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Sabres preaching the process, but major roster holes remain

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The Buffalo Sabres have been hammered by injuries this season, with key players Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, and Zach Bogosian all missing extended periods of time.

But injuries were no excuse for last night’s 2-1 loss in New Jersey. Sure, Bogosian was missing again, but the Sabres were relatively healthy otherwise, and they still got badly outshot, 39-23.

“It is up to us in this room to get things going,” goalie Robin Lehner told reporters afterwards, “and today we didn’t get things going.”

According to Sports Club Stats, the Sabres will have to go around 19-8-3 in their remaining 30 games in order to make the playoffs.

In other words, it’s looking like a sixth straight miss. They’re not officially out of it yet, but it’s getting close to “maybe next year” time.

Still, they have to play on. The Sabres host the Sharks tonight, the Ducks Thursday, then head to Toronto for a Hockey Night in Canada contest Saturday.

“Our players have to treat these games like they’re meaningful playoff-type games to get that experience of winning and playing playoff-type of hockey,” said head coach Dan Bylsma, per WGR 550. “That’s the process we have to go through, and it’s really important to have meaningful games for the players to have that sense about it.”

For GM Tim Murray, decisions have to be made ahead of the March 1 trade deadline. Brian Gionta, Dmitry Kulikov, Cody Franson, and Anders Nilsson are all pending unrestricted free agents. And it remains to be seen if Kane is going to be part of the future; he’s only signed through next season.

Murray, like Bylsma, has been preaching the process. And in the GM’s defense, it wasn’t that long ago that the Sabres stripped the roster bare in order to draft the likes of Sam Reinhart and Eichel.

“We’re not happy where we are,” Murray told The Buffalo News recently. “We’re trying to be better and we have been in certain areas. But when you go to the bottom, you can’t snap your fingers and learn how to win. This is a process and we’re sticking with it. You have to.”

But for the fan base, it is frustrating all the same to see a team like Toronto in the thick of the playoff chase. Winning the lottery and drafting Auston Matthews obviously helped the Leafs, but Eichel was supposed to be the same caliber of franchise center. So, why aren’t the Sabres having success too?

In reality, Eichel is the least of the Sabres’ problems. There are still major holes on the roster, especially on the back end, arguably the toughest area to fix with a snap of a GM’s fingers. Though Buffalo does have a nice prospect in Brendan Guhle, he’s only 19, and there’s no blue-chip blue-liner beyond him.

That’ll be up to Murray to address, and it won’t be easy. He’s not the only GM looking to upgrade his defense, and prices for top-4 guys are unlikely to come down.

Predators’ P.K. Subban named EA Sports NHL 19 cover athlete

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As announced during Wednesday’s NHL Awards, P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators will be the cover athlete for EA Sports’ NHL 19 video game.

This is Subban’s first time on the cover of the series, which featured Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid last year.

More details from EA:

For the first time in franchise history, NHL® 19 allows players to journey from the pond to the pros and play on outdoor rinks in new and returning game modes. Players can create a character and express their look and playstyle with over 900 new customization items including, for the first time, lifestyle apparel inspired by pond hockey. On the ice, the cutting-edge animation technology Real Player Motion (RPM) Tech delivers explosive-edge skating with more acceleration and responsiveness that looks and feels better. NHL® 19 also lets players compete with and against over 200 of the greatest hockey legends to ever play the sport, including Wayne Gretzky.

In NHL® 19, the sport returns to the ponds where players can compete under a unified progression hub called World of CHEL that unites EA SPORTS Hockey League, NHL THREES™ Drop In and two new modes, NHL ONES™ and Pro-Am. NHL ONES™ pits three players against each other in a 1v1v1 free-for-all with no rules and no stoppages. Players can win to rank up to new outdoor locations and defend their position as king-of-the-hill. Players can also play in any World of CHEL mode to progress their online Create-A-Character, unlock rewards, and customize their look and their playstyle.

EA Sports

Here’s the full trailer:

The game is set to be released Sept. 14 for Playstation 4 and XBOX One.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Golden Knights’ William Karlsson lands Lady Byng

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William Karlsson just finished a fantastic season, so it’s nice to see him take home a trophy at the 2018 NHL Awards.

Karlsson generated 43 goals, 78 points, and just 12 penalty minutes during the 2017-18 season on his way to winning the Lady Byng Trophy. The other finalists were Aleksander Barkov and Ryan O'Reilly.

(Note: it’s unclear if Karlsson edged out his competition by way of hair flips.)

Here are the voting results. Note that this was cut off at the top 20, while 49 players received at least one vote. As a reminder, the Lady Byng is “given to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

This is a nifty factoid about Karlsson’s win:

Devils’ Brian Boyle receives Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

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Brian Boyle of the New Jersey Devils is the recipient of the 2018 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

The award is given to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association nominate a player from each of their 31 chapters and three finalists are named after a vote.

Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers and Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes were the other two finalists.

A $2,500 grant from the PHWA is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.

Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in September and missed the opening month of the season before returning Nov. 1. One week later he scored an emotional first goal of the season. He inspired a mural in New York City and later represented the New Jersey Devils at the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa in place of teammate Taylor Hall.

The Devils forward didn’t only deal with a cancer diagnosis this season. Boyle and his wife, Lauren, also went through an ordeal where doctors believed their two-year-old son Declan was possibly dealing with Ewing sarcoma of the mandible. Turns out it was a rare condition that impacts blood flow and oxygen circulation, and after a handful of procedures the situation is under control.

Boyle’s red and white blood cell counts show little traces of CML remaining. He told Dan Rosen of NHL.com this week that he could be off medication in three to six months.

“I am in a good spot,” Boyle said. “I’m certainly not concerned.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Islanders’ Mathew Barzal claims Calder Trophy

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Mathew Barzal became the fifth New York Islander to win the Calder Trophy, which was handed out during Wednesday’s NHL Awards show in Las Vegas. The award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association and given “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.”

Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Bryan Berard were the previous Islanders players to win the rookie of the year award.

“This is an amazing honor to win the Calder Trophy,” Barzal said. “The players that have won this award, within the Islanders organization and then others around the league, includes Hall of Fame players and Stanley Cup Champions. To have my name next to those guys in the record books is very humbling.”

Barzal led all rookies with 85 points and 27 power play points, and finished sixth in goals with 22. He was also the only rookie to average over a point per game (1.04). He finished the season as the Islanders leading scorer and was fourth on the team in goals.

One of the many highlights of Barzal’s rookie season was the three 5-point games he recorded, which made him him the second rookie in league history to achieve the feat. Joe Malone last did it 100 years ago during the NHL’s first season in 1917-18.

Here’s what the voting looked like as Barzal beat out the other two finalists, Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks and Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.