Kyle Okposo

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The Sabres, who could use a spark offensively, recall Justin Bailey

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It’s been a brutal start to the season for the Buffalo Sabres.

They’re off to an 0-4-1 start. Jack Eichel, their star forward who recently signed an eight-year, $80 million contract extension, has voiced his displeasure with the team’s consistent losing.

While there was promising news earlier in the week regarding defenseman Zach Bogosian, who hasn’t played a game this season because of a lower-body injury, the Sabres moved him to injured reserve on Sunday and recalled right winger Justin Bailey from the American Hockey League.

“Zach is doing quite well. He skated again today,” Sabres coach Phil Housley recently told the Buffalo News. “He’s making really good progress. He’ll continue to go on the ice and work on his game and hopefully that will mean he’s playing soon.”

The Sabres, who were also without Kyle Okposo last night due to illness, desperately need a spark on offense and Bailey may be able to help provide that.

Through five games, Buffalo has just 11 goals, which puts them in the bottom third of the league in that category. The aforementioned Eichel has been one of the few bright spots with seven points through five games, including two points in each of the first two games on this road trip through California and Las Vegas.

Bailey, Buffalo’s second-round pick in 2013, has been productive in each of his first two seasons in the minors, reaching the 20-goal plateau both times. He started this season with two goals in his first three games in Rochester. While the goal production has been there for him in the minors, it hasn’t yet translated into the NHL, with two goals in 40 games with the Sabres.

The Sabres continue their road trip tonight, when they visit the Anaheim Ducks.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Sabres’ salary cap outlook with Jack Eichel’s massive extension

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PHT already discussed whether Jack Eichel is really worth $80 million over eight years for the Buffalo Sabres. Although the short answer is “Yes,” there’s room for debate, so click here for more.

Fair or not, many hockey fans will judge Eichel based upon how the Sabres fare as a team; if they remain also-rans, big numbers might not save Eichel from taking the heat for his $10M cap hit.

Really, though, Eichel will need some help. Let’s take a look at the structure of this Sabres team to see where the strengths lie, the big decisions ahead, and the red flags waving in front of our faces.

This is part of a running series at PHT, so click here for more salary cap breakdowns.

Long-term commitments

Eichel’s contract extension won’t kick in until 2018-19, so the Sabres get one more year of rookie-deal savings before they pay up. His extension expires after 2025-26; the Sabres own Eichel’s prime years, so it will be fascinating to watch the ups and downs.

Eichel joins a few other lengthy commitments. Ryan O'Reilly, 26, isn’t cheap with a $7.5M cap hit. He’s a borderline Selke-worthy two-way forward who’s still in his prime, and it’s unlikely that he’ll regress sharply during this current deal, which runs for six more seasons.

At worst, “ROR” is a “$5 shake.”

Kyle Okposo, 29, carries a $6M cap hit through 2022-23. It’s tough to beat up too much on the winger considering how comforting it is that Okposo is OK after his health scares. Okposo’s a solid guy right now, assuming he’s healthy, but that could be a problem deal.

Rasmus Ristolainen ($5.4M for five more seasons) is a fascinating case. On one hand, he scored 45 points at the ripe age of 22. On the other hand, he’s framed as a disaster in his own end; TSN’s Travis Yost listed him as a “dud” from an analytics standpoint. You might not find a better case of perception … unless “eye test” types aren’t impressed, either?

The Sabres boast two other mid-range guys with expensive, three-year deals: Zach Bogosian and Marco Scandella. That’s almost $10M in debatable defensemen (though they both could help, even if one or both might be overpriced).

Off the books soon

Jason Pominville ($5.6M) and Matt Moulson ($5M) are two aging wingers whose contracts expire after two more seasons. Pominville has more to offer going forward, but you’d think that management is keen on transferring many of those dollars to younger players.

Josh Gorges only has one year remaining on his $3.9M, so as much as Eichel adds to the bottom line, Buffalo is ridding itself of some problems soon.

You almost wonder if Buffalo might accept a bad expiring deal or two if this season goes wrong, just to gain riches soon enough?

Big choices

Robin Lehner can be a scary dude. The 26-year-old has also shown flashes of serious brilliance as a goalie. He’s in a contract year, so the Sabres must decide if the intimidating netminder is a part of the future or not.

Chad Johnson backs him up with a one-year deal of his own.

Evander Kane, 26, faces quite the crossroads in his career, as his $5.25M cap hit will expire after 2016-17. Kane is on the short list of players who future value is difficult to determine; seriously, what kind of contract do you expect for the power forward? Years and term both stand as tough to determine.

Growth areas

The Sabres have some interesting guys on two-year deals: Zemgus Girgensons, Jake McCabe, Nathan Beaulieu, and others could be key fixtures or short-term guys.

Naturally, the Sabres also have some other young players, with Alex Nylander and Sam Reinhart being make-or-break types. Buffalo’s been enjoying some strong draft picks while adding some potential foundational pieces; the crucial thing, then, is to actually develop some of them into difference-makers.

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Cap Friendly places Buffalo’s 2018-19 cap spending at $56.56M with Eichel’s deal in mind. That provides some serious room to maneuver, even if the ceiling remains flat at $75M.

Despite this huge investment, the Sabres’ new management has room to operate. They have some nice pieces and a worry or two. Some crucial decisions and serious progress (or failed developments) may determine if Buffalo can really contend.

P.K. Subban, Predators won’t protest during national anthem

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Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski reports that, while at a Nashville-area comedy club on Tuesday, P.K. Subban said that he would “never” protest the national anthem. Two patrons described Subban’s comments to Wyshynski.

This squares away with the Nashville Predators’ stance as a whole, as they confirmed to The Tennessean’s Adam Vignan.

Wyshynski’s article is worth your time if you want to explore this issue, as he discusses the criticism Sidney Crosby received alongside the Pittsburgh Penguins regarding their upcoming White House visit, and how that might relate to Subban.

It also goes into how Subban, despite his prominent place as an All-Star black NHL player, told ESPN that he doesn’t “want to be defined as a black hockey player.”

Subban seems to lean more toward Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo, who said that he supports a person’s right to protest but doesn’t plan on kneeling himself. So far, San Jose Sharks winger Joel Ward continues to stand out as someone who is at least considering the decision not to stand during the anthem.

Auston Matthews, Blake Wheeler, and other players also weighed in on the issue. Their takes differed, but were generally very diplomatic.

With the 2017-18 season primed to begin in one week, there will be plenty of speculation regarding who might or might not kneel during anthems, and one would expect other interesting reactions.

In the case of Subban and the Predators, it looks like they’ll choose to stand.

Update: Wayne Simmonds may kneel along with Ward:

More on this issue

Penguins make controversial decision to accept White House invitation.

Donald Trump tweets about their visit.

Auston Matthews and others on the subject.

Ho-Sang, Okposo also weigh in.

Sharks’ Joel Ward ‘wouldn’t say no’ to kneeling during national anthem

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It’s unclear if San Jose Sharks winger Joel Ward will end up being the first black NHL player to kneel during the national anthem, following in the footsteps of Colin Kaepernick and other professional athletes.

Ward might be the first one to state that he’s mulling it over, though.

Earlier today, PHT took a look at how NHL players are reacting to the controversy surrounding Donald Trump and the NFL, including Kyle Okposo and Josh Ho-Sang in this follow-up.

Ward, 36, probably provided the rawest take so far, as he told the Mercury News’ Paul Gackle that he might just kneel during the national anthem, and also shared his experiences dealing with racism in hockey and in a broader sense.

“It’s definitely something I wouldn’t cross out,” Ward said of possibly kneeling.

“I’ve experienced a lot of racism myself in hockey and on a day-to-day occurrence. I haven’t really sat down to think about it too much yet, but I definitely wouldn’t say no to it.”

Ward really opened up to Gackle, speaking of experiences as both a child and an adult.

As a reminder, the veteran forward dealt with racist and threatening comments after scoring a Game 7 overtime-winning goal against the Boston Bruins during a 2012 playoff series when he was a member of the Washington Capitals. Ward was contacted by the FBI after facing death threats.

MORE: Joel Ward on racism in hockey: “It’s a battle I think will always be there.”

Again, Ward isn’t guaranteeing that he will make such a gesture during one or more anthem performances. It’s courageous for him to be so open about the possibility – and his own feelings on the matter – either way.

Update: Ward expanded upon the issue in this tweet on Thursday:

More on this issue

Penguins make controversial decision to accept White House invitation.

Donald Trump tweets about their visit.

Auston Matthews and others on the subject.

Ho-Sang, Okposo also weigh in.

Laraque, Okposo, others discuss Trump, national anthem protests

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We’ve already seen some reactions to Donald Trump’s comments about NFL athletes kneeling during the national anthem and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ controversial decision to accept a White House visit.

As Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski notes, 93 percent of NHL players identify as white. While it’s interesting to hear from the likes of Auston Matthews and Blake Wheeler, what about hockey players who are more directly affected?

Plenty of interesting perspectives came through on Tuesday, so let’s consider some of the more fascinating reactions.

Georges Laraque disapproves of Penguins’ visit

Laraque, a black former NHL player and Montreal native, made it clear that he doesn’t agree with the Penguins’ decision, as he told the Canadian Press.

“I know hockey’s more conservative than other sports, but this time it’s just wrong,” Laraque said. “I’m surprised the NHL didn’t make a stand.”

“To me, it’s an embarrassment that they’re going.”

He also shared this slightly profane tweet on the matter.

Josh Ho-Sang is inspired by the protests

New York Islanders forward Josh Ho-Sang provided an interesting take to Newsday’s Arthur Staple, and also reminded observes that, as an international sport, the NHL features some players who might not feel as invested in (or at least as informed about) these debates.

“I think what the NFL players are doing is amazing. It’s good that they’re all sticking together,” Ho-Sang said on Monday. “I mean, I’m Canadian, so I don’t have too much input on the matter itself. It will affect me living in the States, but the biggest thing is it’s unfortunate that the message may have gotten lost a little. Now it’s becoming a battle between the NFL and the president and originally [the protests] started because of police brutality and the mistreatment of different races.”

Kyle Okposo doesn’t plan on kneeling, but supports the right to do so

While Ho-Sang and Laraque shared interesting insights as Canadians, Kyle Okposo is a black NHL forward hailing from Minnesota (he was the first black player in Golden Gophers history).

Like Ho-Sang, Okposo (pictured) was supportive of people making demonstrations. That said, he doesn’t expect to do so himself, as he told the Buffalo News’ John Vogl.

“Protecting the First Amendment is a huge thing,” Okposo said. “I’m a proud American, and I’m proud to be from the United States. Myself personally, I wouldn’t kneel for an anthem, but I respect those that do.”

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This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the current political climate affect NHL players or people they know.

Back in January, New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad, was “confused” by that iteration of a travel ban, as the Swedish forward had family living in Iran.

Players in plenty of sports are navigating tough questions this week. It’s important to remember that athletes can find themselves in tough spots when addressing topics that can be polarizing and/or complex.

Laraque stated that hockey is more “conservative than other sports,” so it seems like a good time to read up on the culture of this sport.

With the regular season about to kick into gear on Oct. 4, it’s certain that there will be more eyes on anthems than ever before. The insights in this post should be useful, whether NHL players kneel, sit, speak, or decide to stick to hockey.