BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Former defenseman Mike Weber is all too familiar with the Sabres’ lean years while spending a majority of his eight NHL seasons in Buffalo.
There were high-priced free agents who failed to pan out and one draft-pick bust after another. Weber made the playoffs just twice, with Buffalo eliminated in the first round both times.
And then there was the so-called “tank season” in 2014-15, when Sabres fans openly rooted for the team to finish last for the right to draft either now-Oilers captain, Connor McDavid, or Buffalo’s eventual pick, Jack Eichel.
As it happens, Weber also enjoyed a glimpse into what could well be the Sabres’ more promising future following an eight-week stint with Frolunda, Sweden, last fall. Weber had an opportunity to play alongside defenseman Rasmus Dahlin , the highly touted 18-year-old projected to be selected by Buffalo with the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft on Friday night.
Perhaps, Weber said, things might finally be looking up in Buffalo.
“I really, truly believe you guys are going to be getting a once-in-a-lifetime kind of talent,” said Weber, now an assistant coach with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League.
“This first overall pick puts a stamp on it, put whatever happened in the past in the past,” he added. “Hopefully, it’s something you guys can look back on at the suffering and rebuilding and tanking and all of this stuff where you can sit there and kind of laugh about it.”
Though “suffering” might be overly dramatic, it resonates in Buffalo because that’s the word former general manager Darcy Regier repeated numerous times during an end-of-season news conference in April 2013 where he braced fans for a top-to-bottom roster overhaul.
Five years, two GMs, four coaches and three last-place finishes later, the Sabres remain stagnant while in the midst of a franchise-worst seven-year playoff drought.
The team has not topped 35 wins in each of the past five years. And forward Ryan O'Reilly closed last season by suggesting a losing culture has crept into the locker room.
Dahlin has the potential of injecting hope in Buffalo with his exceptional skating and play-making abilities. Weber compares Dahlin’s speed to that of Senators captain Erik Karlsson, and shiftiness to former Red Wings star forward Pavel Datsyuk.
“I still bleed blue and gold,” Weber said, referring to Sabres colors. “And the possibility of him being a cornerstone going forward and helping the organization and the city win a championship is pretty special.”
Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, who maintains a home in suburban Buffalo, can sense the buzz Dahlin has generated.
“Buffalo needs a boost, and the fans have been waiting a long time for it,” Bowman said. “People I know that have had tickets for a long time are excited.”
The Sabres have been in freefall since losing Game 7 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals to eventual champion Carolina. Some of Buffalo’s bleakest moments:
That’s what Sabres fans refer to July 1, 2007, when Buffalo lost co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere in free agency. Days later, rather than losing yet another star, the Sabres matched the Oilers’ qualifying offer to Thomas Vanek by re-signing the forward to a seven-year, $50 million contract. Buffalo has not won a playoff series since.
MONEY FOR NOTHING
In 2011, the Sabres made splashes by acquiring defenseman Robyn Regehr in a trade with Calgary, and signing defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to a 10-year, $40 million contract and forward Ville Leino to a six-year, $27 million deal. Regehr played just 105 games in Buffalo before being traded to Los Angeles. Leino and Ehrhoff played three seasons before the Sabres bought out their contacts.
Former GM Tim Murray’s most significant trade in his rebuilding plan came on Feb. 11, 2015. He dealt defenseman Tyler Myers, forwards Drew Stafford, Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux and a first-round pick to Winnipeg to acquire forward Evander Kane, defenseman Zach Bogosian and prospect goalie Jason Kasdorf. Kane is now in San Jose. Kasdorf played just one game in Buffalo. Bogosian has combined to miss 108 games due to an assortment of injuries over the past three seasons.
Of the 15 players selected by Buffalo in the 2010 and `11 drafts, only four made the NHL and combined to play 144 career games for Buffalo. Of the 23 players Buffalo drafted from 2005-’07, only nine played in the NHL and none topped 400 games.
Aside from losing the NHL draft lottery after finishing last in both 2014 and `15, the Sabres lost out to Toronto in the Mike Babcock coaching sweepstakes in May 2015. The Sabres thought they were closing in on a deal before Babcock announced he was going to take an extra day to reconsider. Babcock signed with Toronto and the Sabres hired Dan Bylsma, who was fired after two seasons.
In finishing last in 2013-14, Buffalo scored 150 goals, the fewest in the NHL’s post-expansion era. The following season, the Sabres scored 153 goals and were shut out a franchise-worst 14 times. This past year, the Sabres won 11 home games, matching their fewest in any season.
AP Hockey Writer Larry Lage contributed to this report.
He was arrested on Saturday night in Franklin, Tennessee, but he was released on a $4,500 bond. Watson is due to appear in court on June 28th.
Last year, Watson was one of four Preds players that took part in the “Unsilence the Violence” campaign that was launched by the team to end “violence against women through education”. In January of 2017, the organization pledged $500,000 to the YWCA’s violence prevention program.
The 26-year-old was drafted 18th overall by the Predators in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He’s been playing for Nashville since the 2012-13 season.
Here’s the Predators’ statement:
“We are aware of the incident involving Austin Watson on Saturday night. We are still gathering facts and it is not appropriate for us to comment further at this time, but this is a matter that we are taking very seriously and will cooperate fully with the investigation by law enforcement. The Nashville Predators have and will continue to stand side by side with AMEND (sic) in the fight to end violence against women.”
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at email@example.com.
• TSN hockey analyst Craig Button put together his final mock draft ahead of Friday’s NHL Entry Draft in Dallas. Rasmus Dahlin is locked in as the top pick, but there’s a lot of intrigue after that. (TSN.ca)
• This will be the 50th edition of the NHL Entry Draft, so TSN.ca ranked all 49 first overall picks made throughout history. It’s not exactly shocking to see Mario Lemieux at the top of the list. (TSN.ca)
• Drafting first overall on Friday night will be huge for the Buffalo Sabres organization. GM Jason Botterill is looking at this opportunity as a celebration for the player they pick (cough, cough Dahlin) and the team. (Buffalo News)
• Brady Tkachuk has the unenviable task of following in his father and his brother’s footsteps, but he’s planning on making it work. (AZ Central)
• Mike Hoffman, Max Domi and Alex Galchenyuk have all been on the move recently and there could be more trades coming. Sportsnet takes a deeper look at 24 players that could be dealt this summer. (Sportsnet)
• Speaking of Domi, check out the interview his father, Tie, did on Montreal radio on Tuesday afternoon. The older Domi referred to the city of Montreal as “hockey’s shrine”. That’s significant praise from a former Maple Leaf. (TSN 690 Radio)
• Predators defenseman P.K. Subban wants to see Alex Ovechkin continue celebrating his Stanley Cup title. “Listen to me. He deserves it. I’m very happy for him. I don’t think there’s going to be anyone who says he didn’t deserve to win the Cup. He’s played a long time and at a very, very high level. It wasn’t his fault that he didn’t have a (Stanley Cup) ring before.” (NHL.com)
The Ottawa Senators needed to get rid of Mike Hoffman as soon as possible, even if they took a loss, which the Sharks and Panthers made sure of on Tuesday.
Maybe it’s a product of the bar plummeting incredibly low, but at least the Senators pulled off the Band-Aid quickly, by their poor standards. Losing the trade is akin to pulling off more skin than expected when removing that bandage.
On the scale of roster triage, the Hoffman situation was certainly important, but making the best of the Erik Karlsson situation is as close to “life or death” as it gets for an NHL franchise (beyond more straightforward issues such as bankruptcy and arena deals).
In virtually every situation, a team giving up a star player ends up losing a trade by a large margin. History frequently frowns on that side, even if context points to it being a no-win situation for the unfortunate GM in question.
This would be a desperate situation for any team, but the stakes seem downright terrifying for GM Pierre Dorion and the Ottawa Senators. Just consider the short version of their profound, gobsmacking organizational dysfunction.
- They lost Mike Hoffman for quarters on the dollar, and he’ll still be in the Atlantic Division after the Sharks flipped him to Florida. The indication is that Ottawa was unwittingly part of a “three-team trade.”
- Senators fans might become allergic to the phrase “three-team trade,” as the Matt Duchene swap looks awful already. Colorado made the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, got a first-rounder, and an intriguing player in Sam Girard. The Predators added Kyle Turris. Ottawa may only have Duchene for about a season and a half, as he’ll be up for a new contract after 2018-19. If you were Duchene, would you want any part of the Senators?
- Assistant GM Randy Lee was suspended as a harassment investigation is underway. That story surfaced mere weeks before the Hoffman/Caryk/Karlssons fiasco forced Ottawa’s hand.
- Fans really want Melnyk out as owner. Franchise icon Daniel Alfredsson feels the same way.
- After an unlikely run to the 2017 Eastern Conference Final, the Senators endured a brutal season, and their future outlook is grim. Not great when you consider that the team is likely to send its 2019 first-rounder to Colorado.
Again, that’s the back-of-the-box summary of Ottawa’s woes. It doesn’t even touch on Guy Boucher’s strangely harsh treatment or the fairly reasonable worries that someone might actually send a rare offer sheet to excellent forward Mark Stone.
Amid all that turmoil, it’s well known that the Senators are in a bind with Karlsson, as it’s very difficult to imagine the superstar relenting and re-signing with Ottawa. They’re at a serious risk of losing him for nothing as he approaches UFA status next summer, and he’s under no obligation to sign an extension if a team trades for him. Karlsson also has some veto power via a limited no-trade clause.
So, while the Senators gain some advantages that come with trying to trade Karlsson during the off-season (possibly as soon as this week with the 2018 NHL Draft approaching), his trade value suffers because a team would only get one guaranteed run with the Swede rather than the two they would’ve landed via the trade deadline.
No doubt, Dorion balking during the trade deadline will be mentioned if this goes sour.
The Senators certainly could’ve landed a better package for Hoffman during that time, and Karlsson’s value may have been higher then, too.
Ryan only makes things more difficult
For those who scoff at there being any doubt at all about the Karlsson point, don’t forget just how much of a star he really is. Contenders may go all-out for Karlsson now that they have the room to work with, and maybe someone could even convince him to agree to terms (official or tentative) in a hypothetical deal. In that scenario, the Senators might actually land a strong deal for their crucial blueliner.
Much like during the trade deadline, there’s a major stumbling block beyond the other context clues: Bobby Ryan‘s contract.
TSN’s Frank Servalli ranks among those who report that a Karlsson deal may still need to include Ryan’s albatross deal ($7.25M cap hit through 2021-22).
No doubt, the Senators would like to get rid of Ryan’s lousy contract, but that’s where this situation could really get awkward. Ottawa could severely limit the returns for Karlsson if they attach the Ryan mistake to it. Would the Vegas Golden Knights even give up a package such as Shea Theodore plus “picks and prospects” at this point, as Servalli points to, especially if it includes Vegas’ original first-rounder Cody Glass? Is Theodore + Glass + picks good enough if it even landed Karlsson?
From a PR standpoint, the Senators would likely be wiser to get the best-looking deal for Karlsson, and then move some futures to a rebuilding team to house Ryan’s contract. One might “or they can just suck it up and deal with Ryan’s contract,” but … Melnyk.
Ultimately, it was almost inevitable for the Senators to “lose” in some way regarding Karlsson, unless they beat the odds and convinced him to sign an extension.
There are degrees of losing when it comes to managing these assets, though, and the Senators face a real risk of turning a tough situation into a full-fledged disaster. Dorion is in an extremely difficult spot here, and the Senators’ recent history points to more heartache and aggravation.
One way or another, we may find out soon if they can salvage this situation.