Jimmy Vesey

Plenty of questions for Kevyn Adams as Sabres GM

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The Sabres stunned many on Tuesday by firing Jason Botterill, and naming Kevyn Adams as their new GM.

The move accomplished the interesting task of making the inevitable feel shocking. Yes, Botterill seemed like he was on borrowed time as GM. But considering Kim Pegula’s vote of confidence from late May, the Sabres signaled that now was not the time. And then they changed course.

As messy as all of this is, the truth is that it might work out for the best. Why head into this long, unusual offseason with a GM you don’t believe in? Every prime year from Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin is precious, so why waste them if Botterill really isn’t the best choice?

Of course, what happens next hinges on Kevyn Adams. Can he finally get the Sabres on track as the franchise is mired in a nine-year playoff drought? Let’s look at the monumental task(s) Adams has in front of him.

Adams faces key decisions (big and small, short and long-term) as Sabres GM

As cathartic as it might be to move on from a GM or coach that didn’t work out, there’s also a risk that the new people in charge will make the wrong changes, sometimes merely to show that they’re not just sitting idly.

For better (Jack Eichel) and worse (Jeff Skinner, Kyle Okposo), the Sabres have a lot of big contracts they really can’t move. Rasmus Ristolainen stands as the biggest piece — even literally — that they actually could conceivably remove.

It feels like Ristolainen has been subject to trade rumors for ages, even though he’s merely 25. Either way, it makes you wonder if Botterill wanted too much for Ristolainen, or if the market really is just that cold on him.

Frankly, the Sabres might be better off cutting their losses, even at a discount rate. By most measures, including this multi-season RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey, Ristolainen seems like an overall drag on his team:

Kevyn Adams Sabres GM should trade Rasmus Ristolainen
via Evolving Hockey

If the Sabres traded Ristolainen, it might help solve their Rasmus Riddle.

On one hand, Ralph Krueger really helped improve the Sabres on defense. Consider his isolated impact via Hockey Viz:

Kevyn Adams Sabres GM should keep Ralph Krueger
via Hockey Viz

Yet, while Krueger bumped down Ristolainen’s ice time, the tall defenseman still topped the Sabres in ice time. Meanwhile, Rasmus Dahlin actually saw a dramatic drop in ice time from his rookie campaign (21:09) to his sophomore season (19:18).

That’s puzzling. I can’t help but point out that the “free agent” market for coaches is unusually robust, featuring choices ranging from Bruce Boudreau and Gerard Gallant to Peter Laviolette and even Mike Babcock.

Overall, though? It seems like Krueger is a good coach, maybe a very good one. Adams should probably trade away that one bad habit in Ristolainen, though.

RFAs need addressing

Take a look at the Sabres’ long-term outlook for a longer list, but Buffalo is brimming with RFA decisions to make.

Some of the most important names include breakout rookie sniper Victor Olofsson, goalie Linus Ullmark, baffling trade acquisition Wayne Simmonds, Brandon Montour, Michael Frolik, and Jimmy Vesey.

While the Sabres have $25M devoted to Eichel, Skinner, and Okposo alone, the slate is reasonably clean for Kevyn Adams to make his own mark as GM.

He’ll need to make the right calls not just with who to bring back, but also who to add.

Ullmark played pretty well this season, but not necessarily to the point that he silenced all questions about Sabres goaltending. Should Adams stick with Ullmark and Carter Hutton, who’s worked on vision problems and has one year remaining? Should the Sabres instead plunge into a pretty promising goalie market, and either try to trade away Hutton or even eat the cost of sending Hutton to the AHL?

Go big in free agency or aim more modestly?

If the Sabres make the call to spend on a UFA goalie, they’d need to determine the right target. Braden Holtby boasts a big name, but he’s struggled in recent years, and would be expensive if he leaves the Capitals. It’s difficult to imagine Robin Lehner returning to Buffalo, but maybe Adams and the Sabres can identify the next Lehner?

Skaters represent interesting questions, too.

If Alex Pietrangelo becomes available, is it worth the risk of going top-heavy to improve in an area of need? Dahlin will need a contract after 2020-21, so the Sabres could see their breathing room collapse quickly if they signed Pietrangelo, only to receive diminishing returns.

Taylor Hall could give Eichel the sort of support he’s rarely seen, yet Hall’s shown serious signs of decline recently.

The Sabres have also gotten burned by more mid-range free agent signings, so there are risks if they swing for contact rather than for the fences.

Maybe the best path would be to call up, say, the Lightning or another cap-challenged team to shake loose some talent?

Even if Adams keeps his early moves modest, he still faces a lot of questions in taking over as Sabres GM. This team needs to add talent, and rebuild trust from fans. As we’ve seen from Botterill and others, it’s a job that can go wrong in many ways.

What would you do if you were in Adams’ shoes?

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.

Revisiting biggest NHL trades from the 2019 offseason

Big trades of 2019 NHL offseason Subban Miller Kessel
via Getty Images

Upon reflecting about his first season with the Maple Leafs following a trade featuring Nazem Kadri and Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot admitted that he wasn’t as consistent as he would have liked. Indeed, people don’t look back favorably for the Maple Leafs’ side of one of the biggest trades of the 2019 NHL offseason.

(There’s some interesting insight from Thursday’s Kerfoot conference call, which you can peruse via reporters including TSN’s Kristen Shilton.)

As interesting as it is to hear about the highs and lows of Kerfoot’s season, this also gives us a chance to revisit the biggest trades of the 2019 NHL offseason as a whole. Some teams made enough momentous trades to earn their own categories, such as Kerfoot’s Maple Leafs.

Misadventures for Maple Leafs in 2019 offseason NHL trades

When judging a trade, it’s crucial to consider context. Even when you grade on a curve, the trades didn’t always pan out for Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas.

Following another ugly postseason suspension, many believed the Maple Leafs needed to trade Nazem Kadri. They also were feeling the cap crunch, so getting a discounted Tyson Barrie provided a nice replacement for outgoing Jake Gardiner.

While the gap between Kadri and Kerfoot might be a bit exaggerated …

Big NHL 2019 offseason trades Kadri Kerfoot comparison Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey

… the bottom line is that the trade didn’t meet expectations for the Maple Leafs.

The oddest part, really, revolved around how adamant Dubas was about Cody Ceci being better than people believed. Instead, Ceci was kind of a disaster.

If the Maple Leafs divest themselves of Ceci after 2019-20, then it was still worth it. Zaitsev’s contract was bad, and much longer. But it was a funky situation that rounded out an all-over-the-place offseason. Maybe there were shades of appeasing an eventually outgoing Mike Babcock?

To some extent, Toronto’s flexibility was limited. They didn’t fare as well as some of the other savvy teams, though.

Deals with the Devils not scorching teams as much

Is it “poetic” that you could say trades did Ray Shero in as Devils GM?

OK, that’s not totally fair. If we’re being sober, the wheels came off of the wagon thanks to some mix of atrocious goaltending and questionable coaching.

Even so, the Devils made aggressive moves to improve, and splashy trades set the stage for disappointments and dysfunction. The headliner that went horribly, horribly wrong was, of course, the P.K. Subban trade.

While it still feels like the Predators could have gotten more for Subban, they did clean up space to sign Matt Duchene, and in a more abstract sense keep Roman Josi. Even those with tempered expectations didn’t expect this season from Subban. Consider that Subban ranked dead last on the Devils according to Evolving Hockey’s GAR metric:

Big 2019 offseason NHL trades went poorly for Devils Subban
also via Evolving Hockey

Yikes. Yikes.

While there’s hope that Subban may rebound, the extended collapse of his game played a big role in the front office upheaval in New Jersey.

Nikita Gusev‘s situation wasn’t nearly as dramatic, and while Gusev performed reasonably well, he didn’t light the hockey world on fire. The Golden Knights probably aren’t losing much sleep over his departure … at least yet.

The Devils recouped some of their draft capital by trading the likes of Taylor Hall during the deadline, but coughing up four significant draft picks for Subban + Gusev didn’t work out so well.

Pondering other teams making one or more noteworthy trades

Vegas Golden Knights

No, the Golden Knights didn’t parallel the Maple Leafs in every way. They didn’t have the same enormous RFA headaches, and the uncertainty that surrounded those situations.

But they still needed to shed some salaries. While I can’t say I loved every move and thought process, things worked out reasonably well for Vegas in the grand scheme of things.

They managed to land something for Gusev’s rights in the form of a second and third-round pick. They also landed a second-rounder for Colin Miller, who couldn’t seem to stay out of the doghouse, and who didn’t have the greatest season in Buffalo. Nicolas Roy may just make them break even (or better?) in the Erik Haula trade.

Again, not sure about every decision — all of this straining, yet spending so much on Ryan Reaves? — but the Golden Knights got a lot right. Toronto might even feel a little jealous.

Fascinating Miller trade between Canucks, Lightning

Speaking of desperate situations, the Lightning didn’t have much of a choice but to trade J.T. Miller. So, to get a first-round pick (and third-rounder) for their troubles? More Lightning wizardry.

On paper, it looked like the Canucks might be overreaching in much the same way the Devils did. Miller cost more in assets, after all.

But … Miller ended up being a tremendous player; he was a legitimate first-line winger for Vancouver. Subban, well … yeah.

So this was a rare deal where you could make a strong argument for both sides. I think the Lightning were more shrewd, especially considering limited options (Dubas grumbles again), but the Canucks received big returns from their risky investment (now Shero’s grumbling).

Penguins, Oilers often busy making trades

You might not top the steal the Penguins pulled off in nabbing splendid rookie defenseman John Marino for just a sixth-round pick from the Oilers.

That ended up being the best move during a summer where they unloaded some problems. That included the staggering Phil Kessel trade, and also convincing someone to take on Erik Gudbranson‘s contract. With Kessel mainly offering “meh” in Arizona, and Alex Galchenyuk being part of the Jason Zucker trade, the Penguins have to feel pretty good about their latest series of dramatic decisions.

The Oilers likely received a decent confidence boost from seeing James Neal start so much hotter than Milan Lucic that it became a punchline. With Lucic being a better possession player, that gap narrowed when Neal cooled off.

Really, the true winner might not be crowned until we see if the Oilers can wiggle free from the Neal contract and/or the Flames get rid of Lucic’s deal. Really, that might be the key takeaway even after all these assessments: we may not yet know the final “winners” of the biggest trades of the 2019 NHL offseason for some time.

Quick thoughts

  • My issue isn’t and wasn’t with the Blues trading for Justin Faulk. Instead, handing him a pricey extension looked risky, and he hasn’t really soothed those concerns with middling play. Hmm.
  • Would it be fair to lean toward “TBD” on the Andre Burakovsky trade, at least when realizing things were going sour between Burakovsky and the Caps? That’s the way I lean.
  • Speaking of TBD, the intriguing Henri JokiharjuAlex Nylander trade remains unsolved.
  • The Canadiens really got the best of the Blackhawks by nabbing a second and third-round pick for Andrew Shaw.
  • You’re forgiven if it slipped your mind that Carl Soderberg and Jimmy Vesey were traded.

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.

What is the long-term outlook for the Sabres?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Buffalo Sabres.

Pending free agents

Dominik Kahun (RFA)
Curtis Lazar (RFA)
Brandon Montour (RFA)
Victor Olofsson (RFA)
Lawrence Pilut (RFA)
Sam Reinhart (RFA)
Tage Thompson (RFA)
Linus Ullmark (RFA)
Zemgus Girgensons (UFA)
Matt Hunwick (UFA)
Johan Larsson (UFA)
Michael Frolik (UFA)
Wayne Simmonds (UFA)
Vladimir Sobotka (UFA)
Jimmy Vesey (UFA)

The Core

The Buffalo Sabres have drafted two of the hardest pieces to find in the National Hockey League. A franchise center in Jack Eichel and a top-pairing defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin.

Sam Reinhart reached the 50-point mark for the third consecutive season and Victor Olofsson has been a pleasant surprise. However, the Sabres will need to find several more pieces to fill out the rest of the lineup to challenge in the top-heavy Atlantic Division.

Casey Mittelstadt is only 21 years of age, but after playing 77 games in 2018-19, he didn’t take the next step in his development. The young center played just 31 games in the NHL while spending the other half of the season with the Rochester Americans of the AHL. The maturation process varies from player to player, but the Sabres still expect Mittlestadt to grow into a formidable NHL player.

Two of the Sabres’ top five scorers (Dahlin and Rasmus Ristolainen) anchor the defensive group. Ristolainen has been the subject of trade rumors for several years now, but still is a right-handed shot defenseman with an offensive touch. Brandon Montour was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in February of 2019 but is a pending restricted free agent.

Linus Ullmark has provided a boost in goal this season but hasn’t cemented himself as the long-term option. Several goaltenders could hit the free agency market this season and the Sabres could find a long-term solution at a reasonable price if they play their cards right.

Long-term needs for Sabres

The challenge for the Sabres front office has been finding the right complementary pieces to play alongside their foundational players. The Jeff Skinner contract extension is not providing the return expected with a $9 million average annual value. In 59 games this season, the high-priced forward has recorded only 23 points (14 goals, 9 assists).

The Sabres didn’t give up a valuable asset for Wayne Simmonds at the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, but the idea that they gave up a draft pick for an expiring contract was strange to say the least. Simmonds’ value to the Sabres might not be measured by his on-ice performance but could be another veteran voice in the locker room. If he is extended in the offseason, Simmonds can be a sounding board for Eichel and Dahlin as the they continue to develop.

General manager Jason Botterill has six draft picks in the upcoming NHL Draft, but is missing his third and sixth-round picks from the Skinner acquisition in the summer of 2018. The Sabres have needs throughout their NHL lineup, but have limited assets and salary cap space to fill the holes.

Buffalo will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the ninth straight season and will struggle to break that streak in 2020-21.

Long-term strengths

Eichel and Dahlin represent two foundational pieces and should be the face of the Sabres for years to come.

Head coach Ralph Krueger is also an interesting character and has gotten a lot out of his captain and Dahlin in his first season behind Buffalo’s bench. But, after an 8-1-1 start this season, Krueger was unable to stop the skid as his team fell out of the playoff picture.

Obviously, if there was more to add in the strength’s column, the Sabres would have finished higher in the standings and have a better trajectory for years to come.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres
Sabres biggest surprises, disappointments so far

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Stephenson, Fiala lead this week’s top adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Jimmy Vesey, Sabres – LW/RW: Vesey has just eight goals and 18 points in 52 games this season, but he might end up having a strong end to the campaign. Through Jan. 30 he averaged a mere 13:38 minutes, but that’s skyrocketed to 19:37 minutes per contest over his last five games. He’s been put on a line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart and the trio has done well with Vesey scoring two goals and four points in his last three contests. If that line stays intact, then it should continue to mean great things for Vesey.

Derick Brassard, Islanders – C/LW/RW: Brassard has been a hot-and-cold player this season who has unfortunately spent a bit more time on the cold side of the spectrum. Right now though, he’s doing well with two goals and four points in his last three games. He’d need to get a bigger role with the Islanders for him to be worth holding onto for the rest of the season and that seems unlikely for him to get at this time. So if you do decide to pick him up, you’ll need to be willing to drop him at the first sign of trouble.

Chandler Stephenson, Golden Knights – C/LW/RW: Stephenson started the season with Washington and had just three goals and four points in 24 contests, but he was also averaging only 11:50 minutes. On Dec. 2, the Capitals dealt Stephenson to Vegas in exchange for a 2021 fifth-round pick and the Golden Knights had bigger plans for him. He’s averaged 15:58 minutes since joining Vegas and he’s rewarded them for that expanded role by scoring eight goals and 17 points in 28 contests. Along with his eligibility in every offensive position, he’s a decent pick up, especially right now that he’s hot with two goals and five points in his last five games.

Anthony Cirelli, Lightning – C: I mentioned Cirelli last week too, but he’s still only owned in 32% of Yahoo leagues, so if you wanted to pick him up now while he’s still hot, you can do so. He has five goals and 12 points over his last 10 games and has only been held off the scoresheet twice over that stretch. It helps that the Lightning will play on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Monday Feb. 17, so if you pick him up now, you’ll get a lot of use out of him in short order.

Ondrej Palat, Lightning – LW: And given how active the Lightning will be in the coming week, you might want to consider Palat as well. Like Cirelli, Palat has been very effective lately with two goals and 10 points in his last nine games. Palat’s left wing eligibility will also make him more appealing than Cirelli to certain fantasy owners. If you’re hurting for hits, Palat is worth considering in that regard too given that he has 111. He is owned already in 47% of leagues though, so there will be some of you who have the option to take Cirelli, but not Palat.

Kevin Fiala, Wild  – LW/RW: Fiala is on a four-game point streak and three of those contests have been multi-point contests for him. He was doing fairly well even before this point streak though. Fiala’s only significant cold spell came at the beginning of the season when he was limited to an assist in his first eight games. Since then he has 13 goals and 34 points in 42 contests while never enduring a point drought longer than back-to-back games. So while the hot streak makes it an easier decision to grab him now, there’s value in holding onto him even beyond that.

Jakob Chychrun, Coyotes – D: Chychrun is only owned in 24% of Yahoo leagues, but he’s a decent fallback option for owners who are hurting defensively either due to blueliners who have disappointed or are injured. His 11 goals and 22 points in 57 contests are nothing great, but those are decent numbers and it helps that he’s also accumulated 131 shots. Right now he’s also on a little bit of a hot streak with a point in each of his last three games. He’s no one’s ideal fantasy option, but in a pinch, he’s worth keeping in mind.

Damon Severson, Devils – D: Severson had three goals and seven points in his first 33 games this season, but since then he’s started to contribute at a solid pace offensively. From Dec. 20 onward, he has four goals and 15 points in 21 games. The Devils don’t exactly have a lot of bright spots right now, but he’s one of them.

Colton Parayko, Blues – D: Parayko is a big part of the Blues’ defense, but not a major offensive contributor. He has six goals and 18 points in 49 games and endured a terrible offensive drought from Nov. 30-Feb. 1 where he was limited to just an assist in 19 contests. He’s bounced back recently though with five goals and six points in his last three games. I have doubts about him as a long-term pickup, but it might be worth grabbing him for now in the hopes that the hot streak will last a little bit longer.

Jake Gardiner, Hurricanes – D: Gardiner has been effective recently with five assists in his last four games. He also might end up being of some use for the rest of the season if you decide to pick him up and then hold onto him beyond just this hot streak. He was averaging 16:14 minutes before Dougie Hamilton suffered a broken left fibula and that’s jumped to 19:50 minutes since the injury. That increased role gives him the potential to be a significant contributor going forward, especially given his past offensive success when he was getting big minutes in Toronto.

Players You May Want To Drop

Rasmus Sandin, Maple Leafs – D: Sandin is an exciting defenseman, but for now he’s a pretty big gamble. He has a goal and seven points in 16 contests, which is pretty good, but he has just one assist in his last six games. More importantly, he’s averaging 13:40 minutes, which is a very small role for a defenseman to have. The 19-year-old has value in keeper leagues, but if you’re in a single season league you might want to consider other options.

Esa Lindell, Stars – D: Lindell had a goal and nine points in seven contests from Dec. 29-Jan. 14, but that hot streak is well in the rear view mirror at this point. He has just two assists in his last nine games and no points in his last four contests. He’s still worth keeping an eye on even if you do drop him given that he’s a decent defenseman who might be worth reacquiring at a later time.

Antti Raanta, Coyotes – G: Darcy Kuemper will be a game-time decision on Monday, but even if he doesn’t play, it’s pretty clear that his return is imminent. That means Antti Raanta’s time as the de facto starter is at an end. On top of that, Raanta is having injury problems of his own. He was a last minute scratch on Saturday due to a lower-body issue. Lower-body injuries have plagued Raanta this season, which makes his latest setback of particular concern.

Valeri Nichushkin, Avalanche – LW/RW: Nichushkin’s success this season has come in short spurts. His latest hot streak lasted just three games from Feb. 1-6 with him scoring two goals and five points over that span. If you picked him up hoping that his streak would continue, unfortunately that’s not likely to be the case. He’s been held off the scoresheet in each of his last two games.

Devan Dubnyk, Wild – G: This has easily been Dubnyk’s worst season since he joined the Wild. He has a 10-14-2 record, 3.33 GAA, and .893 save percentage in 27 games. He’s showing no signs of bouncing back either. He’s allowed at least three goals in seven of his last 10 games.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

The Buzzer: Elvis rolls on for Blue Jackets; Matthews hits 40

blue jackets goaltender derby
Getty Images
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THREE STARS

1. Elvis Merzlikins, Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets rookie needed only 16 saves to record his second straight shutout in a 2-0 win over the Red Wings. He’s now undefeated in his last eight appearances, the longest win streak by a Blue Jackets rookie goaltender ever. Merzlikins also took over the NHL lead in shutouts with five. According to the NHL, only nine different rookie goaltenders in league history have picked up a win in nine-plus consecutive regular season appearances.

2. Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs forward reached 40 goals for the second time in his career during a 5-4 overtime win over the Ducks. He also added three helpers, including one on John Tavares‘ winner. In tying his career high in goals, Matthews became the fifth player in franchise history to record multiple 40-goal seasons, joining the likes of Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Rick Vaive, and Mats Sundin.

3. Joel Eriksson Ek, Wild

Down 2-0, the Wild staged a comeback and Eriksson Ek played hero by snapping a 2-2 tie with 25.7 seconds to go with his second of the game.

Devan Dubnyk was tremendous with 31 saves, including this late blocker stop on Radek Faksa:

PASSING PLAYS OF THE NIGHT

• Facing his former team, Jimmy Vesey made an impact during a 3-2 Sabres win over the Rangers. He scored what ended up as the game-winning goal and assisted on another. That assist kicked off a lovely sequence that was finished by Sam Reinhart:

Zach Werenski broke the franchise single-season record for goals by a defenseman with his 17th following this excellent set up:

STATS OF THE NIGHT

Zemgus Girgensons has five goals in eight games at Madison Square Garden since the start of the 2015-16 season. (Jourdon LaBarber)

SCORES
Sabres 3, Rangers 2
Maple Leafs 5, Ducks 4 (OT)
Blue Jackets 2, Red Wings 0
Wild 3, Stars 2

————

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.