Mike Halford

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 21: Nathan Lieuwen #50 of the Buffalo Sabres warms up to play the Toronto Maple Leafs at First Niagara Center on October 21, 2015 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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Ex-Sabres goalie Lieuwen signs with Avs’ AHL team

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Nathan Lieuwen’s time with Sabres is up.

Lieuwen, a 2011 draft pick who debuted for Buffalo in ’13-14, has signed an AHL deal with the San Antonio Rampage, the minor league affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche.

Lieuwen, 24, has been bit the injury bug over the last few seasons, missing extensive time to concussions. When healthy, he posted some good numbers — including that aforementioned ’13-14 campaign, when he played seven NHL games and had a .922 save percentage with AHL Rochester — but wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer by Buffalo GM Tim Murray at the end of this season, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Yesterday, Murray inked goalie prospect Jason Kasdorf to a two-year deal, which all but suggested Lieuwen was on his way out. Kasdorf projects to be No. 4 on a depth chart that starts with Robin Lehner, and will (presumably) see Linus Ullmark and Anders Nilsson battle it out for second and third spots.

Lieuwen could be in line for a more prominent role in Colorado. Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard are entrenched at the NHL level, but the situation behind them is a bit unclear, with the likes of ex-Bruins farmhand Jeremy Smith and ’13 draftee Spencer Martin in the mix.

On that note, the Rampage also brought in goalie Kent Simpson on a one-year deal on Monday.

Devils re-up with AHL coach of the year Kowalsky

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 9:  The New Jersey Devil's logo is on the Albany River Rats jersey during the game against the Philadelphia Phantoms on October 9, 2005 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The Phantoms won 4-2.  The River Rats are the farm team of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Rick Kowalsky’s sixth year in charge of the Devils’ AHL affiliate in Albany was arguably his best — and as a reward, New Jersey has inked him to a two-year contract extension.

From the club:

Kowalsky, 44, is the reigning Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award winner as the AHL’s most outstanding coach. During the 2015-16 season, he guided the AHL Devils’ to their best record in franchise history, while managing a roster that saw only four players skate more than 50 games.

Albany’s 46-20-8-2 record for a .671 points percentage finished ranked third in the AHL and second in the Eastern Conference. The team advanced to the Division Finals for the first time in franchise history.

“We are excited to have Rick continue to lead the development of our young players in the AHL and at the same time compete for a Calder Cup,” New Jersey assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald said in a release. “Rick has established himself as one of the top coaches in the AHL and we are certain he will continue to operate at a high level. We now have a strong sense of stability among our NHL, AHL and Developmental Coaches.”

Kowalsky has been the head coach in Albany since 2010, and has graduated the likes of Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson, Reid Boucher and John Merrill to the parent club.

Journeyman blueliner Reese signs in Sweden

Dylan Reese
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Dylan Reese, the veteran defenseman that played for the Isles, Penguins and Coyotes, has hopped the pond to sign in Sweden with HV71, the club announced on Monday.

Reese, 31, has spent the last few seasons with the Arizona organization, and appeared in 23 AHL contests with Portland last year. His last NHL action came with the Coyotes during the ’14-15 campaign.

This will be the second European excursion of Reese’s career. The former Harvard standout spent one season playing in the KHL, but returned to North America in 2014.

Nesterov to replace Voynov on Russia’s World Cup team

Nikita Nesterov
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Earlier today, we passed along word that the Russian hockey federation acknowledged d-man Slava Voynov wouldn’t be eligible to compete in the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

And now, the Russians have named Voynov’s replacement.

Nikita Nesterov, the 23-year-old Tampa Bay blueliner, has been added to the roster, the Russian federation announced on Monday. He had three goals and six assists in 57 games last season, and was named to the Russian squad ahead of the likes of Fedor Tyutin and Nikita Zadorov.

Nesterov has represented Russian internationally on several occasions, though only at the U18 and World Junior level. He helped his country capture a pair of medals — silver and bronze — at the ’12 and ’13 WJC.

As for the guy he’s replacing… well, this essentially puts an end to what could’ve been a contentious inclusion.

In late May, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear that Voynov was still suspended by the league — stemming from his arrest on felony domestic violence charges in October 2014 — and because of that, would not be allowed to play in the World Cup.

But the Russians had argued that the NHL had no right to hold him out of the international tournament.

Voynov played last season for SKA Saint Petersburg in the KHL. He had nine assists in 28 games, including the playoffs.

It should be noted the Russian team will have a pretty distinctive Lightning influence this fall, as Nesterov joins Bolts teammates Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov and Andrei Vasilevskiy on the roster.

Brassard ‘a better hockey player at this point in time’ than Zibanejad, says Sens GM

TAMPA, FL - MAY 26:  Derick Brassard #16 of the New York Rangers celebrates after scoring a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 26, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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For Ottawa, today’s Mika Zibanejad-for-Derick Brassard trade was all about one thing:

The present.

“We felt Mika has great potential down the road, but we felt with Derick we were getting someone that was more proven, and a better hockey player at this point in time,” Sens GM Pierre Dorion said on Monday’s conference call. “Our ultimate goal is to make the playoffs again, and we feel Derick’s going to help us make the playoffs.”

Dorion’s remarks only confirmed what was pretty obvious — Ottawa is aggressively pursuing the postseason after missing last year.

That message was made loud and clear with a major hockey operations overhaul to begin the summer. Dorion replaced longtime GM Bryan Murray, Guy Boucher replaced head coach Dave Cameron, and former Stanley Cup winning bench boss Marc Crawford was brought in as Boucher’s assistant.

Now, the changes are happening with the on-ice product.

Brassard, who played under Boucher in junior, should provide an immediate upgrade. While the Sens did mortgage some of their future with this deal — Zibanejad is five years younger, and on a club-controlled contract — Brassard had 27 goals and 31 assists in 80 games last season, and will make a pretty solid, albeit unspectacular, one-two punch at center with Kyle Turris.

Dorion has already envisioned who Brassard might be skating alongside.

“He’s the left-handed center that we’ve coveted for a few years,” Dorion said of Brassard. “Left-handed centers will make it easier to get the puck to our right wingers, and we have two pretty good ones in Mark Stone and Bobby Ryan.”

On paper, the Senators — who finished nine points out of the playoffs last season — now boast a fairly impressive forward group highlighted by Turris, Brassard, Stone, Ryan and unsigned RFA forward Mike Hoffman, who is scheduled for arbitration.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau is coming off a breakout campaign, and there’s hope former first-rounders Matt Puempel and Curtis Lazar can reach the next level.

But if the Sens are going to make the playoffs next year, one thing is certain — special teams, which were horrendous all season long, are going to have to improve.

In that light, it’ll be interesting to see how big an impact Brassard can make. He didn’t kill penalties in New York, but was a mainstay on the club’s power play, and finished tied for the team lead in PP points.

“He’s someone that plays a complete game,” Dorion said. “We just feel that we got a really good player here.”