Buffalo Sabres sign Marc-Andre Gragnani to one-year deal, must clean up salary cap mess

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The Buffalo Sabres just announced that they re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani. The financial terms were not disclosed, but the amount couldn’t have been too high since the Sabres are already almost $4 million over the salary cap ceiling according to Cap Geek.

In a vacuum, it’s great news for the Sabres to re-sign the young offensive blueliner, who was voted the AHL’s defenseman of the year and then made an impact on the NHL-level last season (three points in nine regular season games and then seven points in the team’s seven-game series against the Philadelphia Flyers). Gragnani could be a big part of Buffalo having a much-improved defense next season after they also brought in Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr.

That being said, the Sabres now face two messes they will need to clean up because of this and other moves. The first is the most obvious: they need to unclog at least $4 million worth of cap space before the 2011-12 season begins. They might bury a salary or two in the AHL* and/or trade away a player or two. Jochen Hecht ($3.525 million cap hit) has been mentioned as a possible trade target because of his cap hit, expiring contract and the notion that he might be an odd man out with all of the team’s new hires.

Buffalo’s challenges extend beyond getting under the cap this summer

With all that focus on the immediate future, the one-year deal also underscores something that might be a problem for the Sabres: next off-season. They could experience some serious restricted free agent headaches in the summer of 2012, especially if Gragnani has a strong full season. Tyler Myers could cost a bundle of money to re-sign and Tyler Ennis is another promising young player who can earn himself some nice dough with a strong 2011-12 campaign.

The good news is that the Sabres will probably be able to keep who they want the most since they have a big chunk of aging players with expiring contracts. Buffalo has almost $50 million committed to 15 players for 2012-13, with some cap relief coming from the expiring contracts of Hecht, Brad Boyes ($4M), Ales Kotalik ($3M) and Paul Gaustad ($2.3M). The problem is that the Sabres’ big spending might force them to put a top-heavy team on the ice if the trio of Myers, Ennis and Gragnani end up breaking the bank.

Ultimately, the Sabres should celebrate the re-signing but also realize that they have a lot of work to do in the next month and then next off-season. It remains to be seen if their big spending will actually be worth it.

* = Hopefully Kotalik didn’t get too excited about playing in Buffalo again …

WATCH LIVE: Game 2 for Rangers-Senators, Penguins-Capitals

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The New York Rangers will need to find a way to slow down Erik Karlsson on Saturday afternoon if they are going to avoid falling into a 2-0 series hole against the Ottawa Senators, while the Washington Capitals will have to do the same against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Both games on Saturday will be broadcast on NBC and be streamed online.

Here is all of the information you need for today’s games.

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: John Forslund, Brian Boucher

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk, Pierre McGuire

The NHL Draft Lottery is tonight, here are the odds for every team and TV information

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Saturday night is going to be a big night for the 14 NHL teams that did not qualify for the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs because one of them will be the lucky winner of the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery, giving them the No. 1 pick in the draft.

While there probably isn’t going to be a Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews at the top of this year’s class, the top-two prospects (Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier) both have huge potential.

The Colorado Avalanche, owners of the NHL’s worst record in 2016-17, have the best odds at winning the lottery. The Avalanche last selected first overall in 2013 when they picked Nathan MacKinnon. New York Islanders have a less than one percent chance of winning.

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have a 10.3 percent chance of winning the top pick.

Here is everything you need to know about tonight’s lottery

When: 8 p.m. ET, just prior to faceoff of Game 2 of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals second-round playoff series

TV: NBC

Odds for every team in the lottery:

Colorado Avalanche — 18.0%

Vancouver Canucks — 12.1%

Vegas Golden Knights — 10.3%

Arizona Coyotes — 10.3%

New Jersey Devils — 8.5%

Buffalo Sabres — 7.6%

Detroit Red Wings — 6.7%

Dallas Stars — 5.8%

Florida Panthers — 5.4%

Los Angeles Kings — 4.5%

Carolina Hurricanes — 3.2%

Winnipeg Jets — 2.7%

Philadelphia Flyers — 2.2%

Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%

New York Islanders — 0.9%

The NHL draft will be held on Friday, June 23 (first round) and Saturday, June 24 (rounds two through seven) at United Center in Chicago.

Paul Carey replaces Brett Connolly for Capitals in Game 2

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After dropping Game 1 of their second-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night, the Washington Capitals are making a minor lineup change on Saturday for Game 2 of the series when Paul Carey replaces Brett Connolly on the team’s fourth line.

Carey, 28, appeared in only six games for the Capitals this season and did not record a point. He has one goal and one assist in 32 career NHL games with the Colorado Avalanche and Capitals, and appeared in three playoff games for the Avalanche back in 2014.

Given how Connolly’s ice time has been decreasing over the past few games this postseason it probably should not be too much of a surprise that he is now being removed from the lineup. After logging at least 10 minutes of ice time in each of the Capitals’ first three playoff games, he has not played more than 6:12 in each of the past four.

Coach Barry Trotz said on Saturday that he likes Carey’s speed in the lineup against the faster Penguins.

Connolly scored 15 goals in 66 regular season games for the Capitals this season.

In other Capitals lineup news, there is no change in the status of defenseman Karl Alzner as he will remain out of the lineup. He has been sidelined since Game 3 of their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs with an upper-body injury. Nate Schmidt will continue to take his place.

Scott Darling trade ‘worth the risk’ for Hurricanes

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The Carolina Hurricanes made a somewhat surprising move on Friday night when they acquired goaltender Scott Darling from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a third-round draft pick in 2017.

On the surface it looks like a good move for both the team and the player. Goaltending has been a major thorn in the Hurricanes’ side for several years now, while Darling has probably earned the opportunity to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL after performing extremely well as Corey Crawford‘s backup in Chicago.

The risk for the Hurricanes is that Darling will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and they will have to get him signed to a new contract before then to avoid potentially losing him (and the third-round pick they sent to Chicago) for nothing.

Shortly after the trade on Friday, Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis said all of that was worth the risk because the team has accumulated so many draft picks in this year’s class.

“This is a bit of a gamble but one we believed was worth taking,” Francis told Chip Alexander of the News & Observer. “This is why we accumulated these picks and we still have 10 left. It was worth the risk.”

He added that they would “like to get something done sooner rather than later.”

The duo of Cam Ward and Eddie Lack finished the 2016-17 season with a .901 save percentage, 26th in the NHL. The Hurricanes have finished higher than 25th just once in the past five years. The Hurricanes have solid young core of talent in place and a defense that allowed the fifth fewest shots on goal in the entire league this season. Solidifying the goaltending position would go a long way toward ending the team’s current eight year playoff drought.