Terry Pegula

Buffalo Sabres: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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.

Victor Olofsson ranks as biggest surprise for Sabres

With four points in six games to close out 2018-19, Olofsson showed promise. Little did we know, Olofsson was also providing a sneak preview for 2019-20. Olofsson began with a bang, carrying over that late 2018-19 season to score his first seven career goals on the power play, becoming the first NHL player to do so. (Or, at least as far as we know, being that the NHL began recording the stat in 1933-34.)

The Sabres’ power play and record eventually cooled off, and so did Olofsson. In Olofsson’s case, it was not as much as some might think, though.

Olofsson generated 35 points through 42 games before the All-Star break, settling down toward the end with seven points in 12 games (42 points in 54 overall). Olofsson finished third in Sabres scoring behind Jack Eichel (78) and Sam Reinhart (50) despite missing 15 games due to a lower-body injury.

While Olofsson rode some hot streaks, his 15.7 shooting percentage wasn’t so outrageous as to totally wipe out his impressive season. And you might chalk up some of his cold finish to injury issues, much like you’d downplay some of that hot start due to puck luck.

Split the difference, and the Sabres might have a nice find on their hands. Being that he was a seventh-round pick (181st overall in 2014) Olofsson seems like a gem for Buffalo. It just remains to be seen if Olofsson is a full-fledged diamond in the rough, or something a little less valuable.

Jeff Skinner‘s season a disappointment for Sabres, even with lowered expectations

Skinner’s brief Buffalo period already features a fascinating run of twists and turns.

My personal feeling was that the Hurricanes were selling low when they traded Skinner before 2018-19, being that his shooting percentage was just 8.7 in 2017-18. Skinner created instant chemistry with Jack Eichel in 2018-19, scoring 40 goals on a career-high 14.9 shooting percentage.

The stage was then set for Skinner to cost a bundle. Honestly, it felt like the Sabres kinda had to break the bank to keep Eichel, even if they were buying high with his new contract after buying low in that trade.

And now it … yeah, looks like the Sabres bought high. Skinner managed a mediocre 14 goals and just nine assists for 23 points over 59 games in 2019-20.

Skinner failing to look like a $9M forward wasn’t all that surprising. Still, such a drop in production was agonizing for the Sabres.

That said, there’s hope that Skinner might flip the script again — to an extent.

Skinner suffered through a 7.7 shooting percentage in 2019-20, tying a career low. It’s also fair to wonder if the Sabres would have been wiser to play Skinner with Eichel more often. More Eichel and more puck luck could boost Skinner’s numbers back to a higher level.

Will he be worth $9M? Probably not, but focusing on that dollar amount will only make things worse for Skinner and the Sabres.

New cast members, same Sabres story of disappointments

Sometimes the Sabres feel like a sad rerun of a failed sitcom.

Actually, maybe call it a failed reboot, like Hollywood’s recent attempts to make “The Fantastic Four,” a thing. Different cast members haven’t equaled box office buzz or critical acclaim.

Buffalo brought in new head coach Ralph Krueger. They aggressively attempted to boost their defensive depth with Colin Miller, Brandon Montour, and Henri Jokiharju. Marcus Johansson seemed like a wise budget addition.

With a hot 8-1-1 start, it seemed like there was hope for the Sabres. Maybe they’d be able to build off of that early sprint after falling off the tracks following a early rise in 2018-19, too?

Nope, the wheels came off once again. For yet another season, the Sabres couldn’t provide Jack Eichel with enough help. Sometimes there was bad luck, but other times, they were guilty of self-destructive moves. All the while, fans seemed on the verge of revolt.

***

(The biggest of all Sabres disappointments is probably Pegula Sports & Entertainment’s layoffs amid the coronavirus crisis, though.)

MORE SABRES BITS:
Looking at the Sabres’ 2019-20 season (so far?)
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: Best fits for top trade targets; Bruins have room to work with

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.

• Adam Gretz chooses ideal landing spots for top trade deadline targets. Chris Kreider making the Blues even more relentless? Yikes. (YardBarker)

• Gus Katsaros supplements that with an analytics-based look at those who have already been traded, and those who might move. (Rotoworld)

• Speaking of players who were already traded, Tyler Toffoli shares his experience hustling to join the Canucks. Yes, it involved sharing some joking texts with once-again-teammate Tanner Pearson. (Sportsnet)

• Breaking down how Brenden Dillon fits with the Capitals. Interesting point that while Dillon is prone to taking penalties, the Caps’ strong PK might mitigate that drawback. (Japers Rink)

• The Bruins possess healthy cap space, making a trade deadline move relatively simple by contender standards. They’d only need to juggle a bit if they landed a big-budget rental. (NBC Sports Boston)

• I’ve pondered how teams might practice “load management” with players plenty of times before. With that in mind, it’s nice to see a deeper discussion of the practice — or lack thereof — in the NHL. Dom Luszczyszyn discusses how parity makes NHL teams less likely to rest players than their NBA counterparts, but how smart hockey teams should explore similar tactics anyway. (The Athletic, sub required)

[MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker]

J.T. Miller has delivered at a staggering level for the Canucks on the ice. It turns out he’s elite when it comes to heartwarming gestures, too. (Canucks)

• Cycling back to Miller’s on-ice impact, The Point recently broke down his breakthrough. Sheng Peng discusses how well Miller gels with Canucks star Elias Pettersson. (The Point)

Braden Holtby has looked sharp lately. After struggling through much of this regular season, could Holtby be back on his game? (Nova Caps)

• Kim and Terry Pegula told Sabres GM Jason Botterill that they are not looking to hire a president of hockey operations. Botterill apparently said in the past that he prefers to report directly to ownership. All of that said, it’s not clear if the Pegulas might be looking for a new General Manager. (Buffalo News)

• Things were bad for Milan Lucic, particularly in November. With James Neal red-hot, people were making unkind comparisons. But even more directly, he found himself benched, and pondered retirement because the game just wasn’t fun anymore. Like a frosted tip, it seems like Lucic has his sparkle back at the moment, though. (Sporting News)

• Andrew Berkshire recently broke down the five best defensive pairings in the NHL, including Nashville’s Roman JosiRyan Ellis combo. (Sportsnet)

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 fans seem to be running out of patience

Sabres fans losing patience Duane
Getty Images
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The Buffalo Sabres face a grim possibility: losing their Duanes.

Linus Ullmark‘s significant injury made it clear(er) that the Sabres’ playoff drought seems likely to extend to nine consecutive seasons. Apparently that realization is pushing fans – including the most hardcore ones – to a boiling point.

In at least one case, that boiling point created quality entertainment.

Duane channels Sabres fans’ disdain

If you want to hear passion and anger from a fan, listen to caller Duane’s passionate rant to WGGR 550’s Schopp and the Bulldog. Then wonder: when was the last time you felt as strongly about sports (or anything?) as Duane does here?

Delightful, at least if this Twitter user is the Duane, and thus is enjoying the attention from becoming something of a viral sensation.

Someone even spliced it with music from “Titanic,” which might double as a way to preserve the clip:

Duane has become something of a mascot for fan discontent. Sabres fans have responded to various team tweets with references, sometimes merely responding with “Duane.” #WeareallDuane appears to be the most frequently used hashtag, but it’s far from the only one.

Here’s hoping that others follow Duane’s advice, then, and use their voices “responsibly.” USA Today’s Bradley Gelber took screenshots that indicate the Pegula family has dealt with harassment. As we’ve seen from innumerable Internet movements in just about every niche, people can go from passionate to toxic at the drop of a hat. Here’s hoping that this doesn’t end up that way, or if it has, that such ugly behavior stops.

Sabres fans upset by mistakes both big and small

Because, no doubt about it, it’s understandable if Sabres fans are losing their patience.

Again, the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010-11. The Sabres last won a series in 2006-07. Fans suffered through some of the worst NHL teams (and overall sports teams) of the past decade during this span. There’s been recent growth, but sometimes raised expectations only make the lows feel lower.

And, when those feelings fester, little things start to feel like bigger annoyances.

Fans and Sabres media alike noted mistakes such as Dave Andreychuk’s jersey being spelled “Andreychuckduring “Aud Night” and poor execution for other throwback festivities. When teams are competitive, mistakes like these usually get laughed off. When losing lingers, people can sometimes fixate.

(Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The easiest answer is to say that winning would solve your problems. That playoff runs could stop a Duane drain.

Yet, with the Sabres facing long odds to make the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs (they’re 10 points out of the final East wild-card spot), fans might need to wait until next year — again.

Don’t be shocked if there are a bunch of Duane-related signs as the Sabres host Montreal on Thursday. Fans get a bunch of opportunities, actually, with eight of their next nine games in Buffalo.

All of that home-cooking might not spark an unlikely playoff run, but the Sabres at least have a chance to make their hardcore fans happier.

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: Sabres thrilled for Bills; Hall’s impact on Arizona

Sabres Bills fans
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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.

• The Coyotes landing Taylor Hall in that big trade with the Devils presents a challenge for Arizona’s potential as a hockey market, while Hall could pump up his own value as a free agent. Mark Spector explores those two interweaving storylines, asking if Hall can “take that team as his lawfully wedded knife, and carve out some long awaited success for both parties?” (Sportsnet)

• A lengthy look at Hall’s legacy with the Devils, even though he wasn’t with New Jersey for a lengthy amount of time. (All About The Jersey)

• Former NHL head coach and player Ted Nolan, now an inspirational speaker for indigenous youth, reflects on the resiliency he had to show during his playing days. (NHL.com)

• Reddit user arahn17 presents an idea that takes #OskarStrong a step or five further: urging people to vote Oskar Lindblom into the 2020 NHL All-Star Games as Metropolitan Division captain. (reddit/Sporting News/NHL All-Star Ballot)

• The Sabres discuss how thrilled they are for the Buffalo Bills. The Sabres also discuss what they can learn from the Buffalo Bills. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• The Capitals are justified in using Ilya Samsonov more often going forward, even beyond keeping Braden Holtby fresh. (Nova Caps)

• Filip Zadina just played his 10th game of 2019-20, burning a year off of his entry-level contract. The Red Wings explain that they’re emphasizing his development. (The Detroit News)

• Strange, this story about Max Pacioretty‘s great year isn’t just “because Mark Stone” over and over again. OK, Patches deserves credit too … but it’s not a coincidence that Pacioretty’s play is taking off alongside an elite player like Stone. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

• This piece discusses Anthony Duclair, nickname “Duke,” going “nuclear” yet there’s no mention of classic, tasteless first-person shooter “Duke Nuke’Em.” Is that for the best, or a missed opportunity? Either way, Duke took the high road with John Tortorella after Duclair’s hat trick against Columbus. (Sportsnet)

Eric Staal hit career point 1,000, making for a great time to ask if he’s underrated. (The Hockey News)

• You’d think that you can’t really mess up the Flames’ jerseys, but … yes, you can. (Hockey By Design)

• Which NHL teams provide the best and worst values for fans when it comes to a night of family fun? (The Athletic [sub required])

• As a supplement to this strong analysis of the Oilers’ potential impending plummet from PHT’s Adam Gretz, Travis Yost looks at their slipping goaltending, specifically. (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.

Sabres owners purchase women’s league Buffalo Beauts

Gary Wiepert, File/AP
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Sabres and Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula are expanding their sports holdings by purchasing the National Women’s Hockey League Buffalo Beauts in a first-of-its-kind sale for the 3-year-old professional league.

The Pegulas will become the first private owners to have full control of one of the NWHL’s four franchises in a move that further expands the league’s ties to the NHL. Two months ago, the New Jersey Devils reached what was called ”a strategic alliance” with the Metropolitan Riveters in which they also gained partial ownership of the team.

The NWHL operates its two other franchises in Boston and Connecticut.

The defending champion Beauts already had ties with the Sabres in playing home games at the Pegula-operated HarborCenter hockey and entertainment facility.

Kim Pegula says the purchase represents her and Terry’s commitment in contributing to the growth of women’s hockey.

NWHL founder and commissioner Dani Rylan described the purchase as a significant step for women’s hockey.

The Pegulas’ purchase of the Beauts has the potential of providing the young league financial stability a year after the NWHL was forced to cut player salaries.