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Housley focused on making Sabres ‘an aggressive team’

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The Buffalo Sabres haven’t been a playoff team in quite some time, but the organization is hoping that their major offseason changes will help them take a few steps in the right direction.

One of those major changes came behind the bench, as the team hired Predators assistant Phil Housley to be their head coach.

Housley did some terrific work with defensemen like Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban last season. A big part of Nashville’s attack came from defenders pushing the pace from the back.

“We want to be an aggressive team,” Housley said, per NHL.com. “I think everybody we’ve talked about playing aggressive offensively but we need to play aggressive defensively. I think defense gives you a chance to win every night and they’ll understand that we want to be fast and aggressive. The days are gone when a guy wants to make a breakout pass and the [defense] just watched the rush go up and play; they have to get up in the play not only to maybe join the rush and add to the attack, but to be in the offensive zone, being able to keep pucks in, or else you’re going to start playing defense.”

The Sabres could use an offensive boost from their defense (or anyone really). Last season, Jack Eichel collected 57 points in 61 games, which comes out to an impressive 0.934 points-per-game. But Unfortunately for the Sabres, no player topped 60 points in 2016-17.

Buffalo changed the look of their defense during the summer, as they acquired Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal and Marco Scandella from Minnesota. Both guys are capable of moving the puck, which should help Housley execute his plan.

Also, it’ll be interesting to see if Housley can take Rasmus Ristolainen‘s game to the next level. The 22-year-old has surpassed the 40-point mark in each of the last two seasons. He’s also served as the big-minute guy on the Sabres blue line.

“We’re here to learn from him and pick his brain, he was a [heck] of a player in his day,” defender Zach Bogosian said. “He gets the game. He’s played for a while, he’s coached for a while, he’s been around forever.

“Guys are looking forward to playing that style.”

Maybe Penguins should listen to Malkin about Zaripov

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The Pittsburgh Penguins bummed out Evgeni Malkin a few years ago when they traded James Neal.

Of course, things worked out quite well for Malkin and the Penguins since then – sometimes to Neal’s chagrin – but maybe the team should throw Malkin a bone this time around?

As Josh Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, Malkin continues to promote the idea of the Penguins signing Denis Zaripov.

“ … If coach talks to me a little more, I would say more. I like [Zaripov] so much,” Malkin said. “Of course I want to see his face in the locker room. We see what’s going on, but we have time. It’s a hard situation to talk about him.”

At 36 years old and with a ban from the KHL in mind, there are some hang-ups about Zaripov, especially from a long-term perspective.

Still, the Penguins probably wouldn’t lose much in rolling the dice with a one-year deal. And while Zaripov is about a decade older than Artemi Panarin, let’s not forget that the St. Louis Blues ignored Vladimir Tarasenko‘s praise of Panarin, only to see him star for the Blackhawks.

Sure, there’s an element of stumping for your buddies here, but sometimes it works out well. Even after all these years, Matt Moulson stands as one of John Tavares‘ better linemates, and their bond helped Moulson get his foot in the door with the Islanders many years ago.

Just a thought …

… especially since the Penguins seem so open-minded about taking fliers on players with some upside.

Not long after grabbing a goalie who impressed at the Prospects Challenge, Pittsburgh handed a three-year, entry-level contract to forward Jordy Bellerive after impressing in that format.

Now, we’re talking about different types of upside here (young players vs. a veteran who put up nice KHL numbers for years and might convert them to the big time), but maybe the Penguins should listen to Malkin on this one?

If nothing else, it would cut down on one “I told you so.” Just saying.

Report: Avalanche sign Zadorov for two years, $4.3M

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The Colorado Avalanche haven’t resolved their biggest issue in trading Matt Duchene, but they reportedly took care of a more direct deadline on Friday.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Avs have a two-year deal in the works for RFA defenseman Nikita Zadorov, while TSN’s Pierre LeBrun puts the cap hit at $2.15 million per season. That would result in a two-year, $4.3M contract for Zadorov.

The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers passes along word from Jared Bednar, who confirmed that a Zadorov deal is done.

Let’s take a quick look at Zadorov, then.

The 25-year-old was a first-round pick (16th overall in 2013) by the Buffalo Sabres, ultimately becoming a part of Colorado’s takeaway in the Ryan O'Reilly trade.

After being limited to 22 games with the Avs in 2015-16, he played in 56 last season, failing to score a goal while compiling 10 assists. He averaged a career-high 19 minutes and two seconds per game.

Zadorov is very much a “work in progress,” and he has the erratic “HERO Chart” to go with such thoughts.

While Zadorov has some work to do, it’s not an outrageous price tag, particularly for an Avalanche team that has huge needs on the defensive side.

Training camps seem like they’ve been a helpful next deadline for teams and RFAs who were trying to come to compromises.

Housley back in Buffalo, eager to put up-tempo stamp on Sabres

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) The Sabres’ new-look blue-line is already making a good impression on rookie coach Phil Housley even before Buffalo opens training camp.

“I thought I hit a long drive on the long-drive hole, and I was 10 yards behind Ryan O'Reilly,” Housley said Thursday, a day after the team’s annual golf tournament. “But I found out that Marco Scandella blew one past him. That was good to see a D-man hit a long drive.”

No offense to O’Reilly, a forward. Housley retains a soft spot for defensemen.

The Hall of Famer spent 21 NHL seasons playing the position in a career that began in Buffalo in 1982. And it was his work overseeing last season’s Stanley Cup finalist Nashville Predators’ play-making group of defenders that helped clinch Housley’s return to Buffalo after being hired in June.

“It just gives me chills,” Housley said, of wearing the familiar Sabres’ blue-and-gold logo a day before the team’s first practice.

“I’m really excited to get on the ice finally and do something meaningful,” he said. “We’re hopefully going to write a new chapter in the Buffalo Sabres organization.”

The Sabres are leaning on their past in a bid to usher in a more promising future for a franchise that has veered off course. Buffalo hasn’t made the playoffs in six years and hasn’t won a playoff round since reaching the 2007 Eastern Conference finals.

Replacing Dan Bylsma, who was fired after just two seasons, Housley becomes the Sabres’ fourth coach since Lindy Ruff was fired during the 2012-13 season. And Housley was hired by another ex-Sabres player, general manager Jason Botterill, who took over after Tim Murray was also fired in April.

While Botterill spent the offseason reshaping the roster through a series of trades, it’s now on Housley bring focus to a group that under-achieved last season.

Buffalo was within three points of a playoff spot entering its bye week in mid-February before spiraling out of contention by going 2-7-2 over its next nine games. Instead being a team on the rise, Buffalo went 33-37-12 in finishing with two fewer wins and three fewer points than the previous season.

“I understand that this team last year was close before the mid-break,” Housley said. “I just tend to try to move forward. Whatever happened last year, we’re coming in with a clean slate, a fresh start for these players.”

Spending the past four seasons working under Peter Laviolette in Nashville, Housley was credited for helping devise an up-tempo, attacking-style approach that relied on defensemen joining the rush. It’s a system that had the Predators finishing among the NHL’s top-two teams in goals by defensemen in each of Housley’s four seasons.

It helped that the Predators featured a talented core of blue-liners, including last year’s addition of P.K. Subban.

It’s no coincidence that Buffalo’s back-end is transformed under Housley with Scandella (acquired in a trade with Minnesota ) Nathan Beaulieu, (acquired in a trade with Montreal) and the free-agent signing of Victor Antipin, who previously played in Russia. They join a group that includes youngsters Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe, and veterans Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges.

Buffalo also has speed at forward, starting with center Jack Eichel.

“The way that Phil wants to play is right up my alley,” Eichel said. “I’m excited for it, you know, D down the walls, D in the rush. That’s me. That all sounds good.”

The Sabres last year had difficulty clearing their own zone and sustaining pressure in the opponent’s end. Though Buffalo finished tied for fourth in scoring 57 power-play goals, the team ranked 28th with 126 goals in five-on-five situations.

Housley can only do so much to transform a team which Sabres owner Terry Pegula criticized for lacking discipline and structure.

The returning players also bear responsibility after many acknowledged there was a lack of accountability inside the locker room.

“We definitely need to mature as a team,” forward Kyle Okposo said. “We have a lot of young players, but they have the ability to play older, to play a more mature game. And I think that was something that was just lacking a little bit.”

 

Wild agree to terms with Foligno on four-year, $11.5M deal

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The list of remaining restricted free agents still waiting for new contracts is down to three, after the Wild announced a deal for Marcus Foligno.

The Wild announced the contract on Thursday. It’s a four-year deal, worth a total of $11.5 million and an average annual value of $2.875 million.

That’s a bump up from the $2.25 million he earned last season in Buffalo.

Minnesota acquired the 26-year-old Foligno — as well as Tyler Ennis — on June 30, while sending Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella to Buffalo.

Foligno isn’t known for producing big offensive numbers, scoring a career best 13 goals last season. His career high for points in a single season is 23 — a mark he set in two consecutive years with Buffalo. That said, he has quite the goal in mind for 2017-18 with his team, aiming for 20 goals as a member of the Wild.

“We are happy to officially have Marcus as a part of our club for the next four seasons,” Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a statement.

“Marcus is a big, physical forward who is capable of playing a heavy game while also contributing offensively. We are excited to add his presence to our lineup and watch him continue his growth as a player.”

Per Michael Russo of The Athletic, Foligno is expected to join the Wild on Friday.