BUFFALO SABRES

The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Sabres’ shakeup, Yakupov versus Eakins, Jocks versus Nerds, and more

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This is a new thing we’re trying. Every Wednesday, we’ll publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We’re calling it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so major changes today in Buffalo. Still trying to wrap my head around everything, but looking back on the past couple of seasons, it seems to me the Sabres went off the rails as soon as Terry Pegula came in with his blank checkbook. Which is kind of odd when you first think about it, since the best teams are typically the ones that spend right up to the salary cap. But on the other hand, it’s totally predictable. The Sabres actually remind me of a regular Joe who one day wins a massive lottery and has no idea what to do with all the cash. He buys a huge mansion with mismatching furniture; he starts investing in all his friends’ dumb business ideas; he basically loses all self-control when it comes to money. Which I suppose makes Ville Leino the unused jet ski in the Sabres’ driveway?

Mike Halford: What does that make Tyler Myers then — the 1,000-volume LaserDisc collection? “There’s no way these depreciate in value!” I agree things went off the rails when Pegula arrived with his bags of money, and call me skeptical that these latest moves will get things back on track. I mean, Nolan and LaFontaine aren’t exactly dialed in to the NHL anymore. Nolan has been coaching the Latvian national team for the last two years and LaFontaine wasn’t involved anywhere prior to taking a gig with the league last month. LaFontaine also said at today’s presser that he’s “not ready to be a GM because I lack experience,” which sort of stood out for me, given he’ll be the new GM’s boss.

JB: I’m a little more optimistic. Nolan was only hired on an interim basis, so if he doesn’t work out the Sabres can always choose a new coach in the summer. The key will be LaFontaine’s choice for GM. Whoever it is, he needs to — well, he needs to do a lot of things — but at the top of the list I’d put player development. Case in point, Mikhail Grigorenko. That kid is completely lost out there. He really shouldn’t be in the NHL. The Sabres have a ton of draft picks in 2014. Making the right selections is only the first step. They have to figure out a better way to bring them along.

Speaking of lost kids, did you see that Nail Yakupov media scrum yesterday in Edmonton? It was a bit…how-you-say-my-English-no-so-good…awkward. Listening to Yakupov, it really doesn’t sound like he’s on the same page with Dallas Eakins. Not sure who to blame for that. I guess I respect that the kid wants to play more and help his team win, but I tend to have sympathy for the coach when I see plays like this:

And Yakupov wonders why Eakins has trust issues with him. He wonders why he’s played “lower and lower minutes” in the past few games. Maybe next time put two hands on the stick when you take a pass in your own end and Steven Stamkos is on the ice.

MH: I know we’re focusing on Yakupov here, so I’ll ignore Devan Dubnyk getting beat on a long wrister. Actually, forget that — I wanna focus on Eakins. When he got hired, the words “master” and “communicator” were thrown around so much I thought he actually had a Masters of Communication from a fine online college. So, what happened? The Oilers now have Yakupov saying “I’m not talking about anything with Dallas” and Eakins saying “I won’t search him out, but my door is open.” There are broken pagers that do a better job of communicating than these two. On the subject of trust, do you have any that Eakins can turn this thing around?

source:  JB: Honestly, I don’t. In hindsight, if the Oilers were intent on firing Ralph Krueger, I think they might’ve been better off hiring an experienced NHL head coach to lead their inexperienced group of players, not a first-timer who got constantly talked up by the Toronto media because he was in, you know, Toronto. I don’t mean to discount Eakins’ success with the Marlies, because he definitely had some, but do you think he’d be the Oilers’ head coach today if he’d done the same things he did with the Marlies but he’d done them with, say, the Lake Erie Monsters? I feel like he wouldn’t have received as much positive press coverage in Cleveland. Whatever. He’s not going to get fired, so it’s not worth spending too much time dwelling on whether he should have been hired in the first place. You’re right about the “master communicator” stuff though. It’s pretty funny actually. The way Eakins was talking in June — e.g. “The way you coach players now is you get them one on one. You’ve got to know them inside out” — I figured the Oilers would be getting daily encouragement notes in their cubbyholes. Wait, do they have cubbyholes? Maybe they need some cubbyholes.

MH: I could see Nugent-Hopkins liking the cubbyhole idea. Give him a place to store his Pokemons. You know what’s crazy? We haven’t even mentioned Ilya Bryzgalov yet. That’s how many other issues the Oilers have. I don’t want to get into the whole “Mr. Universe” thing or how he’ll react to the Edmonton media… but I do want to talk about all the flawed logic and, frankly, blatant denial in that move. Bryz and his agent ripped the Flyers for having a weak defensive system, right? So now he’s going to Edmonton, which doesn’t exactly have an Iron Curtain on the blue line and is giving up a league-worst 3.90 goals per game. What’s more, the Oilers had to dump a pretty useful d-man in Ladislav Smid just to make room for Bryz’s contract! That might be best part in all of this, though I’m reserving judgment until reporters can ask about his “November months, minus-32!” remarks.

Okay, that’s enough about the Oilers. Let’s talk about tonight’s game between Toronto and Minnesota. I’m calling it Jocks versus Nerds. The Leafs, who are skeptical of advanced statistics, taking on the Wild, who apparently are not. All I know is this — whoever scores more Corsis is going to win.

source:  JB: I’m pretty pumped, too. Tonight may be the most talked-about jocks-nerds showdown since the Alpha Betas battled the Tri-Lambs in the Greek Games. Although I have to admit I’m having a bit of trouble picturing Dave Nonis in the cool fraternity. Or Chuck Fletcher drunkenly riding a tricycle. In all seriousness, I really don’t get the Leafs’ skepticism — if not downright disdain — for hockey’s new stats. Unless they’re playing coy, which I don’t think they are. Based on his comments, it seems like Nonis is searching for some magical statistic he can use to break the code, and until that magical stat is presented to him on a silver platter, everything else is useless. Is Corsi perfect? No, it’s not. A team can win games without having the puck more than its opponent. But here are the top five teams in that stat: Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Jose and Minnesota. You’re telling me that’s a coincidence? Now here are the bottom five: Washington, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, and Buffalo. Hmmm. Maybe I get the Leafs’ problem with it now.

Seidenberg, without a contract, playing a key role for Team Europe

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 08:  Dennis Seidenberg #44 of the Boston Bruins skates against Mason Raymond #21 of the Vancouver Canucks during Game Four of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 8, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Dennis Seidenberg has been a key player for Team Europe at the World Cup, and he doesn’t even have an NHL contract.

Seidenberg, 35, logged 23:30 in Europe’s 3-2 overtime upset of Sweden on Sunday. Only Roman Josi (29:00) played more for the winning side. Seidenberg even played more than his old Boston teammate, Zdeno Chara (22:26).

“I’ve played quite a bit,” Seidenberg said earlier in the tournament, per the Associated Press. “People should know what I can do and can’t do by now, but nonetheless this is an important tournament for me.”

A Stanley Cup champion in 2011, Seidenberg became an unrestricted free agent when he was bought out by the Bruins over the summer. At first, the decision shocked him, but the shock eventually passed. So far, he’s been holding out for a guaranteed contract, as opposed to a tryout.

The Ottawa Senators are reportedly a potential landing spot.

Seidenberg may not be a full-time, top-four defenseman anymore, but he should still be able to hold down a bottom-pairing role, with the ability to log top-four minutes if there’s an injury.

He’ll get another good look from the scouts on Tuesday when Team Europe opens its best-of-three series with the heavy favorites from Canada. He’s not the only UFA blue-liner on his team, as 34-year-old Christian Ehrhoff is also playing a role, albeit a smaller one.

Cashing in: Marchand inks eight-year, $49M extension in Boston

Brad Marchand
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This summer, we wondered what Brad Marchand’s next contract might look like.

Now we know.

Per Sportsnet, the Bruins have inked the talented, agitating winger to a hefty eight-year, $49 million contract extension — one that carries an average annual cap hit of $6.125 million per season.

This news comes with Marchand heading into the final year of his current deal, a four-year, $18 million pact with a $4.5M AAV — so it’s a pretty nice pay bump.

This extension will also make Marchand the club’s third highest-paid forward, behind David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, and will keep him in the black and gold through 2025.

Earlier reports suggested Marchand’s initial ask was for $49 million over seven years.

That the B’s were willing to tack on an extra year of term wasn’t surprising, especially in light of what GM Don Sweeney told WEEI earlier this summer.

“I’ve identified March as a core guy, and we want to continue down that path,” Sweeney said. “It always takes two sides to make a deal, and I would envision that he’d like to be part of this organization for what could be arguably his whole career.”

Coming off a year in which he finished sixth in the NHL in goals, with 37, Marchand has only upped his value in recent weeks with a terrific effort for Team Canada at the World Cup.

The 28-year-old has starred on a line alongside Bergeron and Sidney Crosby, sitting second on the team in scoring with three goals and five points through four games. He also sits second on the team in shots on goal, with 17.

Though his reputation is somewhat checkered and his disciplinary rap sheet is a mile long, Marchand has done plenty in trying to shed that label. He’s morphed into one of the better snipers in the league, and his presence on the Canadian national team will only further help erase perceptions he’s primarily an agitator.

This contract will help, too.

After failing physical, Grabovski placed on IR

New York Islanders v Philadelphia Flyers
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Mikhail Grabovski won’t be suiting up for the Islanders anytime soon.

Grabovski, absent from Isles camp after failing to pass his physical, has been placed on IR with an upper-body injury, a byproduct of concussion symptoms he’s suffered since last season.

The 32-year-old hasn’t suited up since Mar. 15, when he returned from a 10-game absence to play 17 minutes in a shootout loss to Pittsburgh.

At the time, the Isles were happy to have Grabovski back in the lineup, but the feeling was fleeting. Immediately after the Pittsburgh game, the club sent Grabovski back to New York for medical evaluation.

He didn’t play another game that year, or in the club’s playoff run.

In the midst of a four-year, $20 million deal — set to expire in 2018 — it’s possible Grabovski will be placed on LTIR, in order to give the club financial relief from his $5 million cap hit.

The Isles are pretty tight to the cap ceiling with Grabovski on the books, approximately $2.5M under (per General Fanager).

‘We are who we are’ — Stars stay committed to ‘high-octane’ hockey

Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin (91) celebrates scoring a goal with teammate left wing Jamie Benn (14) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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The Dallas Stars had the best offense in the NHL last season, but only the 19th-best goals-against. It was a combination that made them arguably the most exciting team to watch, but also one that ended with a second-round defeat to the St. Louis Blues.

In the Stars’ four losses to the Blues, they surrendered 20 goals combined. When it was over, much of the blame was assigned to their two goalies, and by extension to their general manager.

Just don’t expect the Stars to dramatically change their ways in 2016-17. They are who they are, and they don’t want to be anything else.

“Everybody is raving about Team North America (at the World Cup), and that’s the way we play hockey,” GM Jim Nill said, per the Dallas Morning News. “We are who we are, and we don’t want to get away from that. We’re a high-end, high-octane type of team. That’s how we’re built.”

That being said, head coach Lindy Ruff is still aiming “to take 10 percent off that goals against,” which would put the Stars’ goals-against around No. 10 in the league.

After all, even the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins, not exactly known for playing lock-it-down hockey, found a way to put up good defensive numbers on their way to winning it all.

“As I’ve said to them all along, I know our team is going to score goals,” said the winning head coach, Mike Sullivan. “In order to win championships, you got to keep it out of your net. You have to become a team that is stingy defensively. Everybody has to buy in to that idea for us to get to where we want to go. To their credit, they did, down to a man.”

Related: Team North America was fun