Chris Stewart

Is Colorado’s rise a fair example of what might happen in Buffalo?

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The Buffalo Sabres are frankly expected to be one of the worst teams in the league in 2014-15. It’s easy to see why: They’re a rebuilding club coming off of a season where they posted a 21-51-10 record. They could have added six wins last season and still finished in last place. For that matter, they could have scored 37 more goals and still ranked 30th offensively.

The short-term situation is so bleak that there are Sabres fans rooting against their team as they’ve already abandoned hope of them being competitive next season and just want them to be able to draft a potential superstar in Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

Chris Stewart, who came to Buffalo from St. Louis in February as part of the Ryan Miller trade, doesn’t want the fanbase to write the Sabres off.

“Look at the Colorado Avalanche two years ago,” Stewart recently said. “They were a last-place team, and they were arguably one of the best teams in the league last year. So the past is the past. You look at our team now and there are 13 or 14 new faces. So we come in and think of last year as an anomaly.”

Of course you’d be hard pressed to find a player that wants to lose or, for that matter, one that is going to paint anything other than an optimistic picture going into the season, but does Stewart have a point? Does Buffalo have a chance to follow in Colorado’s footsteps?

Let’s move past the obvious answer, which is: Of course. Anything can happen, so obviously there’s a chance that Buffalo will make the playoffs. But is it a big enough one to give Stewart’s argument validity?

Well, first off, he is correct that the team will look very different than the one that opened the 2013-14 season, which right off the bat actually makes this story a lot different than the one in Colorado. The Avalanche team that surprised the hockey world in 2013-14 wasn’t substantially altered from the one finished with a 16-25-7 record in the lockout shortened 2013 campaign.

Additionally, different isn’t automatically better. The Sabres have lost Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek for example and you can make an argument that no one on their current roster is better than those two players — at least not yet as some of their youngsters have high ceilings.

A few things did change in Colorado though. Patrick Roy took over as the team’s head coach and, in addition to giving them new hope, he joined goalie coach Francois Allaire in helping Semyon Varlamov take a huge step forward. Varlamov was at the center of the Avalanche’s success as they were bombarded with shots all season and relied on him to stand tall.

Meanwhile, Buffalo struggled largely in spite of Miller’s goaltending last season so while the new combination of Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth might prove to be solid, the single biggest change that bolstered the Avalanche wouldn’t have quite the same effect on the Sabres.

What Buffalo needs is for its defense to improve, but more than that, they need someone to find the back of the net. Colorado saw its offense improve in part thanks to a strong rookie season from Nathan MacKinnon and while the Sabres have some promising young forwards that might step up, they have a far bigger gap to overcome.

The Avalanche’s offense wasn’t great in the lockout shortened campaign, but Buffalo’s offense last season was statistically the worst of the 21st century.

It’s that gap that will be difficult for the Sabres to overcome in a single campaign. They do have some noteworthy scoring threats such as Matt Moulson, Cody Hodgson, and Tyler Ennis, but their top two lines don’t look overly promising on paper.

So maybe Colorado isn’t an ideal example for Buffalo, but the thing about a young team is that you never know quite what will happen. It seems realistic to assume that this will be a season of growing pains for the Sabres, but if they find their groove early in the season, then they might surprise people.

Report: Graham James granted extended day parole

Graham James
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Graham James, the disgraced junior hockey coach who pleaded guilty in June of 2015 to the latest charge of sexual assault against a former player, has had his day parole extended an additional two months, according to a report from The Canadian Press.

From the Canadian Press:

Documents from the Parole Board of Canada show James’s day parole, which was granted in January, has been extended for two months while the board schedules a hearing to consider his request for more freedom.

“You would like to be granted full parole,” states the decision dated July 8. “You have rented an apartment where you plan on living on your own. There are no financial concerns. Family members have been deemed to be positive supports.

“Your (case management team) supports your release on full parole.”

Former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy, who was a victim of sexual abuse from James, his coach in Swift Current at the time, has spoken out against the decision from the parole board.

From Global News:

“There has to be commitment and a proven commitment to change and currently there is no commitment to change by the Parole Board of Canada,” he said. “To me what it all comes down to is a lack of understanding of the true impact of this crime by the parole board.”

Kennedy predicts James will leave the country where he can operate under the radar. He has previously moved to Spain and Mexico. Kennedy also believes it’s just a matter of time before James reoffends.

“Oh absolutely, there’s no question,” Kennedy said.

In February of 2013, James had his original two-year sentence increased to five years for sexually assaulting two of his former players.

James is serving seven years, following the latest charge from last year that resulted in a two-year sentence, according to Global News.

Get to know Nolan Patrick, early favorite to go first in 2017 NHL Draft

KELOWNA, CANADA - OCTOBER 25: Rourke Chartier #14 of Kelowna Rockets faces off against Nolan Patrick #19 of Brandon Wheat Kings during the first period on October 25, 2014 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
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The NHL’s Central Scouting staff put out a full list of 2017 NHL Draft “futures” on Saturday, supporting the notion that it’s never too early to hype up the next wave of prospects.

At the moment, the top pick speculation revolves around Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings, including in NHL.com’s breakdown of the biggest names among those futures.

In vague terms, his size and willingness to go to high-danger areas distinguishes Patrick. Scoring 102 points in 72 games in the WHL with the Wheat Kings doesn’t hurt his cause, either.

It’s only natural to seek comparables, of course, and there are plenty streaming out already.

Craig Button compares Nolan to Jonathan Toews in this introduction for TSN:

Nolan’s style of play is similar to that of fellow Manitoban Jonathan Toews. He’s skilled, smart and capable of playing and making a difference in all situations of the game. Like Toews, he does it without much flash, but brings significant determination and reliability every time he steps on the ice. 

Meanwhile, his coach compared his style to that of Brayden Schenn, as Buzzing the Net noted in February.

There’s hockey in his blood, too, as his father Steve Patrick was an NHL forward.

Maybe that explains the notable lack of fawning from his dad in this Sportsnet article.

“Nolan was a funny little player at eight. I certainly didn’t look at him and think he’s gonna be a special player,” Steve Patrick said in May. “But he always saw the ice well and even when he was little he could pass the puck. He was a smaller kid and he sometimes played up a year, so I thought he had to be little sneakier to hold on to the puck.

“Plus, he had an older sister who could throw him in a snowbank, so he had to figure a way to keep the puck from her.”

Now that is a scouting report.

Speaking of scouting reports, NHL.com and Sportsnet both discuss other players who will jockey for top draft position with Patrick.

Of course, plenty can change in the season, so Patrick must dodge hurdles as if they were siblings readying to “throw him in a snowbank.”

Related: Nolan Patrick, potential No. 1 overall pick in 2017, undergoes sports hernia surgery

There is a report about Islanders eyeing a new arena in Nassau, too

UNIONDALE, NY - MAY 05:  A closeup of arena workers tools used to help remove the ice and the rink from the Nassau Coliseum on May 5, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. The New York Islanders have played their last game at the Nassau Coliseum and will begin to play at the Barclay's Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City next season.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders’ new owners claim that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is “our home,” yet there are all kinds of rumors going around about where they may settle.

Things really heated up with talks of moving next to the New York Mets with a new arena in Queens, but apparently that’s not all.

New York Newsday reports that the Islanders have met “several times” with the New York Racing Association to build a new arena in Belmont. This would mean that the Islanders would (wait for it) bring the team back to the Nassau area.

It was emphasized that such talks were in early stages and that the ownership group is “weighing multiple options, including remaining in Brooklyn.”

When it came to the rumors about Queens, more than a few people believed that it may have come down to leveraging Barclays for a better situation in Brooklyn. The Isles’ ownership group hasn’t discussed these rumors, so it’s difficult to gauge how seriously the team would consider moving again.

In the grand scheme of things, it feels far too early to get too excited or bent out of shape about these murmurs. Even if something significant happens – and there have been plenty of gripes about Barclays – it sounds like it would take some time for plans to formulate.

Coyotes’ defensive makeover continues with Luke Schenn signing

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 20:  Luke Schenn #52 of the Los Angeles Kings in action against the San Jose Sharks in Game Four of the Western Conference First Round during the NHL 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on April 20, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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While Brayden Schenn hopes to hammer out a favorable deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, his brother Luke Schenn inked a two-year contract with the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday.

Arizona didn’t confirm these details, but the cap hit looks to be $1.25 million, according to reporters including Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

“We are very pleased to sign Luke to a two-year contract,” New Coyotes GM John Chayka said. “He’s a good, young defenseman and we feel we can optimize his performance here. He will be a solid addition to our blue line.”

Chayka is making some significant changes to the Coyotes’ blueline, even if Oliver Ekman-Larsson is still the star of that group.

The Coyotes traded for and then signed Alex Goligoski. They possibly grabbed a falling star in the draft, too, as they selected Jacob Chychrun. Adding Schenn might not be the last move, either.

Schenn isn’t necessarily an analytics darling, but a two-year, $2.5 million deal is reasonable even with some flaws. This contract seems even more reasonable when you consider the five-year, $18 million deal that just expired.