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Red Wings sign Dylan Larkin to five-year, $30.5 million deal

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The Detroit Red Wings leading point-producer is now their highest paid player.

The Red Wings locked up 22-year-old center Dylan Larkin on a five-year deal worth $30.5 million on Friday. The deal has an annual average value of $6.1 million, some $16,667 more than Henrik Zetterberg makes to take the average annual value title.

Larkin had 16 goals and 47 assists last year, doubling his point total from the year previous after getting a nearly four-minute bump in ice time per game. Larkin is the best player on a team that came into the 2017-18 season as the oldest team in the NHL.

Larkin foreshadowed Friday’s signing earlier in the week.

“Something’s coming,” Larkin told Sportsnet. “I’ve told everyone I think it’ll be before training camp. It’s right there. I’m just waiting to iron out the details.”

Larkin will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the deal in 2023.

Larkin is a player the Red Wings can build around as they work on rebuilding and leaving Jurassic Park behind. Larkin moved from the wing to center this past season, excelling in his new role as the team’s franchise center.

Larkin had 2.24 points/60 last season and had his best season in terms of Rel CF% at 2.25.

“His best years are ahead of him. Dylan brings a lot of determination and passion,” general manager Ken Holland told reporters on Friday.

The move leaves the Red Wings counting $3.2 million over the salary cap, which is set at $79.5 million for this coming season. A roster move will be necessary before the season begins. Teams are allowed to be over the cap by 10 percent during the offseason.

Johan Franzen is an LTIR candidate, however. He has a cap hit of nearly $4 million and hasn’t played in two years. Shedding his salary would put the Red Wings under, and they’ve made all their offseason signings with Larkin’s signature.

If not, the Red Wings will have to shed salary through a trade.

Larkin’s deal should make things interesting across the border in Toronto. William Nylander has yet to sign with the Maple Leafs. He’s a restricted free agent and compares well with Larkin.

The Leafs are facing a massive cap crunch next season and Nylander now has a template for his next deal.

Sam Reinhart, also an unsigned RFA, will also benefit from Larkin’s deal.


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

Three questions facing the Buffalo Sabres

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future.

Today we look at the Buffalo Sabres.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Building Off a Breakthrough]

1. Will all the turnover on the roster amount to a turnaround on the ice?

There’s been a lot of change in Buffalo this summer.

A quick recap:

IN: Jeff Skinner, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, Carter Hutton, Conor Sheary, Matt Hunwick, Scott Wedgewood

OUT: Ryan O'Reilly, Robin Lehner, Chad Johnson, Josh Gorges, Benoit Pouliot

Change can be good, and for the Sabres, any amount of change likely betters than compared to last season. But there’s not much of a guessing game here. Names like Skinner, Berglund and Sheary already mean good things for Buffalo, as does a certain Rasmus Dahlin.

It might be shaky at the start. There’s going to be a feeling out process for all these new guys. But there’s a good shell in Buffalo now that should equate to more wins, providing Hutton can handle the load of a No. 1 goalie in the NHL.

Buffalo has done enough to pencil its name into the playoff conversation.

2. Can Kyle Okposo rekindle his form from the New York Islanders years?

Two concussions in less than a year, and while they’re all scary, his first one was a nightmare.

That’s what Okposo has had to deal with, along with watching his production fall off from where it was on Long Island.

It’s been a tough couple of seasons with the Sabres. Playing on a lesser team, Okposo, concussions and all, hasn’t been able to reach the near point-per-game pace he found in his final three seasons with the Islanders.

It’s likely that Okposo will play on the right side of Casey Mittelstadt next season. Hopefully, a summer of healing from his latest concussion in March will turn into a bounce-back year from Okposo.

3. Speaking of Mittelstadt, can he turn a solid college season and an impressive debut with the Sabres into a productive season as a second-line center? 

Buffalo’s depth at center may be it’s strongest attribute, even after losing Ryan O’Reilly to a trade this offseason.

There’s a lot of guys who can play the position, be it full-time or in a pinch, including Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, both who were part of the return for O’Reilly from the St. Louis Blues.

Options are good.

Mittelstadt had five points in six games to close out the season with the Sabres after his season at the University of Minnesota ended. He showed he can perform at the college level and found success early in the NHL.

If he can hold down the fort on the second line, it allows the Sabres far more flexibility with how they handle their other lines. Having Berglund center the third line, for instance, spreads the wealth of talent down further and the team wouldn’t have to consider moving Sam Reinhart off the wing where he put up a career-year last season, and place him at center.

Mittelstadt showed a brief glimpse of his worth at the end of last season. It will be interesting to watch what he can do to start the next one.


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

Building off a breakthrough: Sam Reinhart

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Buffalo Sabres.

At first glance, Sam Reinhart‘s season looks only to be a modest increase from his three previous seasons in the NHL.

His 25 goals was a career-high, surpassing the 23 he scored just his rookie season, and his 50 points were three more than his sophomore campaign.

Not much of a breakthrough, right?

It’s not until you see when Reinhart did most of his damage that you get the sense that, perhaps, he broke out in a big way.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Three Questions | Under Pressure]

Reinhart struggled to find points in the first half of the season. Up until the clock struck midnight to flip the calendar from 2017 to 2018, Reinhart had posted just 11 points in 38 games.

Given that he had 50 points and there were 44 games left in the season, some quick math shows just how good Reinhart’s second half was. The 22-year-old rattled off 39 in the remaining 44 games of the season playing mostly on the wing with the now-departed Ryan O'Reilly.

What remains to be seen from Reinhart is what he can do if Phil Housley moves him back to center with O’Reilly gone. Jack Eichel occupies the first-line center role and it’s expected that Casey Mittelstadt will figure into that spot on the second line. Patrik Berglund, who came over the O’Reilly deal, can play center on the third line, thus keeping Reinhart in the top-six and potential on the right-wing next to Eichel and opposite of Jeff Skinner.

That’s a juicy proposition for the top line, and Reinhart showed the ability this season to better those around him.

The Athletic’s John Vogl wrote about this subject in June:

Reinhart’s passing skills and hockey IQ make him an intriguing center candidate. Though not the fleetest of foot, he can drive the offense. According to the numbers at NaturalStatTrick.com, Reinhart trailed only Evander Kane and Jason Pominville in shots generated relative to his teammates and ranked fifth in fewest shots allowed. O’Reilly was noticeably better with Reinhart than without him.

And Vogl goes on to point out that experiments at center haven’t necessarily worked out over Reinhart’s first three seasons. 

Reinhart is a solid net-front presence and sitting him in front of goal on the power play can result in good things, an example which you can see below.

Reinhart has still yet to sign a new deal, but that will come with time.

What will be interesting to watch is how his form from the second half of last season translates into the start of the upcoming campaign.

Reinhart showed he can flirt with a point-per-game pace, and if the Sabres and get that, then it means good things for Eichel, Skinner or Mittelstadt, depending on how Housley sorts out his lines, and of course, the Sabres as a whole.


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

Where they stand: Atlantic Division

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As summer rolls on, PHT will examine the four NHL divisions and see how each individual team stands. 

With August approaching, NHL GMs are mostly transitioning from “time at the cottage” to “tropical drinks on the beach.”

There’s more work to do, but much of it may happen closer to training camp time, aside from some deals to settle RFA situations and avoid salary arbitration. This seems like a great time to ponder which teams look likely to rise or fall in each division, so let’s go in alphabetical order.

Boston Bruins

Summer summary: “Meh” seems like the right word to summarize Boston’s off-season.

They lost the Ri-Nashes (Rick Nash and Riley Nash), swapped backups, said goodbye to some depth players, and signed John Moore to a somewhat bewildering contract. So, yeah, meh.

More to do?: The B’s covered their free agent bases already, so their near $3 million in space (via Cap Friendly) could come in handy, with a “rental” probably making most sense.

The most interesting questions revolve around making some near-future calls regarding defense.

Brilliant young defenseman Charlie McAvoy‘s rookie contract expires after next season, while Zdeno Chara has to slow down at some point, right? The Bruins are lucky that Chara is OK with one-year commitments, but a raise is coming for McAvoy. Maybe they’d be better off settling on an extension now, rather than after another high-level season?

Where they stand: On somewhat shaky ground.

Consider this: the Maple Leafs pushed them to a Game 7 without John Tavares. The Lightning didn’t make any big splashes, yet they creamed the B’s with their current crew. Florida finished last season on a strong note, and could be really dangerous if the Mike Hoffman gamble works out.

So, the Bruins face challenges even if they maintain last season’s often-impressive progress. What if some key players hit the aging curve hard, too? Patrice Bergeron is somehow 33, and they feature some old Davids (Backes and Krejci) along their brilliant young one (Pastrnak). Chara is 41, and even Brad Marchand is 30.

On the other hand, the Bruins entered 2017-18 with some worries, and instead looked really promising while seeing some young players emerge. It wouldn’t be shocking to see some young talent rise to the occasion once again.

Buffalo Sabres

Summer summary: The Sabres traded Ryan O'Reilly, and probably lost that trade, yet they may have improved overall this summer.

For one thing, the package they landed for ROR should at least help them get deeper. More obviously, Rasmus Dahlin is now in the organization, and he could very well pay significant dividends as a rookie. Speaking of rookies, Casey Mittelstadt may also be a difference-maker.

Landing Conor Sheary is pretty neat, especially if he finds almost as much chemistry with someone like Jack Eichel as he did with Sidney Crosby.

Between those additions and going with Carter Hutton instead of Robin Lehner in net, the Sabres should be very interesting this season. Now, will interesting translate to better?

More to do?: Sam Reinhart stands as a significant player still in need of a contract, as he’s currently a 22-year-old RFA.

With no arbitration date set, that situation might drag on for a while. Sure, Reinhart hasn’t been spectacular considering that he was the second pick in 2014, but he’s hit 20+ goals twice and scored 50 points in 2017-18. You can see where there might be some room for haggling there.

Without a Reinhart contract settled, the Sabres have about $12.2M in cap space. Buffalo’s likely better off waiting and seeing if real progress is possible before spending much more of that surplus.

Where they stand: Possibly in that same awkward “baby steps” stage that they seem perpetually stuck in?

There’s a lot to like with what Buffalo’s done – although, even if ROR needed to be traded, it’s not an upgrade – but it still feels like a work in progress.

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Detroit Red Wings

Summer summary: Detroit still seems a bit stuck in purgatory, adding veterans (Thomas Vanek and Jonathan Bernier) you’d expect more of a contender to seek. There’s still a vibe of “one foot in, one foot out” when it comes to a should-be rebuild.

At least they seemed to get the 2018 NHL Draft very, very right, though. Filip Zadina fell to them at the sixth pick, and Joe Veleno going 30th seemed to be a potential steal, too. You never know how college-age players will actually turn out, but these prospects seem quite promising. Getting those picks right matters a lot more than minor free agent signings.

More to do?: The Red Wings signed reasonable bridge deals with Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou, but Dylan Larkin is still an RFA. PHT’s advice is for the Red Wings to sign Larkin for as long as possible.

That’s about it, unless the Red Wings can convince other teams to take some of their bad contracts.

Where they stand: They seem slated to be mediocre, but will they be bad enough? Because they’re better off being really bad and landing another premium prospect. Oh yeah, and they should also try to get rid of bad contracts.

Florida Panthers

Summer summary: After enduring jokes about Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith during much of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Panthers … didn’t commit any major unforced errors. Progress.

Then again, if Mike Hoffman ends up being a disruptive force, maybe they did make a mistake? Eh, at least it’s a much smarter summer on paper.

More to do?: The Panthers don’t have any significant RFAs to deal with, and not much cap space, particularly for a franchise that frequently gets described as a “budget team.” Landing Hoffman gives this team a pretty robust top-nine of forwards, so that will probably have to do.

Where they stand: The Panthers finished 2017-18 on a tear, and it seems like they’ve gotten better heading into 2018-19. Aleksander Barkov centers one of the best top lines in the NHL, Vincent Trocheck‘s second trio really got things going later in the year, and Hoffman could give them more punch (whether it means adding to existing strengths or giving the third line a boost).

From here, it sure seems like Florida has playoff potential. Then again, we’ve seen this movie before.

Montreal Canadiens

Summer summary: Another year, another questionable trade featuring another player who seemed to absorb inexplicably harsh criticisms.

Much like P.K. Subban, Alex Galchenyuk‘s seemingly inevitable trade happened, netting Montreal Max Domi. The Canadiens also managed to get Joel Armia, while throwing fans a bone by bringing Tomas Plekanec back (his turtleneck never looked right in Maple Leaf blue anyway).

It will be fascinating to see if Jesperi Kotkaniemi was a worthy choice at third overall or if the Habs reached. It also remains to be seen if he can make the team, and if doing so would even be beneficial for either the player or the Habs.

More to do?: Ideally? Or maybe not?

The Max Pacioretty situation remains unsettled, as they haven’t been able to trade the winger and allegedly don’t seem particularly interested in signing “Patches” to an extension.

It’s a nerve-wracking situation. On one hand, Pacioretty seems less valuable as the season goes along, at least if a side deal for an extension would be a no-go. On the other hand, Habs GM Marc Bergevin doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in his ability to land proper value in trades. Maybe no move would somehow be better than another bad move?

Where they stand: It’s been frustrating to watch Montreal bleed talent year after year, a painful Bergevin tradition. You can’t totally dismiss the Canadiens’ chances while they have Carey Price in the mix. Yes, his contract is terrifying, particularly long-term, but it’s feasible that he could still generate elite work. If so, the Canadiens could very well compete for a playoff spot.

Is it really best for them to scratch and claw to get in the playoff bubble instead of landing another high-end pick, though? Probably not.

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Ottawa Senators

Summer summary: Woof.

Oh, you wanted more? The Senators have been a full-fledged disaster, both on and off the ice, during the past few months. And they haven’t even traded Erik Karlsson yet. Again, woof.

More to do?: Again, that Karlsson trade is brewing, and allowing it to drag into the regular season would rank as yet another ugly distraction for a team that’s setting a new standard for being substandard.

Beyond the enormously important Karlsson situation, the Senators have two lingering RFA situations (both slated for salary arbitration): Mark Stone and Cody Ceci. Stone, in particular, stands as a crucial consideration. Already sour fans could become outright outraged if the Senators nickle-and-dime Stone out of town.

Where they stand: Normally, they’d have every reason to tumble down the rankings and try to land Jack Hughes.

The Matt Duchene trade, and Ottawa’s decision to make the fourth pick in 2018, means that Colorado gets their 2019 NHL Draft pick. So Senators fans can’t even enjoy the cognitive dissonance of half-enjoying their team’s failures thanks to tanking, as the team doesn’t even have that luxury. (Did we mention “woof?”)

The Senators sometimes surprise the hockey world by winning when not expected, and it’s fair to expect that Craig Anderson will be better next season – he couldn’t get much worse – but the outlook is quite dismal.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Summer summary: Instead of landing a big name – so far? – the Lightning instead raised some eyebrows by handing hefty extensions to J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh.

The most important extension was handed to Nikita Kucherov. It might seem strange to call a $9.5M cap hit a bargain, but considering what Kucherov brings to the table, what he’s paid now, and what he’d get on the open market … yes, it’s a big bargain.

So, even though the Lightning haven’t made another splashy addition, Stevie Y hasn’t exactly been loafing.

More to do?: Can they still win the Karlsson sweepstakes? The Lightning rank among the teams who’d be most sensible if Karlsson is a mere rental, even though there’s talk that Tampa Bay is one of the few placed he’d be interesting in signing an early extension. If Karlsson talks reignite, then there’s quite a lot of work to do.

One way or another, it sure wouldn’t hurt to move Ryan Callahan‘s contract. One also can’t help but wonder about Anton Stralman. Are the Lightning content to let him play out his contract and then leave?

Where they stand: The Lightning head into 2018-19 as a genuine contender, with or without a splashy addition.

Honestly, the McDonagh trade’s greatest benefits might be seen this season, as players often struggle to make a full impact amid the rush of being moved around the deadline. McDonagh gets to settle in with a training camp and extension in hand, so maybe he’ll be more effective?

As good as the Lightning seem – and they appear poised to be a strong team – they could fall in the second round and not really underachieve. That’s because of the NHL’s playoff setup, which could set the stage for annual showdowns with the Leafs.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Summer summary: Oh, no big deal. Basically a leisurely stroll.

The Maple Leafs accomplished something incredibly rare in the NHL salary cap era, landing a true superstar free agent in John Tavares. Adding Tavares to Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri gives the Buds the sort of center depth just about any franchise would envy.

That would be a big enough change, but the Maple Leafs also saw big organizational changes, and in some cases departures.

The team is now in Kyle Dubas’ hands, as he became GM while Lou Lamoriello and others left town. Key subtractions also happened to the roster, as James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Roman Polak, and Matt Martin are all gone.

Expectations will be sky-high in Toronto.

More to do?: People will appraise the Dubas era for more than just signing Tavares, as he faces quite the juggling act in trying to navigate new contracts for William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner.

Nylander is most pressing, as he still needs a contract heading into 2018-19 as an RFA. Meanwhile, Matthews and Marner can be signed to extensions, but they’re both entering contract years. It’s tough to imagine the Maple Leafs saving a lot of money in letting any of those situations drag out, especially if Marner ends up on a line with Tavares.

(Pro tip: Tavares’ wingers get paid.)

Where they stand: Maple Leafs fans have, for the most part, been patient when it comes to Brendan Shanahan’s rebuilding plan. Fans and media have been holding out for a moment like this, though, so the stakes are skyrocketing.

Yes, the Maple Leafs have some flaws, as they lack a true shutdown defenseman. Still, there’s talent even in that area, and Toronto’s forward group and an underrated workhorse goalie in Frederik Andersen make for a formidable opponent.

It’s going to be a huge challenge for Mike Babcock to mold all of these pieces into a true contender, especially considering capable competition, particularly with Tampa Bay. There’s a strong chance that this roster will live up to the hype, but it won’t be a cakewalk.

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.

Sabres should not trade Ryan O’Reilly

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Look, when you nab the top pick of the draft, chances are you’re in a rebuild.

Whether they wanted to be in this spot again or not, the Buffalo Sabres certainly played like a rebuilding franchise once again in 2017-18, putting themselves in a position to win the Rasmus Dahlin lottery. The Swedish defenseman stands as quite the balm after this team’s been humiliated by multiple stunted attempts at growth.

Ryan O'Reilly clearly chafes at these stumbles.

He memorably opened up after this rough season, stating that he believed that the Sabres eventually adopted a “losing mindset.”

“It’s crept into all of our games. Yeah, it’s disappointing. It’s sad,” O’Reilly said in early April. “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.”

When you utter a comment like that, it’s only natural to find your name in trade rumors. That’s especially true for an expensive player like O’Reilly, who carries a $7.5 million cap hit through 2022-23.

The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that, while the Sabres are willing to listen to trade offers for anyone not named Jack Eichel or Casey Mittelstadt:

Botterill isn’t shopping O’Reilly, but the feeling here is he’s being prudent. If you call the Sabres GM these days, he’ll listen on anybody you’re asking about except Eichel and Mittelstadt. Montreal and Vancouver are well-known to be interested in O’Reilly, and Carolina is looking to completely retool its team under new owner Tom Dundon.

I must agree with Harrington’s overall point that the Sabres shouldn’t trade “ROR.” At least, not right now.

Allow me to expand among that sentiment.

Back in March, The Athletic’s James Mirtle discussed (sub required) “how the Maple Leafs’ rebuild left the Sabres’ in the dust.” Mirtle and others have praised Toronto for rebuilding in a smart fashion: tearing away the fat, keeping useful prime-age players, and then crossing your fingers that you’ll get lucky and land some blue-chip players.

In that analogy, I believe that Ryan O’Reilly could be Buffalo’s (admittedly more expensive) answer to Nazem Kadri.

O’Reilly might not be a star player, but he’s the type of two-way center that teams need in the playoffs. His possession stats and faceoff skills, all while taking on some tough assignments, point to his potential to battle for Selke nominations if he can find himself on better teams. The Sabres should make it a point that he finds himself on better teams in Buffalo.

“ROR” has generated 20+ goals in four of his last five seasons, generating at least 55 points in all five. That might not blow your mind, but that sort of production is very helpful, especially when you consider how much of a “plus” player he is from a defensive standpoint.

At 27, he’s still smack-dab in the middle of his prime, and his contract doesn’t provide too many worries from an “aging curve” perspective. It only looks bad when your team is floundering, as the Sabres have been … but might not be forever.

The most obvious upgrade is the one that inspires some level of tentativeness: Dahlin should help their defense. Considering how bad that blueline group has been, it’s not outrageous to picture the much-hyped prospect to immediately step into an important role.

There will be growing pains, no doubt, yet Buffalo’s already given up one of its few, reliable scorers in (understandably and inevitably but painfully) trading away Evander Kane. If you want to make real progress, you need to add more than you subtract. The Sabres need to get back on that wavelength rather than taking more steps back, as they’d do if they traded O’Reilly for futures.

Speaking of futures …

One thing that alleviates much of the discomfort of the O’Reilly price tag is the bountiful young talent in Buffalo.

Dahlin would be on his entry-level contract for three seasons, almost certainly burning off his first in 2018-19. Mittelstadt’s rookie deal will expire after 2019-20. If Alex Nylander can get on track and at least be an everyday NHL player, that’s another ELC to Buffalo’s benefit.

Sam Reinhart showed signs of progress lately, and it’s plausible that the Sabres will reach an affordable deal with the RFA. Buffalo also will see some problem contracts burn off soon, as Jason Pominville‘s $5.6M goes away after 2018-19 and Zach Bogosian‘s $5.1M mark mercifully dissolves after two more seasons.

Getting cheap production from Dahlin, Mittelstadt, (ideally) Nylander, and possibly Reinhart nullifies much of the hand-wringing over how much O’Reilly costs.

And the Sabres can make him more worth keeping by adding more talent around him.

They’ll need to address their goaltending situation one way or another, whether that means re-signing promising RFA Robin Lehner, finding someone else, or possibly a combination of two.

Considering that Buffalo currently only has just $55.8M committed to the cap (via Cap Friendly), it’s conceivable that they could make a big splash. How does John Carlson feel about sweaters and snow tires?

***

Now, there’s the possibility that some team would offer a truly equitable trade.

If it was a pure “hockey trade,” than Buffalo would have to at least consider moving O’Reilly. Getting a strong defenseman would possibly be worth parting ways with an effective-but-expensive second-line center.

Overall, though, the Sabres need to move forward rather than falling back or taking lateral steps. As much as landing Dahlin (er, “the first pick”) brightens Buffalo’s future, it also makes a strong argument against punting the present.

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.