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.)
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.
The Montreal Canadiens played the 2014-15 season without a captain after Brian Gionta signed in Buffalo as a free agent. Habs legend Guy Lafleur believes when the club does appoint a new leader it should be forward Brendan Gallagher wearing the ‘C’.
“A captain shouldn’t be chosen on the amount of goals he’s going to score,” Lafleur told the Montreal Gazette. “That guy (Gallagher) really impressed me every night I saw him play. He’s aggressive, he wants to win. He gets some bad shots from opponents, he takes a lot of hits and there’s not too many guys on the team that work like he does.” (Montreal Gazette)
With salary cap issues looming, Mike Milbury discusses the potential roster turnover the Chicago Blackhawks face.
Red Wings’ prospect Tom McCollum proving his worth with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins in the Calder Cup playoffs. (Detroit Free Press)
Newly hired Flyers’ coach Dave Hakstol owes the University of North Dakota $100,000 for taking NHL gig. (Grand Forks Herald)
The Montreal Canadiens brass has been out at the Memorial Cup this week watching, among others, prospect goaltender Zach Fucale. The Habs front office won’t be happy with the performance they saw from Fucale on Wednesday night. The 20-year-old was pulled after allowing four goals on 25 shots and his Quebec Remparts fell 4-0 to the Rimouski Oceanic. (Sportsnet)
Here’s another look at the Blackhawks’ 5-2 win in Game 6 on Wednesday night:
With Matt Beleskey scoring 45 seconds into overtime in Game 5 on Monday night, The Hockey News takes a look at the fastest five playoff overtime winners. (The Hockey News)
Thursday presented one of those classic “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29” situations: who do you really deem the “winners” of an Arizona Coyotes – Buffalo Sabres game?
OK, in a literal sense, the Coyotes beat the Sabres 4-3 in OT.
Considering the tanking scenario, Buffalo really “wins” by generating one fewer standings point. Really, though, the Edmonton Oilers might be the “winners” in that the Sabres forced this contest to go to overtime with a late Brian Gionta goal.
Either way, it was an odd scene in which beat reporters were passing along notes about fans cheering for both Sabres and Coyotes goals in Buffalo.
Observe the ovation for Sam Gagner’s winning goal:
Here is how the race to the bottom looks now:
30. Buffalo – 48 points, eight games left
29. Arizona – 54 points, seven games left
28. Edmonton – 55 points, eight games left
Realistically, it’s probably just a battle for second-to-last, as it’s hard to imagine Buffalo winning enough to sabotage getting the best odds in the draft lottery. The good news for the Oilers is that Arizona and Buffalo face off again in Arizona on Monday.
Like a midnight showing of “The Room,” one gets the feeling that hockey fans will enjoy watching that next contest in a very sardonic sort of way …
The Buffalo Sabres’ current winless skid hit five games with a shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night.
Buffalo is now 3-17-3 in their last 23 road games and concluded its most recent road trip with just one of a possible 10 points (0-4-1).
The Sabres (19-42-6) have a have a three-point cushion on the Edmonton Oilers (18-38-11) for the last spot in the league.
Despite the aforementioned numbers, Sabres’ head coach Ted Nolan scoffed at the notion his club has nothing to play for with 15 games remaining on the 2014-15 schedule.
“I beg to differ, these guys have a lot to play for,” Nolan said following the Sabres’ 4-3 shootout loss. “These guys are playing for their livelihoods and they’re playing to get a job in the National Hockey League and sustain that.
“There’s all kinds of kids playing junior hockey and in Europe and all over North America trying to steal these jobs on you, so if you don’t stay on top of your game, you won’t keep them very long.”
Nolan has been particularly happy with the way his veterans have responded to the situation this season.
The line of Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson and Johan Larsson accounted for three goals and nine points Wednesday.
“That’s why I have a lot of respect for Tyler Ennis and Matty Moulson and [Brian] Gionta,” said Nolan. “They have kids from the American Hockey League coming up here and they’re not complaining. They’re playing as hard as they can and those young kids are benefitting from it.”
Buffalo returns to action Saturday night when they play host to the New York Rangers.
Mikhail Grigorenko is back on his way to the bigs.
The Russian forward, Buffalo’s first-round pick (12th overall) at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, has been recalled to the Sabres from AHL Rochester, the club announced on Tuesday.
Also headed up from the Amerks are forwards Tim Schaller and Jerry D’Amigo.
The trio has been brought up to replace Brian Flynn, Torrey Mitchell and Chris Stewart, all three of whom were traded at Monday’s deadline. Between those departures and the injuries to Josh Gorges, Zemgus Girgensons and Patrick Kaleta (Evander Kane too, lest we forget), Buffalo will be icing a forward group that projects to look like this:
Matt Moulson-Tyler Ennis-Brian Gionta
Marcus Foligno-Mikhail Grigorenko-Cody Hodgson
Johan Larsson-Phil Varone-Zac Dalpe
Nicolas Deslauriers-Schaller-Matt Ellis
D’Amigo would be the 13th forward, presumably.
As for Grigorenko, most eyes will likely be on him as he gets another stint with the parent club. He’s been good in Rochester this year, scoring 31 points in 38 games, but only had one goal and one assist in 12 games with the Sabres earlier this year. His last NHL game came on Jan. 9.