Lawrence Pilut

PHT Morning Skate: NHLers and visas; Youppi! the HOFer

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• “NHL players who need their work visas extended through the post-season were ‘strongly encouraged’ this week to return to Canada or the United States (depending on which of the two countries they play in) by June 21.” [Sportsnet]

• Surveying medical experts to get their thoughts on the NHL’s Return to Play plan. [The Score]

• Canadiens mascot Youppi! has been inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame. [CTV]

• The Ottawa Sun apologized and ran a correction on Friday for errors in two stories published by the paper last week about the Senators Foundation cutting ties with the NHL team. [TSN]

• Despite not having a pick in the first two rounds, the 2017 Draft has paid off for the Blue Jackets. [1st Ohio Battery]

• John Stevens and Peter Laviolette remain in the hunt for the Devils’ coaching job. [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

• Why did Sabres defenseman Lawrence Pilut leave for the KHL? [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• The NHL Coaches’ Association clinic provides a stepping stone for black coaches with a weeklong gathering offering opportunities for learning, networking, and mentoring. [NHL.com]

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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.

Pilut skips on Sabres by signing 2-year contract in Russia

BUFFALO, N.Y., — Buffalo Sabres defenseman Lawrence Pilut is forgoing a chance to continue his NHL career by signing a two-year contract with Russia’s Chelyabinsk Traktor.

The signing was announced by the Kontinental Hockey League team Tuesday, and comes after Pilut had difficulty establishing a regular role over the past two years in Buffalo. The Traktor said in a release that Pilut was offered an opportunity to enjoy more playing time in Russia.

The Sabres can’t block the signing, because their season officially ended two weeks ago when the NHL approved going ahead with a 24-team expanded playoff format, which eliminated Buffalo.

Because Pilut was eligible to become a restricted free agent, the Sabres can still retain his NHL rights through the next three years by issuing him a qualifying offer.

The 24-year-old Swedish-born player spent the past two years splitting time between the Sabres and their minor-league affiliate. Pilut had no points while limited to playing 13 games with Buffalo last season under first-year coach Ralph Krueger.

Overall, he had a goal and six points in 46 NHL career games, and 10 goals, 49 points in 67 games with AHL Rochester.

The playmaking, undersized defenseman was a highly touted free agent when he signed with Buffalo two years ago. The 5-foot-11 Pilut made the jump to the NHL following a season in which he was the Swedish Hockey League’s defenseman of the year after leading blue liners with 30 assists and 38 points.

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.

Sabres put injury-plagued D-man Zach Bogosian on waivers

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres placed Zach Bogosian on waivers Friday in a move that could give the injury-plagued defenseman a new home and open a spot on Buffalo’s crowded blue line.

Bogosian goes on waivers just over a week before the NHL trade deadline. He asked for a trade earlier this season.

The 29-year-old has been in and out of the lineup with hip injuries and has also sat as a healthy scratch. He missed the first 22 games of this season recovering from offseason hip surgery – his second in there years – and has been a healthy scratch in seven of Buffalo’s past eight games.

Bogosian counts $5.14 million against the salary cap in the final year of his contract.

He would be assigned to Rochester of the American Hockey League if he clears waivers and would still count $4.07 million against Buffalo’s cap.

Bogosian joined the Sabres in 2015 in a multiplayer trade with Winnipeg that was then-general manager Tim Murray’s attempt to rebuild the roster. The deal hasn’t panned out for Buffalo, which is now on its third coach and second GM and is in jeopardy of extending the NHL’s longest active playoff drought to nine years.

He has a goal and four assists in 19 games this season and 53 goals and 141 assists in 636 regular-season games with the Atlanta Thrashers, Winnipeg Jets and Sabres.

The Sabres then freed up another roster spot by assigning defenseman Lawrence Pilut to the minors. The two moves leave Buffalo with just six defensemen on its roster.

Buffalo is coming off a 4-3 overtime win over Columbus and off until hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday night.

Sabres’ Brandon Montour out rest of preseason with hand injury

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Buffalo Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour will miss the remainder of training camp because of a hand injury and it’s uncertain whether he’ll be ready for the start of the season in two weeks.

The Sabres released no details of Montour’s injury on Thursday.

The team said it will provide an update on his status at the end camp. It’s unclear when Montour was hurt after he logged more than 17 minutes in a 4-1 preseason loss at Columbus on Tuesday.

Montour is a fourth-year NHL player and projected to play a top-four role on Buffalo’s blue line. He was acquired in a trade with Anaheim in February.

Buffalo will start the season minus defensemen Zach Bogosian and Lawrence Pilut, who are recovering from offseason surgery.

The Sabres also announced forward Scott Wilson and defenseman Casey Fitzgerald are listed day to day with lower body injuries.