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Reinhart, Sabres end stalemate with two-year bridge deal

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The Sam Reinhart Stalemate is finally over.

The 22-year-old signed on the dotted line on Wednesday, inking a new two-year bridge deal with an annual average value of $3.65 million.

The deal is good value for the Buffalo Sabres, who are right up against the 2018-19 salary cap of $79.5 million. CapFriendly shows the Sabres with just over $2.8 million in cap space left but with the potential to have to pay out nearly $4 million in bonuses this season.

Like Josh Morrissey and Darnell Nurse before him, the deal means Reinhart will be a restricted free agent come the summer of 2020 and the Sabres will then have the option to hand him an eight-year deal.

And like Morrissey and Nurse, the deal is team-friendly in terms of the cap now and leaves the player betting on themselves for a significant pay raise in two year’s time.

Reinhart had a slow start to the season last year but ended up setting a career-high in goals with 25 to tie Jack Eichel for the team lead.

What’s most impressive about Reinhart’s year was how good he was down the stretch. In the final 44 games, he had 39 of his career-high 50 points and 20 of his 25 goals came in 2018, which tied him for 12th in the NHL during that span.

Important to re-hash this from The Athletic’s John Vogl, who 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.

As we wrote during Buffalo Sabres Day at PHT, Reinhart could find himself in a pretty juicy scenario playing on a line with Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner. Given Reinhart’s ability to make those around him better, his career-highs could climb to new heights this coming season.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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

Under Pressure: Carter Hutton

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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.

The pressure on Carter Hutton won’t be coming from the money the Buffalo Sabres paid for his services on July 1.

No, general manager Jason Botterill did the team a solid by signing Hutton to a deal where he makes less than $3 million per season to be a starting goaltender in the NHL.

The risk, financially, is low.

The pressure here is solely cemented in performance. If Hutton strays too far from the career-best numbers he posted this past season in St. Louis, then trouble will be afoot in Buffalo.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Three Questions | Building Off a Breakthrough]

Taking gambles on serviceable backup goalies, hoping that they turn into sufficient starting netminders, doesn’t always pay off (see: Scott Darling).

But with Robin Lehner not panning out, Buffalo needed to make a change. With Lehner becoming a restricted free agent (with no intention of qualifying him) and with Hutton available for the taking as an unrestricted free agent, the Sabres took the leap, as did Hutton.

Hutton comes into a Sabres team that looks vastly different from the team that gave up the third most goals-against in the league last year and the team that put up the least run support in the NHL.

Rasmus Dahlin’s arrival certainly helps on the backend, and the addition of Jeff Skinner should help out up top. More goals-for and perhaps a little more shot suppression will go a long way in Buffalo, if Hutton can perform in the task he’s been handed.

“I think for me my main goal right now is going in to win hockey games,” Hutton told NHL.com after he signed. “I’d love to get into the higher end of [50 starts] just to really give myself a goal. I think I play better when I get more minutes.”

Hutton posted a .931 save percentage last season in 32 games. It was his best season as a backup by far, posting a 17-7-3 record. They’re stellar backup numbers, for sure. But can they translate when you double the number of games played?

Hutton isn’t a proven workhorse, nor is it known how he will adjust to not having exceptional defending in front of him.

The Sabres, despite what they’ve built in front of Hutton, could be in serious trouble if he can’t.

Sure, Hutton’s contract is cheap for a starting netminder, but they have nothing proven behind him if this new marriage doesn’t work out. Linus Ullmark could very well be the future and is slated to come up from Rochester to be Hutton’s backup, but there’s no one to steady the ship should it hit turbulent waters.

All that aside, Hutton has one heck of an opportunity in front of him and if he can take those reins and run with them, he’ll be the steal of this offseason’s UFA class.


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

Changing losing culture top offseason priority for Sabres GM

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Having known mostly success over the past decade with the Penguins, Jason Botterill received a sobering introduction to life at the bottom of the NHL during his first season as Buffalo Sabres general manager.

”I’ve been here for one year and I was pretty (ticked) off and upset,” Botterill said during a season-ending news conference Wednesday, ”I guess I could be articulate, but I’ll just say it (stinks) that we won’t be watching live playoff hockey right now.”

Being on the outside looking in is an unusual position for Botterill, who spent the previous two Junes celebrating Stanley Cup championships as the Penguins assistant GM. He was hired last spring after the Sabres cleaned house by firing GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma.

If there’s anything Botterill can draw upon from his experience with the Penguins, is seeing the notable difference between what makes up a winning organization and a losing one in Buffalo .

The Sabres finished last for the third time in five years, and extended their franchise-worst playoff drought to a seventh season.

”Right now we have a losing culture here,” Botterill said.

He put the onus on himself, coach Phil Housley and players to find ways of inspiring change, be it with their training habits or communication and leadership abilities.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

”I don’t want to hear how disappointed they are. I want to hear what’s going to change,” Botterill said. ”It just can’t be about words. We have to have better results.”

Botterill backed the disheartening sentiments expressed by center Ryan O'Reilly during the team’s final media availability on Monday. O’Reilly said a losing mentality had crept into the locker room and led him to losing his love for playing hockey at times.

”I think he gave you an honest opinion. And in today’s sports world that’s a little bit unique,” Botterill said.

”When you don’t get the results you want, it can be really draining on a player,” he added. ”And what he said is probably indicative of a lot of our players within our organization. And that’s what we have to work through right now.”

Botterill began the news conference by saying Housley isn’t going anywhere after he struggled in his first year as coach. He credited Housley for developing some of Buffalo’s youngsters, and believes in the up-tempo style the coach began introducing this season.

As for the roster, Botterill didn’t rule out making drastic changes even if it meant shaking up the team’s core group of leaders.

”When you finish where we were, you have to look at everything,” he said.

Buffalo finished last in the NHL with 199 goals scored and 119 goals scored in five-on-five situations. The Sabres also matched a franchise low for home wins in any season by going 11-25-4 at Buffalo – not including an overtime loss to the Rangers in the Winter Classic at New York City in which the Sabres were the ”home” team.

If there was a bright side, Botterill looked forward to the draft in June, when Buffalo is guaranteed picking no worse than fourth overall, pending the results of the NHL’s draft lottery on April 28.

Botterill was impressed by Jack Eichel‘s development on the ice, where the third-year center set career bests with 25 goals and 64 points, and off the ice in continuing to mature as a leader.

Botterill, however, said it was premature as to whether the Sabres were prepared to award the 21-year-old Eichel the captaincy, a role that was not filled this past season.

”As excited as we are of Jack moving forward as a leader, it’s imperative that we have more players in that locker room step up,” Botterill said.

”This game cannot have one player lead the entire team. It’s imperative that we have stronger leadership bases in there.”

NOTES: Botterill said G Robin Lehner will not require surgery after the starter visited a specialist this week to assess a lower body injury. … In announcing he expects rookie G Linus Ullmark to play for Buffalo full time next season, Botterill said he’s not determined his second goalie, including Lehner, who is eligible to become a restricted free agent. … Backup Chad Johnson completed his one-year contract and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent.

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

NHL on NBCSN: Maple Leafs vs. Sabres

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a Sunday meeting between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here

The Toronto Maple Leafs will look to get back on the winning track when they face the Buffalo Sabres to end a four-game road trip on Monday, the first meeting between both teams this season.

Toronto’s trip away from Air Canada Centre hasn’t gone well, already having gone 0-1-2 coming into Monday’s game.

“It’s regroup time,” coach Mike Babcock told the Toronto Sun. “We have a Buffalo team that would be sick and tired about hearing about the Leafs. They’re going to play hard and we have to be ready to play hard. We have to get back on track.”

The Leafs don’t have much to worry about in the standings. They sit in third place in the Atlantic Division, three points back of the Boston Bruins for the second spot, 15 points ahead of the Florida Panthers, who sit in fourth in the and 11 points ahead of the New Jersey Devils for the first wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re a work in progress,” Babcock told the Toronto Star. “Washington slapped us, which goes to show you. We don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the other teams. We worry about what we’re doing. If there’s something to learn from, we learn from the other teams that are doing well.”

The Leafs are still without Auston Matthews, who remains shelved with an apparent shoulder injury. Matthews leads the Leafs in goals with 28 and is second in points with 50. His presence is obviously missed. Frederik Andersen allowed five goals in a 5-2 loss against the Washington Capitals in Annapolis on Saturday. He’s allowed three or more goals in 10 of his past 12 starts.

The Sabres are in a slightly different race, sitting one-point ahead of the Arizona Coyotes in the basement of the league.

The race for the best chance at selecting Rasmus Dahlin is on.

“It would be nice to be battling with a playoff spot or be competing with them,” Sabres winger Kyle Okposo told the Buffalo News. “But any time you play Toronto it’s a little different feel and it’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to it. The building is electric, definitely fun games to play in. They’re coming off a few games they’ve probably like to have back so we know we’re probably going to get their best and we’re looking forward to it.”

The Sabres have won three of their past five.

And some good news on the Buffalo front: Jack Eichel is back skating.

Mike Harrington reported on Sunday that Eichel returned to the practice ice for the first time since suffering the second high-ankle sprain of his career on Feb. 10.

There is no timetable on Eichel’s return, but getting some games in before the end of the season is in the cards.

“That’s the goal. But you never know how these things react,” Housley said. “You don’t want to put any timeline on it but it’s good to see him skating and that’s a step in the right direction. Obviously, he wants to play some games before the end of the year.”


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

A look at the potential suitors for Evander Kane

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Evander Kane‘s time is apparently up in Buffalo.

And on the surface that seems kind of puzzling.

They have a clear asset that likes to score — and can score (because everyone likes to score) — seems invested in the team and the city and has no clear desire to move.

What more could a general manager want?

Apparently four pieces – draft picks and prospects, likely.

Jason Botterill may be asking the world, but as TSN’s Darren Dreger pointed out, you don’t get what you don’t ask for.

Still, it’s just a tad odd from a team that hasn’t drafted or developed all that well to be wanting more things they can use to struggle at drafting and developing. What happens if Alexander Nylander doesn’t pan out? Kane is a proven commodity that would like to see the Sabres grow.

Cap issues are certainly a concern, and it’s likely that Kane will command more than the current $5.25 million that he’s been earning since the days when he was with the Winnipeg Jets.

But you’d think a team looking to build around Jack Eichel would want to keep in place some pieces that make their young superstar better.

Alas.

If Kane is to move at or before the trade deadline, he’s likely heading to a contender as a rental player.

For Kane, this would soften the blow of having to move away from a place he’s happy to be.

Kane has never played in an NHL playoff game before. And for a guy who’s enjoyed the spotlight over his career, he likely won’t have any qualms about playing on hockey’s biggest stage.

So who might be his potential suitors?

The easy guess here would be teams sitting in playoff spots that could use a shot of adrenaline in the scoring column.

Of the 16 teams currently occupying spots, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the San Jose Sharks are the lowest scoring with 126 goals for apiece this season.

The Blue Jackets are getting Vezina-caliber goaltending once again this season from Sergei Bobrovsky and San Jose remains one of the better defensive teams in the league after adopting the age-old policy that defense wins championships.

Whether or not those two teams are willing to make the kind of concessions that Botterill wants will depend, largely, on whether they can make a deep push and if they feel that time is now.

San Jose might even want to retain Kane’s services long-term if the fit is right.

Of the remaining 14 teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins will always be in the mix (even if they actually aren’t).

The Pens are right up against it on the cap and would have to dump something to make room, but it’s no secret they’d like to part ways with defenseman Ian Cole.

Perhaps the Los Angeles Kings would like to throw their hat in the ring.

The Kings are sitting on a six-game losing streak where they’ve scored very little and could use the shot in the arm to regain a playoff spot in a Pacific Division where it’s up for grabs.

Could Kane and the money phone make a splash in Vegas for a couple months? The Golden Knights have cap room, and if they’re going to turn into buyers ahead of their playoff push, Kane could boost an already high-scoring offense. But Vegas isn’t jeopardizing its future to meet Botterill’s demands.

Hell, it’s unlikely any of these teams meet that asking price. It simply needs to come down (perhaps a first-rounder and a prospect with a pick that has conditions strapped to it?).

Regardless of the return, the process will be interesting over the coming weeks.


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