World Junior Championships force Buffalo Sabres to deal with tough ‘boomerang’ schedule

Last season, I thought Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks would probably not be able to win the Northwest Division thanks to an NHL record 12-game road trip before and after the 2010 Olympic games. Instead, the Sedin twins played the kind of hockey that would help earn Henrik Sedin an unexpected Hart Trophy while the team managed to win their division despite that challenge.

Of course, the Canucks were (and are) the kind of Stanley Cup contending team that stands well above their division mates. The Buffalo Sabres will deal with a similar – though nowhere near as long – bit of turmoil thanks to the 2011 World Junior Championships being held at HSBC Arena. (And the city won’t even receive the benefit of uniform good press, judging by the fact that Emerson Etem called Buffalo a “ghost town” on Twitter today.)

Stu Hackel of Sports Illustrated thinks that the Sabres are getting “screwed” by the schedule makers during this upcoming stretch. Here is how it breaks down for Buffalo:

  • A back-to-back out in Western Canada, as they lost a road game against the Calgary Flames tonight and will play the Oilers in Edmonton on Tuesday.
  • Then the Sabres get the one home game that Hackel said they requested during the WJC tournament’s “off-day,” a contest against the Boston Bruins on New Year’s day.
  • After that, they “boomerang” right back to the Western Conference, with road contests against the Avalanche on Tuesday, Sharks on Thursday and Coyotes on Saturday.

Hackel explains how the league handled a similar situation differently with the Ottawa Senators before and how these types of tough road trips hurt – and will continue to hinder – even some of the league’s best teams. (Let alone a struggling bunch like the Sabres.)

Now, when the Ottawa Senators hosted the WJC in 2008-09, they went west for three games, then came back to play in Toronto and New Jersey. That’s a reasonable schedule, but, for some reason, it was no template for this year. The Sabres are eight points south of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and 1-4-2 in their past seven road games while being outscored 22-11.

To make matters worse, the Sabres will begin their boomerang trip and what could be the defining portion of their schedule by adjusting to the loss of their top offensive player, Derek Roy. Roy tore his left quadricep tendon on Thursday after being checked by Florida’s Dmitry Kulikov and falling into the boards. Roy is scheduled for surgery this week.

The road has also been treacherous this season for other clubs. The Kings, for example, were on top of the Western Conference earlier this season, went on an extended trip and lost five of six. The Canadiens have dropped three of the first four games on their current seven-game voyage (including Sunday night to the Islanders who — gasp! — have now grabbed nine of a possible 10 points in their last five games, led by NHL First Star of the Week, goalie Dwayne Roloson). The Flyers are about to embark on their biggest road trip of the season and will play nine of their next 10 away from Philly. Without Chris Pronger, it should be a very telling stretch.

Hackel points to quotes from Sabres GM Darcy Regier, who rightly points out that every team has to deal with its share of road challenges. Yet, when you consider Buffalo’s tenuous position as a playoff hopeful team – and the potential destructive effect of Derek Roy’s injury – this could be the end of the road for the Sabres’ shaky postseason dreams.

Caps re-sign Copley, who could be Holtby’s future backup

Getty
Leave a comment

Pheonix Copley, who returned to Washington this season as part of the Kevin Shattenkirk trade with St. Louis, has signed a two-year extension worth $1.3 million, the Caps announced on Wednesday.

The key wrinkle in the deal is that year one is of the two-way variety, while year two is of the one-way.

It’s worth mentioning because Philipp Grubauer — Washington’s current backup to starter Braden Holtby — is currently a restricted free agent, and believed to be have No. 1 potential.

The 25-year-old has capably served under Holtby for the last two years. He’s coming off an excellent campaign — 13-6-2, .926 save percentage, 2.05 GAA — and sounds like he’s ready to make the next step in his career.

“I would like to stay here; Washington is awesome and the whole organization’s been awesome the last couple of years,” Grubauer said, per the Post. “But I’m ready if the opportunity comes to make the next step and try to be a starting goalie somewhere.”

Grubauer was made available to Vegas at the expansion draft, but Golden Knights GM George McPhee opted to take blueliner Nate Schmidt instead. There are still rumblings that Washington might dangle Grubauer in trade talks.

Copley has a very small NHL resume — just two games, both with St. Louis — but fared very well with AHL Hershey last year. In 16 regular-season games he went 11-5-0 with a .931 save percentage and 2.15 GAA and, in the playoffs, went 5-4 with a .933 save percentage and 2.13 GAA.

Report: Ryan Miller may land in Anaheim

Getty
Leave a comment

The Anaheim Ducks might be getting a former Vezina Trophy winner as their backup.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, “there is a lot of expectation of Ryan Miller to Anaheim for approximately $1 million, although I’m not sure if bonuses will be added to that.”

Miller, an unrestricted free agent, has spent the last three years in Vancouver. The Canucks would like to keep him; however, his wife, Noureen DeWulf, is an actress, so Southern California has always been a potential landing spot.

Also, let’s face it, Miller would have a much better shot at winning the Stanley Cup with the Ducks, and that’s something the 36-year-old has never done.

As for the Ducks’ motivations, signing Miller would give them a viable starting option should John Gibson struggle or get hurt again. Recall that Anaheim’s last backup, Jonathan Bernier, had a tough time after he was forced into action in the Western Conference Final.

Related: What does the future hold for Ryan Miller?

Jets have contacted Mason about goalie gig

Getty
1 Comment

Though most signs point to Brian Elliott in goal for Winnipeg next season — see here and here — there are other options out there.

Per the Winnipeg Sun, the Jets have reached out to ex-Flyers netminder Steve Mason during the free agent interview window.

Mason, 29, just wrapped the last of a three-year, $12.3 million deal with a $4.1M average annual cap hit. He’s spent the last four-plus seasons with the Flyers but, over the last two, had been part of a platoon with Michal Neuvirth.

Mason played 58 games to Neuvirth’s 28 this year, but didn’t fare especially well, finishing with a .908 save percentage.

We bring this up because whoever signs in Winnipeg will likely have to concede some starts to Connor Hellebuyck, the one-time goalie of the future that struggled mightily through ’16-17. Hellebuyck is still only 24 and the hope is that last year can be spun as a positive learning experience.

“We went through a growing period and the goaltenders were exactly like that,” head coach Paul Maurice said of Hellebuyck’s campaign, per the Free Press. “Put them back in the net after a tough night, yanked [Hellebuyck] early a bunch of times.”

The Sun reports that Winnipeg was “one of several teams that inquired about Mason,” which isn’t surprising. He’d make for a high-caliber backup and a likely upgrade in a number of markets.

 

Bruins re-sign Acciari — two years, $1.45 million

Getty
1 Comment

Looks like Noel Acciari will be around Boston for the foreseeable future.

Acciari, who has spent most of his career shuttling between AHL Providence and the NHL, has signed a two-year, one-way deal worth $725,000, the B’s announced on Wednesday.

Acciari’s contract comes after he appeared in 29 games for the Bruins last year, scoring five points. He also appeared in four of the club’s opening-round playoff games against Ottawa, scoring once.

The former Providence standout, who went undrafted, caught on with Boston in ’15-16 and quickly worked his way into the mix at the NHL level.

There’s a pretty decent chance he’ll eclipse the 29 games played last year, especially if the club doesn’t return veteran forwards Dominic Moore and Drew Stafford, both of whom become unrestricted free agents on Saturday.