Marcus Johansson

Jeff Skinner Buffalo Sabres disappointment surprise
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Buffalo Sabres: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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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.

Victor Olofsson ranks as biggest surprise for Sabres

With four points in six games to close out 2018-19, Olofsson showed promise. Little did we know, Olofsson was also providing a sneak preview for 2019-20. Olofsson began with a bang, carrying over that late 2018-19 season to score his first seven career goals on the power play, becoming the first NHL player to do so. (Or, at least as far as we know, being that the NHL began recording the stat in 1933-34.)

The Sabres’ power play and record eventually cooled off, and so did Olofsson. In Olofsson’s case, it was not as much as some might think, though.

Olofsson generated 35 points through 42 games before the All-Star break, settling down toward the end with seven points in 12 games (42 points in 54 overall). Olofsson finished third in Sabres scoring behind Jack Eichel (78) and Sam Reinhart (50) despite missing 15 games due to a lower-body injury.

While Olofsson rode some hot streaks, his 15.7 shooting percentage wasn’t so outrageous as to totally wipe out his impressive season. And you might chalk up some of his cold finish to injury issues, much like you’d downplay some of that hot start due to puck luck.

Split the difference, and the Sabres might have a nice find on their hands. Being that he was a seventh-round pick (181st overall in 2014) Olofsson seems like a gem for Buffalo. It just remains to be seen if Olofsson is a full-fledged diamond in the rough, or something a little less valuable.

Jeff Skinner‘s season a disappointment for Sabres, even with lowered expectations

Skinner’s brief Buffalo period already features a fascinating run of twists and turns.

My personal feeling was that the Hurricanes were selling low when they traded Skinner before 2018-19, being that his shooting percentage was just 8.7 in 2017-18. Skinner created instant chemistry with Jack Eichel in 2018-19, scoring 40 goals on a career-high 14.9 shooting percentage.

The stage was then set for Skinner to cost a bundle. Honestly, it felt like the Sabres kinda had to break the bank to keep Eichel, even if they were buying high with his new contract after buying low in that trade.

And now it … yeah, looks like the Sabres bought high. Skinner managed a mediocre 14 goals and just nine assists for 23 points over 59 games in 2019-20.

Skinner failing to look like a $9M forward wasn’t all that surprising. Still, such a drop in production was agonizing for the Sabres.

That said, there’s hope that Skinner might flip the script again — to an extent.

Skinner suffered through a 7.7 shooting percentage in 2019-20, tying a career low. It’s also fair to wonder if the Sabres would have been wiser to play Skinner with Eichel more often. More Eichel and more puck luck could boost Skinner’s numbers back to a higher level.

Will he be worth $9M? Probably not, but focusing on that dollar amount will only make things worse for Skinner and the Sabres.

New cast members, same Sabres story of disappointments

Sometimes the Sabres feel like a sad rerun of a failed sitcom.

Actually, maybe call it a failed reboot, like Hollywood’s recent attempts to make “The Fantastic Four,” a thing. Different cast members haven’t equaled box office buzz or critical acclaim.

Buffalo brought in new head coach Ralph Krueger. They aggressively attempted to boost their defensive depth with Colin Miller, Brandon Montour, and Henri Jokiharju. Marcus Johansson seemed like a wise budget addition.

With a hot 8-1-1 start, it seemed like there was hope for the Sabres. Maybe they’d be able to build off of that early sprint after falling off the tracks following a early rise in 2018-19, too?

Nope, the wheels came off once again. For yet another season, the Sabres couldn’t provide Jack Eichel with enough help. Sometimes there was bad luck, but other times, they were guilty of self-destructive moves. All the while, fans seemed on the verge of revolt.

***

(The biggest of all Sabres disappointments is probably Pegula Sports & Entertainment’s layoffs amid the coronavirus crisis, though.)

MORE SABRES BITS:
Looking at the Sabres’ 2019-20 season (so far?)
What is the long-term outlook for the Sabres?

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.

NHL pushes back timeline on potential resumption of season

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Don’t count on hockey being played any time soon.

The NHL significantly pushed back its timeline of when it can potentially resume playing by several weeks, if not a month or more, as a result of the new coronavirus pandemic.

The league and NHL Players’ Association told players Monday they can go home – even outside of North America – and must self-isolate through March 27 while the season is on hold. But the NHL also cautioned that it will not be able to even provide guidance on the potential reopening of team practices for another 45 days, which could push any potential return to play into May.

The new directives come on the heels of the CDC’s recommendation against gatherings of 50 or more people in the U.S. for the next eight weeks. The NHL said ”depending on world developments,” consideration will be given to reopening facilities after the self-quarantine period ends in late March but practices for the 31 teams would not happen late April – at the earliest.

”I think in light of the CDC recommendations, it’s hard to foresee that we’re looking at much happening here in March or even April, in my opinion,” NHL player agent Jay Grossman said.

That’s a major switch from Friday, when the league held out the possibility of players being able to return to team facilities and working out and skating in small groups.

The latest decision leaves open questions as to whether the NHL can complete its regular season, which was suspended Thursday with 189 games remaining, and whether it might have to alter its playoff format to avoid the postseason from pushing into the summer months.

Last week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he remained optimistic about resuming play and still awarding the Stanley Cup, which has been handed out every year since 1893 except for 1919 because of the Spanish flu outbreak, and 2005 when a lockout wiped out the entire season.

Though the NHL followed the NBA’s lead in suspending its season, Bettman declined to place a time frame on how long the ”pause” would last. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver last week said his league’s hiatus would likely last at least a month.

”The pause will be until it’s appropriate and prudent and safe to start back up,” Bettman had said. ”Nobody knows how long the hiatus may be. Nobody, even the medical community, can predict it with certainty.”

Bettman and NHL and NHLPA executive director Don Fehr each said Friday he was not aware of any player testing positive for coronavirus.

On Monday, Arizona Coyotes defenseman Aaron Ness became the first NHL player publicly known to have been tested for COVID-19. Ness’ agent, Neil Sheehy, said results came back negative after his client followed NHL guidelines to seek out testing for flu-like symptoms.

”He never thought he had it to begin with, to be quite honest,” Sheehy said. ”What happened is the league was saying if you have a sore throat, if you have a runny nose, if you have a cough, call the trainer and don’t come to the rink, and so he did that.”

The NHL’s new directive in allowing players to return home led to players and coaches scrambling to make travel plans.

In Buffalo, New York, Sabres forward Marcus Johansson initially hoped to travel home to Sweden on a flight out of nearby Toronto. Those plans changed when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the country was shutting its borders except to Canadians and Americans, while also imposing a 14-day self-quarantine to those entering the country.

Johansson was instead attempting to book a flight home through New York City.

In an email to The AP, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said there was little the league could do regarding travel restrictions.

”It’s a consequence of where we find ourselves. Nobody’s fault,” Daly wrote.

The U.S. government has imposed a travel ban from Europe for non-citizens that extends until mid-April. There are currently 233 European players on NHL rosters, including leading scorer Leon Draisaitl from Germany, and there are under contract in the minors. How many might return home is unknown.

”I’ve spoken to some players who are doing their best to obviously scramble to return to the safest, most comfortable environment that they can get to at this point,” Grossman said.

In the meantime, the American Hockey League followed the NHL in a decision reached by its executive committee on Monday. The 31-team league announced the indefinite suspension of its regular season won’t be lifted before May, and was also recommending its teams work on returning players to their primary homes.

Overseas, the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League took a one-week pause during its playoffs to determine a a new format and schedule for its six remaining teams. The decision came after Finland-based Jokerit and Kazakhstan-based Barys Nur-Sultan pulled out of the playoffs amid the pandemic.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Bruins need linemate for Krejci and DeBrusk

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Bruins have one of the best lines in hockey. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak grab most of the headlines around the team, and rightfully so. But we often overlook one of their consistent offensive threats.

Boston has been searching for secondary scoring for a while now. The expectations are that general manager Don Sweeney will pull the trigger on a deal before the Feb. 24 trade deadline. What he’s really looking for is someone to play with second-line center David Krejci.

The 33-year-old is the highest paid player on the Bruins roster and although he isn’t the most productive, he’s still a model of consistency for their younger players. The veteran is coming off a 73-point season last year and he’s on his way to hitting the 60-point mark again in 2019-20.

Last month, he missed back-to-back games with an upper-body injury. Since coming back, he’s picked up five points in just four contests.

Krejci has spent most of the year with Jake DeBrusk, who has picked up 11 points in his last 10 games, on his wing. The duo could use another reliable face on their line. The two have spent almost 377 minutes on the ice together this season, per Natural Stat Trick. But there hasn’t been much consistency on Krejci’s other wing. The Bruins center has spent time with Danton Heinen, Pastrnak, Marchand, Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork.

The key for Sweeney will be for him to find a right winger that can skate on Krejci’s line on a full-time basis. Chris Kreider, Ilya Kovalchuk, Tyler Toffoli and Ondrej Kase could all be options for Boston in the near future. Of course, the asking prices will likely determine who the Bruins can go get, but anyone of those forwards could fit in on that second line.

Don’t get it twisted, the Bruins are good enough to go another run to the Stanley Cup Final with their current roster.. They have the goaltending, the defense, and the forwards to be considered one of the favorites to come out of the East. But if they want to elbow their way to the front of the line, they’ll need to make at least one splash before Feb. 24.

The Bruins brought back all six of their leading scorers from last year’s playoff run. Their seventh best scorer, Marcus Johansson, was a trade acquisition from the New Jersey Devils. Johansson put up a respectable 11 points in 22 games, which is exactly the type of production they could use from a right winger on the second line.

Of course, trade deadline deals don’t always pan out, but the Bruins have a history of making these short-term acquisitions work for the best.

The Bruins will head into tonight’s game with five-point advantage over the Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the Atlantic Division (Tampa has a game in hand). They’re also one point behind the Washington Capitals for first place in the Eastern Conference.

Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Blackhawks-Bruins game from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Liam McHugh anchors studio coverage with Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and NHL insider Bob McKenzie.

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Teams that need to be most active at trade deadline

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take another look ahead to the trade deadline (Feb. 24, 3 p.m. ET) and the teams that are in most need of a move.

Some teams need some help just to get in the playoffs.

Others need the missing piece to take them from a playoff team to a Stanley Cup contender.

We are trying to focus on teams that have a chance to make the playoffs and be potential buyers.

Important to note, just to avoid any confusion: This is NOT a ranking of team quality or which team is playing best. It is strictly a ranking of which team is need of making a trade to add to its roster over the next few weeks. We take an occasional break from simply ranking team performance. This is one of those times. 

To the rankings!

Bubble teams with most pressing needs

• New York Islanders. Their overall record looks great, but the Islanders have been an average (at best) team for two months now and are still in desperate need of offense. Lou Lamoriello has made just one trade in his year-and-a-half with the team (he acquired Matt Martin not long after he was hired) and it’s time for him to add to his roster.

• Edmonton Oilers. With the Pacific Division being as weak as it is with no clear-cut favorite at the moment there is actually manageable path here for the Oilers to make a deep run in the playoffs. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can take over any game and win it by themselves, but they can’t do it by themselves every single night. Get them some forward help and finally make something out of the best scoring duo in the league.

• Florida Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky is taking all of the blame for their goal prevention issues, but the defense bleeds shots and chances against. If they shore that up a little Panthers fans would have reason to be excited.

• Toronto Maple Leafs. They could use a backup goalie upgrade to take some of the workload off of Frederik Andersen. They could also use a defensive upgrade.

• Columbus Blue Jackets. They do not have the trade assets to go all in like they did a year ago, but a little extra offense would go a long way.

• Vegas Golden Knights. Like Toronto, some goaltending depth would be significant for the stretch run of the regular season. They could also use an upgrade to their blue line.

• Carolina Hurricanes. The Dougie Hamilton injury creates a pretty big hole on their blue line. Maybe a spot for Sami Vatanen here?

Contenders that could use some extra help

• St. Louis Blues. They’ve found more offense than I expected them to without Vladimir Tarasenko, but they are in the market for a top-six winger. That could put them over the top for a repeat run in the West.

• Pittsburgh Penguins. You know Jim Rutherford is going to make a trade. He just is. It is what he does. He always does. The only question is whether he adds a top-line winger to replace Jake Guentzel, or if he adds some depth to his fourth line, or makes a tweak to his defense. He might even do all three.

• Colorado Avalanche. The X-factor in the West because they could do pretty much anything they want with their trade assets and salary cap space. When you have a window to win the Stanley Cup you owe it to yourself, your players, and your fans to go for it. That window is there for the Avalanche, and they have the long-term salary flexibility to add someone that is not just a rental.

• Dallas Stars. As long as their goaltending holds up they will be a tough out, but they need more offense.

• Boston Bruins. A depth move or two along the same lines as the Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson additions last year would seem to be in order here.

Teams that need to figure out what they are

• Chicago Blackhawks. Stan Bowman needs to decide if his bubble team is good enough to add to right now and if he wants to risk losing Robin Lehner and/or Erik Gustafsson for nothing this offseason. They are in the playoff race, but not enough of a lock to be a true buyer.

• Calgary Flames. They weren’t as good as their record looked a year ago, but they are probably not as bad as their current record. The lack of a true contender in their division might push them to make a move.

• Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers’ trade deadline plans might depend on which version of the team shows up over the next two weeks.

• Nashville Predators. If they figure out the special teams and get in the playoffs this could be a team that goes on a run. But they put themselves in quite a hole that getting there is going to be a struggle and have some pending free agents. They are in that middle ground between buyer and seller. The next few games will dictate where this goes.

Is there room for another move?

• Arizona Coyotes. They already made their big move — Taylor Hall — and a lot of people that aren’t paying attention to their situation may not realize just how close they are to the salary cap. Do they have the flexibility — and the resources after adding Hall — to make another move? Seems like this is the roster they will sink or swim with this season.

• Vancouver Canucks. They do not have a lot of salary cap space, their first-round pick (assuming they make the playoffs) is going to Tampa Bay as a result of the J.T. Miller trade, and for as good as they have been they still need to keep their eyes on the bigger, long-term picture. Their options are very limited.

Really now, what do these teams actually need?

• Tampa Bay Lightning. On paper this is still one of the most complete rosters in the league. They could always tweak something at the bottom of the lineup, but there is nothing here that is a major need.

• Washington Capitals. The biggest (and maybe only) question with the Capitals right now is the fact Braden Holtby may not be very good anymore and is a question mark going into the playoffs. The good news is his replacement (Ilya Samsonov) is already on the roster and looks to be outstanding.

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.

The Buzzer: Blues edge Flames in shootout; Eichel sets new career high

The St. Louis Blues celebrate their 5-4 shootout win over the Calgary Flames
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Three Stars

1) David Perron, St. Louis Blues

After making the All-Star Game for the first time in his NHL career, Perron started the second half of the season with a two-game point streak. He added a goal, an assist and a shootout tally as the Blues defeated the Flames 5-4 in a back-and-forth battle that ended in the skills competition. The 31-year-old forward notched his 22nd of the season when he hammered home a loose puck in front to knot the game at 2-2 late in the first period. Perron also made a nifty pass to help St. Louis exit the zone before Zach Sanford tied the game early in the final frame. Additionally, the Blues snapped a three-game losing streak.

2) Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames

The Flames alternate captain is still a bit behind his 82-point total pace from last year after surpassing his previous career-high by 18 points set the season before. Monahan remains a critical piece in the Flames’ lineup as they prepare for a playoff push in the tightly contested Pacific Division. The 25-year-old recorded his 400th career point when he snapped off a wrist shot from the slot at 15:43 of the first period to give Calgary a 2-1 lead at the time. He would go on to record his second of the game, another wrister from the slot, early in the middle frame to even the score at 3-3.

3) Mark Borowiecki, Ottawa Senators

It’s not often an empty-net goal helps an NHL player land on this list, but Borowiecki’s game-sealing tally late in the third period was quite the play in the Senators’ 5-2 win against the Sabres. Ottawa’s alternate captain willingly went down on one knee in order to block a one-timer from Marcus Johansson to help preserve a one-goal lead at the time. After the block, Borowiecki quickly gathered himself, collected a loose puck and fired it off the boards into the empty cage. The Senators lead the NHL with 11 shorthanded goals.

Highlights of the Night

Blues forward Robert Thomas feathered a beautiful cross-ice pass between a couple of Calgary Flames to set up Alexander Steen to open the scoring.

In his 500th NHL game, Jaden Schwartz recorded his 17th of the season when he redirected a pretty pass from Brayden Schenn.

[RELATED: Predators facing difficult road in playoff push | How the Canucks climbed to top of Pacific Division]

Blooper of the Night

Who should get credit for this empty-net goal?

Stat of the Night

Scores

Ottawa Senators 5, Buffalo Sabres 2

St. Louis Blues 5, Calgary Flames 4 (SO)

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.