James O'Brien

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Under Pressure: Jeff Blashill

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Here’s an understatement for you: Mike Babcock is a tough act to follow.

In the hearts and minds of Red Wings fans, Jeff Blashill may very well face an impossible task in trying to supplant the scowl of Babs. It cannot be easy to jump from the AHL to replacing one of the most respected bench bosses in recent history.

That said, for all the well-earned hero worship Babcock often inspires, there’s an argument that Detroit needed a breath of fresh air.

The Red Wings were as dominant as ever from 2006-07 to 2008-09, making three conference finals, two Stanley Cup Final rounds and winning one ring. They’ve been solid-yet-mostly-unspectacular since then, however:

  • Just one division title (in 2010-11).
  • Three first-round exits in their last six postseason berths, including two straight years of one-and-done. The Red Wings haven’t made it beyond the second round in that span, either.
  • They struggled to make the playoffs more than ever in recent years.

This is likely a case of oversimplifying, yet some may look at this situation in one of two ways:

A) Babcock squeezed every standings point possible out of a fading team.

B) Conversely, the franchise was begging for a jolt of energy.

It’s worth noting that the Red Wings remain a quality possession squad, although their exact rankings vary based on which specific metrics you use. The bottom line is that there’s a solid chance that Blashill has a decent group to work with, even if this obviously isn’t the stupidly dominant group many long associated with the Red Wings brand.

When your team is currently on a record 24-season playoff streak, expectations are inevitable, and Blashill faces a tall task. For all we know, setting the bar so high might not be such a bad thing.

Buffalo Sabres ’15-16 Outlook

MATT MOULSON
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The Buffalo Sabres made huge strides this offseason, yet they may still fall closer to historic ineptitude than they will to playoff contention in 2015-16.

That’s not meant as a slight to GM Tim Murray’s work this summer; instead, it’s a reminder of just how bad that team really was last season.

By just about any measure, the Sabres were the worst team in the NHL. Honestly, it was probably wiser to compare them to the sorriest teams in recent history rather than last year’s Arizona Coyotes or Edmonton Oilers.

That said, Murray enjoyed an offseason that was so strong, he thought he might have consumed some fungus, so maybe a playoff trip isn’t so far away after all?

A host of improvements

Jack Eichel brings in the hype of a “generational player,” while Ryan O’Reilly is the sort of sturdy two-way center who can make life easier for his teammates. (Eichel can be sheltered as he gets used to the NHL game thanks to O’Reilly and perhaps David Legwand.)

Evander Kane will play his first game as a Sabre in 2015-16, too. Young players such as Sam Reinhart may take significant steps forward while vets like Matt Moulson could rebound next season.

Sabres fans might not be particularly excited about Robin Lehner, but Murray sure is. Most believe that Lehner will need to be outstanding to cover up what projects to be a putrid defense.

Read more about the pressure Lehner faces here and Buffalo’s defensive question marks here.

For all the improvements Buffalo made – and Dan Bylsma’s impact should not be dismissed, by the way – the smart money is on the Sabres missing the playoffs. Really, it’s not outrageous to imagine at least one more cellar-dwelling year before things get sorted out.

Feel free to disagree in this poll, but despite a strong offseason, it ultimately seems like Buffalo still has a long way to go.

Poll: How soon will the Sabres make the playoffs?

Tim Murray, Jack Eichel
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Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray is so happy with the moves he made this offseason, he almost thought he was hallucinating.

Murray was beside himself in drafting Jack Eichel while trading for Robin Lehner, Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane.*

When you combine those acquisitions with possible developmental gains for the likes of Sam Reinhart, the Sabres’ outlook gets awfully interesting. Of course, it’s also valid to note that this team has a lot of room for improvement. The Sabres weren’t even close to competitive in 2014-15, after all.

That actually leads us to Buffalo’s poll question: how long will it take for the Sabres to return to the postseason?

If you need a push either way, consider some of the posts from PHT’s Buffalo Sabres Day extravaganza.

Under Pressure: Robin Lehner

Looking to make the Leap: Sam Reinhart

Buffalo’s big questions on defense

* – Technically they acquired Kane during the 2014-15 season, yet his injury-shortened campaign makes it feel like a move that came during the summer.

Sabres’ biggest question: Defense

Zach Bogosian, Boone Jenner
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As much as the Buffalo Sabres have improved lately, it still seems like they’re going to struggle on defense.

Honestly, there are strong odds that they’ll struggle a lot.

You can trot out the simplest stats (Buffalo allowed a league-worst shots on goal average of 35.6 per game, two more than second-worst Toronto) or go a little deeper (the Sabres’ Fenwick Close was downright ghastly), but the bottom line is that Buffalo was atrocious on D. Their offensive firepower was meek in 2014-15, yet the Sabres’ work in their own end was the leading reason people described them as “historically inept.”

Just look at the dregs of NHL.com’s “SAT” stat and you’ll see just how much worse Buffalo was than the rest of the worst:

26. Columbus: -365
27. Toronto: -515
28. Calgary: -839
29. Colorado: -984
30. Buffalo: -1,789

Yikes.

GM Tim Murray made this team better in many ways – and certain facets should benefit Buffalo defensively – but the personnel is still lacking.

Even if Dan Byslma’s a big difference-maker, it’s difficult to imagine him working many miracles with some combination of Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian (pictured), Josh Gorges, Mike Weber, Matt Donovan, Mark Pysyk, Jake McCabe and Carlo Colaiacovo.

(Seriously, take a step back and ponder that group for a moment.)

Look, players like Ristolainen could very well make significant strides in 2015-16. Buffalo is also likely to enjoy better two-way play from its forward group, as Ryan O’Reilly and David Legwand both possess some defensive chops. Again, Byslma’s systems could at least drag the Sabres closer to respectability, as well.

If you dial down the optimism to more reasonable levels, the Sabres are likely to put a ton of pressure on Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson next season, as that defense stands as a work in progress … at best.

NHL ordered to turn over concussion data as part of lawsuit

Beyond Sport United 2015
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U.S. Federal Court judge Susan Nelson ordered the NHL to turn over “reams of data about injuries and concussions” as part of an ongoing lawsuit, TSN’s Rick Westhead reports.

Approximately 80 former players are involved in the legal matter.

Here’s what Nelson wrote in her ruling, via Westhead:

“The Court finds that the (NHL’s) blanket application of the physician-patient privilege – protecting all medical data from disclosure – is inapplicable here,” Nelson wrote.

“The clubs are ordered to produce any internal reports, studies, analyses and databases in their possession (whether initiated by the U.S. clubs, NHL, or retained researchers) for the purpose of studying concussions in de-identified form. The U.S. clubs shall produce any responsive correspondence and/or emails between themselves, themselves and the NHL, or with any research or other professional about the study of concussions.”

Players names will not be shared in this process. The NHL reportedly estimates that producing such reams of data could cost about $13.5 million. Commissioner Gary Bettman was deposed for eight hours on Friday regarding the lawsuit, although his testimony is “under seal for now.”

For more, read the full report from Westhead at TSN.