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PHT Morning Skate: Paying Ekman-Larsson; message sent in Buffalo

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• He could be a big-time UFA, so can the Arizona Coyotes afford to re-sign Oliver Ekman-Larsson? [Five for Howling]

Alex DeBrincat is turning into quite a draft steal for the Chicago Blackhawks. [Second City Hockey]

• With Cam Talbot sidelined, should the Edmonton Oilers pursue any of these goaltenders? [Oilers Nation]

• Following Matt Moulson being placed on waivers, the message has been sent to the Buffalo Sabres from general manager Jason Botterill. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• Are Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski the perfect match for the Calgary Flames? [From 80 Feet Above]

• Have the Montreal Canadiens truly turned the corner? [FanRag Sports]

• Canadiens rookie defenseman Victor Mete keeps showing why he belongs in the NHL. [Montreal Gazette]

• While he may be with the Florida Panthers now Jack Capuano still roots for the New York Islanders. [Islanders Insight]

• When the Boston Bruins get fully healthy there will be plenty of decisions to make. [Bruins Daily]

• The Vancouver Canucks are smiling because prospect Jonathan Dahlen is tearing up the Swedish’a Allsvenskan. [Daily Hive]

• Taking a look at what Team USA’s Olympic roster might have looked like if NHL players were available. [USA Today]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Sabres place struggling Matt Moulson on waivers

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The Buffalo Sabres have reportedly been trying to part ways with veteran forward Matt Moulson, but they haven’t found any takers.

On Monday, the team announced that they’ll be placing him on waivers with the purpose of assigning him to the minors.

When you take a quick look at Moulson’s contract, it’s easy to see why other teams weren’t beating down the door to acquire him via trade. The 34-year-old has one year remaining (after this season) on his contract at a cap hit of $5 million.

The fact that he has a 12-team no-trade list didn’t make this situation any easier for the player or the team.

Since signing the five-year, $25 million contract with the Sabres on July 1st, 2014, Moulson’s offensive totals have been beyond disappointing.

He went from 13 goals and 41 points in 2014-15, to eight goals and 21 points in 2015-16, to 14 goals and 32 points last season. This year, he has no points and a minus-9 rating in 14 contests.

“Yeah, I think it’s hard to (ignore what people are saying) sometimes. But I think once you start worrying about that, then you’ve got a little more problems than just hockey,” Moulson told the Buffalo News in November. “I think you’re at home thinking about a lot of things. Obviously you want to do well. I think any athlete that’s competitive wants to do well in a team environment and personally.

“Once you start listening to everything else, I think that comes back to just knowing yourself and what you do. I think a lot of people say things that don’t know what I do on a daily basis as a person. I don’t really let that bother me. I think what my family thinks of me is probably the most important.”

The only way Buffalo will be able to get rid of his contract is if they eat a portion of his salary. Also, a team will have to believe Moulson can help them on the man-advantage (11 of his 14 goals were scored on the power play last season).

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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.

Maybe Penguins should listen to Malkin about Zaripov

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The Pittsburgh Penguins bummed out Evgeni Malkin a few years ago when they traded James Neal.

Of course, things worked out quite well for Malkin and the Penguins since then – sometimes to Neal’s chagrin – but maybe the team should throw Malkin a bone this time around?

As Josh Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, Malkin continues to promote the idea of the Penguins signing Denis Zaripov.

“ … If coach talks to me a little more, I would say more. I like [Zaripov] so much,” Malkin said. “Of course I want to see his face in the locker room. We see what’s going on, but we have time. It’s a hard situation to talk about him.”

At 36 years old and with a ban from the KHL in mind, there are some hang-ups about Zaripov, especially from a long-term perspective.

Still, the Penguins probably wouldn’t lose much in rolling the dice with a one-year deal. And while Zaripov is about a decade older than Artemi Panarin, let’s not forget that the St. Louis Blues ignored Vladimir Tarasenko‘s praise of Panarin, only to see him star for the Blackhawks.

Sure, there’s an element of stumping for your buddies here, but sometimes it works out well. Even after all these years, Matt Moulson stands as one of John Tavares‘ better linemates, and their bond helped Moulson get his foot in the door with the Islanders many years ago.

Just a thought …

… especially since the Penguins seem so open-minded about taking fliers on players with some upside.

Not long after grabbing a goalie who impressed at the Prospects Challenge, Pittsburgh handed a three-year, entry-level contract to forward Jordy Bellerive after impressing in that format.

Now, we’re talking about different types of upside here (young players vs. a veteran who put up nice KHL numbers for years and might convert them to the big time), but maybe the Penguins should listen to Malkin on this one?

If nothing else, it would cut down on one “I told you so.” Just saying.

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.