In short order, Botterill remodeled Buffalo’s blueline

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One of the biggest challenges Jason Botterill faced upon becoming Sabres GM was fixing the club’s defense.

He’s been on the job for 50 days now. And he’s certainly faced that challenge head on.

Friday’s acquisition of Marco Scandella — along with former captain Jason Pominville, while sending Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno to Minnesota — was his biggest move to date. It gives Buffalo a bonafide top-four guy, one that can log 20 minutes per night and provide a level of cost certainty. Scandella’s smack in the middle of a five-year, $20 million deal with a $4M average annual cap hit, and is locked in through 2020.

But it wasn’t Botterill’s only move.

The first was acquiring KHLer Victor Antipin. The 24-year-old joined the Sabres after a six-year stint with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, who he helped capture two Gagarin Cup titles. Botterill was effusive in his praise of Antipin in announcing the signing.

“Victor is a well-rounded defenseman who has played in all situations at the pro level,” he said, per NHL.com. “His mobility and puck-moving skills make him a perfect match for what we’re hoping to build with our defense corps next season.”

Three weeks after the Antipin acquisition, Botterill was at it again. This time, getting Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal in exchange for a third-round pick.

It was a modest price to pay for a guy that, despite his inconsistencies, put up a career year with the Canadiens. The 24-year-old had 28 points in 74 games while averaging 19:29 TOI.

Botterill still has work to do on this front. Beaulieu is a restricted free agent and needs a new contract though, to hear him explain it, that shouldn’t be a difficult one to negotiate. He’s excited about the future in Buffalo, thanks in large part to another of Botterill’s key moves — the hire of Hall of Fame defenseman Phil Housley as head coach.

“I’ve got a huge opportunity to re-grow my game with a guy who played the game similarly to the way I would like to play it,” Beaulieu said shortly after getting traded.

The Housley hire will, quite obviously, have a major impact on Buffalo’s blueline. He was lauded for his work as an assistant coach in Nashville, where he oversaw a speedy, play-making group highlighted by P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Matthias Ekholm.

Housley won’t have the same level of talent in Buffalo, but he’ll have a better product than what Dan Byslma coached last year. Scandella, Antipin and Beaulieu have been added to a group that included Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges and Jake McCabe. Prospect Brendan Guhle could also be in the mix, after he finished last year playing for AHL Rochester.

And hey, Botterill might not be done remodeling. Though it sounds like the Sabres are now out on UFA blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk, other options remain. Chris Lee, who was Antipin’s defense partner in the KHL, is still looking for a contract.

Whatever the case, one thing is certain. Buffalo needed to fix its defense, and Botterill wasted no time doing it.

Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

“Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.