Mike Halford

You've heard the expression "let's get busy?" Well, Mike Halford is a blogger who gets "biz-zay!" Consistently and thoroughly.
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Sabres have big decision looming on Evander Kane

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This post is part of Sabres Day on PHT…

Jack Eichel‘s pending contract extension will probably be the signature move of Jason Botterill’s brief tenure as Buffalo’s GM.

But there may be another.

Botterill and the Sabres are facing a quandary with forward Evander Kane. Kane, who turned 26 on Wednesday, is heading into the last of a six-year, $31.5 million deal with a $5.25 million average annual cap hit. He led the team in goals last year, with 28. The only forwards to average more TOI were Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly. He’s a big part of the team.

Kane’s behavioral issues and off-ice antics are well documented, but with the charges from last summer’s bar incident having been dropped, his trade value may be higher than it’s been in quite some time. His name was bandied about prior to June’s draft — Sportsnet reported teams were interested, the L.A. Kings among them — and while the rumblings have since gone quiet, uncertainty remains about next year.

There are some major considerations at play.

Kane might not want re-sign with the Sabres.

Back in mid-June, Kane said he wasn’t looking for a change of scenery.

“I’m getting prepared to start another NHL season,” he told The Province. “Hopefully it’s in Buffalo.”

Staying with the Sabres this season is one thing. Staying beyond is another.

Kane was eligible to sign an extension on July 1, and a full month has passed. Granted, Botterill had plenty on his to-do list, including the ongoing Eichel negotiations. But with each passing day, Kane gets closer to starting the campaign while heading into the last year of his deal, and all that comes along with it. There will be endless questions about where negotiations are at. Will you negotiate during the year? Will you shut down talks? Then there’s speculation about getting traded at the deadline. It’s what most pending UFAs face in the final year of their deals.

There’s also free agency itself.

Kane’s never really had a say in where he’s played. He was drafted by Atlanta, moved with the team to Winnipeg, then got traded to Buffalo. Going to market would be his first chance at picking a preferred locale — and, as always with free agency, a major opportunity to cash in.

The Sabres might be good!

There’s energy in KeyBank right now. Franchise legend Phil Housley’s behind the bench, and Botterill bolstered the blueline by acquiring Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu and Viktor Antipin. Up front, Kane has talented running mates in Eichel, O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Sam Reinhart, who almost have to be healthier than last year. Combined, that quintet missed over 60 games to injury.

As such, a scenario exists where Kane enters the year without a deal, plays well, and the Sabres wind up in playoff contention come deadline time. That’s when Botterill is faced with the big decision. If he decides to move Kane, he gets something in return for an asset… but also diminishes the team’s chances of winning. If he keeps Kane, it signals the Sabres are ready to make a push — remember, it’s been six years without a playoff appearance — but they also run the risk of losing Kane for nothing.

Sign and trade?

This idea has been bandied about. The thinking is that Kane’s trade value is diminished somewhat due to the expiring contract, so what if there was more security? Botterill could, in theory, get an extension signed, then move Kane (who doesn’t have a NMC or NTC). The acquiring team would have more cost certainty this way and know the term.

The issue here is Kane signing on the dotted line. Aside from the guaranteed money, he wouldn’t control a huge part of the process — specifically, where Botterill could send him. Given free agency is just months away, Kane could take total control by simply going to market.

It’s going to be an interesting next while.

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.

Under Pressure: Robin Lehner

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This post is part of Sabres Day on PHT…

Show me. Prove it. Make or break.

All three of those descriptors have been used to describe the season Robin Lehner‘s about to embark upon. And all three are fairly accurate.

The 26-year-old finds himself at a virtual career crossroads. Lehner’s biggest champion, ex-Sabres GM Tim Murray, is gone. Murray knew Lehner from their time together in Ottawa — Lehner helped AHL Binghamton win a Calder Cup in 2011 — and liked the big Swede enough to give up a first-round pick to acquire his services.

Murray’s replacement, Jason Botterill, didn’t acquire Lehner. He inherited him. And that could be why Botterill’s been somewhat hesitant in proclaiming Lehner as the club’s long-term No. 1. In May, Botterill offered a lukewarm vote of confidence, then went out and signed Chad Johnson on the opening day of free agency.

In late July, Botterill furthered the “show me” narrative by inking Lehner to a one-year, $4 million extension.

That contract came on the heels of an up-and-down ’16-17 campaign, one in which Lehner posted career highs in games played (59) and finished with a solid .920 save percentage. And that was on underachieving Sabres club, playing behind a suspect blueline.

Granted, Lehner’s play was erratic at times. And his trademark intensity was on display on several occaions — and not necessarily in a good way.

More: Fiery Lehner won’t apologize for being fiery

But there’s something to be said for a guy that finished 12th among goalies in save percentage while playing for one of the worst teams in the league. There’s also promise for the future, given Lehner is still reasonably young and responded well to his first full NHL workload.

Really, this season will come down to meeting expectations.

The bar has been raised in Buffalo, and there’s a level of excitement — franchise legend Phil Housley is behind the bench, and there have been significant additions (Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu, Viktor Antipin) on defense. The team is no doubt looking to crack the 90-point plateau after posting 81 and 78 in the two seasons prior, and wants to make a push for the playoffs.

So it’ll be fascinating to see how Lehner responds.

Don’t forget to add Johnson’s presence into the equation. He started 36 games for a Calgary team that made the playoffs last year and acquitted himself quite well, holding down the No. 1 gig when Brian Elliott struggled. It’s also worth noting that Johnson is returning to the city where he had his greatest NHL success — in ’15-16, he posted career highs across the board in Buffalo, making 45 starts, winning 22 games and finishing with a .920 save percentage.

“I think the fans really embraced me by the end of the season,” Johnson said upon inking his one-year, $2.5 million deal, per the News. “They got to see what kind of goalie I was. I won a lot of games and had good numbers. To be able to come back and be a part of the organization again and have that drive to win and get back in playoffs is special for me.

“I always felt like there was unfinished business.”

There’ll be plenty of things to watch in Buffalo this season, but the battle between the pipes might be the most intriguing of all.

Islanders, de Haan avoid arbitration with one-year, $3.3 million deal

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The Islanders and blueliner Calvin de Haan went right down to the wire.

Just hours before their arbitration hearing on Wednesday, the two sides agreed to a one-year, $3.3 million deal, per TSN. The contract comes after Sportsnet reported de Haan’s initial ask was $5 million, while the Isles offered $1.95M.

De Haan, 26, is coming off a solid campaign in which he posted career highs in games played (82), goals (five), assists (20) and points (25). He averaged just under 20 minutes per night, but that TOI figure is expected to increase following Travis Hamonic‘s trade to Calgary last month.

“Calvin is a home-grown product of the organization and has developed into one of our top defenseman during his time with the organization,” Isles GM Garth Snow said in a release. “He plays important minutes for our club and we’re excited to have him back for one more year.”

In the short term, this deal is a win for the Isles. It’s a more than affordable cap figure for a defenseman that logs the kind of minutes de Haan does, and makes for a very cost-effective blueline group. Snow now has just $21 million locked into eight guys for next season: de Haan, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Thomas Hickey, Adam Pelech, Dennis Seidenberg, Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield.

In the long term, though, this contract could come back to bite.

De Haan will be an unrestricted free agent next July and, should he put forth another solid campaign, will likely be looking for a long-term deal (possibly around the $5 million per mark requested in arbitration). That could be too rich for the Isles’ blood, especially if the John Tavares extension gets done.

That could create a scenario where de Haan is twisting in the wind all season, right up to the trade deadline. Then the conversation turns to where the Isles are at — if they’re in go-for-it mode, Snow would presumably keep de Haan and risk losing him for nothing at the end of the year.

Blues re-sign goalie Binnington

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Jordan Binnington, the netminder taken 88th overall by the Blues in 2011, has signed a one-year, two-way extension, the club announced on Friday.

Binnington, 24, has played almost exclusively with St. Louis’ AHL affiliate since turning pro four years ago, though he did spend some time in the ECHL.

Last year he worked alongside Ville Husso and Pheonix Copley in the Wolves’ goal, and will likely do so again with Husso moving forward (Copley was traded to Washington as part of the Kevin Shattenkirk deal.)

Binnington’s NHL body of work is brief — one 13-minute relief appearance during the ’15-16 campaign. Right now he’s jockeying with Husso to be the organization’s No. 3 netminder, a potential call-up should either Jake Allen or Carter Hutton get hurt.