Linus Ullmark

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Skinner signs $72 million extension to stay with Sabres

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The Buffalo Sabres have a new coach and now they’ve locked up one the biggest names on the roster to a long-term deal.

Jeff Skinner is staying in Buffalo after the Sabres announced Friday night that he has signed an eight-year extension worth $72 million. The contract carries a $9M average annual value and runs through the 2026-27 NHL season. The cap hit is the second-highest on the team behind Jack Eichel, whose AAV is at $10M.

In his first season with the Sabres following last summer’s trade from Carolina, the 27-year-old Skinner set a career high in goals with 40 and tied his career high in points with 63. Of those 40 goals, 32 came at even strength.

Last week, James took a look at whether a hefty, long-term deal for Skinner was worth it. The backend of the deal may not look pretty once the forward is north of 30, an age where many snipers go cold, but general manager Jason Botterill needed to lock him up and show the fanbase that they are moving in a positive direction. The second half decline in 2018-19 left a sour taste in the mouths of fans and after watching Ryan O'Reilly get traded and excel with the St. Louis Blues, seeing Skinner walk for no assets in return on July 1 and produce somewhere else was not an option.

With Skinner tied down, next on Botterill’s summer to-do list figure out what to do with restricted free agents Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Evan Rodrigues, Jake McCabe, and Linus Ullmark, as well as unrestricted free agent and franchise favorite Jason Pominville.

MORE: Is Jeff Skinner worth $9M to Sabres?

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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.

Flyers, Blackhawks, Sabres, Lightning to Europe in ’19-20

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Jakub Voracek was psyched at the mere suggestion the Philadelphia Flyers might play an NHL game in his native Czech Republic.

”I’m not going to lie to you, it would be great,” Voracek said with a smile. ”Obviously to play an NHL game in your home country, it’d be awesome.”

Voracek will get that chance next season when the Flyers open the regular season against the Chicago Blackhawks in Prague on Oct. 4. The NHL on Thursday announced that matchup and two games between the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning in Stockholm in November as part of its now-annual Global Series.

It’s the third consecutive year the NHL is staging regular-season games in Europe and eighth overall. This will be Philadelphia’s first appearance as part of the series.

The games in Stockholm on Nov. 8-9 should feature a handful of Swedes, including Sabres 2018 top pick Rasmus Dahlin and 2018 Lightning Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman.

”Yes!” was how Dahlin described his first reaction to learning the news.

”I was so happy. I wanted to have it, but I wasn’t expecting it in my second year,” the 18-year-old following a 4-2 loss to Toronto.

”It’s great for me, but I also think it’s going to be amazing for my family and friends, too, to be able to see a live NHL game,” Dahlin said. ”And me playing there, a lot of them will never have a chance to see me play hockey.”

Dahlin noted it could also be a homecoming for several teammates in a Sabres organization stocked with Swedish-born players. Goalie Linus Ullmark and Johan Larsson are from Sweden, as are minor-league prospects and Victor Olofsson, Rasmus Asplund and Lawrence Pilut. Forward Alexander Nylander was born in Canada, but has represented Sweden on the international stage.

”It’s so fun to share it with other Swedes,” Dahlin said. ”It’s probably the best thing that could happen.”

The Sabres opened the 2011-12 season playing Anaheim at Helsinki, Finland, and then Los Angeles at Berlin, Germany.

This season, the New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers opened the regular season in Gothenburg, Sweden, and the Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets played twice in Helsinki.

Like the Devils and Oilers, the Blackhawks and Flyers will finish training camp in Europe and play an exhibition game against a local team. The Blackhawks will go to Germany and face Eisbaren Berlin on Sept. 29, and the Flyers will go to Switzerland and face HC Lausanne on Sept. 30.

The NHL is also expected to have more exhibition games in China, but that matchup has not yet been announced.

Aleksander Barkov can’t stop scoring ridiculous goals for the Panthers

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How’s your week going? For Aleksander Barkov, it’s been quite good.

The Florida Panthers captain has been on an offensive tear, scoring five goals and registering nine points in three games. In each of those three games he’s scored a highlight-reel goal.

Let’s take a look.

Sunday

The 2018-19 goal of the year competition might have ended Sunday afternoon when Barkov drove to the net and went between-the-legs to beat Carey Price.

He would end the night with his second career hat trick.

“I’ve seen those [goals] in the YouTube and in highlights, and I was just dreaming about maybe one day I can score that kind of goal,” Barkov said afterward. “I think I’ve tried that like 17 times in my career. It worked [for] the first time. I’m happy, but, of course, more importantly we got the two points.”

Tuesday

Continuing to add to his highlight reel, Barkov took a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau and brought it between-his-legs and nonchalantly tucked it under Buffalo Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark’s pad.

“I was kind of trying to look for a pass until the end,” Barkov said. “Then I just tried to jam it in the goalie’s pads, maybe get a rebound. Then, behind the net, I saw the puck was in the net. I would call it a lucky goal.”

Thursday

In a back-and-forth game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Barkov evened the score after a wild deflection from a Evgenii Dadonov shot-pass that was going very, very wide.

At only 23 years old, we have plenty of years left to enjoy the wonder that Barkov brings to the ice every night.

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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.

The Buzzer: Bishop blanks, Murray maintains, Ullmark unlucky

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Three stars

1. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars

Sometimes one goal is enough, with the Stars proving that.

But without Ben Bishop, that lone goal likely wouldn’t have stood as the game’s only. Bishop was solid, stopping all 27 pucks sent his way for his third shutout of the season, tying him for second in the NHL in that category. Bishop improved his season save percentage to .924.

Who needs run support when you have that level of goaltending? Keep reading.

2. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins

Murray was 10-2-0 entering Wednesday dating back to his return from injury on Dec. 15. And despite getting lit up in a 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Monday, Murray bounced back to make 33 saves to knock off the NHL’s top team in the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday Night Hockey.

Murray’s save percentage prior to his current run wasn’t great, but he’s chipping away at bringing it back to a respectable level, now at .910.

3. Linus Ullmark, Buffalo Sabres

On a night where he stopped 26-of-27 shots, all Ullmark needed, it seemed, was some help at the other end.

Bishop is the first star because of his shutout, but Ullmark rightly deserves a star of his own after keeping Buffalo in this one to the very end. The Sabres needed their goaltending to be better coming out of the all-star break, and Ullmark provided that.

It’s a shame then that he received no help.

Highlights of the night

Kendall Coyne Schofield was tremendous in her NBC debut:

Letang ties Coffey with this beauty:

Poor Ullmark:

Factoids

Scores

Penguins 4, Lightning 2
Stars 1, Sabres 0


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

Sabres goalies need to shake off tough month

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When the Buffalo Sabres look back on this season, they may consider January the month that broke their playoff hopes — or the month they survived.

Things certainly haven’t been easy lately, and you can see the strain most clearly in the way Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark have struggled.

Before the calendar hit 2019, Hutton went 13-11-3 with a .916 save percentage, while Ullmark managed an 8-1-3 record and .922 save percentage. Things went sideways in January, however:

Ullmark: 2-3-0, .893 save percentage.
Hutton: 2-2-0, .860.

That’s troubling, particularly since the Sabres seemed to decide to continue the transition from veteran Hutton (33 years old) to intriguing young netminder Ullmark (25).

It’s not all doom and gloom for the Sabres or their goalie duo, though. Consider a few factors:

  • Even with this slump, Buffalo’s enjoyed better team save percentage (.912) than the league average of .908.
  • The Sabres have found ways to win some of these tough games. Wednesday’s game against the Stars in Dallas won’t be easy (they’re closing off of a back-to-back set after holding off Columbus), but the good news is that they’ll end a five-game road trip. After that, they’ll begin what could be a fruitful seven-game homestand on Friday:

Feb 1: vs. Blackhawks
Feb 5: vs. Wild
Feb. 7: vs. Hurricanes
Feb. 9 vs. Red Wings
Feb. 10: vs. Jets
Feb. 12: vs. Islanders
Feb. 15 vs. Rangers

  • Having such a promising set of home dates is one reason why Buffalo’s goalies should shake off this slump. Another is simple enough: it’s still just a small sample size. You could probably zero in most precisely on the last six games as especially tough, as they’ve allowed 27 goals during that span.
  • Buffalo managed not to sink too far in the standings amid this turmoil. While they trail the Pittsburgh Penguins for the East’s second wild-card spot, it doesn’t seem like an insurmountable gap:

The Sabres face the Penguins two more times this season, and also have one more game remaining against the Canadiens, who sit at the third place in the Atlantic with 61 points in 51 games played (26 ROW), so Buffalo can influence its closest competitors, too.

None of this is to say that this will be an easy journey for a franchise that sorely hopes to end its playoff drought, but the Sabres could make up some ground if their confidence hasn’t been shaken.

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.