New York Rangers v Buffalo Sabres

Next season’s Buffalo Sabres could look very different

3 Comments

It seemed like the Buffalo Sabres’ organization received a surge of excitement from the moment new owner Terry Pegula took over. The team was in a dire situation months before that happened, especially when Derek Roy went down with a knee injury that ended his season (save for a single appearance in Game 7 of the team’s first round series against the Philadelphia Flyers).

The Sabres made a spirited run toward the playoffs, narrowly outlasting teams such as the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs for one of the final two spots. They made the aggressive (if questionable) move to acquire Brad Boyes during the trade deadline and generally seem willing to spend the money to go from a solid, playoff-ready team to a genuine contender in the East.

This prompts two important questions: is GM Darcy Regier smart enough to make the right moves and will head coach Lindy Ruff be able to guide that roster once it is completed?

No doubt about it, the Sabres have a lot of questions to answer this off-season. That could be a really good thing (the team should have $15.6-$18.6 million to work with if they plan on spending to the cap ceiling) or a bad one (they have 13 players under contract, with 7-10 spots to fill) depending on the decisions Regier makes.

For the sake of this exercise, we’ll just look at the players who could become unrestricted or restricted free agents come July 1.

Forwards

Tim Connolly (unrestricted, previously made $4.5 million) – Going into the stretch run, it seemed like Buffalo’s “Mr Glass” would be an obvious goner. Through his first 47 games, he scored just 26 points. Yet he seemed to get things together in March, scoring 16 points in his last 21 games. Finishing the 2010-11 season strongly (and an encouraging 65 points in 78 games in 09-10) might make him tougher to dismiss in Buffalo if he’s willing to take a pay-cut and short-term deal.

Nathan Gerbe (restricted, previously made $850 K) – In my mind’s eye, I tend to mix up Gerbe and Tyler Ennis with disturbing frequency. Maybe it’s the fact they’re both short in stature; perhaps it’s their unusual numbers (Gerbe wears 42; Ennis sports 63). Either way, they’re both undersized players who can provide some magic to the team’s forward mix. Buffalo will have to pony up a moderate raise for Gerbe this summer and a more significant one for Ennis in 2012.

Rob Niedermayer (unrestricted, $1.25 million); Mike Grier (unrestricted, $1.5 million) – These are two aging veterans who make marginal impacts in the regular season until their rugged play, hockey intelligence and experience helps more in the playoffs. The Sabres might be wise to offer them two-way contracts at this point in their careers.

Other unrestricted free agent forwards:

Matt Ellis (625K)
Mark Parrish (600K)
Mark Mancari (575K)
Cody McCormick (500K)

Backup goalie

Jhonas Enroth (restricted, $867K); Patrick Lalime (unrestricted, 650K) – Do the Sabres have their much-needed backup for all-world goalie Ryan Miller in Enroth? They certainly don’t in Lalime, who was basically a second goalie coach toward the end of the 2010-11 season. Enroth didn’t receive a ton of opportunities to prove himself one way or the other, but he did save the Sabres season, so maybe a modest backup deal for two years is in order.

Defensemen

Marc-Andre Gragnani (restricted, $500K) – After scoring three points in only nine regular season games, Gragnani was a difference-maker in the playoffs, putting up an outstanding seven points in seven contests. He might not be the offensive defenseman they’ve been dying for, but he could be a solid depth option and stopgap solution. The question is: how much will that hot run cost the Sabres?

Andrej Sekera (restricted, $1 million); Steve Montador (unrestricted, $1.5 million) – Neither of these defensemen are “world-beaters,” but they received around 20 minutes per game at affordable clips. Sekera has far more promise than Montador from a long-term perspective, but both of their negotiations will come down to price.

Mike Weber (restricted, $550K); Chris Butler (restricted, $850 K) – Again, these are two defensemen who are expendable but might be retained if their asking prices are modest. Like Sekera, they own the advantage of being younger since they’re all 24 years old.

***

As you can see, the Sabres have a lot of decisions to make, but there aren’t a ton of make-or-break questions to answer (not after signing Drew Stafford to a contract extension, at least). Signing Gerbe, Enroth and Gragnani will likely require the toughest negotiations while the other players require judgment calls.

It’s not crazy to wonder if the team might make a big pitch for Brad Richards considering their copious amounts of cap space and limited options to improve their biggest weaknesses on defense. Either way, we’ll keep you informed as the Pegula era truly beings in Buffalo this summer.

Tarasenko needs to start ‘playing within the system’: Hitch

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 19:  Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks fight for control of the puck in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 19, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Is it all Vladimir Tarasenko‘s fault that the St. Louis Blues are on the brink of elimination?

No, of course it’s not.

It seems we have to clarify this every time a star player comes under fire for not producing. Hockey is a team game, and the Blues — as a team — have not been as good as the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

Still, it was interesting to hear St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock talk about Tarasenko yesterday, because the criticism was pointed, even if it was delivered in an empathetic manner.

“What happens with goal-scorers when they get frustrated is they look to hit home runs. We need him just to act like a worker,” said Hitchcock.

“What he’s doing is he’s looking to try to catch fast breaks, he’s looking to catch the other team napping. But when you play against guys like [Marc-Edouard Vlasic], you’re not going to catch him napping. He’s just got to feel comfortable playing within the system, playing within the framework.”

Hitchcock added, “I think it’s a natural tendency with younger players who have this heightened sense of urgency to do what they do well, which for him is score goals. He’s gotten too far away from the play. He’s got himself too stretched out. We just need him to come back to the puck a little bit more.”

As we noted yesterday, Tarasenko has been held pointless in five games against the Sharks. In his last three games combined, he’s managed just four shots total. This from a guy who scored 40 of the Blues’ 224 goals during the regular season, then put up 13 points (7G, 6A) in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

We’ll see tonight if the “hard lessons” continue for the 24-year-old, or if he can find a way to help get his team back to St. Louis for Game 7.

Video: Johnson pays the price for Tampa Bay

Leave a comment

It’s been another successful spring for Tyler Johnson.

Johnson, the most diminutive member of Tampa Bay’s vaunted “Triplets” line, is racking up the playoff points yet again. He has 17 through 16 games — tied with Joe Thornton for sixth-most in the postseason — and, depending on how far the Bolts go this year, could best last year’s total, when he had 23 in 24.

Not bad, considering the physical pounding Johnson has taken.

At just 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, the playoff grind has certainly taken its toll over the last two years. Johnson was rendered all but ineffective in last year’s Cup Final versus Chicago due to a broken right wrist and, this year, dealt with an upper-body injury in the opening round and a puck to the face just prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Not that it slowed him down any.

Johnson scored the game-winning OT tally in Game 4, getting his body in front of a Jason Garrison shot to deflect home past Marc-Andre Fleury. That earned high praise from Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who heaped superlatives on his undersized star.

“He’s a winner — that’s what winners do,” coach Jon Cooper said of Johnson, per the Tampa Bay Times. “They don’t back down. And when there’s a challenge ahead of you, you’ve got to find a way to meet the challenge. There’s a lot of coaches that had a front row seat to see how this kid plays and how he competes.

“And it’s not always the size of the player, it’s the size of the heart, and that’s Tyler Johnson.”

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
Leave a comment

The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday to force a Game 7, now the St. Louis Blues will try to do the same against the San Jose Sharks tonight. You can catch Game 6 via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

St. Louis at San Jose (9:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 6 is on NBCSN. If you want to stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

In the meantime, here are some relevant links:

On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott

The Blues could sure use a goal or two from Tarasenko

Feeding frenzy: Sharks send Blues to the brink of elimination in Western Conference Final

Stanley Cup Final to begin Monday

Colorado inks defensive prospect Anton Lindholm

LAKE PLACID, NY - AUGUST 07: Anton Lindholm #5 of Team Sweden skates against Team USA during the 2013 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp at the Lake Placid Olympic Center on August 7, 2013 in Lake Placid, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

After establishing himself in the Swedish league, Anton Lindholm will head to North America.

The Colorado Avalanche announced that they have signed the 21-year-old defenseman to a three-year, entry-level contract. They selected Lindholm in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

More of a defensive defenseman, Lindholm only registered four assists in 30 Swedish league games with Skelleftea AIK in 2015-16, but he also had a team-high 85 hits despite missing a chunk of the season due to injury. During the playoffs he helped his team reach the SHL Finals by leading them in both hits and blocked shots.

That was his second full campaign with Skelleftea AIK. The next step for Lindholm will likely be for him to continue his development in the AHL.