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Sabres should not trade Ryan O’Reilly

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Look, when you nab the top pick of the draft, chances are you’re in a rebuild.

Whether they wanted to be in this spot again or not, the Buffalo Sabres certainly played like a rebuilding franchise once again in 2017-18, putting themselves in a position to win the Rasmus Dahlin lottery. The Swedish defenseman stands as quite the balm after this team’s been humiliated by multiple stunted attempts at growth.

Ryan O'Reilly clearly chafes at these stumbles.

He memorably opened up after this rough season, stating that he believed that the Sabres eventually adopted a “losing mindset.”

“It’s crept into all of our games. Yeah, it’s disappointing. It’s sad,” O’Reilly said in early April. “I feel throughout the year I’ve lost the love of the game multiple times, and just need to get back to it because it’s eating myself up, and eats the other guys up, too.”

When you utter a comment like that, it’s only natural to find your name in trade rumors. That’s especially true for an expensive player like O’Reilly, who carries a $7.5 million cap hit through 2022-23.

The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that, while the Sabres are willing to listen to trade offers for anyone not named Jack Eichel or Casey Mittelstadt:

Botterill isn’t shopping O’Reilly, but the feeling here is he’s being prudent. If you call the Sabres GM these days, he’ll listen on anybody you’re asking about except Eichel and Mittelstadt. Montreal and Vancouver are well-known to be interested in O’Reilly, and Carolina is looking to completely retool its team under new owner Tom Dundon.

I must agree with Harrington’s overall point that the Sabres shouldn’t trade “ROR.” At least, not right now.

Allow me to expand among that sentiment.

Back in March, The Athletic’s James Mirtle discussed (sub required) “how the Maple Leafs’ rebuild left the Sabres’ in the dust.” Mirtle and others have praised Toronto for rebuilding in a smart fashion: tearing away the fat, keeping useful prime-age players, and then crossing your fingers that you’ll get lucky and land some blue-chip players.

In that analogy, I believe that Ryan O’Reilly could be Buffalo’s (admittedly more expensive) answer to Nazem Kadri.

O’Reilly might not be a star player, but he’s the type of two-way center that teams need in the playoffs. His possession stats and faceoff skills, all while taking on some tough assignments, point to his potential to battle for Selke nominations if he can find himself on better teams. The Sabres should make it a point that he finds himself on better teams in Buffalo.

“ROR” has generated 20+ goals in four of his last five seasons, generating at least 55 points in all five. That might not blow your mind, but that sort of production is very helpful, especially when you consider how much of a “plus” player he is from a defensive standpoint.

At 27, he’s still smack-dab in the middle of his prime, and his contract doesn’t provide too many worries from an “aging curve” perspective. It only looks bad when your team is floundering, as the Sabres have been … but might not be forever.

The most obvious upgrade is the one that inspires some level of tentativeness: Dahlin should help their defense. Considering how bad that blueline group has been, it’s not outrageous to picture the much-hyped prospect to immediately step into an important role.

There will be growing pains, no doubt, yet Buffalo’s already given up one of its few, reliable scorers in (understandably and inevitably but painfully) trading away Evander Kane. If you want to make real progress, you need to add more than you subtract. The Sabres need to get back on that wavelength rather than taking more steps back, as they’d do if they traded O’Reilly for futures.

Speaking of futures …

One thing that alleviates much of the discomfort of the O’Reilly price tag is the bountiful young talent in Buffalo.

Dahlin would be on his entry-level contract for three seasons, almost certainly burning off his first in 2018-19. Mittelstadt’s rookie deal will expire after 2019-20. If Alex Nylander can get on track and at least be an everyday NHL player, that’s another ELC to Buffalo’s benefit.

Sam Reinhart showed signs of progress lately, and it’s plausible that the Sabres will reach an affordable deal with the RFA. Buffalo also will see some problem contracts burn off soon, as Jason Pominville‘s $5.6M goes away after 2018-19 and Zach Bogosian‘s $5.1M mark mercifully dissolves after two more seasons.

Getting cheap production from Dahlin, Mittelstadt, (ideally) Nylander, and possibly Reinhart nullifies much of the hand-wringing over how much O’Reilly costs.

And the Sabres can make him more worth keeping by adding more talent around him.

They’ll need to address their goaltending situation one way or another, whether that means re-signing promising RFA Robin Lehner, finding someone else, or possibly a combination of two.

Considering that Buffalo currently only has just $55.8M committed to the cap (via Cap Friendly), it’s conceivable that they could make a big splash. How does John Carlson feel about sweaters and snow tires?

***

Now, there’s the possibility that some team would offer a truly equitable trade.

If it was a pure “hockey trade,” than Buffalo would have to at least consider moving O’Reilly. Getting a strong defenseman would possibly be worth parting ways with an effective-but-expensive second-line center.

Overall, though, the Sabres need to move forward rather than falling back or taking lateral steps. As much as landing Dahlin (er, “the first pick”) brightens Buffalo’s future, it also makes a strong argument against punting the present.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins heavy NHL odds favorite against beleaguered Blackhawks on Wednesday

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It is rare for a road team in the NHL to go as deep into minus money as the Pittsburgh Penguins are for their game against the reeling Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m ET; NBCSN), meaning a trend could be shrugged off due to small sample size.

The Penguins are -195 road favorites on the NHL odds for Wednesday night with the host Blackhawks coming back at +155, while there is a 6.0-goals total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The Penguins are only 1-5 in their last six road games as a favorite of -190 or greater on the moneyline, as well as 3-7 in their last 10 road games, but are 4-1 in five road games this season against Western Conference teams.

The Blackhawks’ trends are even more abject; they have surrendered the first goal in 11 consecutive games and are also 2-6 in their last eight home games at the United Center. Chicago also played Tuesday night, losing 6-3 against the Winnipeg Jets, and is 4-16 in its last 20 games when it played the previous day.

Pittsburgh is 13-10-6 on the season, including a 6-2-2 mark over its last 10 games. The Penguins are well off of their Stanley Cup form of two seasons ago, but still have a strong first two lines centered by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Both Pittsburgh special teams units are in the top 10 of the NHL, with the power play ranking ninth (23.2 percent) and the penalty killing unit ranking sixth (83.5).

With No. 1 goalie Matt Murray (lower body) close to a return to health, the Penguins could have a choice between him and Casey DeSmith, who is 3-1-1 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in five starts so far in December.

Chicago is 9-18-5, including 1-9 in its last 10 games, and there is little to suggest much in the way of an immediate turnaround. Captain Jonathan Toews‘ line is one of the least proficient first lines in the NHL and the next waves of attack, which include right wing Patrick Kane, have been just ok, which is why the Blackhawks have not scored more than three goals during any of their last eight home games.

The Blackhawks are also 31st, or dead last, in power play efficiency (11.6 percent) and 28th in penalty killing (74.4 percent).

Cam Ward played in the Winnipeg game, which would suggest the Blackhawks will start goalie Corey Crawford, who is winless in his last eight starts. Crawford is 5-14-1 with a 3.21 goals-against average and .901 save percentage, but his rate stats improve to 2.39 and .925 on home ice, which might provide a glimmer of hope for upset-minded bettors.

The total has gone UNDER in six of Pittsburgh’s last 10 road games against the Central Division, according to the OddsShark NHL Database. The total has gone UNDER in eight of Chicago’s last 10 home games.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Rangers’ Shattenkirk out 2-4 weeks with shoulder injury

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NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Rangers say defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk will be sidelined two to four weeks with a shoulder injury.

Shattenkirk left in the second period of Monday night’s game in Tampa. He took a check around the left shoulder and had a sling on his arm postgame.

The 29-year-old was checked out on Tuesday. General manager Jeff Gorton announced Wednesday that Shattenkirk had a separated shoulder.

Shattenkirk has one goal, seven assists and zero penalty minutes in 29 games this season. He suffered a knee injury last January that ended his season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Bruins’ David Backes takes skate to face, returns

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BOSTON (AP) Boston Bruins forward David Backes rushed himself off the ice Tuesday night after taking a skate blade to the face late in the first period but returned at the start of the second and finished the game.

Backes pushed Oliver Ekman-Larsson near the side of the net and the Arizona defenseman went to the ice, kicking up his left skate on the way down. It caught Backes in the face, and he went down before skating on his own quickly to the bench and out the tunnel.

Backes returned and won the faceoff to start the second period. He did not speak to reporters during the open locker room period but told The Boston Globe as he left the building he had a cut on the side of his nose that required a few stitches and some ointment.

“It’s always scary when your teammate takes a skate to the face, or really anywhere,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said after scoring twice and adding an assist in the 4-3 victory. “He’s a little prettier now and no worse for wear.”

Backes required 18 stitches to close a cut on his leg after a game against Tampa Bay in March.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Which teams are likely to make moves before Holiday Freeze?

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We’re exactly one week away from the NHL’s holiday roster freeze. Teams won’t be able to make a move between Dec. 19 at 11:59 pm ET and Dec. 28 at 12:01 am ET, which means there could be some fireworks between now and the 19th. So, which teams are most likely to make a move before next week? Let’s take a look.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers have already fired a general manager, so you’d have to think that the next step is to acquire some help that will improve their roster immediately. It’s been a disappointing year in Philly. After making the playoffs last season, they now find themselves one point away from the basement of the Eastern Conference. Sure, they could use some help between the pipes (no kidding), but they could also look to acquire a steady defenseman to compliment some of their younger players on the blue line. Their 12-13-3 record has them five points behind the Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Minnesota Wild: Prior to last night’s huge 7-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Wild had been floundering. Does one win change that? Probably not. Charlie Coyle‘s name has come up in trade rumors a lot lately, and you’d have to wonder if he’d be the one to go if GM Paul Fenton wanted to shake up his roster. Minnesota is still close enough to the playoffs that a big move could propel them back into a top three spot in the division or a wild card spot. Fenton still hasn’t made a major trade since taking over, so this could be his time to shine.

Carolina Hurricanes: Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon is already sick of seeing his team not make it to the playoffs. They clearly have a need up front. The ‘Canes have to find a way to add some scoring help (Jeff Skinner would look great in a Hurricanes jersey right now). The good thing about Carolina, is that they have an abundance of talent on defense, which means they could sacrifice some of that to get a scoring forward. The Hurricanes are two points behind the Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Metro.

Boston Bruins: Despite the fact that they’ve been hit hard by the injury bug this season, the Bruins have found a way to stay in a playoff spot. Getting healthy would help, but the quickest fix might just be for GM Don Sweeney to make a trade before Christmas. Some depth scoring would certainly help. The Bruins are probably the team from this list that’s in the best shape, but that doesn’t mean they can afford to stay quiet on the trade front.

St. Louis Blues: Doug Armstrong has to do something to get his team back on track, or it could end up costing him his job. The Blues made some significant trades this off-season, but that hasn’t translated into victories. St. Louis could use help all over their roster. Their goaltending hasn’t been good enough, their defense has been in shambles all year and their top scorers haven’t been performing. This might be a do-or-die situation for Armstrong.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers missed the playoffs by just one point last season, which means they have to make the postseason this year. Unfortunately for them, Roberto Luongo has been banged up, again, in 2018-19. Could they be in the market for a goalie? It’s clear that they can’t just keep rolling with James Reimer if they want to play games deep into April. And relying on Luongo to stay healthy is a risky proposition.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Jim Rutherford has already made a couple of moves (he acquired Tanner Pearson from the Kings and Marcus Pettersson from the Ducks), but that doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to pull the trigger on a trade again. Even though they’ve been playing better as of late, the Pens still find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture right now. Maybe they just wait it out, but a move is never out of the question for Rutherford.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.