Conor Sheary

2019-20 Buffalo Sabres Eichel Olofsson Reinhart
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Looking at the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres.

2019-20 Buffalo Sabres

Record: 30-31-8 (68 points); sixth in the Atlantic Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference
Leading Scorer: Jack Eichel — 78 points (36 goals and 42 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves:

• Traded Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary to the Penguins for Dominik Kahun.
• Sent a conditional fifth-round pick to the Devils for Wayne Simmonds.
• Traded away Marco Scandella for the Sharks’ fourth-round pick, then flipped that fourth-rounder to the Flames for Michael Frolik.

Season Overview: 

Woof. What can you really say about the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres but, “Woof?”

The Sabres present a story that’s felt basically the same for far too long, only with a rotating cast of characters.

While Jack Eichel’s basically willed them from seasons that rank among the worst of the salary cap era, the Sabres remain disappointing. Whether the coronavirus claims the season and playoffs or not, Buffalo’s playoff drought will extend to nine consecutive seasons. They’re heading toward a string of 11 misses in 13 seasons, and haven’t won a playoff series since that nice run in 2006-07.

Again, woof.

Sabres fans have largely had it, as you can observe from their Duane Drain. And who can really blame them?

If new head coach Ralph Krueger made any real difference, it’s negligible, at least in the short-term. The hope is that maybe he’s building something, but you have to squint to see the potential beyond Eichel, Rasmus Dahlin, and others making progress.

The Sabres added to that dire feeling with some brow-furrowing trade deadline moves. The season felt long gone when they traded for the likes of Wayne Simmonds, although at least Buffalo only spent marginal draft picks. Selling probably would’ve been the wisest move, but PR-wise, fans are likely far beyond tired of that liquidation approach.

Considering how tough the Atlantic figures to be for the near future, this Sabres franchise has its work cut out for it. Terry Pegula hasn’t exactly earned a lot of goodwill regarding how he’s handled COVID-19, either.

At least Jack Eichel rules though, right?

Highlight of the Season So Far:

The Sabres started 2019-20 on a heck of a run, going 8-1-1 in their first 10 games. They claimed that they didn’t fear echoing the 2018-19 season by ultimately falling apart, but, well … they did.

Again, Eichel authored many of the Sabres’ crescendos, including a robust personal point streak.

Victor Olofsson played a big role in Buffalo’s hot start with a historic early run of scoring, and while both the player and power play slowed down, Olofsson shows some promise.

Eichel, Olofsson, Dahlin and others simply need more help. Maybe Buffalo can actually build on the positives … eventually?

MORE SABRES BITS:
Sabres’ biggest surprises and disappointments
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.

PHT Morning Skate: ‘No easy fix’ for emergency backup goalie situations like Ayres’

David Ayers NHL tries to fix emergency backup goalie situations EBUGS
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Bill Daly told reporters that there “are no easy fixes” for the NHL regarding emergency backup goalie situations like David Ayres suiting up for the Hurricanes. Ah yes, the league definitely must do something about the scourge that is getting a feel-good story that landed on outlets such as “Today Show” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Why would any league want scores of cheap attention if it comes with even an ounce of embarrassment? Preposterous! (Sportsnet)

• You’d think hockey people didn’t need to hear this, but stories like Ayres’ is why we love sports. (The Portage Citizen)

• Great stuff from William Douglas on memorable former NHL player Mike Grier, who ranks among four black assistant coaches in the NHL. Grier explains that his father Bobby Grier inspires his work ethic, as the elder Grier once was an assistant coach for the New England Patriots. (NHL.com celebrates Black History Month)

• Plenty of big names for the U.S. roster heading into the women’s world championship, including Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne Schofield, and Brianna Decker. If a familiar face isn’t there, it might be due to them having children. (Olympic Talk)

• Great news for the Blues, and really for hockey: Vladimir Tarasenko may return sooner than expected. As in, before the end of the regular season. (NHL.com)

• Blues GM Doug Armstrong explains why the team was quiet at the trade deadline. Frankly, Armstrong’s made enough splashes over the years that it’s understandable to sit one out. Plus, the Blues can make people roll their eyes by saying Tarasenko is their “trade deadline acquisition.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• If you only look at points, John Carlson ranks as the next Erik Karlsson when it comes to seemingly easy Norris Trophy calls. That said, the Capitals experienced a high-scoring blueliner getting downgraded before when Mike Green was at his fauxhawk’d peak. Could it happen again? Kevin Klein went into deep, fascinating detail on that question. (Japers Rink)

• Speaking of Capitals-related no-brainers, what about Alex Ovechkin playing a game in front of a Russian crowd? Daly says the league is working on it. (NBC Sports Washington)

• Adam Gretz argues that Conor Sheary can score enough to stick with Sidney Crosby on the Penguins’ top line. Pittsburgh showed off its new look in a narrow loss to the Kings on Wednesday. (Pensburgh)

• When Viktor Arvidsson is rolling, the Predators often roll with him. Amid a turbulent season, it seems like Arvidsson is finding his way. That’s extremely promising for Nashville’s chances. (A to Z Sports Nashville)

• Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman lays out his plan, explaining that the draft and young players are “the lifeblood of your team.” (NBC Sports Chicago)

• Senators fans waved goodbye to key players in multiple trades now, from Karlsson to Mark Stone to now Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Could Pageau be the end of that line? (TSN)

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.

New-look Penguins play first game since trade deadline on NBCSN

Hockey fans get their first post-trade deadline glance at the new-look Penguins on Wednesday. Then again, it’s also true that later versions of the Penguins will look different from the group that faces the Kings on NBCSN at 10:30 p.m. ET (stream here).

Penguins roll out new trade deadline additions in these lineups — for now

Like many other NHL coaches, Mike Sullivan likes to tinker with his combinations. Injuries forced Sullivan to do so anyway this season, and the Penguins’ trade deadline investments now give him a plethora of options. When/if certain players come back, the variety will only grow.

Let’s go forward line by forward line based on NHL.com’s projected combos for Wednesday, since that’s where Pittsburgh made acquisitions.

Jason ZuckerSidney CrosbyConor Sheary

As new-look as the Penguins feel, there seems to be warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the reunion of Crosby and Sheary. Personally, I never understood why Pittsburgh broke them up in the first place. (Especially if the answer is troublingly “to afford bad defenseman Jack Johnson.”)

In a lineup breakdown from The Athletic’s Josh Yohe (sub required), both Crosby and Sheary amusingly described each other as easy to play with. Sullivan’s comments provided a little more substance.

“He brings a speed element,” Sullivan said of Sheary. “He can finish. He’s good in traffic. A lot of attributes that Conor brings to the table are complementary to Sid.”

Sheary can think the game at a reasonable level with Crosby, and the early returns on Zucker indicate the same. (On paper, Zucker seems like a no-brainer fit for Crosby, but in reality not everyone clicks with 87.)

Still, there are a number of different factors that could break these fellows up. What if Jake Guentzel beats the timeline for recovery from his shoulder surgery, at least for the playoffs? Will Penguins eventually want a right-handed shot with Crosby instead of two other lefties?

This seems like a good mix overall, at least to start, though.

Bryan RustEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Business as usual there, basically. Rust and Hornqvist can work with Crosby if needed, so that’s nice.

Patrick MarleauEvan RodriguesDominik Simon

Trade deadline additions make two-thirds of this third line, and the potential is interesting. Simon ranks as the most feasible candidate to move up, possibly with Crosby again. While Marleau ranks as a bigger name, Rodrigues stands out as a fascinating wild card.

People have been noting Rodrigues’ potential as a hidden gem for some time.

(His underlying numbers still look good at Hockey Viz, although things slipped a bit in 2019-20 compared to more robust work in 2017-18 and 2018-19.)

The sheer variety of useful players in the Penguins’ top nine is really something, especially when you realize that Jared McCann could end up being a more regular fit as third-line center. Nick Bjugstad already feels like old news, considering the revolving door of Penguins forwards, yet he’s another interesting player if health eventually permits.

Sam LaffertyTeddy BluegerBrandon Tanev

Then you have what seems to be a pretty strong fourth line from a defensive standpoint. Quite a group.

(Oh yeah, and there’s also Zach Aston-Reese. Healthy scratches could eventually become straight-up awkward if most/everyone actually gets healthy.)

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Defense and other considerations for Penguins

NHL.com projects Pittsburgh’s Wednesday defensive pairings as such:

Jack Johnson — Kris Letang

Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz

Juuso RiikolaChad Ruhwedel

Naturally, injuries have been a factor for the Penguins’ defense (and also goalies including Matt Murray). Moving past players who have worked past injuries like Letang and Schultz, Pittsburgh has some significant blueliners on the shelf. It’s possible Brian Dumoulin may return with time to shake off rust before the playoffs, while rookie revelation John Marino is recovery from surgery after a wayward puck broke bones in his cheek.

In other words … the Penguins’ defense could continue to look quite different as things go along, much like their forward groups.

Despite all that turbulence, the Penguins figure to be a formidable opponent, particularly after stocking up with Zucker, Sheary, Marleau, and Rodrigues in recent times. Catch your first look at that new-look group against the Kings on Wednesday on NBCSN.

More: Kings aim to upset Penguins

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 Power Rankings: Teams that improved the most at trade deadline

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at the teams that did the most to improve at the 2020 NHL trade deadline.

We have the teams ranked in a handful of tiers from the potential playoff teams that made significant moves, to the teams that got worse in the short-term to maybe get better in the long-term, to the teams that do not seem to have a plan.

This is not a ranking of current team ability or play. It is simply a ranking of how each team did at the NHL trade deadline.

How did your team do?

To the rankings!

Teams that made significant moves

1. Washington Capitals. Brenden Dillon is the practical addition and gives them exactly what they need. Ilya Kovalchuk might seem like a luxury but they could actually use a little help on the power play and he might still have something left to offer.

2. Vegas Golden Knights. It remains to be seen as to how much he will play, but Robin Lehner will do more to improve their playoff chances than the coaching change did. Now Marc-Andre Fleury has someone to give him a break and the Golden Knights have a safety net if they need it.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning. They paid a steep price in terms of draft picks Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, but neither first-round pick should be very high. Both players are signed through next season on cheap contracts and Coleman in particular is an outstanding player.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. Still not sure about giving up Dominik Kahun, but they wanted to add depth at forward and they did exactly that. Jason Zucker will make the biggest impact, but Patrick Marleau, Conor Sheary, and Evan Rodrigues will greatly improve their bottom-six forwards.

5. Edmonton Oilers. They didn’t add a star, but they definitely made their lineup better. Connor McDavid and Andreas Athanasiou might be the fastest duo in the league if they play together.

6. New York Islanders. Adam Pelech‘s injury made an Andy Greene type addition a must, and while I am hesitant to pay a player having a career year in a contract year, Jean-Gabriel Pageau is a good player and a strong pickup. Even if a costly one.

7. Boston Bruins. I love the idea of Ondrej Kase and the potential he brings both now and in the future. They just need him to be healthy and stay healthy.

8. Carolina Hurricanes. They did what they needed to do given the circumstances on defense. Sami Vatanen‘s health will determine how that trade works, but I do wonder where Brady Skjei fits when everyone is healthy in future seasons. Vincent Trocheck is the addition to be really excited about here.

9. Vancouver Canucks. On one hand I don’t know if the Canucks are in a position to give up significant assets for a rental. On the other hand, have you seen the Pacific Division? Why not try something?

Teams that made small improvements

10. St. Louis Blues. Marco Scandella‘s name won’t steal a lot of headlines, but he’s a solid addition to the Blues defense and for a decent price.

11. Colorado Avalanche. Little surprising to see the Avalanche not utilize all of their salary cap space and go for a blockbuster addition (that is not to say they did not try), but Vladislav Namestnikov brings some versatility and skill to the bottom of their lineup.

12. Toronto Maple Leafs. Adding a backup goalie like Jack Campbell was a must. Kyle Clifford and Denis Malgin are fine bottom of the lineup additions, but aren’t going to change much. And you know what? That’s fine. This situation isn’t as dire as Toronto is making it seem.

13. Calgary Flames. Erik Gustafsson‘s success or failure in Calgary will depend on how they use him. He will give you offense. He will not give you much defense.

14. Buffalo Sabres. Trading for Wayne Simmonds in their situation is weird, but it didn’t cost much. Kahun is a sneaky good pickup. 

15. Philadelphia Flyers. Derek Grant could be an okay pickup as long as he keeps scoring on 18 percent of his shots. I do not know if Derek Grant can do that.

You got worse now, but it might pay off in the future

16. New Jersey Devils. This season turned out to be a mess and they traded a ton of talent off the roster, but they at least positioned themselves well in terms of draft picks. They now have three first-round picks this summer.

17. Ottawa Senators. With Pageau now off to Long Island, the only players remaining on the roster that played in the 2017 Eastern Conference Final are Bobby Ryan and Craig Anderson. They do have a ton of draft picks. Good draft picks.

18. Minnesota Wild. That rumored Zach Parise trade would have been interesting to see, but they did do well in the Zucker trade. Cale Addison is a strong prospect.

19. New York Rangers. I don’t hate the Chris Kreider contract. They are on the right track and could be a playoff team as soon as next season, and Kreider will still be a part of that. I don’t know that Skjei was worth that contract and they not only dumped it, they picked up a first-round pick for it. That said, it still creates another hole on defense they have to fill.

20. San Jose Sharks. They managed to get a first-round pick back (they were without one due to the Erik Karlsson trade) for Goodrow and collected a second-round pick and two conditional thirds (one of which could become another second-round pick). Maybe they can flip some of those picks this summer for a goalie.

21. Los Angeles Kings. They traded the players they needed to trade and have 11 picks in the 2020 class, including eight in the first four rounds.

22. Detroit Red Wings. Pretty much a similar situation to the Kings. Did they what they needed to do and got some draft picks. They still have a massive undertaking ahead of them over the next several years.

23. Anaheim Ducks. There was a lot of deck chair shuffling here, but trading Kase was a big move. I just wonder if they got enough for a talented player and for taking on a bad contract (David Backes). If Kase excels in Boson it will not look good for Anaheim.

Teams that mostly stayed the same (teams 24-28 — rank them in any order)

Arizona Coyotes. They made their big trade deadline addition in December when they got Taylor Hall.

Dallas Stars. There was a brief rumor that might be in on Joe Thornton but nothing ever came of it.

Nashville Predators. Getting a healthy Ryan Ellis back will do more for them than any trade could have done.

Winnipeg Jets. They did add Dylan DeMelo and Cody Eakin, but their playoff chances will still rest on the pads of Conor Hellebuyck.

Columbus Blue Jackets. They had almost no draft pick capital to trade, so mostly standing pat makes sense. What they really need is for the injuries to stop.

What’s the plan here?

29. Chicago Blackhawks. I’m just having a hard time seeing how this team, as constructed, gets significantly better before it gets significantly worse.

30. Montreal Canadiens. Here is what should concern Canadiens fans: This team isn’t very good, and I am not sure Marc Bergevin is aware of that reality.

31. Florida Panthers. Why spend all that money to hire Joel Quenneville and sign Sergei Bobrovsky only to give them a crappy defense, do nothing to improve the defense, and then trade one of your core players at what might be his lowest value for a quantity over quality return? What are you doing? What. Are. You. Doing?

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.

Penguins trade Dominik Kahun to Sabres for Conor Sheary, Evan Rodrigues

Sheary Penguins
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Conor Sheary is headed back to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford completed his second major trade of the day on Monday when he signed forward Dominik Kahun to the Buffalo Sabres for Sheary and Evan Rodrigues.

Sheary began his career with the Penguins and won two Stanley Cups with the team during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons before being traded in a salary cap move prior to the 2018-19 season. The Penguins emphasized at the time it was not a performance related decision and that they did not want to lose him.

Now they have him back, along with Rodrigues.

The name of the game here for the Penguins is clearly adding depth to the bottom of their lineup. They have been dealing with injuries all season, and were icing a fourth-line in recent weeks that was made up almost entirely of AHL call-ups.

Adding Sheary, Rodrigues and Patrick Marleau in an earlier trade from San Jose certainly helps address that.

What is interesting about this move is that they were willing to give up Kahun.

They acquired him from the Chicago Blackhawks over the summer for Olli Maatta, and after a slow start had really been making an impact as a two-way winger. He is still only 24 years old (making him the youngest player in the trade) and is a restricted free agent after this season. The latter point might have been part of what made him expendable in the eyes of the Penguins. They are always dealing with a salary cap crunch and already have several players that will be in need of raises after this season as RFA’s, including both of their current goalies (Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry) and forward Jared McCann. Marcus Pettersson‘s new contract will also begin next season.

Sheary is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Rodrigues is a restricted free agent.

As for Buffalo, this is a pretty strong pickup for a team that needs as much talent as it can get. Kahun isn’t going to be a star, but he should be a really good second-or third-line player and an upgrade offensively.

The Sabres also added Wayne Simmonds from the New Jersey Devils on Monday.

MORE: PHT’s Trade deadline live blog

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.