The latest edition of “Wednesday Night Rivalry” features a rematch of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, as the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Chicago Blackhawks.
During that competitive series, the Blackhawks were the favorites. The tide has turned now, however, as the dynamite duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov have propelled the Bolts to the upper crust of the NHL. Chicago, meanwhile, strains to remain a contender.
Reports have suggested that the Buffalo Sabres will not give starting netminder Robin Lehner a qualifying offer, which means he’ll be a free agent on July 1st. That means there’s an opening for a new number one goalie in Buffalo.
Lehner hasn’t had much to work with since he joined the Sabres, but he’s had plenty of issues with consistency and staying healthy. Again, the inconsistency isn’t all on him because the players in front of him haven’t been good enough. Still, his tenure in Buffalo didn’t go as planned.
The Sabres have a franchise center in Jack Eichel and they’re about to land a franchise defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin, so it’s time they land a goalie that can help push them in the right direction. What are their options?
Last season, the team gave 24-year-old Linus Ullmark a look between the pipes, and he did relatively well over five games. Ullmark will likely be one of the two goaltenders in Buffalo in 2018-19.
Could one of those veterans be paired with Ullmark? Sure, but how much confidence would that give this Buffalo team. Hutton has been one of the better backup goalies in the league over the last couple of years. That would likely be the best free-agent fit for the Sabres. Management might be able to land him if they can sell the idea of him playing quite a bit more than he’s used to.
Hutton could be an option.
The only other way to land a goalie right now is by trading for one.
There’s Philipp Grubauer, who’s currently a Washington Capital. Acquiring Grubauer would cost the Sabres an asset, but he could still be worth looking into if they believe he’s capable of playing at the same level he did in the second half of the season. The 26-year-old has never played more than 35 games in a season, so making him a starter won’t come without risk. At this point though, there are no slam-dunk number one goalies available, so GM Jason Botterill will have to roll the dice on somebody.
If they want someone a little more proven, they have to think outside the box. Would they be willing to take a risk on Cam Talbot in Edmonton? There have been rumblings that he’s available. Sure, he’s coming off a down year, but he was outstanding two seasons ago. He’s scheduled to become a free agent in 2019 and the Oilers might not be willing to pay a 30-year-old netminder the type of money he may command.
Now this is a really “outside the box” kind of idea, but would the Predators be willing to move one of their goalies? Pekka Rinne, who just won the Vezina Trophy, has one year left on his contract and he struggled pretty badly in the playoffs. Juuse Saros, who’s the goalie of the future, is an RFA and he’ll be getting a raise this summer. Nashville doesn’t have to do anything with their goaltenders this year, so this is very unlikely, but it’s just something to think about.
No matter how they do it, the Sabres have to find a way to upgrade the roster as a whole, but specifically in goal. They don’t have to find a franchise netminder like a Braden Holtby or a Carey Price, but they need to get better at that position if they’re going to come close to making the playoffs one of these days.
It’s up to Botterill to figure out how he wants to do that.
”Johnny Hockey” is getting an additional title: part owner.
Calgary Flames star forward Johnny Gaudreau is a member of an NHL-laden ownership group that purchased an equity stake in the U.S. Hockey League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints on Thursday. The group includes Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons, former Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, and Florida Panthers executive chairman Peter Luukko.
Gaudreau and Girgensons were teammates on the Dubuque team that won the USHL championship in 2011. Luukko’s son Nick was also on the team. Their ownership group is titled Saints4Life Acquisitions.
”The first day I stepped into Dubuque, I knew it was a special place,” Gaudreau said in a statement issued by the league. ”I have a lot of special memories in Dubuque, including winning it all in 2011. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
Gaudreau was the USHL’s rookie of the year in 2011, when he was also drafted by Calgary. He eventually went on to win college hockey’s Hobey Baker Award at Boston College.
Girgensons described being part of the ownership group as a way to pay back the team for playing a key role in his development. A year after moving to North America from his native Latvia, Girgensons spent two seasons with the Fighting Saints and was preparing to play college hockey at Vermont before being selected by Buffalo in the first round of the 2012 draft.
”It’s a team that really got me to where I am today,” Girgensons told The Associated Press by phone.
Never envisioning the opportunity to be an owner, Girgensons joked he might need to contact Sabres owner Terry Pegula for a few pointers.
Edmonton Oilers president and general manager Peter Chiarelli will remain a part owner of the team. Philip Falcone, who previously was a part owner of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, is departing as the Fighting Saints’ principal owner.
The Fighting Saints have won two championships since returning to the USHL in 2010 following a nine-year absence.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Sportsnet tackles the eight biggest questions heading into tonight’s NHL Entry Draft. What will the Habs do with the third overall pick? Will anything happen with Columbus’ Artemi Panarin? (Sportsnet)
• Former NHL defenseman Nick Boynton has decided to join the NHL concussion lawsuit. He’ll also be donating his brain to science. Boynton has been battling substance abuse and depression. (TSN)
• There’s no denying that Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds could be on the move in the next hours/days, but will the team actually pull the trigger on a deal involving their talented forward? (Philly.com)
• The Canadiens will have an early selection in tonight’s draft, but will they hit a home run or swing-and-miss again? The Montreal Gazette looks at the Habs’ inability to develop their first-rounders over the last 33 years. (Montreal Gazette)
• Over the course of their history, the Sabres have done pretty well when they’ve selected defensemen in the first round. That run of success should continue on Friday night with Rasmus Dahlin. (WGR550)
• Stars GM Jim Nill confirmed that he expects to sign forward Valeri Nichushkin on July 1st. He’s been in the KHL for the last two years. (NHL.com/Stars)
• Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty has been one of the best bargains in the NHL over the last few years (he’s been making $4.5 million per year). Now that he’s in the final year of his contract, expect him not to leave any money on the table even if it means changing addresses. (Sportsnet)
• You can now check out each PHWA voter’s ballot from this year’s NHL Awards. There’s some head-scratchers on there. (PHWA)
• And we have our first buyout of 2018, as the Edmonton Oilers decided to put an end to their relationship with Eric Gryba. That means that the Oilers will be carrying almost $2 million in dead money next season. (Edmonton Sun)
The 2018-19 NHL schedule has arrived and the 1,271-game journey to the Stanley Cup Playoffs begins Oct. 4 and ends April 6. We’ll have banners being raised, old friends being reacquainted, outdoor games, games in Europe and nearly a full slate on the season’s final day.
Here’s a look at a dozen notable dates on this coming season’s schedule:
Oct. 3, 2018 – Boston Bruins at Washington Capitals
It’s not the Penguins like we all wished, so the Capitals will have to raise their first Stanley Cup banner against the Bruins. They’ll also be playing for a new head coach before traveling to Pittsburgh for a visit with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins the next night.
Also on Opening Night, we’ll get to see the Toronto Maple Leafs hosting the Montreal Canadiens, the Calgary Flames visiting the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks playing host to the Anaheim Ducks.
Oct. 4, 2018 — Philadelphia Flyers at Vegas Golden Knights
An historic inaugural season ended in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. But despite the tough defeat, there was plenty for the Golden Knights and their fans to be proud of. When fans return to T-Mobile Arena for their 2018 home opener, there will be a nice celebration with a banner or two going up in the rafters.
Boston Bruins at Buffalo Sabres
Sabres fans get a first glimpse of Rasmus Dahlin in action when they take on the Bruins in the home opener. The expected 2018 No. 1 overall pick brings plenty of hope to Buffalo as the fanbase prays hard that he, Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt can end their years of misery.
Oct. 6, 2018 – Nashville Predators at New York Islanders
Trotz makes his debut as Islanders head coach against one of his old teams. And no matter how free agency goes, this will be an interesting night at Barclays Center. Either John Tavares will be in the Islanders lineup, having committed to the franchise with a long-term extension and thereby garnering a huge ovation, or he’ll be wearing another jersey and the mood in Brooklyn will be quite glum.
This day will also see the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils facing off in the NHL Global Series in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Oct. 10, 2018 – Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals
A rematch of the Stanley Cup Final that saw the Capitals victorious in five games. Maybe by Oct. 10 Alex Ovechkin will have been separated from the Cup.
Oct. 26, 2018 – Ottawa Senators at Colorado Avalanche
Matt Duchene has been a visiting player against the Avs, but that game actually took place in Sweden last season, so he’s yet to return to Pepsi Center as a Senator. Now, given the state of the Senators, we may get to late October and Duchene could be on a different team. But if he’s still with Ottawa, the reception he gets upon coming back to Denver should be interesting considering how his time with the franchise ended.
Dec. 1, 2018 – Columbus Blue Jackets at New York Islanders
As the Islanders prepare to leave Barclays Center in a few years, this game will be the first of 20 this coming season at their former home of Nassau Coliseum, now known as NYCB Live. The team will play games there over the next few seasons as a new arena gets built by Belmont race track in Elmont.
Nov. 1-2, 2018 – Florida Panthers vs. Winnipeg Jets
Jan. 1, 2019 – Chicago Blackhawks vs. Boston Bruins
Hey, what do you know? An outdoor game featuring the Blackhawks. After taking a year off, the Blackhawks are back outside for the Winter Classic and will take on the Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. There will be plenty of shots of Touchdown Jesus and lots and lots of stories of Vinnie Hinostroza’s time in South Bend.
Jan. 18, 2019 – New York Islanders at Washington Capitals
Trotz returns to D.C. where he’ll get some very, very long ovations from the crowd and enjoy a tribute video ending with him raising the Stanley Cup.
Jan. 25-26, 2019 – All-Star Weekend, San Jose
A bit of a change this year as the Skills Competition has been moved to Friday night of All-Star Weekend and the 3-on-3 divisional tournament taking place on Saturday.
Feb. 23, 2019 – Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
The home-and-home Battle of Pennsylvania outdoor series concludes this February when the Penguins visit the Flyers at Lincoln Financial Field for a Stadium Series game. The Penguins were 4-2 victors when the two met in 2017 at Heinz Field. Hopefully the jersey choices are a little better than what they wore in their previous meeting.
April 6, 2019 – Super Saturday
The final day of the 2018-19 regular season will see 30 teams in action, with hopefully some playoff seeds and spots still up for grabs before we get to the postseason.