. Using the 7-3-1 approach, here is who I would protect in expansion with this current roster: Forwards: Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel, Elias Lindholm, Jesper Fast, Dominik Kahun, Victor Olofsson, and Sam Reinhart Defense: Rasmus Dahlin, David Savard, and Henri Jokiharju Goaltender: Linus Ullmark That would leave the following players exposed in expansion that are on the main roster: Alex Kerfoot, Colin Miller, Kyle Okposo, Tage Thompson, Casey Mittelstadt, Will Borgen, and Cam Talbot The main concerns here would be exposing Thompson and Mittelstadt. We’ll have to see how both develop next season. If the Sabres don’t want to lose either player for nothing they’ll need to move them before the draft or work out a deal with Seattle to prevent them from selecting them in the draft. So there you have it. Another roster projection for you to discuss. Data via Cap Friendly, Hockeyviz.com, and Evolving Hockey View the full article
  14. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images Discuss the latest going on in the hockey world Here’s the weekly open thread for this week, with the major headlines. Mon 6/29 The Pegulas have wielded the axe again (who’s left anyway?!) over at Pegula Sports & Entertainment (PSE), with VP of Finance Chuck LaMattina the latest to be shown the door. Unlike some of the previous firings which have been to reduce payroll, according to the Buffalo News there are plans to backfill this position. Two contrarian views from the BN crew - who should the Sabres be looking to draft at their #8 position? Or should the Sabres trade away the pick and get someone who can help the team now? Away from the Sabres, the NHL announced that a number of players have tested positive in the rounds of tests being done as part of the Return To Play Plan. View the full article
  15. Photo by Sara Schmidle/NHLI via Getty Images Former SHL defensman of the year looks to be lost for Sabres two year KHL contract is signed The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of seven staff writers and over 250 fans that ranked players under the age of 25 as of July 15th, 2020. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production to rank each player. This is our 2020 pre-draft rankings. He came to Buffalo two years ago with accolades such as winning the SHL equivalent to the Norris Trophy after a season which saw him scoring most points of all the defensemen in SHL. Two years later he´s on his way to the KHL after only 46 games in the NHL in which remindes a whole lot of the Victor Antipin era. Last season was disappointing for Pilut who aimed to snag a regular spot in the Sabres lineup after showing promise during his first year in North America which ended with 33 games in the NHL. But as the club had too many defensemen fighting for only six spots, where some of the spots were claimed by the likes of Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Ristolainen, Brandon Montour and Jake McCabe Pilut were sent down to Rochester as he had a two way deal. In Rochester he continued to shine like he did during his first year, amassing 23 points in 37 games, where he for the second year in a row were named to the AHL All Star-game, but were called up to Buffalo and therefore missed it. Stuck in a logjam Pilut were only given 13 games in the NHL where he averaged 16:14 minutes per game, just over a minute less than during his first season, while not collecting any points. His performances went up and down and he sometimes looked to be missing his usual confidence on the ice. His situation, with not earning a regular roster spot, caused some concerns as his contract were running out this summer and there was always the possibility that he was about to leave the 716. Buffalo were said to want to extend it and give him another two way-deal, but Pilut wanted more guarantees and asked for a one way-deal. When Sabres did not offer that, the defenseman explored his options and on the 9th of June he signed a two year deal with the Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL. His time in Buffalo is now looking to be over, a time which started with promise and ended with some unclarity and more criticism towards the front office. It´s still possible that Pilut one day returns to Buffalo as they’ll hold his rights if they qualify him this summer and if not all the bridges are burnt between the two. #25 Linus Weissbach #24 Aaron Huglen #23 Miska Kukkonen View the full article
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