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O’Reilly: Sabres adopted mindset of ‘being OK with losing’

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Ryan O'Reilly was unable to hide his dejection as he acknowledged that the Sabres’ latest last-place finish led him to question his love for hockey.

If that wasn’t enough, the high-priced center accused the Sabres of adopting a mindset of “being OK with losing.”

“It’s crept into all of our games. Yeah, it’s disappointing. It’s sad,” O’Reilly said Monday, two days after Buffalo closed one of its worst seasons in franchise history. “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.”

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Losing is all O’Reilly knows in the three seasons since being acquired in a trade with Colorado, after which the Sabres signed him to a seven-year, $52.5 million contract extension.

Rather than being part of a rebuilding plan, which included Buffalo selecting Jack Eichel with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, O’Reilly and company find themselves back at square one. They became the NHL’s first team to finish 31st – following this year’s addition of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights – after back-to-back 30th-place finishes in 2013-14 and 2014-’15.

This year’s collapse is considerably worse given that Buffalo’s trajectory was supposed to be trending upward under the new regime of general manager Jason Botterill and coach Phil Housley. They took over last spring after the Sabres underachieved in finishing 26th under GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma

“We have to evaluate everything, coaching staff, the players. What are they willing to change?” Housley said. “There comes a point in your career where you have to realize what’s important. Obviously, winning, what it takes to win, the commitment to win in this league. And that’s what we talk about change.”

Very little went right in a season Buffalo opened 1-5-2 and closed 2-9, extending the franchise’s longest playoff drought to a seventh straight year.

Buffalo matched a franchise low for home wins by going 11-25-5, including a 3-2 overtime loss to the Rangers in the Winter Classic at New York City. The Sabres finished last in the NHL with 199 goals scored, 91 goals at home and in being outscored by 81 goals.

Their best run was a three-game win streak, all on the road, while the Sabres went winless over four or more games seven times, including an 0-5-2 skid from Nov. 10-22.

The reality of how bad the Sabres were, set in at the midpoint of the season for defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.

“It was around Christmas and we were done, and we still had 40 games to play,” Ristolainen said. “Everyone wants to make the playoffs so bad, and we weren’t even close.”

LIKING EICH

Eichel led Buffalo with a career-best 25 goals and 64 points in 67 games, despite missing 15 games with a sprained right ankle. Much more is expected next season when Eichel’s eight-year, $80 million contract kicks in.

“Things will get better and it starts with me,” Eichel said. “Everybody needs to look at themselves and figure out what they’re doing. Obviously, whatever I’ve been doing hasn’t been working. What we’ve been doing as a team hasn’t been working.”

DOWN ON THE FARM

While the Sabres are done, their AHL Rochester Americans affiliate qualified for the playoffs for the first time in four years. The Americans feature several Sabres prospects being counted upon to play in Buffalo full-time next season including forward Alexander Nylander, defenseman Brendan Guhle and goalie Linus Ullmark.

FREE AGENTS

The Sabres have a decision to make in goal with starter Robin Lehner set to become a restricted free agent and backup Chad Johnson eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. The team’s other pending unrestricted free agents include forwards Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Nolan, and defenseman Josh Gorges.

Forward Sam Reinhart, who scored a career-best 25 goals, completed his three-year entry level contract and eligible to be a restricted free agent.

OFF TO THE WORLDS

Rookie first-round draft pick Casey Mittelstadt accepted Hockey USA’s invitation to compete at the world championships in Denmark next month. Mittelstadt signed with Buffalo last month after completing his freshman season at Minnesota. The center won a bronze medal representing the U.S. at the World Junior hockey championships in January.

INJURIES

Lehner visited a specialist Monday to assess a lower body injury that forced him to miss the final five games. D Zach Bogosian expects to be cleared to skate by June after having season-ending hip surgery in January.

More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

WATCH LIVE: Toronto Maple Leafs at Buffalo Sabres

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PROJECTED LINES

Toronto Maple Leafs

Zach HymanWilliam NylanderConnor Brown

Patrick MarleauNazem KadriMitch Marner

James van RiemsdykTyler BozakLeo Komarov

Matt MartinTomas PlekanecKasperi Kapanen

Morgan RiellyRon Hainsey

Jake GardinerNikita Zaitsev

Travis DermottConnor Carrick

Starting Goalie: Frederik Andersen

[Maple Leafs – Sabres preview.]

Buffalo Sabres

Zemgus GirgensonsRyan O'ReillySam Reinhart

Scott WilsonJohan LarssonJason Pominville

Jordan NolanJacob JosefsonKyle Okposo

Benoit Pouliot — Kyle Criscuolo — Nicholas Baptiste

Marco ScandellaRasmus Ristolainen

Brendan Guhle — Casey Nelson

Nathan BeaulieuVictor Antipin

Starting Goalie: Chad Johnson

PHT Power Rankings: Looking at the possible trade deadline candidates

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We are trying something a little different with our PHT Power Rankings for this week and taking a look at the players that could be on the move before the NHL trade deadline next month.

With so many teams still in the running for a playoff spot it really limits the number of potential sellers that are out there, but we still have a pretty good idea as to the names that might be available.

The Canadiens and Rangers might tear things down, while the Sabres, Oilers and Senators are among the few teams that are going to clearly be sellers.

Let’s take a look at the list!

1.  Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens — Pacioretty has since broken out after that miserable slump a few weeks ago and is back to scoring goals in bunches. It still seems like a long-shot that he is going to be moved, but the Canadiens seem to be open for business and Pacioretty’s name has been out there. They probably need to tear things down and start over, and dealing Pacioretty, who still has one more year left on his contract at a bargain basement cap hit for what he produces, would almost certainly bring a big return if they chose to go in that direction.

[Related: The Canadiens should probably tear it all down]

2. Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators —  The Senators are a disaster this season and they still have to figure out what to do with Erik Karlsson and his contract situation this summer. Hoffman has been mentioned as a possible trade chip and would be an intriguing target because he is not only a really good player, but also still has term left on his contract. It would probably take a huge offer to pry him away from the Senators — as it should.

3. Evander Kane, Buffalo Sabres — In terms of players rumored to be available Kane might be having one of the better seasons, and he is still in the prime of his career, but he is purely a rental at this point and the Sabres seem to have an extremely high price tag attached to him. How much are you willing to give up for a really good, but not great player you may only have for a few months?

4. Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers — The Rangers are reportedly considering “blowing it up” regardless of where they stand in the playoff race. McDonagh has struggled a bit in recent seasons and his possession numbers have cratered a bit, but in the right situation and right system he could rediscover his previous form.

5. Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings — Green’s value is almost entirely centered around his offense at this point. And while he is never going to be the 30-goal, 70-point threat he was earlier in his career he can still help a power play and provide some offense from the blue line.

6. Michael Grabner, New York Rangers — Grabner is a bargain against the cap and has been one of the top even-strength goal scorers in the league the past two seasons. In a league that is starting to become dominated by speed and skating, Grabner is still one of the fastest forwards going.

7. Patrick Maroon, Edmonton Oilers — The Oilers would probably like to keep Maroon but their salary cap situation is going to make that really difficult. He is not far off from the 27-goal pace he scored at a season ago and still has strong underlying numbers.

8. Thomas Vanek, Vancouver Canucks — For the second year in a row Vanek looks to be a potential rental candidate after signing a one-year deal. Just for a point of reference, his numbers at this point are almost identical to what they were a year ago at the same time for the Detroit Red Wings. He landed the Red Wings a third-round pick and Dylan McIlrath in a trade.

9. Rick Nash, New York Rangers — One of the many Rangers that could be on the trade block. A free agent to be after the season, Nash is having one of his worst seasons offensively but he is still probably going to end up with close to 25 goals while also playing strong two-way hockey. A rental that carries a big salary cap hit, he is still an extremely useful player.

[Related: The Rangers might be ready to blow it up at deadline]

10. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators — Like Hoffman, another Senators player that still has term left on his contract that could be dealt. He might be an ideal fit for a team like Pittsburgh that is still in the market for a third-line center. Not a great offensive player, but he can be a tremendous shutdown defensive center and penalty killer.

11. Robin Lehner, Buffalo Sabres — There are not a ton of teams in the market for a goalie so there may not be a lot of options, but how could he not be an upgrade for a team like the New York Islanders, a team that can score as well as any team in hockey but can’t stop anybody?

12. Ian Cole, Pittsburgh Penguins — Cole’s situation is fascinating because he was such a reliable player on the past two Stanley Cup winning teams — especially the 2016-17 team that was decimated by injuries on the blue line — but he has clearly fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. He has played well when given an opportunity, but his days in Pittsburgh seem to be limited.

13. Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings — As an upcoming restricted free agent and playing a position where there may not be a huge market he is in a similar situation to Lehner. Could still be an attractive option for a team looking to upgrade its backup spot.

14. Thomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens — His offense has declined significantly in recent years but still a really good defensive center.

15. Erik Gudbranson, Vancouver Canucks — A polarizing player because old time hockey guys love his blood-and-guts style of play, but there is really nothing outstanding in his performance. Still, it only takes one team to see him as a necessary addition for playoff style hockey.

16. Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets — Johnson requested a trade from the Blue Jackets but it is hard to see there being a huge market for him. His role has been greatly reduced in Columbus compared to what it used to be, and it’s unlikely he is going to find a team that is going to give him a bigger one than the one he currently has with the Blue Jackets.

17. Benoit Pouliot, Buffalo Sabres — A few years ago he was a favorite of the analytics community for his ability to drive possession, and he was an outstanding depth player that could play a variety of roles up and down your lineup. His play has regressed quite a bit since then. As a rental he might be worth taking a chance on down the stretch in the hopes that somebody can catch lightning in a bottle.

18. Radim Vrbata, Florida Panthers — He is having a miserable year for the Panthers offensively, but he is just one year removed from scoring 20 goals and being a 55-point player.

19. Mark Letestu, Edmonton Oilers — He can chip in some offense but is probably best suited for a fourth-line role on a contending team.

20. Brad Richardson, Arizona Coyotes — The Coyotes don’t expect to be busy at the deadline, and there is hope that they can re-sign Richardson, but it only takes one phone call and offer to make a team change their mind. They could always flip Richardson for a pick or a prospect and try to re-sign him over the summer as a UFA.

————

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Buffalo Sabres at New York Rangers

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Buffalo Sabres

Benoit PouliotJack EichelKyle Okposo

Evander KaneRyan O'ReillyJason Pominville

Zemgus GirgensonsEvan RodriguesSam Reinhart

Scott WilsonJohan LarssonJordan Nolan

Marco ScandellaRasmus Ristolainen

Jake McCabeJustin Falk

Josh Gorges — Casey Nelson

Starting goalie: Robin Lehner

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Rangers; Penguins vs. Kings]

New York Rangers

Rick NashMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich

Mats ZuccarelloJ.T. Miller — Vinni Lettieri

Jimmy VeseyDavid DesharnaisPaul Carey

Michael Grabner — Peter Holland — Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonaghNick Holden

Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk

Brendan SmithSteven Kampfer

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

WATCH LIVE: 2018 Winter Classic – Rangers vs. Sabres

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Rangers

Rick Nash/Mika Zibanejad/Mats Zuccarello

Michael Grabner/Kevin Hayes/J.T. Miller

Pavel Buchnevich/David Desharnais/Jimmy Vesey

Paul Carey/Boo Nieves/Vinni Lettieri

Ryan McDonagh/Nick Holden

Brendan Smith/Kevin Shattenkirk

Marc Staal/Brady Skjei

Startling goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

Rangers, Sabres take advantage of Winter Classic distraction

Sabres:

Zemgus Girgensons/Jack Eichel/Sam Reinhart

Evander Kane/Ryan O'Reilly/Kyle Okposo

Benoit Pouliot/Evan Rodrigues/Jason Pominville

Johan Larsson/Jacob Josefson/Jordan Nolan

Marco Scandella/Rasmus Ristolainen

Jake McCabe/Zach Bogosian

Josh Gorges/Nathan Beaulieu

Startling goalie: Robin Lehner

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.