James O'Brien

Andrej Meszaros, Rasmus Ristolainen, Brian Gionta

Gionta: Sabres’ offseason ‘excites guys in the locker room’

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The biggest winners of the Buffalo Sabres’ summer of resounding improvements might just be the players who suffered through the 2014-15 season (not to mention the fans).

Veteran winger Brian Gionta probably isn’t very familiar with seasons like that, so it makes sense that he seemed excited about the additions of Dan Byslma, Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Robin Lehner and so on. He praised Sabres GM Tim Murray’s work to USA Today on Friday.

“Look at the moves he’s been able to make,” Gionta said. “You can say you want a better team, you want to bring in better players, but for him to actually pull that off and make the moves he did, it shows that he means business. That excites guys in the locker room.”

Back when he was hired by the team in May, Bylsma said that he sees a bright future for the team, as the Buffalo News reported. Even so, one would guess that Bylsma, Gionta and possibly even Murray are all a little surprised by just how much progress the Sabres have made in mere months.

(They certainly don’t seem out of place on “most improved teams” lists like this one by NHL.com.)

Naturally, it’s not that tough to improve upon the disaster that has been the Sabres for the past two seasons – the phrase “historically bad” came up uncomfortably often – but it remains to be seen how much these moves will translate into results.

It might take some time, yet it’s also plausible that the rebuild will be more rapid than expected, a notion that isn’t lost on veterans such as Gionta.

(H/T to The Score.)

Byron (wrist) hopes to be ready for Flames’ training camp

Paul Byron

Paul Byron avoided salary arbitration with the Calgary Flames on Sunday. Now he aims to get healthy by the time training camp rolls around.

The 26-year-old told the Calgary Sun’s Wes Gilbertson that he will be getting pins out of his wrist during the first week of September. That may cut it close as far as healing up by training camp, but he’s hoping that the situation works out.

Not surprisingly, he said what many players have before him: avoiding arbitration was a big relief.

Byron played in 57 regular season games with the Flames in 2014-15, scoring six goals and 19 points, the second-best run of his NHL career (he scored 21 points in 2013-14). He’s fared quite well for a sixth-round pick, as he was selected 179th overall by the Buffalo Sabres back in 2007.

The Flames’ immediate list of concerns may now boil down to Michael Ferland, although the team has some serious work to do regarding players who are entering the last year of their contracts, as Mark Giordano and Johnny Gaudreau rank among the many who need new deals after 2015-16.

Can the Blue Jackets justify their big spending?

Chicago Blackhawks v Columbus Blue Jackets
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Much of the narrative surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets revolves around what this team can do with even a reasonably clean bill of health. It overshadows a key question, though: can they live up to the hype?

The Columbus Dispatch’s Michael Arace shines a light on this situation, as the market isn’t accustomed to the Blue Jackets coming into a season with such aspirations.

So, Jackets fans ought to doff their cap to majority owner John P. McConnell. Whatever else one might say about the man, he has been willing to spend on talent. That is all one can ask of an owner. The rest is on management and on the players.

The first and last time the Jackets were a “cap team” was in 2011-12, after the big-ticket acquisitions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski. That team was a chic midsummer pick, too. Carter was a dog and begged out of town, but not before he poisoned the locker room. Then, Rick Nash asked for a trade for the (cough, cough) betterment of the franchise. That season was a disaster.

Interesting stuff, and it really does spotlight something many haven’t considered: the stakes are pretty high for this edition of the Blue Jackets.

Married to some pricey players

The Blue Jackets are under pressure to show that this roster will be competitive both in 2015-16 and in the future, as a ton of their contracts are hefty and long-term.

Brandon Saad ($6 million), Brandon Dubinsky ($5.8M), Nick Foligno ($5.5M), David Clarkson ($5.25M) and Scott Hartnell ($4.75M) all boast contracts that run through 2018-19 or later. Sergei Bobrovsky ranks as one of the NHL’s most expensive goalies with his $7.425 million cap hit. Ryan Johansen’s a huge steal right now at a $4 million mark, but a big upgrade is looming as his deal expires after the 2016-17 campaign.

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Long story short, the picture is pretty clear. The injury angle screams “plenty of room to improve,” yet the Blue Jackets aren’t exactly in a place where they have nothing to lose.

In fact, the franchise might not be able to afford another disappointing season, lucky or not.

Hurricanes won’t force Hanifin to make immediate NHL jump

2015 NHL Draft - Portraits
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Noah Hanifin stands as the sort of defensive prospect the Carolina Hurricanes badly need, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll use him right away.

For every 18-year-old blueliner who weathers the storm of an immediate NHL jump (see: Aaron Ekblad), there are plenty of young players who benefit from more seasoning before they play at the highest level. The Canes seem comfortable taking a patient approach with Hanifin, as the Charlotte News & Observer reports.

“We don’t want to force him in there if he’s not ready,” GM Ron Francis said. “We’ll give him time to develop. I’m certainly not ruling it out, but we want to be careful and make sure we do what’s right for Noah.”

Frankly, the slow-and-steady approach might be wise for both sides. Let’s ponder a few reasons why:

  • Defensive prospects often take years to develop – Again, Ekblad is probably the exception to the rule.
  • The Hurricanes are expected to be mediocre, at best – OK, there’s always the chance that a team might make a surprise turnaround, and there is indeed talent on this roster. Still, most would probably agree that Carolina is in a “transitional” period, and probably won’t make many preseason playoff prediction lists.
  • Bang for the buck – People frequently forget that there are perils when it comes to “burning” years off of entry-level contracts. Why not take advantage of built-in cheaper years for Hanifin?

Those stand as some compelling reasons to allow Hanifin to marinate, but the Hurricanes must also consider the risk of stunting his growth at too low of a level if he is ready for the big time.

And, as you can see from this post, their defense could use all the help it can get heading into 2015-16.

Sticker shock: Oilers fans react to ticket prices for upcoming new arena

2015 NHL Draft - Portraits
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It remains to be seen if the Edmonton Oilers will be a playoff contender by the time they move into Rogers Place in 2016-17. It looks like Oilers season ticket holders will be paying as if they’re a high-end team either way.

The good news for Edmonton Oilers fans is that the “Connor McDavid tax” won’t be that costly for next season. Season tickets in their new arena fall in the cost range of “arm and a leg,” though.

The Oilers released a “season seat relocation guide” for the opening of Rogers Place in 2016-17, and the options are both more expensive and a little more complicated than what fans will experience at Rexall Place. It’s a little tough to compare and contrast when ticket pricing options just from eight different structures to 38, as Global Edmonton points out.

Copper & Blue’s Ryan Batty probably summarizes the more modest jump in prices – relatively speaking – between 2014-15 and next season versus the leap between 2015-16 and the new building’s opening campaign in 2016-17.

Yikes. To little surprise, Oilers fans seem a little stunned by the spike in prices, especially since Batty points out that the team is asking for some cash early:

Here are some choice reactions from fans and media members on Twitter:

Well, they better improve by the time they move then, right?