Philadelphia Flyers v Buffalo Sabres - Game Six

Who will the Sabres trade to get under the salary cap?

Remember when the Buffalo Sabres were one of the “have-nots” in the world of professional hockey? Only four short summers ago, the Sabres organization was trying to justify the exodus of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. Even though they were coming off two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances and their first ever President’s Trophy, they were faced with the reality that they simply couldn’t afford two of their best veterans. In the four seasons since Drury and Briere left town, the Sabres haven’t won a single playoff series.

Oh, how things can change in a hurry. Since Terry Pegula took over earlier this year, the Sabres have morphed from a team that watches their good players leave, to a team that acquires other teams’ good players. With the change in philosophy and budget, come a completely different set of problems. Sabres GM Darcy Regier summed up the exceptional offseason quite nicely to Sean Fitz-Gerald of the National Post:

“…it’s so distinctly different than what we’ve done in the past. We’ve had decent resources in the past. Now we have extraordinary resources.”

Different resources have brought about different offseason problems. In the past, the team would have to deal with players who left on their own accord. Nowadays, GM Regier must figure out which player(s) the team can live without as they shed salary to get under the cap. According to the incomparable capgeek.com, the Sabres payroll is sitting at $67.9 million, while the salary cap for next season is only $64.3 million. It doesn’t take a math major to see that GM Regier still has some work to do before the season starts in October.

Conventional wisdom said that the Sabres would simply bury a contract or two in Rochester for the season to get the payroll under the salary cap. Would Shaone Morrison’s $2+ million contract cost him a spot in the NHL? Would Ales Kotalik get moved? Would it be fiscally responsible to waive Brad Boyes’ $4 million contract? These were the types of questions that Regier was expected to answer.

Now comes word that Regier isn’t looking at his roster for players to waive—he’s looking for players who he could trade. Sabres blog Die By The Blade has already started speculating which players could be on the trading block:

“The first has to be Shaone Morrisonn who had a less than spectacular season with the Sabres last year. Morrisonn had one goal and four assists in 62 games with the Sabres and has one year left at a rate of $2.075 million left on his contract. In his career, Morrisonn has only had one single digit point season when he played a full slate of games and that was last season. Morrisonn has the potential to score 10-15 points and only a handful of goals each season.

While this notion will seem ridiculous, another player that could be moved to clear some cap space could be Jason Pominville and his $5.3 million contract. Pominville does have a modified no-trade clause, which gives Pominville eight teams that he can’t be traded to, which could make moving him slightly difficult. Pominville was an iron man for the Sabres, playing in every game for four seasons for the Sabres until two different injuries sidelined him this season. Pominville played in a total of 73 games this past season and had 22 goals and 30 assists during the season, his lowest point total since the 2005-06 season.”

No matter which player(s) the Sabres trade, it’s important to remember that they won’t be taking much salary back. Since they’re about $3.6 million over the salary cap, even if they traded away Kotalik and Morrisonn, the Sabres would only be able to take back $1.5 million in salary. So even though a trade is better than burying contracts in the AHL, Sabres fans shouldn’t get excited about any potential returns. Think less about “difference makers” and more about prospects and draft picks.

Either way, it’s better than giving someone the Wade Redden treatment.

Patrik Laine to make highly anticipated preseason debut for Jets

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Patrik Laine gives an interview after being selected second by the Winnepeg Jets during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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Anticipation has been building since the Winnipeg Jets officially took Patrik Laine with the second overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft.

On Friday, Laine, the highly coveted Finnish forward, will make his preseason debut for the Jets when they play the Edmonton Oilers in Winnipeg, as the home fans get the chance to take in the occasion.

The Jets have done a nice job of amassing good young forwards in their organization. Laine, who has the gifts to be a prolific scorer in the NHL, is at the top of that prospect list.

Winnipeg’s roster tonight also includes forward prospects Kyle Connor, Nic Petan and Brandon Tanev, not to mention more NHL experienced forwards like Alex Burmistrov, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.

Laine enters this season with high expectations placed on him from fans and media, after coming to the NHL following a standout career in Finland as a teenager. He’s aware of the expectations, but toned down the hype with the usual statements of just playing his game.

“Just be brave on the ice and show everybody I will earn my spot on the team,” he told reporters.

Laine has already seen game action this month. Not with the Jets, but with Finland’s entry at the World Cup of Hockey.

Following offseason knee surgery, Laine wasn’t happy with his performance in Finland’s first pre-tournament game. In three tournament games, Laine failed to register a point, despite a team-best 10 shots on goal, as Finland was quickly eliminated in the round robin.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Patrik Laine

Murray: Ristolainen’s good-faith gesture unlikely to sway talks with Sabres

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Rasmus Ristolainen #55 of the Buffalo Sabres makes a pass during the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray tells The Associated Press he doesn’t believe defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen‘s decision to join the team for practice without a contract will have any effect on thawing negotiations.

With a big laugh, Murray on Friday said the only way Ristolainen could speed up contract talks is if “he got all lovey-dovey” and elected to take the Sabres’ latest offer.

Ristolainen is a restricted free agent whose rights were retained by the Sabres in June. After representing Finland in the World Cup of Hockey, Ristolainen reported to the Sabres on Thursday in what was regarded as a sign of good faith.

Though he’s not allowed to play because he’s not under contract, Ristolainen is practicing with the team and also taking part in meetings. Ristolainen is not making himself available to reporters.

Murray says he didn’t see anything wrong with allowing Ristolainen to practice, saying he’d rather the player be in Buffalo than working out elsewhere.

Murray says the two sides are still negotiating.

In three seasons, Buffalo’s 2013 first-round draft pick has established himself as the Sabres’ top defenseman. Last year, Ristolainen led the team in averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time per game, and led Buffalo defensemen with 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists).

Contract coming? Rakell’s agent negotiating ‘frequently’ with Anaheim

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Rickard Rakell #67 of the Anaheim Ducks skates during a game against the Vancouver Canucks at Honda Center on November 30, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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More updates from Anaheim, the land of contractual impasses…

Rickard Rakell, the still-unsigned RFA forward, sounds as though he’s closer to an extension with the Ducks than teammate Hampus Lindholm, who’s working out in Sweden.

From the O.C. Register:

Rakell has yet to resume his training after being unable to play for his homeland in the World Cup of Hockey. But it is believed that while the Ducks would prefer to stay lower than Rakell’s six-year, $24 million asking price, they’ve made more headway with the center’s agent, Peter Wallen.

In an e-mail to the Register, Wallen confirmed as much while saying Rakell has slowly started to work out again and will need “a couple of weeks” to get back in top shape. “Back negotiating,” Wallen said. “More frequently now.”

Rakell finished fourth on the Ducks in scoring last year, with 20 goals and 43 points, and led the team in game-winning markers. His emergence over the last two seasons — he had 31 points in 73 contests in ’14-15 — his age (only turned 23 in May) and his versatility (can play center or right wing) are the big reasons why he’s angling for a significant payday.

For Anaheim, it’s one of those problems teams wish they had.

Though they’re stretched thin financially, the Ducks have an arsenal of good young talent up front that will eventually replace the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler. Rakell is chief among them, and he’ll soon be followed by the likes of Nick Ritchie, Nick Sorensen, Julius Nattinen and both of the club’s first-round picks at this year’s draft — Max Jones and Sam Steel.

The key, of course, is keeping all those young guys in the fold.

And that starts with Rakell.

Related: Lindholm seeking eight-year deal from ducks, at least $6M per

Schwartz injury increases focus on Blues who could step up

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 24:  Ty Rattie #18 of the St. Louis Blues passes around Trevor van Riemsdyk #57 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Blues 2-0.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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It was already going to be interesting to watch the St. Louis Blues without David Backes and Troy Brouwer.

Then came today’s news that they’ll be without Jaden Schwartz for at least the first two weeks of the regular season.

Now the focus really turns to players like Ty Rattie, the 23-year-old winger who’s piled up the points in the AHL but still has to establish himself as a regular NHLer.

Can he help fill the void?

“It’s him, it’s (Kenny) Agostino, it’s (Samuel) Blais, it’s (Magnus) Paajarvi,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, per In The Slot. “These are guys that, man, they can make our team be a little bit different here, quite a bit different and really be one of those teams where we’re dangerous right throughout our lineup if they can make the grade.”

Backes had 21 goals last season, while Brouwer chipped in 18. The Blues did partially answer their departures with the David Perron signing, but they’ll need others to step up as well. That includes veteran Alex Steen, whose goal totals have fallen from 33 to 24 to 17 in three consecutive seasons, and 20-year-old Robby Fabbri, who had 18 goals last season as a rookie, but has the talent to score more. Paul Stastny only had 10 goals last season. He can do better.

Schwartz, too, will need to stay healthy when he returns. He only played 33 games last season after fracturing his ankle in October. He has to be doubly frustrated after sustaining yet another injury in practice.

And, of course, Vladimir Tarasenko will need to keep scoring. He had 40 goals last season, the fourth most in the NHL. Any falloff there would hurt.

The Blues finished 2015-16 with 107 points, then made it all the way to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001. They still consider themselves Stanley Cup contenders.

But first things first, they have to get back into the playoffs.

“This is my sixth season in the Central Division and this looks like the most challenging year yet,” Hitchcock told The Associated Press yesterday. “The crunching between the top and bottom started last year, and it’s going to be closer this year.”