Evander Kane

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Sabres have big decision looming on Evander Kane

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This post is part of Sabres Day on PHT…

Jack Eichel‘s pending contract extension will probably be the signature move of Jason Botterill’s brief tenure as Buffalo’s GM.

But there may be another.

Botterill and the Sabres are facing a quandary with forward Evander Kane. Kane, who turned 26 on Wednesday, is heading into the last of a six-year, $31.5 million deal with a $5.25 million average annual cap hit. He led the team in goals last year, with 28. The only forwards to average more TOI were Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly. He’s a big part of the team.

Kane’s behavioral issues and off-ice antics are well documented, but with the charges from last summer’s bar incident having been dropped, his trade value may be higher than it’s been in quite some time. His name was bandied about prior to June’s draft — Sportsnet reported teams were interested, the L.A. Kings among them — and while the rumblings have since gone quiet, uncertainty remains about next year.

There are some major considerations at play.

Kane might not want re-sign with the Sabres.

Back in mid-June, Kane said he wasn’t looking for a change of scenery.

“I’m getting prepared to start another NHL season,” he told The Province. “Hopefully it’s in Buffalo.”

Staying with the Sabres this season is one thing. Staying beyond is another.

Kane was eligible to sign an extension on July 1, and a full month has passed. Granted, Botterill had plenty on his to-do list, including the ongoing Eichel negotiations. But with each passing day, Kane gets closer to starting the campaign while heading into the last year of his deal, and all that comes along with it. There will be endless questions about where negotiations are at. Will you negotiate during the year? Will you shut down talks? Then there’s speculation about getting traded at the deadline. It’s what most pending UFAs face in the final year of their deals.

There’s also free agency itself.

Kane’s never really had a say in where he’s played. He was drafted by Atlanta, moved with the team to Winnipeg, then got traded to Buffalo. Going to market would be his first chance at picking a preferred locale — and, as always with free agency, a major opportunity to cash in.

The Sabres might be good!

There’s energy in KeyBank right now. Franchise legend Phil Housley’s behind the bench, and Botterill bolstered the blueline by acquiring Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu and Viktor Antipin. Up front, Kane has talented running mates in Eichel, O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Sam Reinhart, who almost have to be healthier than last year. Combined, that quintet missed over 60 games to injury.

As such, a scenario exists where Kane enters the year without a deal, plays well, and the Sabres wind up in playoff contention come deadline time. That’s when Botterill is faced with the big decision. If he decides to move Kane, he gets something in return for an asset… but also diminishes the team’s chances of winning. If he keeps Kane, it signals the Sabres are ready to make a push — remember, it’s been six years without a playoff appearance — but they also run the risk of losing Kane for nothing.

Sign and trade?

This idea has been bandied about. The thinking is that Kane’s trade value is diminished somewhat due to the expiring contract, so what if there was more security? Botterill could, in theory, get an extension signed, then move Kane (who doesn’t have a NMC or NTC). The acquiring team would have more cost certainty this way and know the term.

The issue here is Kane signing on the dotted line. Aside from the guaranteed money, he wouldn’t control a huge part of the process — specifically, where Botterill could send him. Given free agency is just months away, Kane could take total control by simply going to market.

It’s going to be an interesting next while.

Looking to make the leap: Alex Nylander

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This post is part of Sabres Day on PHT…

It’s easy to see why Alex Nylander is eager for the season to get underway.

Nylander got a taste of the NHL by appearing in four games for Buffalo at the end of last year. Now, he wants more. That desire for extended action is likely fueled, in part, by a sibling rivalry — Alex’s older brother, William, posted a terrific rookie campaign in Toronto, scoring 22 goals and 61 points while finishing sixth in Calder voting.

The similarities between the two are striking,. Both were taken eighth overall in their respective draft years. Both appeared in at least 60 AHL contests before making their big league debuts.

And though William’s first “taste” of the NHL was bigger — 22 games, as opposed to Alex’s four — the blueprint was largely the same. Which is why Alex is gunning for a spot on Buffalo’s opening night roster this fall.

“[I’ve] learned new things to get better, and also to be more like a professional,” Nylander said at the Sabres’ prospect development camp, per the News. “I will definitely take that into September. I was working hard. Of course things I think I’ve done in the summer have helped me on the ice, and I’ve just got to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

Nylander had a whirlwind ’16-17 campaign. There were highs — making his Sabres debut, finishing as the co-leading scorer at the World Juniors — but there were lows, too. The 19-year-old struggled at the AHL level, finishing with just 10 goals in 65 games for Rochester. Most chalked that up to a lack of strength and size (Nylander was ambitiously listed at 179 pounds last season), the same concerns some had with William prior to his breakout rookie campaign.

To be fair, William never struggled to score in the American League. He put up 77 points in 75 games with the Marlies.

As for Alex, his future will be decided by how he does in training camp and the exhibition season, but also how the battle for minutes at left wing shakes out. It’s one of the thinnest positions on Buffalo’s roster. Evander Kane is the unquestioned first-liner, and GM Jason Botterill is hopeful Edmonton castoff Benoit Pouliot can overachieve, and take the second-line spot.

After that? Nylander’s battling the likes of Matt Moulson, Nicolas Deslauriers and Justin Bailey. New head coach Phil Housley could also slide a center over to fill the void.

It’s important to remember, though, that Nylander could very well be AHL-bound. New GM Jason Botterill has stated the organization will take a more measured approach to prospect development than in years past, and is a big proponent of the American League. He had a ton of success grooming prospects in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton while with the Penguins organization.

And at the end of the day, Nylander is still pretty much that — a prospect. A good one, sure, but one that also might need more seasoning.

Poll: Will the Sabres snap their playoff drought?

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This post is part of Sabres Day on PHT…

The Buffalo Sabres haven’t been to the postseason in quite some time. In fact, the last time they played playoff hockey was in 2011 when they were eliminated in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers.

Since then, the Sabres have undergone a massive rebuild that has tested their fans’ patience.

As bad as they’ve been for most of this decade, there seems to be a little more optimism surrounding this group of players.

It all starts with landing Jack Eichel in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Sure, they may have wanted Connor McDavid instead, but Eichel has proven to be an effective NHLer already.

They’ve surrounded him with some good forwards like Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo, Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart. Those players might not be perfect, but they’re capable of being part of the supporting cast.

As good as each of those players can be, they’ll need to be better than they were last year. Okposo’s first year in Buffalo didn’t go as planned. It took him time to get used to his new surroundings and he’s also dealt with some injury scares.

Evander Kane is playing for a new contract, so he’ll need to be a little more motivated than he’s been in the last few seasons. Kane has all the physical tools to be a dominant power forward, but like a lot of his teammates, consistency has been the biggest problem.

They’ve been pretty thin on the blue line over the last few seasons, but Buffalo has a quality defenseman in Rasmus Ristolainen. New general manager Jason Botterill made it a point to surround his young rearguard with more talent, as he acquired Marco Scandella from Minnesota and Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal during the offseason. Youngster Jake McCabe will also be back in 2017-18. Veterans Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian are also back in the fold.

But the biggest addition to the team’s defense wasn’t a player, it was a coach. After they let go of Dan Bylsma, the Sabres decided to hire Predators assistant Phil Housley, who has worked with many great defensemen during his coaching career. If he can help bring this young group to the next level, it would go a long way in helping the team get back to the playoffs.

Goaltending has also been a huge question mark for the Sabres. They paid a first round pick to get Robin Lehner from the Ottawa Senators a few years ago, and that trade hasn’t worked out. Buffalo clearly believes that too, as they were only willing to give Lehner a one-year contract this summer.

Chad Johnson, who is back in Buffalo after a stint in Calgary, will be competing for starts with Lehner. Neither goaltender is a proven starter at the NHL level, but one of them will have to figure out how to find a certain level of consistency.

Alright it’s time to vote. The Sabres have made changes to the roster, front office and coaching staff, but is it enough to get them out of this rut? On top of voting, feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section below.

PHT Morning Skate: Shayne Corson opens up about his battle with anxiety

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–There’s still a number of restricted free agents still unsigned by their respective teams, which means that each of those players could receive an offer sheet. This prompted Sean McIndoe to look back at 11 instances where offer sheets were matched. Shea Weber signed a lucrative deal with the Flyers, but Nashville didn’t let him walk away so easily. (Sportsnet)

–The Devils couldn’t find the right trade partner for forward Ilya Kovalchuk, so he’ll be going back to the KHL for one more year. If he wants to come back to the NHL next year,  he’ll be able to do so as an unrestricted free agent. He’ll be one of the best forwards available on July 1st. The Score looks at some of the other big names that could be had via free agency next year. Guys like Evander Kane, John Tavares and James van Riemsdyk will also be available. (The Score)

–Former NHL Shayne Corson has been dealing with anxiety throughout his life and career. He didn’t tell many people about it, but it affected him in a big way. “There’s no time frame on anxiety. You don’t know if it’s ever going to end. You don’t know if you’re going to get out of it, or how you’re going to get out of it. Some days, it’s almost like you want to rip your skin off. I’d start pacing. You want to get out of your body but you don’t know how. Your heart starts racing.” (Toronto Sun)

–Now that most of the unrestricted free agents have signed contracts, USA Today breaks down six key story lines to keep an eye on. Will Colorado finally deal Matt Duchene? Does John Tavares agree to an extension with the Islanders? Where will Jaromir Jagr end up? (USA Today)

–The Dallas Stars were able to work out a deal with Alexander Radulov, so the Dallas Morning News broke down 10 things you might not know about the Russian winger. Radulov played junior hockey in Quebec, and he lived with hall-of-fame goalie Patrick Roy for a while. (Dallas Morning News)

Patrick Marleau‘s wife, Christina, posted a baby picture of her husband in a Maple Leafs jersey:

Evander Kane hopes he’s still in Buffalo next season

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Evander Kane has heard the rumors, and knows he could be traded.

But in an interview Friday with the Vancouver Province, the Buffalo Sabres winger said he isn’t hoping for another change of scenery.

“I’m getting prepared to start another NHL season,” said Kane. “Hopefully it’s in Buffalo.”

Kane has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Still only 25, and coming off a 28-goal season, he won’t be cheap for the Sabres to keep.

On top of that, Kane could be used as a chip to bolster Buffalo’s much-maligned blue line. And with the charges from last summer’s bar incident having been dropped, his trade value may be higher than it’s been in quite some time.

Kane is eligible to sign an extension with the Sabres on July 1. That could be the moment of truth for both sides.

Related: What will the Sabres do with Evander Kane?