Jack Eichel

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Sabres re-sign Robin Lehner to one-year, $4 million deal

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The Buffalo Sabres avoided salary arbitration with goalie Robin Lehner, as they inked him to a one-year, $4 million contract on Tuesday morning.

Lehner and the Sabres were scheduled to have their hearing on July 27, but that obviously won’t be necessary anymore.

The 26-year-old played a career-high 59 games in 2016-17. He finished the year with a 23-26-8 record, a 2.68 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage.

There’s no doubt that he’s a talented netminder, but he’s had his share of struggles when it comes to staying healthy and being consistent. Of course, the team in front of him hasn’t been very good either.

Both of Buffalo’s goalies (Lehner and Chad Johnson) will have something to prove this season because they’re both on one-year contracts. When their deals expire next summer, Lehner will be a restricted free agent again, while Johnson will be free to test the market on July 1st.

The Sabres now have just over $10.9 million in cap space with RFAs Zemgus Girgensons, Nathan Beaulieu and Evan Rodrigues still needing new contracts.

A huge extension for Jack Eichel is also on the horizon, but his new salary won’t count on the cap until 2018-19.

Minnesota ‘always felt like home’ for Scandella, who was traded to Sabres

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Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville were both involved in the significant trade made between the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild, but it’s reasonable to assume that Scandella was more deeply shaken by the change.

After all, Pominville returns to the scene of some of his career-best moments in Buffalo. Scandella, meanwhile, admitted the shock he felt to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo.

OK, shock might be a bit much since Scandella acknowledged that he thought a move was possible, but it wasn’t something that just bounced off of him.

” … It wasn’t easy,” Scandella said. “I got drafted by Minnesota, I love the guys, I love the city. I’ve always felt like it’s been a home for me. It doesn’t even feel like a second home. It always felt like home. It was tough at the beginning to get traded, but at the end of the day, it’s a new challenge and I’m super excited about the new challenge I have. But I’ll always cherish the years I had in Minnesota and all the great friends and all the people I’ve met over the years. It’s an incredible place to live and play hockey.”

If nothing else, Scandella isn’t outrageous in talking up the possibility for improvements in Buffalo, as he discusses with Russo.

He points out the work new Sabres head coach Phil Housley did with Nashville’s defense, and Scandella is part of the reason that this franchise should be more optimistic about its blueline.

MORE: Scandella, Pominville moved in that multi-part trade

Perhaps Rasmus Ristolainen can begin to shed his image as an offense-first liability on defense? He is just 22, after all.

Beyond that, Scandella adds credibility to the mix, while Nathan Beaulieu brings the sort of “modern,” puck-moving style that could mix well with Housley’s philosophies.

The Sabres already have some upside in net with the Robin LehnerChad Johnson combo, and with skilled forwards including Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly, there are some reasons for excitement.

All that sweetness doesn’t totally cancel out bitter feelings for Scandella, who knows that hockey is a business but hasn’t had to deal with the negative aspects like trades all that often (until now). More on that here.

It looks like Sam Reinhart will have to wait until next summer for new contract

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Entering the final year of his entry-level contract, Buffalo Sabres forward Sam Reinhart is eligible to sign a new long-term contract extension this summer.

The team is already trying to work out a deal with its other core forward in a similar situation — Jack Eichel — but to hear new general manager Jason Botterill talk there does not seem to be any rush to get a deal done with Reinhart before next summer.

“We’re always in dialog with [agent] Craig Oster, we just got a deal done with [Johan] Larsson and we’re in communication with him on [Robin] Lehner. It’s just an area where we’re excited with Sam, but I don’t think something from a contract standpoint will be happening this summer,” Botterill said, via WGR’s Paul Hamilton. “We have him under contract for another year and we’ll see how things play out and go from there.”

Given the negotiations that are ongoing with Eichel and Lehner (a restricted free agent that needs a new deal this summer) it is understandable that Reinhart might get pushed to the back burner a little bit. But another way of looking at that might be, we want to see what he does in year three before we commit to him.

Reinhart was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft, going one spot behind Aaron Ekblad. Reinhart will be eligible for restricted free agency next summer.

He was one of the signature picks of former general manager Tim Murray and one of the first ones that was supposed to make the organization’s complete teardown worth it in the long-run.

Two full seasons in to his career and the results have been okay, but nothing that really stands out. He has topped 40 points in each of the past two seasons which is not terrible production for a player that young — it is actually pretty decent — but isn’t exactly on the level of a franchise player yet, either.

Waiting another year to see where Reinhart’s career goes probably isn’t the worst idea for Botterill and the Sabres.

‘The media’s pumping it down’ — Patrick rejects notion of weak draft class

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NASHVILLE — Nolan Patrick could be the first pick in a draft many have called the weakest in years.

It’s a bit of a weird situation to be in.

But it’s the one Patrick, the top-ranked prospect for this year’s draft, found himself in on Monday as he and other top prospects met with reporters ahead of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.

And so it was asked: What’s it like to hear comments about this year’s class not being very good?

“I think the media’s pumping it down a lot more than it is,” Patrick said. “A lot of scouts that I talked to this week [at the NHL scouting combine in Buffalo] said this is an above average draft.”

To be clear, it’s not just the media offering underwhelming projections. North American Central Scouting’s Mark Seidel told the Toronto Star 2017 is an “average draft” and “a step down from previous years.”

Then, there was the head of NHL Central Scouting, Dan Marr.

“The top guys are going to be able to have an impact on their NHL clubs,” Marr said, per USA Today. “But the list does get shallow pretty quick.”

Of course, virtually any draft is going to look weak compared to the last two. Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel in 2015, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine last year — those are generational talents, ones that made an immediate impact both on their teams and the league.

Patrick acknowledged as much.

“I think the NHL was spoiled with two unbelievable players in the last two years,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to get a Connor McDavid for a while. He was one of the top players in the NHL when he was 19 years old.”

It’s a salient point. McDavid and Matthews set the bar unbelievably high (and, to a lesser extent, so too did 2014 first overall selection Aaron Ekblad). But prior to those three, the No. 1 picks were Nathan MacKinnon, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, all of whom have had varied levels of success.

The point? That a lot of the time, the draft is still a crapshoot. Sure things like McDavid and Matthews are exception rather than the norms. And this year, they shouldn’t be used as measuring sticks.

“I don’t think any of us think we’re that, and none of us should be compared to a guy like [McDavid],” Patrick explained. “We don’t think we’re going to step into the league and put 40 goals up.

“We’re not trying to compare ourselves to those guys, we’re just trying to be our own players.”

Related: Patrick says misdiagnosed sports hernia derailed him last season

Are the top three picks at the draft all in play?

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The New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars own the first three picks at this year’s entry draft.

All three got there with some fortuitous lottery results. All three are also eager to get back into the playoffs, and not really in rebuild mode.

Which makes the following unsurprising:

In an interview with TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, Devils GM Ray Shero acknowledged he’s received calls about the No. 1 overall selection.

“I’ve had some inquiries,” Shero said. “We’re more focused on the player we’re going to pick but, again, we’ll see what happens over the next few weeks.”

• While at the NHL’s scouting combine in Buffalo, Flyers GM Ron Hextall admitted he too has taken calls about the second pick.

“I’ve had some talks. I’ll just leave it at that,” Hextall said, per Philly.com. “We’re going to listen because if people want to talk, I’d be doing a disservice not to listen.”

• It’s been widely reported that Stars GM Jim Nill is shopping the No. 3 selection.

Mostly because Nill came out and said as much.

“I have talked to other teams already about possibly moving that pick, getting an established player back,” he told SiriusXM’s NHL Network Radio last month, per NHL.com. “It gives us lot of options. I think this will heat up more as we go.”

On Thursday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Dallas and Vancouver have had discussions about the third pick. That’s interesting, given the Canucks already hold the No. 5.

There’s no surprise about jockeying atop the draft board. As mentioned, the Devils and Flyers and Stars all want back in the postseason, and there’s uncertainty about the depth of this draft and the overall talent level available.

The assumption is that picks one and two are locked in, with a pair of centers — Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier — occupying the spots. After that, it’s something of a crapshoot. Two more centers, Gabe Villardi and Casey Middlestadt, are thought to be in the top five, while Finnish d-man Miro Heiskanen has shot up various boards in recent months.

The problem, especially for New Jersey and Philly and Dallas, is that the players mentioned might not be impact players right away. There’s certainly no Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine or Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the group.

Which could make for some fireworks in Chicago at the end of June.