Mike Fisher, Ales Kotalik

Ales Kotalik hopes to learn from struggles as he reunites with Sabres


The Buffalo Sabres turned a lot of heads with their 2011 summer spending spree, but GM Darcy Regier still has some work to do. The team is about $3.6 million over the salary cap ceiling as of this moment, which means that something has to give.

Regier and owner Terry Pegula are saying all the right things about moving that money through trades, but the team would be left with some unpleasant options in most of those cases because rival GMs know that the Sabres are in a cap crunch. That could mean that the Sabres might need to sweeten deals by sending a high-end draft pick with one of those contracts to get a deal done or some other headache-inducing situations.

Ultimately, if I were Regier, I’d beg for permission to bury at least one mediocre contract and then complete a more comfortable move to get under the cap. Don’t forget that merely getting under the cap might not be the only goal; what happens if the Sabres suffer enough small injuries that they cannot put anyone on injured reserve but they don’t have the space to call up someone from the minors?

My solution would be: “Bury Ales Kotalik’s cap hit + trade an expendable bigger contract,” whether that be Jochen Hecht, Brad Boyes or Shaone Morrisonn.

Of course, that formula cannot factor one thing: Regier’s soft spot for Kotalik. Out of context, it seemed obvious that the Sabres accepted Kotalik merely to make sure that they could land Robyn Regehr in a trade, but if any team is open minded about the winger, it’s Buffalo. Kotalik crossed the 20+ goal barrier four times during his first stint with the Sabres before he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers in 2008-09. It’s been a rocky three seasons since then, with Kotalik being traded two more times before being demoted to the AHL. Kotalik should have gotten a taste of the harsh reality in front of him after every other NHL team passed on claiming him via waivers on two occasions.

The odds seem stacked against Kotalik, who is in the last year of a contract that registers a $3 million cap hit. That being said, the Czech-born winger seemed upbeat in an interview with the Buffalo News’ John Vogl earlier this week.

Last season’s stay in the AHL was a rejuvenating event, but Kotalik made it clear he has little desire to do it again. The 32-year-old believes he belongs in the NHL. He’s intent on proving that to the Buffalo Sabres when training camp starts in three weeks.

“Absolutely, I want to stay in Buffalo,” Kotalik said by phone from the Czech Republic. “I’m coming to training camp with an open mind. I know that I can measure with anybody on that team. I can measure myself up with any guy on that squad, on that team, and I hope I will get the opportunity that I need. Everything else is up to me.”


“I’m excited coming over to see all the people I missed for two years,” said Kotalik, who was shipped by Buffalo to Edmonton at the 2009 trade deadline. “When I heard that I was part of the trade with Robyn Regehr, at first I didn’t know what to think. Then I got a call from [General Manager] Darcy [Regier] and Terry, and they told me that they took me for a reason. They still think that I can play.

“I’m excited. It feels like I’m at home, and hopefully I can prove to everybody who had doubts about me that I can still play and be a good player for that team.”

Again, if there’s any team that will give Kotalik the benefit of the doubt, it’s the Sabres. He’ll have to be very impressive to overcome his hefty cap hit and damaged reputation, though. We’ll keep an eye on the team’s interesting salary cap challenges as the season approaches – it might indeed come down to training camp for the team’s fringe players. Kotalik certainly ranks as one of those, even in Buffalo.

The Coyotes are in a tough spot

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 20:  Goaltender Louis Domingue #35 of the Arizona Coyotes allows a goal while Alexander Radulov #47 of the Montreal Canadiens watches during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on October 20, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes started their season with a win at home, but two games into a six-game road trip and things have taken a decided turn for the worse.

Last night in Montreal, the ‘Yotes got thumped, 5-2, and outshot, 43-29. That came on the heels of a 7-4 loss in Ottawa, one that saw starting goalie Mike Smith leave with a lower-body injury.

Smith is no longer with the team. He’s been flown back to Phoenix to consult with doctors, leaving Louis Domingue and emergency call-up Justin Peters to take care of the Coyotes’ crease. Domingue was yanked halfway through the Montreal game, after surrendering four goals on just 19 shots.

“Change momentum for us and recognize we have to play tomorrow night again,” head coach Dave Tippett explained following the loss, per the Arizona Republic. “We’ll put Louis back in there tomorrow night and see if we can get a better start from him.”

The Coyotes play tonight in Brooklyn against the Islanders, with road games still remaining at the Rangers, Devils and Flyers before they get to return home.

Suffice to say, it’s going to be a challenge for this young team, with five rookies and a shaky goalie, to come together and survive the rest of the trip. The Islanders (1-3-0) will be hungry for a win tonight, and the Rangers (2-2-0) have been better than their record suggests. Get through those opponents and there’s still two games to go.

Pens’ Pouliot on IR, after getting hurt in season debut

Derrick Pouliot
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Pretty lousy start to the campaign for Derrick Pouliot.

Pouliot, a healthy scratch for Pittsburgh’s first four games of the year, made his season debut in Thursday’s 3-2 win over San Jose — but played just over 12 minutes before getting knocked out with an injury.

And on Friday, the Pens put Pouliot on IR.

David Warsofsky has been recalled from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as a replacement, and could suit up on Saturday when the Penguins visit Nashville.

The bigger story, of course, is Pouliot.

The eighth overall pick in 2012 — taken ahead of defensemen like Jacob Trouba, Olli Maatta, Michael Matheson and Brady Skjei — Pouliot has struggled to make his mark at the NHL level.

After appearing in 34 games as a rookie, he dressed just 22 times last year, and only twice during the playoffs as the Penguins captured the Stanley Cup.

This year, he was unable to crack a six-man defensive unit comprised of Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz. Letang missed the San Jose game with an upper-body ailment, which paved the way for Pouliot to draw in.



Dropped by Blues, Weber catches on with Wild’s AHL team

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 01: Mike Weber #6 of the Washington Capitals skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period at Verizon Center on March 1, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Mike Weber, the veteran blueliner who was dropped from his PTO in St. Louis earlier this month, has signed on with Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa, the club announced.

Weber, 28, has appeared in over 350 big league contests with Buffalo and Washington.

The move to the Minnesota organization is interesting. The club’s had some issues with its young defensemen lately — Mike Reilly has been up and down between the AHL and NHL, and head coach Bruce Boudreau nearly made Mathew Dumba a healthy scratch the other night, explaining that the 22-year-old is “trying to do too much.”

(Dumba was a late addition to the lineup after Marco Scandella went down with an illness.)

Jared Spurgeon, one of the club’s mainstays on defense, suffered an upper-body injury in Thursday’s win over Toronto on a big hit from Matt Martin. Spurgeon is currently listed as day-to-day.

Even with those developments in play, Weber still has to make some significant leaps to become a factor for the Wild. The team has eight d-men in its rotation.


A healthy Brandon Sutter has been a difference-maker for undefeated Vancouver

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 15: Brandon Sutter #20 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates his game winning goal against the Calgary Flames during a shootout of their NHL game at Rogers Arena on October 15, 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images)
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Brandon Sutter only got to play 20 games last season, his first as a Canuck, and the 33 games he missed with a hernia, quickly followed by the 29 games he missed with a broken jaw, were held up by the head coach and management as a prime reason that Vancouver struggled so badly.

Not everyone bought that excuse, but after four straight Canucks wins to start the current season, nobody can deny that Sutter has been a major factor. He has one goal and three assists, and his line, with wingers Jannik Hansen and Markus Granlund, has been Vancouver’s best.

“You always want to get a good start to the year,” Sutter said after last night’s 2-1 win over the Sabres. “You just want to be playing well. You don’t really pay much attention to the points of it all this early. I think the biggest thing, when you miss this much time, is just getting your timing back, and just getting back into form, and just playing your game the way you want to.”

If there’s a concern for the undefeated Canucks, it’s the play of the Sedins with new winger Loui Eriksson. They’ve had flashes of greatness together, but not the consistency. The twins were even split up for a short time last night, and that rarely happens.

Granted, Eriksson did set up Daniel Sedin for the winning goal on the power play, so it hasn’t been all bad. But the Canucks would love to see those three spend more time in the attacking zone together. At five on five, they spent most of their night defending the Sabres’ top line of Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo, and Sam Reinhart.

“Some games are going to be like this,” said Daniel Sedin. “I mean, that’s a good team over there, you’re not going to create chances each and every shift.”

Next up for the Canucks is a two-game road road trip. In their first action away from Rogers Arena, they play the Kings Saturday and the Ducks Sunday.

“It’s never easy going down to California, so it’ll be a good test for us,” said Sutter. “We’ve played some good teams so far, but divisional games coming up here, so we’ll be ready.”

Related: Desjardins sticks up for Horvat, whose job has been tough with Sutter missing