Evander Kane

It’s Winnipeg Jets day at PHT


Using the term “close sweep” might start a brawl at the wrong Winnipeg bar, yet it feels like a reasonable depiction of the Jets’ first-round exit.

Whether you agree or disagree about their margin of defeat against the Anaheim Ducks, the bottom line is that if you trace the Jets’ history back to the Thrashers era, the franchise remains at zero playoff wins all-time.

Yes, as in they haven’t ever won a playoff game not a series.

Despite that doom and gloom, Jets were a popular dark horse candidate heading into the 2015 postseason for a reason. They were an impressive possession team by most metrics.

Winnipeg combined an increasingly deep defense corps with its underrated high-end forwards to scare at least a few Western Conference observers. Hey, they even occasionally received competent goaltending, albeit from an uneven mix of Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec.

(There was some poetic justice in Pavelec playing out of his mind down the stretch to get them into the playoffs.)

It all feels empty thanks to the sweep, but the Jets zoomed up a level or two in 2014-15. As wild card berths go, Winnipeg can point to some positives.

Off-season recap

The biggest change technically happened during the season, yet the Evander Kane swap is significant enough to at least get a quick mention.

It’s relevant enough to the summer anyway, as Drew Stafford played well enough to gain a two-year deal that carries a $4.35 million cap hit. Stafford is sticking around, while a surprise return is in store for Alex Burmistrov, who went on a two-year KHL sojourn.

Michael Frolik headlines a group of departing players who helped move the needle a bit depth-wise, also including Lee Stempniak, Jiri Tlusty and T.J. Galiardi.

Maybe the most significant off-season storyline is what Winnipeg did not do: Dustin Byfuglien and captain Andrew Ladd are currently entering the final season of their respective contracts.

What does Jack Eichel mean to the Buffalo Sabres?


It takes a special type of player to dramatically alter the perception of your franchise and the mood of the fanbase before playing a single minute in the NHL, but Jack Eichel is not your typical high-end draft pick.

He’s the reason over 17,000 fans in Buffalo wanted to see a prospects scrimmage in July. By extension Eichel is the primary source of the optimism surrounding the team despite the fact that the Sabres are coming off of a 23-51-8 record.

In fact, that might even been underselling his impact because as an American he has the potential to accomplish things that no other U.S.-born talent has done before.

That’s what he is to the fans, but just how important was taking him to the Buffalo Sabres? What would it have meant to this franchise if it had missed out on the rare opportunity to draft a player of Eichel’s potential?

Getting Eichel, regardless of how well he does, isn’t nearly enough to guarantee the Sabres an era of long playoff runs and one or more championships. He doesn’t change the fact that Buffalo’s goaltending is an X-Factor, that they’re still dependent on several other prospects to breakout, or that they need forwards like Evander Kane to bounce back to help close the massive gap that existed between the Sabres offensively in 2014-15 and even just the league average. Buffalo still needs plenty of work and that’s true with or without Eichel.

And yet, while Buffalo might ultimately end up with little to show for the Eichel era, even if he proves to be a superb forward, he is the foundation that gives this franchise a good fighting chance at a championship in the mid-term.

He’s potentially a top-tier center, which is something most serious Stanley Cup contenders have and isn’t typically available on the free agent or trade markets unless you happen to be Jim Nill. Beyond that, he’s a potential “big-time” player and those are equally rare and near essential for success.

For much of the last six seasons, Chicago would have been a team with depth, a great defense, and significant scoring threats even if Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were simply good rather than the elite forwards they have proven themselves to be. But that one downgrade alone might have proven to be the difference between a franchise locked in a dynasty debate and one that enjoyed some deep playoff runs without ever lifting the Stanley Cup.

As Mike Babcock put it in April when talking about the aging Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, “In the end, you’ve got to have big-time players up the middle and on the back to be successful. So those are questions in our organization that we work towards, drafting good and developing good, but we’ve been winning too much (in the regular season to get high draft picks). That’s the facts.”

That’s what Eichel represents to Buffalo. Even if he lives up to the hype, he’s just a piece of the puzzle, but he’s one of the toughest ones to find.

Buffalo Sabres ’15-16 Outlook


The Buffalo Sabres made huge strides this offseason, yet they may still fall closer to historic ineptitude than they will to playoff contention in 2015-16.

That’s not meant as a slight to GM Tim Murray’s work this summer; instead, it’s a reminder of just how bad that team really was last season.

By just about any measure, the Sabres were the worst team in the NHL. Honestly, it was probably wiser to compare them to the sorriest teams in recent history rather than last year’s Arizona Coyotes or Edmonton Oilers.

That said, Murray enjoyed an offseason that was so strong, he thought he might have consumed some fungus, so maybe a playoff trip isn’t so far away after all?

A host of improvements

Jack Eichel brings in the hype of a “generational player,” while Ryan O’Reilly is the sort of sturdy two-way center who can make life easier for his teammates. (Eichel can be sheltered as he gets used to the NHL game thanks to O’Reilly and perhaps David Legwand.)

Evander Kane will play his first game as a Sabre in 2015-16, too. Young players such as Sam Reinhart may take significant steps forward while vets like Matt Moulson could rebound next season.

Sabres fans might not be particularly excited about Robin Lehner, but Murray sure is. Most believe that Lehner will need to be outstanding to cover up what projects to be a putrid defense.

Read more about the pressure Lehner faces here and Buffalo’s defensive question marks here.

For all the improvements Buffalo made – and Dan Bylsma’s impact should not be dismissed, by the way – the smart money is on the Sabres missing the playoffs. Really, it’s not outrageous to imagine at least one more cellar-dwelling year before things get sorted out.

Feel free to disagree in this poll, but despite a strong offseason, it ultimately seems like Buffalo still has a long way to go.

Poll: How soon will the Sabres make the playoffs?


Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray is so happy with the moves he made this offseason, he almost thought he was hallucinating.

Murray was beside himself in drafting Jack Eichel while trading for Robin Lehner, Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane.*

When you combine those acquisitions with possible developmental gains for the likes of Sam Reinhart, the Sabres’ outlook gets awfully interesting. Of course, it’s also valid to note that this team has a lot of room for improvement. The Sabres weren’t even close to competitive in 2014-15, after all.

That actually leads us to Buffalo’s poll question: how long will it take for the Sabres to return to the postseason?

If you need a push either way, consider some of the posts from PHT’s Buffalo Sabres Day extravaganza.

Under Pressure: Robin Lehner

Looking to make the Leap: Sam Reinhart

Buffalo’s big questions on defense

* – Technically they acquired Kane during the 2014-15 season, yet his injury-shortened campaign makes it feel like a move that came during the summer.

It’s Buffalo Sabres Day at PHT


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.