Ryan Miller

Dramatic highs and lows dominate Buffalo’s difficult schedule

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With the 2011-12 season rapidly approaching, the gang at PHT decided to take a look at all 30 NHL teams’ schedules. Each team’s highs and lows will be studied in detail to give you an idea of what the future might hold for each squad.

Note: Mileage figures via On the Forecheck’s “Super Schedule.”

Buffalo Sabres schedule analysis

Total mileage: 35,911 (eight lowest total in NHL, second highest in Northeast)

Back-to-back games: 21

Toughest stretches

The first thing that pops out about the Sabres’ schedule is that they’ll play an astounding 21 back-to-back games. Let’s see if that makes for some especially brutal stretches, then.

Buffalo starts the season with back-to-back games in Helsinki, Finland (Oct. 7 against Anaheim; Oct. 8 vs. Los Angeles). After one home game against Carolina on Oct. 15, they’ll begin a four-game road trip in Pittsburgh the next night. Luckily, things get awfully friendly to close that first month, but it’s a challenging start for a team with high expectations.

Things run smoothly until mid-December, when the Sabres will face two tough runs very close together. They play three away games (Pittsburgh on Dec. 17, Ottawa on Dec. 20 and Toronto on Dec. 22), with a home game against Washington wedged between two more road contests.

That’s nothing compared to the doom and gloom in the first month of 2012, though:

Jan. 3: home vs. Edmonton
Jan. 6: at Carolina
Jan. 7: home vs. Winnipeg
Jan. 10: at Toronto
Jan. 13: home vs. Toronto
Jan. 14: at Islanders
Jan. 16: at Detroit
Jan. 18: at Chicago
Jan. 19: at Winnipeg
Jan. 21: at St. Louis
Jan. 24: at New Jersey
Jan. 31: at Montreal

Wow, that’s harsh – nine of 12 games away from Buffalo, with three sets of back-to-back games. Things start off acceptably on paper, but if the Blues and Islanders end up improved as many expect, that’s a cruel seven-game road trip. At least the Sabres get a week between the Devils and Canadiens’ games, though.

Things look nice in February until March approaches. They’ll play seven of eight games on the road from Feb. 25 to March 10. The rest of March is neutral with rotating home and away games, not really doing them any favors. Fittingly, three of their final four contests are on the road.

Easiest stretches

Things aren’t all bad for Buffalo, though. They’ll play eight of nine games at home from Oct. 22 to Nov. 11. November is solid overall, with nine of 14 in Buffalo (including some of that aforementioned stretch).

November bleeds into a positive December, as well. They’ll play an impressive 10 of 12 games at home from Nov. 19 to Dec. 16. So, in summation, the Sabres should see some nice gains from mid-October to mid-December.

The last great month of this remarkably up-and-down schedule comes in February. The Sabres play nine of 11 games in the first chunk of games that month, with two four-game home swings.

Overall outlook

While the New York Rangers make an excellent case of their own, the Sabres’ 2011-12 schedule ranks among the most manic depressive in the NHL. Buffalo must be a little worried about that trip to Finland, especially considering their league-leading run of back-to-back contests.

For all the negatives, they have plenty of opportunities to rack up points, especially in the first half of the season. If you’re narrowing down your Northeast Division champion between the last two title winners (Boston and Buffalo), then schedules shouldn’t help much because they both face difficult ones.

Given the choice, I’d take Boston’s, though.

No hearing scheduled for Abdelkader after Barkov hit

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There’s no disciplinary hearing scheduled for Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader following his big check on Florida’s Aleksander Barkov last night, an NHL spokesman has confirmed.

The incident, which occurred early in the second period, left Barkov woozy and forced him from the game entirely. Abdelkader wasn’t penalized on the play — that, along with the hit itself, infuriated the Panthers and head coach Gerard Gallant.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald.

“I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way,” Gallant added, noting that Abdelkader “left his feet a little and got [Barkov] in the jaw.”

Abdelkader has run afoul of the Department of Player Safety before. He was suspended two games during the ’13 playoffs for a hit on then-Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman.

The Panthers are back in action tonight, as they take on the Sabres in Buffalo.

Detroit doesn’t play again until Wednesday, when it hosts the Sens at Joe Louis.

Dion Phaneuf traded to Senators

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 07:  Jordan Nolan #71 of the Los Angeles Kings is knocked off balance by Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at Staples Center on January 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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And this is why we listen when Bob McKenzie says something.

The Ottawa Senators have acquired defenseman Dion Phaneuf, forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, and Ryan Rupert and undrafted defensive prospect Cody Donaghey from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for defenseman Jared Cowen, forwards Colin Greening, Milan Michalek and Tobias Lindberg, plus Ottawa’s second-round pick in the 2017 draft.

No salary will be retained by either team.

From the Leafs’ perspective, the trade provides even more cap flexibility for their rebuild. Phaneuf is signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $7 million; he’s entirely on Ottawa’s books now. As for the guys coming to Toronto, Michalek, Cowen, and Greening are only under contract through next season, for a combined cap hit of around $10 million. And according to the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, both Cowen and Greening could be bought out by the Leafs this offseason.

The Sens, meanwhile, get to add a workhorse defenseman to a blue line that already includes Erik Karlsson. Plus, they rid themselves of some onerous contracts.

Report: ‘Lots of Dion Phaneuf trade chatter’

Dion Phaneuf
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This isn’t the first time Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf has come up in trade rumors — far from it — but since it’s TSN’s Bob McKenzie putting it out there, we should probably listen.

“Hearing lots of Dion Phaneuf trade chatter,” McKenzie tweeted this morning. “Starting to think he could actually be dealt before the deadline.”

Phaneuf has three goals and 21 assists in 51 games this season, while logging an average of 22:02 in ice time. The big factor in trading the 30-year-old is his contract — he’s signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $7 million. 

Responding to McKenzie on Twitter, TSN’s Darren Dreger seemed to suggest Ottawa as a potential landing spot. The Sens, as we’ve noted recently, have had all sorts of defensive issues this season.

In the past, Detroit has come up as a potential destination for Phaneuf, though the Wings reportedly withdrew their interest in June.

NHL on NBCSN: Slumping Wild look to get back on track against Stars

Dallas Stars left wing Antoine Roussel (21), from France, scores a goal past Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) in the third period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in St. Paul, Minn. The Stars won 6-3. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2015-16 campaign tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the Dallas Stars at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

If you’re a fan of the Minnesota Wild, the last few weeks probably haven’t been pleasant.

The team has been slumping badly since the beginning of the new year, and late January/early February has been no different.

The Wild come into tonight’s game having dropped five straight decisions to the Sharks, Coyotes, Islanders, Rangers and Blues.

Minnesota has just 10 goals during the losing streak, which means their top offensive players aren’t producing.

Head coach Mike Yeo tried to shake things up on Saturday night by scratching Thomas Vanek and Jason Zucker, but that didn’t work. The Wild were thumped, 4-1, by the St. Louis Blues.

After playing their last three games on the road, Minnesota hopes to get a boost from their home crowd.

“One thing for sure, [there are] mixed feelings about coming back home,” Yeo said on Monday, per the Star-Tribune. “Right now, obviously, a little home cooking would be nice for us. But I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little nervous for tomorrow. Certainly I think our fan base is a little restless — more than a little restless right now. And they expect more from us. And they deserve more of us.”

Things haven’t been as bad in Dallas, but the Stars are coming off an embarrassing 5-1 home loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

“It was a huge game,” forward Vernon Fiddler said, per the Morning News. “We talked about it before the game, what it means, and then we lay an egg. It’s unacceptable. There’s a lot of disappointed guys in here.

“After a big loss like that, you want to respond. We all have to be better and take a look in the mirror and expect more of ourselves.”

Prior to Saturday’s loss, the Stars had won three straight games.

Could this be a trap game for Dallas?

They won’t have to wait long to get another crack at the Blackhawks, as they’ll be shipping out to the United Center on Thursday, but they have to take care of business in Minnesota first.

The Stars are five points behind Chicago for top spot in the Central Division. Dallas has three games in hand.