Sabres welcomed to life under the salary cap by sending Kotalik and Morrisonn to AHL

In the current NHL, teams that spend a bit too much in the offseason and find their salary cap situation to be problematic. The Blackhawks had that problem last summer and this time around it was the Buffalo Sabres who found themselves above the fold after owner Terry Pegula shelled out the big bucks to get Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino into town.

Rather than do things the way Chicago did it by dealing away valuable players making slightly unmanageable salaries, the Sabres took the route most traveled by teams looking to get under the cap: Sending guys to the AHL.

Ales Kotalik and Shaone Morrisonn, making a combined $5.075 million against the salary cap, will be starting their seasons in Rochester with the Americans rather than in Buffalo with the Sabres. It’s all because their salaries are a bit too much for the Sabres to manage. Kotalik and Morrisonn are both potentially useful players, although not premiere players, and could be a good fit in Buffalo (or anywhere else in need of a part-time scorer or physical defenseman) but their cost to play is too rich for anyone’s blood.

While no one is going to feel bad for guys making $3 million (Kotalik) or $2.075 million (Morrisonn) to play hockey anywhere, being priced out of the NHL is part of the harsh reality of life in the NHL. Players are more than entitled to get whatever an owner wishes to pay them to play, but when their play gets matched or exceeded by players making less money, those are the breaks. Just ask Wade Redden of the New York Rangers about that.

source: Getty ImagesThe Rangers gave Redden a monster free agent contract and now he’s likely doomed to stay in Hartford until his deal runs out because his cap hit is obscenely high for the kind of play he brings. Does that make Redden a bad player? Not at all, he’s just not worth it at the cost that comes to the Rangers against the salary cap. Same goes for Chicago and Cristobal Huet.

While this is how life goes in the NHL these days and this is how teams can sidestep financial missteps, there’s just something that feels cheap about being able to cover up financial errors like this. The hopes that teams below the salary floor would be there to absorb those mistakes have, for the most part, not happened. Teams like the Islanders, Coyotes, Jets, and Predators all found alternative ways to go about business without taking on a potentially brutal contract.

Last season the New Jersey Devils ran into cap issues and tried to find a new home for Brian Rolston. Rolston came with a $5.062 million cap hit and for two seasons at that amount, there weren’t any buyers. When this summer rolled around and Rolston was entering the final year of his deal, however, the Islanders happily swooped in and traded for the 38 year-old winger to help bring themselves to the salary floor.

Guys like Morrisonn and Kotalik are in the final year of their contracts and while that can prove to be motivation to earn a new deal, they’ll have to show they can bring it big in the AHL to hopefully get moved to another team that has a need.  Having to prove yourself in the AHL when you’re an NHL-caliber player makes the task seem Sisyphus-like when the boulder you’re pushing uphill is a salary that most teams can’t bear to have.

A ‘weird game’ and a tough loss, but Preds feel good about their chances

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PITTSBURGH — “It was a weird game,” said Pekka Rinne, pretty much nailing it.

The Nashville Predators had just lost, 5-3, after keeping the Pittsburgh Penguins without a shot for almost two full periods of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Rinne, the Conn Smythe Trophy favorite heading into the series, only saw 11 shots the whole night. Four of them beat him, including one that bounced off his own defenseman to put the Preds down, 3-0, in the first period.

Nashville eventually battled back to tie it at three, thanks to a couple of power-play snipes and an even-strength tally by Frederick Gaudreau. But Jake Guentzel‘s goal at 16:43 of the third, on a shot that broke the Penguins’ unfathomably long stretch without one, proved to be the winner. Minutes later, an empty-netter sealed it for the defending champs. 

“At the end of the day, my job is to make the save,” said Rinne, “and at the end of the game I’m disappointed I couldn’t help my team. We showed a lot of character. I thought that we played a great game. I think we have a lot of things that we can take away from this game, a lot of positives.”

Captain Mike Fisher had no idea that his Preds had held the Penguins shotless for 37 minutes, a stretch that went from 19:43 of the first when Nick Bonino‘s one-handed pass bounced off Mattias Ekholm‘s pads into the net, all the way to Guentzel’s winner.

“I knew they weren’t getting too many chances and we were playing pretty strong,” said Fisher. “We found a way to get back in it, but it wasn’t our night.”

Defenseman P.K. Subban, who had a goal called back in the first period after video review determined that Filip Forsberg was a hair offside, was characteristically positive afterwards.

“That’s hockey,” said Subban. “That’s just what it is. And if we just play the way we did, minus some of the mistakes that we made, I like our chances. We’ll be better next game, that’s for sure. I’m sure they’re going to be better. … This is going to be a long series.”

Penguins avoid collapse, beat Preds in crazy Stanley Cup Final opener

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PITTSBURGH — The game of hockey can be crazy at times.

Then you have nights like Monday, when it gets really crazy.

In a game that often made no sense at all, the Penguins built up a 3-0 lead, blew that lead, then rallied late to beat Nashville 5-3 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

So, uh, where to even begin with this?

Let’s start with the game-winner. Jake Guentzel, who was on the verge of being a healthy scratch for tonight’s affair, scored with less than four minutes remaining to snap an eight-game goalless drought.

Now, consider the circumstances under which this goal was scored.

Guentzel was facing tremendous pressure to get his offense going. And the shot he scored on was Pittsburgh’s first in 37 minutes of action. During that time, the Pens recorded the first zero-shot playoff period since NHL began tracking SOG in 1957-58.

Guentzel’s goal also came after Nashville had staged a furious, wild three-goal rally to even things up.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissions and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Preds, with Sissions and Gaudreau finding the back of the net less than four minutes apart in the final frame. Gaudreau, who up until a few weeks ago was playing in the Calder Cup playoffs, looked as though he was primed to become the next unlikely postseason hero.

But it wasn’t to be.

Because there were other equally unlikely developments on the night.

Heck, we haven’t discussed the first period yet. Evgeni Malkin, Conor Sheary and Nick Bonino scored in a span of 4:11 in the opening frame, a flurry filled with fortuitous bounces and breaks. Malkin’s tally came on a 5-on-3 man advantage, after Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal were whistled for simultaneous penalties. Bonino’s marker was an own goal, knocked in by Preds d-man Mattias Ekholm.

Oh, and there was that disallowed marker.

Perhaps you heard? It was an ignominious start for the NHL on its biggest stage. Seven minutes in, the Preds looked to have taken a 1-0 lead when P.K. Subban‘s blast beat Matt Murray. But hold on. Pens head coach Mike Sullivan quickly challenged and, upon review, it was deemed that Filip Forsberg entered the Pittsburgh zone illegally.

More, from the NHL’s situation room blog:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesmen, NHL Hockey Operations staff determined that Forsberg preceded the puck into the attacking zone, nor did he have possession and control before crossing the blue line.

This ruling came just hours after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman defended offside challenges in his state-of-the-league address.

Crazy is right. And fitting, given what transpired tonight.

Video: Guentzel, Penguins regain lead after 37-minute shot drought

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Luck keeps going the Pittsburgh Penguins’ way in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Nashville Predators kept firing away at Matt Murray, holding the Penguins without a shot on goal for a whopping 37 minutes and managing to tie the contest 3-3 after falling behind 3-0.

It was a ridiculous display … and then Pittsburgh got its next shot.

Jake Guentzel scored on that attempt, roofing it past a struggling Pekka Rinne. It’s the sort of thing you can’t even dream up.

Pittsburgh also added an empty-net goal, so Nashville needs an epic final 30 seconds if they hope to avoid a crushing Game 1 loss.

Predators hold Penguins without a shot in second, now down 3-1 in Game 1

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There’s little sense denying the Pittsburgh Penguins’ luck through 40 minutes against the Nashville Predators in Game 1.

Through the first period, some favorable calls and a lucky bounce or two helped Pittsburgh generate a stunning 3-0 lead. Pittsburgh ended the opening frame with a burst of activity after a strong start to the Stanley Cup Final by Nashville.

The Predators regained their composure and confidence in the second, resulting in a dominant display on the ice (if not on the scoreboard).

The Penguins only managed couldn’t even manage a single, measly shot on goal against Pekka Rinne during the middle frame, but unfortunately for Nashville, some dominant puck possession only resulted in a goal by Ryan Ellis.

A 3-1 deficit is digestible, if frustrating, for Nashville. We’ll see if they can get back into Game 1 in the third period.

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