atlantic division

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.

Panthers have a lot to prove, starting with big test vs. Maple Leafs

Panthers face test in Atlantic third seed race vs. Maple Leafs
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What would be more embarrassing: the Maple Leafs or Panthers missing the playoffs? Because most signs point to the Maple Leafs and Panthers battling for one playoff spot as the Atlantic’s third seed.

There’s no question that the Maple Leafs missing the mark would draw more attention. Yet, as of Thursday, Feb. 27, I’d argue that Toronto would have more excuses than Florida. Not that such a notion would save anyone’s job, mind you, but it feels worth a mention.

Because, really, in a harsher market, there’d be more desperation in the air than the humidity in Sunrise as the Panthers host the Maple Leafs on Thursday.

[Maple Leafs perspective: can their banged-up defense survive?]

Panthers are a lot like Maple Leafs, but with fewer excuses

When you look at all the factors involved, these two teams are remarkably similar in strengths (scoring buckets of goals) and weaknesses (seeking shelter from a blizzard of goals). The biggest difference is that the Panthers’ most important players have generally stayed healthy, while the Maple Leafs feel like the NHL’s answer to Wile E. Coyote.*

The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have experienced injuries to Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and the current list features Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Andreas Johnsson.

The point isn’t about the Maple Leafs’ challenges, as they have company among the most bruised teams in the NHL. Instead, it highlights Florida’s lack of excuses. They spent big on Bobrovsky and Joel Quenneville yet … from a big picture perspective, their situation doesn’t feel all that different from last season. Prominent Panthers will need to look hard in the mirror if they fall short (particularly GM Dale Tallon, who made another baffling move in shipping out Vincent Trocheck).

* – OK, the Blue Jackets are probably Wile E. Coyote, but the Leafs take a beating, too. Maybe Tom of Tom & Jerry?

Florida has a slightly friendlier schedule, so … again, not many excuses

The Panthers should be deeply disappointed if they don’t hold an advantage over the Maple Leafs after the first week-or-so of March.

A look at the standings cements the notion that Thursday’s game is huge for both teams:

Panthers Maple Leafs Atlantic standings

But the stage is set for Florida to gain ground. While the Maple Leafs play four of their next five games on the road, the Panthers begin a five-game homestand with this crucial contest.

Other contextual situations set the stage for the Panthers to go on a run, if this team has it in them.

The Panthers face the Senators two more times this season, and also have one game apiece against the Devils and Red Wings.

Will the Canadiens sag by March 7, and if not then, by March 26? The Rangers might also run out of magic by March 30, while the Capitals might opt to rest key players during a season-closing contest on April 4.

Of course, the two biggest games seem obvious. Thursday’s game against the Maple Leafs in Florida could loom large, especially if it ends in regulation. The two teams meet for the final time in the regular season in Toronto on March 23.

Overall, the Panthers play 11 more games at home versus eight on the road, while the Maple Leafs see an even split (nine each).

No, that schedule doesn’t present a towering advantage for Florida, though it does seem like it’s more favorable. Instead, it makes it clearer that the Panthers have every opportunity to prove themselves, starting with Thursday’s big test against the Maple Leafs.

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.

Bruins hold off Rangers, improve lead atop Atlantic, NHL

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The Bruins and Rangers both came into Sunday playing good hockey. It makes sense, then, that Boston needed to work hard to beat the Rangers 3-1. By persevering, the Bruins improved their lead over Tampa Bay for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, and thus the entire NHL.

Charlie McAvoy opened the scoring with a strange goal. Charlie Coyle collected a shorthanded game-winner, while Mika Zibanejad scored New York’s lone goal. Patrice Bergeron iced the win with a remarkably fancy empty-netter.

Jaroslav Halak continues to be a strong backup for the Bruins, stopping 25 out of 26 shots. Alexandar Georgiev took the loss for New York, allowing two goals on 33 SOG. It was likely a frustrating game for Chris Kreider, who didn’t score despite four SOG and suffered a -4 rating.

Bruins – Rangers special teams battle

New York’s power play failures told the early part of the story.

Through the first two periods, the Rangers man advantage went 0-for-4. That number only tells part of the story, really. New York squandered a four-minute power play after Ryan Lindgren was bloodied by a high stick. Coyle dug the knife in deeper with that shorthanded goal later in the middle frame.

This Rangers team boasts some dangerous scorers, though, and Mika Zibanejad made that clear by breaking through. Zibanejad scored a power-play tally to tighten things up, with assists from usual suspects Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome.

Bruins bolster Atlantic lead, Rangers see streak ended

Again, these two teams had been playing well lately.

Boston clearly hears the footsteps of the hard-charging Lightning. The Bruins extended their winning streak to three games, and have won nine of their last 10 games (9-1-0). This updated look at that battle for the top spot in the Atlantic reminds that this was a valuable, hard-fought win for the B’s:

Bruins: 86 points in 60 games played
Lightning: 83 points in 59 GP

The Bruins fattened their lead in the Atlantic, which also ranks as the current Presidents’ Trophy race. Of course, the Lightning can slim that right back down to one point with by winning their game in hand.

Meanwhile, the Rangers suffered a painful blow to their shaky playoff hopes, falling to 64 points in 58 GP. This loss ended the Rangers’ season-long four-game winning streak; it’s also merely the Rangers’ third loss in 10 games (7-3-0).

NBCSN Hockey Day in America remaining schedule

Blues at Predators – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Bridgestone Arena alongside Darren Pang.

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 All-Star Game 2020: Pastrnak, Duclair power Atlantic past Metro

The Metropolitan Division won’t win the 2020 NHL All-Star Game after winning the 2019 edition. The Atlantic Division dispatched the Metro 9-5 in the first round. The Atlantic awaits the winner of the Central vs. Pacific Divisions.

As you’d expect, the game had a lot of goals, plenty of laughs and smiles, with very little defense.

Shea Weber did throw a rare check, though.

The gap between the two teams was exaggerated, though. David Pastrnak and Anthony Duclair both generated a hat trick and assist apiece, although their third goals were both empty-netters. Tyler Bertuzzi (four assists) and Victor Hedman (1G, 3A) were the Atlantic’s other four-point players.

Seth Jones (1G, 3A) ranked as the Metro’s only four-point producer.

Three Metro players (Chris Kreider, Kris Letang, and Jaccob Slavin) and one Atlantic (Mitch Marner) finished that round without a point.

T.J. Oshie got a big cheer for his nice goal:

Andrei Vasilevskiy enjoyed the best performance of the four goalies, stopping six out of seven shots. The Atlantic carried a 22-16 SOG advantage overall.

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 All-Star Game 2020: Pacific wins, Pastrnak MVP, Laila shines

The Pacific Division edged the Atlantic in the NHL All-Star Game final for 2020, with Connor McDavid setting up Tomas Hertl for the game-winner in St. Louis.

There was quite a bit else beyond that game though.

Fan-favorite Laila Anderson introduced the hometown Blues players, while Patrick Kane even got some cheers from Blues fans. There’s a complete rundown of the feel-good and exciting moments here.

As for the first two games of the night, the Atlantic beat the Metropolitan, while the Pacific ran away from the Central.

Format, rules for NHL All-Star Game

Four teams (one representing each of the Atlantic, Central, Metropolitan, and Pacific Divisions) square off in a two-round tournament. The three 20-minute games will be played 3-on-3.

In round one, the two Eastern Conference teams (Atlantic vs. Metropolitan) face off, while the two West teams (Central and Pacific) meet in the other bracket. The winners face off in round three.

Teams change ends at the 10-minute mark of each game. Shootouts decide any games that are tied after 20 minutes.

NHL All-Star Game jerseys

The NHL publicized those a few weeks ago. The goal was “to pay homage to the original sweaters of the St. Louis Blues and to transform the city’s acclaimed rhythm and blues history into a tangible form, the 2020 Honda NHL® All-Star Game jersey’s striping mimics a musical staff along the front and sleeves of the jersey. As another nod to the host city, the stitching elements are conducted in an eye-catching silver thread, inspired by the iconic Gateway Arch.”

Anyway, here’s what they look like:

All-Star Skills event

That was Friday night and, it seems a good time was had by all. Click here for a recap of the event, or watch the video below.

Recent NHL All-Star Game history: MVPs and winners

This represents the fifth time an NHL All-Star Game will go with this 3-on-3 format. Before that, the most recent format involved an entertaining (but maybe too embarrassing?) “fantasy draft” format. Since 1947, the NHL has gone with several other formats including Stanley Cup champions versus All-Stars, your typical clash of conferences, and North America vs. “The World.”

Here are the All-Star Game-winning teams in recent years. The events haven’t happened every season, as the Olympics and lockouts sometimes intervened.

2019: Metropolitan 10 – Central 5
2018: Pacific 5 – Atlantic 2
2017: Metropolitan 4 – Pacific 3
2016: Pacific 1 – Atlantic 0
2015: Team Toews 17 – Team Foligno 12
2012: Team Chara 12 – Team Alfredsson 9
2011: Team Lidstrom 11 – Team Staal 10
2009: East 12 – West 11 (OT)
2008: East 8 – West 7
2007: West 12 – East 9

Also, consider recent All-Star Game MVPs:

2019: Sidney Crosby
2018: Brock Boeser (quite memorably)
2017: Wayne Simmonds
2016: John Scott (also very memorably)
2015: Ryan Johansen
2012: Marian Gaborik
2011: Patrick Sharp
2009: Alex Kovalev
2008: Eric Staal
2007: Daniel Briere

NHL All-Star Game rosters

Here are the latest rosters from the league, which account for injuries and other absences.

Atlantic Division

David Pastrnak, BOS (2nd appearance) — captain

Tyler Bertuzzi, DET (1st)

Anthony Duclair, OTT (1st)

Jack Eichel, BUF (3rd)

Jonathan Huberdeau, FLA (1st)

F Mitchell Marner, TOR (1st)

Brady Tkachuk, OTT (1st)

Victor Hedman, TBL (3rd)

D Shea Weber, MTL (7th)

Frederik Andersen, TOR (1st)

Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL (3rd)

Tuukka Rask, BOS, has chosen not to play. F Auston Matthews, TOR, will attend but not participate in on-ice activities because of a wrist condition.

Metropolitan Division

Kris Letang, PIT (6th appearance) — captain

Mathew Barzal, NYI (2nd)

Nico Hischier, NJD (1st)

Travis Konecny, PHI (1st)

T.J. Oshie, WSH (1st)

Chris Kreider, NYR (1st)

John Carlson, WSH (2nd)

Jaccob Slavin, CAR (1st)

Seth Jones, CBJ (3rd)

Braden Holtby, WSH (5th)

Tristan Jarry, PIT (1st)

Jake Guentzel, PIT, F Kyle Palmieri, NJD, D Dougie Hamilton, CAR, G Joonas Korpisalo, CBJ, and F Artemi Panarin, NYR, were replaced because of injury. F Alex Ovechkin, WSH (captain), has chosen not to play.

Central Division

F Nathan MacKinnon, COL (4th appearance) — captain

Patrick Kane, CHI (9th)

Ryan O’Reilly, STL (3rd)

David Perron, STL (1st)

Mark Scheifele, WPG (2nd)

Tyler Seguin, DAL (6th)

Eric Staal, MIN (6th)

Roman Josi, NSH (3rd)

Alex Pietrangelo, STL (2nd)

Jordan Binnington, STL (1st)

Connor Hellebuyck, WPG (2nd)

Pacific Division

F Connor McDavid, EDM (4th appearance) — captain

Leon Draisaitl, EDM (2nd)

Tomas Hertl, SJS (1st)

Anze Kopitar, LAK (5th)

Max Pacioretty, VGK (1st)

Elias Pettersson, VAN (2nd)

Matthew Tkachuk, CGY (1st)

Mark Giordano, CGY (3rd)

Quinn Hughes, VAN (1st)

Jacob Markstrom, VAN (1st)

David Rittich, CGY (1st)

Jakob Silfverberg (personal), ANA, F Logan Couture (injury), SJS, and G Darcy Kuemper (injury), ARI, were replaced. G Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK, has chosen not to play.

Elite Women’s 3-on-3 breakdown, rosters

The two teams will feature nine skaters and one goalie made up of U.S. and Canadian players who are part of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association — a group that is boycotting playing this season as they push for a sustainable professional league. The game will go by IIHF women’s rules and feature two 10-minute periods with running time. Penalties will result in penalty shots for the fouled team.

Here are the rosters:

American All-Stars (Coach: Cammi Granato)
F Alex Carpenter
F Kendall Coyne Schofield
F Brianna Decker
F Amanda Kessel
F Hilary Knight
F Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson
F Annie Pankowski
D Kacey Bellamy
D Lee Stecklein
G Alex Rigsby Cavallini

Canadian All-Stars (Coach: Jayna Hefford)
F Meghan Agosta
F Mélodie Daoust
F Rebecca Johnston
F Sarah Nurse
F Marie-Philip Poulin
F Natalie Spooner
F Blayre Turnbull
D Renata Fast
D Laura Fortino
G Ann-Renée Desbiens

Referees Kelly Cooke and Katie Guay and lineswomen Kendall Hanley and Kirsten Welsh will officiate the game.

The 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 24 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2020 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 25 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE NHL ALL-STAR GAME COVERAGE:
• All-Star Game rosters
• NHL All-Star Game captains
• All-Star Game coaches
• Pass or Fail: 2020 All-Star Game jerseys
• Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 All-Star Game
• NHL Skills Competition to feature women’s 3-on-3, pucks shot from stands

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.