Cam Tucker

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 07:  Kyle Okposo #21 of the New York Islanders looks on before a face off against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 7, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the New York Islanders 5-4.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Okposo: Sabres are rebuilding at an ‘accelerated rate’

2 Comments

It was actually a few months before free agency that the Buffalo Sabres, with their play on the ice, left an impression on Kyle Okposo.

Early on in Friday’s free agent frenzy, the Sabres signed Okposo to a seven-year, $42 million deal. It was in the last regular season game of the year for Okposo, on April 9, that he began to see the growth with Buffalo’s rebuilding team.

He believes the Sabres are on an “accelerated rate” for their rebuild, making strides from the 2014-15 season.

“It was a completely different team, I feel like, playing them this year as opposed to the year before,” Okposo told reporters in a conference call.

“I just remember coming out of that game thinking, ‘Gosh, these guys are a really skilled bunch, really skilled group.’ They have a lot of upside. And obviously I didn’t know what was going to transpire over the next two months but just thinking how good some of their young players were.”

In the 2014-15 season, the Sabres finished with the worst record in the NHL. They didn’t get the first overall pick — which eventually became Connor McDavid — in the lottery, but they landed the No. 2 selection and Jack Eichel.

Buffalo then went out and added center Ryan O’Reilly and signed him to an extension through 2023.

The Sabres didn’t qualify for the playoffs last season. They finished 23rd overall, with a 35-36-11 record and 81 points.

But they’ve got a pretty good one-two punch up the middle with Eichel and O’Reilly, and that is an attractive aspect for Okposo, who has hit the 20-goal plateau in three of the last five seasons with the New York Islanders.

“Those guys are only going to continue to get better, especially Jack,” said Okposo. “He’s got super star status and you definitely need that to win a Stanley Cup.”

Landing Okposo could also represent a further step for the Sabres in making Buffalo a go-to location for coveted free agents.

“It means a lot,” said Sabres GM Tim Murray, as per the Buffalo News. “It means what I have felt since I got here, that we can be a destination for good players, I think this shows that we are.

“It’s exciting to get a player of his caliber who had a choice of — I won’t say 30 teams — but certainly a lot of teams, and he decided to come here.”

Sabres GM Murray: Patience is growing thin with Evander Kane after latest legal trouble

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 18:  Evander Kane #9 of the Buffalo Sabres during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Sabres defeated the Coyotes 2-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Getty Images
22 Comments

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray says his patience is growing thin after forward Evander Kane‘s latest off-ice legal problem.

In his strongest comments to date, Murray says Kane needs to behave better whether or not he’s cleared of harassment complaints filed against him by two women following an alleged altercation at a Buffalo nightclub last week.

Murray intends to meet with Kane to discuss his concerns once the legal process is completed.

According to police, Kane allegedly grabbed one woman by the throat. The second woman accuses Kane of trying to force her from the bar.

Kane’s attorney says the player did nothing wrong.

This is Kane’s second run-in with legal trouble in six months. In March, prosecutors announced after a three-month investigation that Kane would not face a sexual assault charge stemming from a December incident because there was no evidence to support the allegation.

Related: Sabres GM doesn’t ‘know all the details’ of Evander Kane investigation

So, who’s left? Jason Demers headlines list of remaining free agents (Updated)

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 03:  Jason Demers #4 of the Dallas Stars skates against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on November 3, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Getty Images
3 Comments

The sprint that occurred at the beginning of NHL free agency has, for the most part, settled into more of a marathon.

General managers were quick to throw around cash and term to the first wave of coveted free agents (click here to recap who has signed where), but there are still some notable names remaining on the board:

Jason Demers: He’s a defenseman with a right shot, which are two qualities in high demand for NHL teams. In 62 games last season with the Dallas Stars, he had seven goals and 23 points, and now at the end of a two-year, $6.8 million contract.

Related: UFA of the Day: Jason Demers

Kris Russell: Acquired by the Dallas Stars at the trade deadline, as that club looked to add to its blue line for the playoffs, Russell is now on the open market after a 19-point regular season between Dallas and the Calgary Flames. He’s often criticized in the analytics community for poor puck possession numbers.

Related: UFA of the Day: Kris Russell

Kyle Quincey: The writing had been on the wall for a while that Quincey was likely to hit the open market. The 30-year-old defenseman, at the end of a two-year, $8.5 million deal, had four goals and 11 points in 47 games for the Red Wings. In November, Quincey underwent ankle surgery, causing him to miss 35 games.

Justin Schultz: Schultz won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins following a trade from Edmonton earlier in the season. However, the Penguins didn’t extend Schultz a qualifying offer, meaning the 25-year-old right-shooting defenseman the open market today.

Shane Doan: Doan has spent his entire career with the same franchise (he began his career with that franchise in Winnipeg, went through the relocation to Phoenix and all the tumultuous times it has gone through since). He’s now 39 years old, but despite his age, he scored 28 goals and 47 points with Arizona last season.

Update:

Related: UFA of the Day: Shane Doan

Radim Vrbata: Vrbata’s time in Vancouver started well, after he signed with the Canucks as a free agent two years ago. He scored 31 goals in the 2014-15 season, playing on the right wing with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. But his second season in Vancouver was the polar opposite. He had stretches of bad luck and a lack of production and his season was eventually cut short due to injury.

Related: UFA of the Day: Radim Vrbata

Jiri Hudler: Acquired prior to the trade deadline by the Florida Panthers, the 32-year-old Hudler scored six goals and 11 points in 19 games with the Panthers in the regular season, but had only one assist in six post-season games.

Related: UFA of the Day: Jiri Hudler

Brad Richards: Richards saw his production dip this season with the Red Wings. Now 36 years old, he scored 10 goals and 28 points in 68 regular season games. Despite age and drop in production, he still feels he can play hockey.

Sam Gagner: Gagner, 26, appeared in 53 games for the Philadelphia Flyers this season, scoring eight goals and 16 points. He was also put on waivers, eventually cleared and loaned to the Flyers’ AHL affiliate.

Other notables:

Kris Versteeg: Right wing | 30 years old | 77 GP, 15 G, 23 A, 38 PTS

Brandon Pirri: Center | 25 years old | 61 GP, 14 G, 15 A, 29 PTS

Alex Tanguay: Left wing | 36 years old | 70 GP, 8 G, 27 A, 35 PTS

Luke Schenn: Defense | 26 years old | 72 GP, 4 G, 12 A, 16 PTS

Roman Polak: Defense | 30 years old | 79 GP, 1 G, 15 A, 16 PTS

Report: Ekblad, Panthers agree to eight-year contract extension

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 17: Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers arrives for Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Islanders during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 17, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty Images
7 Comments

The Florida Panthers have reportedly secured defenseman Aaron Ekblad to an eight-year contract extension worth an average annual value of $7.5 million.

That’s according to a report from Jimmy Murphy of DirtyWaterSports.

George Richards of the Miami Herald also confirmed the deal Thursday evening on Twitter.

From the Miami Herald:

Ekblad, 20, cannot sign a new deal with Florida until the NHL’s new fiscal year begins Friday at noon. Although Ekblad isn’t expected to formally sign anything Friday because of the opening of the free agency period, he will in the coming days.

That’s a massive pay increase for Ekblad, who has an NHL salary of $925,000 in each of the three years of his entry-level contract with the Panthers. There is still one year remaining on that deal.

Since entering the league as the first overall pick in 2014, Ekblad has 75 points in 159 games. He was also the Calder Trophy winner in 2015.

Ekblad’s ability as a defenseman and prominence, even at a young age, was also what helped attract fellow blue liner Keith Yandle to Florida.

His rights were traded to the Panthers and he signed shortly after, forgoing free agency, as he expressed excitement with the prospect of possibly playing alongside Ekblad.

As a sophomore blue liner in the NHL last season, the 20-year-old Ekblad scored 15 goals and 36 points in 78 regular season games. Only nine other NHL defensemen had more goals than him last season.

Sweeney: Bruins have had ‘very productive’ talks with … John-Michael Liles

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 01:  John-Michael Liles #26 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the first period against the Calgary Flames at TD Garden on March 1, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Getty Images
5 Comments

Torey Krug: Signed to a four-year, $21 million contract extension with the Boston Bruins.

Dennis Seidenberg: The Bruins put him on unconditional waivers for the purpose of the buyout.

John-Michael Liles? Well, according to Bruins general manager Don Sweeney, the club and the player are in discussions. Liles is a free agent tomorrow, as his four-year, $15.5 million deal is at an end.

The Bruins added Liles to their roster at the trade deadline, in a bid to bolster their blue line for the stretch drive, which eventually ended with Boston unable to qualify for the post-season.

There is still a need for Boston to strengthen its blue line for next season, and buying out Seidenberg would add further room to a team with more than $17 million in cap space for Friday.

“We’ve talked to free agent candidates. I mentioned John-Michael, I think that we’ve had very, very productive talks there,” Sweeney told reporters in a conference call.

“We’re looking for balance. We’re looking for our younger players to have an opportunity, emerge and grab a hold of that. Whichever way we can improve our team internally, externally, we’re going to continue to evaluate and pursue. The trade market, whether that materializes, that remains to be seen.”

The Bruins have been in the market for a “transitional defenseman” but those come at a cost, perhaps a heavy one and perhaps too heavy in the trade market. Free agency? There are possible candidates, although some, like Brian Campbell and Dan Hamhuis, are decidedly older options.

From the Boston Globe:

On defense, the pickings are even slimmer. Jason Demers is the top prize, which speaks volumes about a market that grew even more limited after the early trades and signings of Keith Yandle and Alex Goligoski. The remainder is like the produce selection at Haymarket: distressed and picked over.

The Bruins still have restricted free agent defensemen Joe Morrow and Colin Miller left to sign.

“If we can bring in a guy as advertised … no matter what the acquisition costs are, if it lines up we’re in a position to do that. The flexibility we have is there to be able to continue to explore and improve our team,” said Sweeney.

“If it’s internal … then we’re going to continue to do that. We do feel we have players that can emerge in that sense. Puck possession game, transition game comes in different forms.”

As for Loui Eriksson, also a free agent tomorrow, Sweeney said the two sides continue to talk but they haven’t found “common ground.”