Ryan Dadoun

150803-Jack-Eichel2

It’s Buffalo Sabres Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Buffalo Sabres.

Since the Sabres’ debut in 1970, Buffalo has finished with a points percentage (points divided by maximum possible points) below .400 just three times and two of those incidences were in 2013-14 (.317) and 2014-15 (.329), so it’s not a stretch to say that their last two seasons have been a statistical low-point for this franchise.

Very little was expected of the Sabres going into the 2014-15 campaign and right from the start they couldn’t subvert expectations. They didn’t even possess a lead in a game until their fourth contest of the season on Oct. 15. They didn’t win a game in regulation time until Oct. 25. At no point during the season did they have own a winning record.

Buffalo did enjoy a stretch from Nov. 15-Dec. 15 where the squad went 10-3-0, but any hope that it would be the part of a march towards the playoffs was quickly dashed as the Sabres fell apart once more. The team only had two winning streaks (each just two games in length) after that point.

Their offense was a particular problem as they didn’t have a single 50-point player and only Tyler Ennis reached the 20-goal mark. Buffalo ended up recording just 1.87 goals per game, making it the second straight season that it was the lone sub-2.00 team.

Off-season recap

And yet there is a sense of optimism in Buffalo and it’s not unjustified.

With the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Buffalo was able to take a potential generational talent in forward Jack Eichel. Combined with their acquisitions of Evander Kane in February and Ryan O’Reilly in June, the Sabres’ offense isn’t looking so anemic anymore.

They also surrendered the 21st overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft to pry goaltender Robin Lehner from Ottawa. Lehner is coming off of a rough campaign where he posted a 3.02 GAA and .905 save percentage in 25 contests, but he’s still just 24 years old and has a lot of promise.

On the coaching front, Buffalo fired Ted Nolan and replaced him with Dan Bylsma. While how much Nolan should be blamed for the Sabres’ shortcomings last season given the roster they had is debatable, Buffalo is gaining a head coach that has won the Stanley Cup and owns a 252-117-32 regular season record.

Buffalo hasn’t transformed itself into a major contender, but it’s easy to look at what they’ve done and come to the conclusion that they’ve taken a meaningful step forward this summer.

PHT Morning Skate: (Photo) Nieto’s Sharks themed Stormtrooper

Matt Nieto
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Matt Nieto has a pretty cool looking Stormtrooper:

Chris Johnston is predicting that Toronto will be getting an extremely motivated Jonathan Bernier. (Sportsnet)

Is getting Marcus Johansson at $3.75 million for the 2015-16 campaign a good deal for the Washington Capitals? (CSN Washington)

While we’re on the subject of the Capitals, is the Johansson signing the last significant move they’ll make this summer? (CSN Washington)

Former University of New Hampshire standout Kevin Goumas has inked an AHL deal with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. (AHL.com)

It’s not too early to start talking about the 2016 draft class, is it? (Last Word on Sports)

Poll: Is Boudreau the right coach to lead Anaheim to a championship?

Bruce Boudreau
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That was Mike Milbury and Keith Jones dissecting Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau after losing Game 7 of the 2015 Western Conference Final to the Chicago Blackhawks. That defeat reduced Boudreau’s record in Game 7s to 1-6, which is particularly noteworthy given that no other bench boss has ever lost six Game 7s.

That’s led to people questioning if Boudreau is the type of coach that can led his team to victory in the big games, which is vital if the goal is a championship. At the same time, Boudreau has a phenomenal 363-167-69 regular season record and has gotten his growing squad further in the playoffs with each recent campaign. So is too much being made of one poor statistical?

For his part, Boudreau doesn’t feel those Game 7 losses were because of him specifically.

“I got to believe that it isn’t (reflective of anything),” Boudreau told Sportsnet’s Fan 590 back in June. “People love to relay bad stats to people, but seven games have gone to a Game 7. I don’t win them and I don’t think I’m losing them.”

Do you agree with his assessment?

Ducks’ Biggest Question: Is their window already starting to close?

Ryan Kesler
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In a young man’s league, is the Anaheim Ducks’ window to win the Stanley Cup already closing on them?

The Ducks have a dynamic one-two punch in Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf while the presence of Ryan Kesler gives them a great anchor for their second line. But Getzlaf and Perry are 30 years old now while Kesler will be celebrating his 31st birthday on Aug. 31. To be clear, they’re still very much in their prime, but their long-term deals mean that the Ducks will be paying top dollar for them well into their 30s.

Starting with the 2016-17 campaign, Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler will be consuming approximately $23.8 million in combined cap space and that will persist through 2020-21. In other words, about a third of their cap by the standard of the 2015-16 ceiling will be consumed by just three players and while that’s not inherently a problem, it does mean that those three need to continue to be the team’s stars as the Ducks will have a hard time compensating with their remaining cap space if the trio starts to decline.

Of course, they might prove to be players that can excel into their late 30s, making the length of those contracts a non-issue, but we can’t know that will happen and with every passing year, the risk of diminished returns increases. So while Anaheim might end up being very competitive for the next five or even 10 years, they shouldn’t count on that being the case.

That means that there should be a sense of urgency for the Ducks going into the 2015-16 campaign even if their defense and Frederik Andersen remain relatively young. If they can win the Stanley Cup in the next couple of seasons, then paying for the potential long-term ramifications of Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler’s contracts will seem like a fair tradeoff given what the trio accomplished together. Otherwise, this era of the Ducks might be remember as one where they came close, but could never seal the deal.

In Bernier, Leafs hope they have a stabilizing force

Jonathan Bernier
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An argument could be made that the last goaltender to have a terrific season in Toronto was Ed Belfour back in 2002-03 and 2003-04, but perhaps Jonathan Bernier, who signed a two-year extension today, can still follow in his footsteps.

Bernier hasn’t been given the best of teams to work behind, but he did have an encouraging 2013-14 campaign with a 2.68 GAA and .923 save percentage in 55 contests on a team that ranked dead last in shots allowed per game (35.9). Last season was, at best, a mixed bag, but Toronto was also a squad in turmoil for much of that campaign.

Toronto still doesn’t have a good team on paper, but the hope is that it will at least be less prone to falling apart with Mike Babcock behind the bench. Of course, regardless of the situation, it’s up to Bernier to prove that he’s worthy of a long-term deal. He’ll turn 27 on Aug. 7, so him having promise isn’t sufficient at this point.

“The thought process is trying to get a goaltender, and hopefully it’s Jonathan, to be the stabilizer for this franchise,” Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello said, per the Canadian Press. “Having that one (extra) year is both good for Jonathan and the organization, whether it’s the organization evaluating or whether it’s Jonathan proving.”

If everything goes as Lamoriello hopes, then Bernier will represent a strong presence between the pipes for when Toronto comes out the other end of its latest rebuild. If not, then the Maple Leafs goaltending will be another area that will need to be addressed. Either way, Bernier has two more seasons to show the Leafs what he’s capable of.