Owner Pegula: Sabres have gone through ‘two of the most successful seasons we’ve ever had’

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Statistically speaking, the last two seasons have been among the worst in Buffalo’s history, but Sabres owner Terry Pegula sees great value in those painful years. In fact, he would list them as “two of the most successful seasons we’ve ever had,” per the Associated Press.

Obviously, those losing records allowed the Sabres to draft second overall in back-to-back years (having lost the draft lottery both times). They used those picks to select Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, but general manager Tim Murray was also able to get plenty of other pieces for the rebuild over that span. He also acquired the likes of Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, and Robin Lehner in trades while moving other players like Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek to get future assets, including first round picks.

A couple rough seasons in the service of a long-term goal can make sense, but the success of the Sabres’ rebuilding effort will be measured by how they do going forward. They don’t have to look any further than the Edmonton Oilers to know how hard it can be to transition from a rebuilding phase to a competitive one. Having a generational talent like Eichel on the roster certainly helps, but he and the Sabres have a lot to prove.

Given that, we can’t call the last two seasons successful for Buffalo in terms of on-ice accomplishments, we’ll have to let history judge if the off-ice moves are as beneficial as Sabres fans hope.

Related: Gionta: Sabres’ offseason ‘excites guys in the locker room’

Despite rumors, Linden says Canucks haven’t tried to trade Higgins

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On Monday, Canucks president Trevor Linden addressed trade rumblings surrounding one of his team’s most veteran skaters, Chris Higgins.

“Chris Higgins is an important player on our team,” Linden said in a statement, per The Province. “We have not talked to any clubs about trading him.

“We value Chris both for his on-ice abilities and his leadership in the locker-room.”

That Linden responded to the Higgins rumors was telling… because, um, Linden’s kinda the reason they’re out there.

Last week, he and Vancouver GM Jim Benning caught heat during a ticketholder event, as fans voiced their displeasure over the club’s offseason moves. Benning was actually booed after revealing he could’ve traded veteran goalie Ryan Miller rather than fan favorite Eddie Lack.

After the event, Linden reportedly pulled aside some of the more vocal attendees for a mini-hotstove.

From The Province:

It was not an easy night for Linden or Benning.

“When you’re sitting in this chair, it’s not as easy as you think,” Linden said.

What he did do, when it was over, was call over the biggest critics of the night for a 10-minute session.

It was a nice gesture, but may have been ill-advised.

In it, Linden revealed several tidbits, including his pitch that the Canucks have been trying to trade Chris Higgins but have found they cannot move his contract.

In short order, the comments were all over social media, and then on the radio. The Higgins trade horse is officially out of the barn.

Maybe they’re hoping something will change in August — unlikely — or people will forget to ask Higgins when he comes back to town in two months. Again, unlikely.

(Take this for what it’s worth, but one attendee apparently recapped meeting Linden on HF Boards.)

It’s hard to know where this leaves Higgins, 32, who’s heading into the third of a four-year, $10 million deal with a pretty affordable $2.5M average annual cap hit. It’s not a Benning contract; Higgins was extended by Benning’s predecessor, Mike Gillis, and the deal includes a Gillis staple — a no-trade clause (granted, it’s a limited NTC.)

As such, it wasn’t surprising to hear rumors of the Canucks trying to move Higgins. Benning’s already shipped out Gllis-era holdovers like Lack, Kevin Bieksa, Zack Kassian, Jason Garrison, Ryan Kesler and Tom Sestito in his attempt to reshape the club — in that light, it would make sense that Higgins, who had 12 goals and 36 points last year, was dangled in potential trade talks.

Unless, of course, he wasn’t.

Benning takes heat after admitting he could’ve traded Miller

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A curious thing happened Thursday night during a town hall for Canucks ticketholders:

The GM got booed.

Jim Benning, who’s already come under fire this offseason, took some serious heat after admitting that — rather than dealing popular backup goalie Eddie Lack — he could’ve traded away veteran starter Ryan Miller.

More, from The Province:

Up to now, most believed the Canucks didn’t have many options when it came to their goalies.

Turns out, they had all the options.

“We could have moved Ryan Miller,” Benning revealed matter-of-factly. “There were teams calling on Ryan Miller.”

Benning was cut off by boos. Something that happened a couple of times.

He did not waver. He double downed in his belief in Miller, pointing out his high win total this year and reiterated that he wants a veteran as his No. 1 and a young goalie as his backup.

The Lack trade — Benning sent the 27-year-old to Carolina at the draft in exchange for a third round pick this year and a seventh-rounder next year — was widely critiqued by Canucks fans, who liked the personable Swede and didn’t like the middling return.

There was also widespread belief that, after backstopping the Canucks to the playoffs last year while Miller was injured, Lack would’ve been a capable and less expensive ($1.15M to Miller’s $6M) starter for a Vancouver team that appears to be in a transitional phase anyway.

Some saw Lack as the better goalie than Miller, period.

Benning, though, never saw it that way. The Province notes that a Lack-Jacob Markstrom tandem “was never going to be a thing” under this regime, and Benning essentially said the ‘Canes brought Lack in to be Cam Ward’s backup.

Which now makes the Carolina situation one worth monitoring. Should Lack wrestle the gig away from Ward and have success in a different market, it’ll only further stoke the flames under Benning’s chair.

Related

Linden defends Lack trade, thinks Canucks will have ‘real good goaltending next year’

Benning knows he ‘could get criticized’ for trading fan favorite Eddie Lack

Canucks hand Markstrom two-year, $3.1 mil deal

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The Vancouver Canucks announced that they have agreed to a two-year deal with goaltender Jacob Markstrom.

His contract will come with a $1.55 million annual cap hit, according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun.

The 25-year-old is set to enter the 2015-16 campaign as Ryan Miller’s understudy after Vancouver dealt Eddie Lack to Carolina on Saturday in exchange for the 66th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (Guillaume Brisebois) and a seventh rounder in 2016.

That trade was controversial, in part because Lack was a fan favorite coming off of a season where he posted a .921 save percentage in 41 contests and due to Markstrom’s struggles at the NHL level. In 50 career games, Markstrom has a 3.19 GAA and .896 save percentage.

At the same time, Markstrom posted 1.88 GAA and .934 save percentage in 32 games with AHL Utica in 2014-15 before leading the team to the Calder Cup Final with a 2.11 GAA and .925 save percentage in 23 playoff contests.

That was enough to convince team president Trevor Linden that he’s ready for the next level.

“I think if you look at the history of, whether it be Corey Crawford or Ben Bishop, or these types of players and how they perform at the American Hockey League level, and look at stats and numbers, you can put Jacob in that category,” said Linden. “He’s had an excellent year. He needs to continue to develop at the National Hockey League level, and we’re going to give him that opportunity.”

Vancouver also signed Linden Vey to a one-year, $1 million contract tonight.

Related: Linden defends Lack trade, thinks Canucks will have ‘real good goaltending next year’

Linden defends Lack trade, thinks Canucks will have ‘real good goaltending next year’

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SUNRISE — For a team that wants its “young kids to learn how to play in a winning environment,” the Vancouver Canucks are taking a bit of a gamble when it comes to their goaltending.

After trading Eddie Lack to Carolina, the Canucks intend to go with a tandem of Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom. The former is a 34-year-old who had a modest .911 save percentage last season; the latter is a 25-year-old who’s been great in the AHL but owns an .896 save percentage in 50 NHL appearances.

But team president Trevor Linden is confident that Markstrom, an AHL all-star this past season, is ready to take the next step.

“I think if you look at the history of, whether it be Corey Crawford or Ben Bishop, or these types of players and how they perform at the American Hockey League level, and look at stats and numbers, you can put Jacob in that category,” said Linden. “He’s had an excellent year. He needs to continue to develop at the National Hockey League level, and we’re going to give him that opportunity.”

Linden acknowledged that the decision to trade Lack, a fan favorite who also had a .921 save percentage last season, was going to be an “unpopular” one.

“People may say that a third-round pick — albeit 66th, which is a high third — wasn’t enough, but that’s what the market was. That’s what teams, 29 of them, were willing to do,” said Linden.

“We feel we’re going to have real good goaltending next year, with Ryan and Jacob. [Markstrom’s] a player that’s young and needs some time, and we’re going to give him that.”

The Canucks made another trade today, sending Harvard defenseman Patrick McNally (drafted 115th overall in 2011) to the Sharks for a 2015 seventh-round pick.

With the 66th pick they got for Lack, they drafted 17-year-old Acadie-Bathurst defenseman Guillaume Brisebois.