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 …

Vilardi falls down draft board, but thrilled to join Kings

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CHICAGO — If Gabriel Vilardi was disappointed after falling down the draft board, he sure hid it well.

The 17-year-old center looked and sounded positively ecstatic to be joining the Los Angeles Kings, who got him 11th overall Friday at United Center.

“There’s no words to describe it,” said Vilardi. “It’s just joy. All your life you work so hard for this, and then to hear your name called, it’s just an amazing feeling. Having your family there, it’s even better.”

That said, the consensus was that he’d be drafted a fair bit sooner. At the Stanley Cup Final, he was one of four top prospects that the NHL trotted out for reporters. The other three were Nico Hischier, Nolan Patrick, and Casey Mittelstadt, the first, second, and eighth picks, respectively.

If there’s a knock on Vilardi, it’s his skating. To really thrive in the NHL, it’ll need to get better. That’s why he’s off to Minnesota this summer to work with power-skating coach Barry Karn.

“I know what I need to work on,” he said. “I got a plan in place.”

Vilardi just won the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires. Now he’ll be joining a team that’s won two Stanley Cups in the last six years with the likes of Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and Drew Doughty.

“I watch Kopitar a lot,” Vilardi said. “I really like the way he plays. I think some of his attributes are similar to mine. He’s so smart with the puck. He’s tough to knock off the puck. I can’t wait to go there, meet him and take whatever I can from him and apply it to my own game.”

Related: Gabriel Vilardi deserves your attention

McPhee, Golden Knights begin process of stockpiling talent

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The Vegas Golden Knights used the expansion draft this past week to stockpile draft picks in exchange for not selecting certain players. General manager George McPhee’s haul helped the team collect 12 draft picks for this year, including three of the top-15 picks in the first-round (No. 6 overall, No. 13 overall and No. 15 overall).

McPhee ended up keeping all three of his first-round picks and followed through on his commitment of drafting their way to success.

With those picks the Golden Knights selected a pair of centers, Cody Glass from the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks at No. 6, and Nick Suzuki from the Owen Sound Attack at No. 13.

From there, they began to build up their blue line by taking Swedish blue-liner Erik Brannstrom with the 15th overall pick.

With that collection of assets it was reasonable to imagine that McPhee might try to package some of them together to move up from their own pick at No. 6 overall, perhaps even to make a run at Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick with one of the top-two picks.

McPhee made it sound like Glass was one of their primary targets and even suggested they had a deal in place (involving one of their second-round picks) to make a move for him if needed.

He did not need to.

When asked about the comparisons Glass drew to Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele, McPhee said it was a fair comparison.

In the end, keeping all three first-round picks is probably the best-case scenario for Vegas when it comes to building an organization from the ground up. Luck was not on their side in the draft lottery and they didn’t get an opportunity to get one of the elite prospects, and as tempting as it might have been to make a bold move up for one this is a team that is literally starting from scratch. It needs talent all over the ice and a lot of times the best way to find success in the draft is by giving yourself as many opportunities as possible.

McPhee certainly did that for Vegas in their first ever draft.

Getting drafted by Wings a ‘dream come true’ for Rasmussen

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CHICAGO — The first thing you notice about Michael Rasmussen is his size.

This is a big kid the Detroit Red Wings just drafted out of the Western Hockey League.

Rasmussen stands 6-foot-6 and weighs around 215 pounds. The 18-year-old center scored 32 goals in 50 games for the Tri-City Americans last season.

“I’ve got a big wing span, so I protect the puck well,” he said after going ninth overall Friday at United Center. “When I have the puck, I pride myself on not getting it taken from me.”

For the Red Wings, this is a big pick in another way. Amazingly, Rasmussen is the first top-10 selection the organization has made since 1991, when Martin Lapointe was drafted 10th overall.

In other words, GM Ken Holland better be right about this kid.

Read more: A very different draft for Detroit

To realize his potential in the NHL, Rasmussen knows he’ll need to get faster on the ice.

“Obviously, being a big guy it’s tough to get a bigger frame around,” he said. “It’s something I’ll work hard on this summer with my speed coach. It’s something I need to improve for sure.”

A Vancouver native, Rasmussen was naturally a Canucks fan growing up. He particularly admired the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel.

“They were always in the community and giving back,” he said. “That’s something I admire, even more than their play. They’re amazing leaders and amazing people. They’ve done a lot for the city of Vancouver.”

Now Rasmussen hopes to do a lot for his future home and team.

“I think it was one of my hopes that I could go to Detroit,” he said. “My combine meeting went really well. It was in my mind that this was a place that I really wanted to go to. It’s a dream come true definitely.”

PHT’s 2017 NHL Draft Tracker

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From the United Center in Chicago, it’s the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft!

Click back here throughout the night for all the latest picks, complete with draft profiles, stories and video from tonight’s broadcast on NBCSN.

1. New Jersey Devils: Nico Hischier center, QMJHL Halifax (profile)

More: Hischier not caught up in ‘Nico vs. Nolan’ hype

2. Philadelphia Flyers: Nolan Patrick center, WHL Brandon (profile)

More: ‘The media’s pumping it down’ — Patrick rejects notion of weak draft class

3. Dallas Stars: Miro Heiskanen, defenseman, HIFK Finland (profile)

4. Colorado Avalanche: Cale Makar, defenseman, AJHL Brooks (profile)

More: D-man Makar makes for compelling prospect

5. Vancouver Canucks: Elias Pettersson, center, SHL Timra IK

6. Vegas Golden Knights: Cody Glass, center, WHL Portland

7. New York Rangers (from Arizona): Lias Andersson, center, SHL HV71

8. Buffalo Sabres: Casey Mittelstadt, center, Eden Prairie HS (profile)

More: Mittelstadt has no regrets after chasing Minnesota high school title

9. Detroit Red Wings: Michael Rasmussen, center, WHL Tri-City

More: Getting drafted by Wings ‘a dream come true’ for Rasmussen

10. Florida Panthers: Owen Tippett, RW, OHL Mississauga (profile)

11. Los Angeles Kings: Gabriel Vilardi, C, OHL Windsor (profile)

More: Gabriel Vilardi deserves your attention

12. Carolina Hurricanes: Martin Necas, center, Czech League Brno

13. Vegas Golden Knights (from Winnipeg): Nick Suzuki, center, OHL Owen Sound

14. Tampa Bay Lightning: Cal Foote, defenseman, WHL Kelowna

15. Vegas Golden Knights (from NY Islanders): Erik Brannstrom, defenseman, SHL SV71

16. Calgary Flames: Juuso Valimaki, defenseman, WHL Tri-City

17. Toronto Maple Leafs: Timothy Liljegren, defenseman, SHL Rogle

18. Boston Bruins: Urho Vaakanainen, defenseman SM-liiga JYP

19. San Jose Sharks: Josh Norris, center, USA U-18 NTDP

20. St. Louis Blues: Robert Thomas, center, OHL London

21. New York Rangers: Filip Chytil, center, Czech League Zlin

22. Edmonton Oilers: Kailer Yamamoto, right wing, WHL Spokane

23. Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota): Pierre-Olivier Joseph, defenseman, QMJHL Charlottetown

24. Winnipeg Jets (from Columbus via Vegas): Kristian Vesalainen, right wing, SHL Frolunda

25. Montreal Canadiens: Ryan Poehling, center, St. Cloud State

26. Dallas Stars (from Chicago): Jake Oettinger, goalie, Boston University

27. St. Louis Blues (from Washington)
28. Ottawa Senators
29. Dallas Stars (from Anaheim)
30. Nashville Predators
31. Pittsburgh Penguins