Wayne Simmonds

New Jersey Devils: Biggest surprises and disappointments so far

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 surprises and disappointments for the New Jersey Devils .

P.K. Subban‘s tough season

The addition of Subban (via trade with the Nashville Predators) was one of the highlights of the Devils’ offseason. He is a big name, a superstar player, and even if he was starting to hit the downside of his career he was still an impact player as recently as last season.

Add in the fact he fit a huge need (a top-pairing defender) and that Devils gave up almost nothing of significance to get him, it seemed like a no-brainer move.

It just did not work out.

At least not for this season.

In his first year with the Devils Subban struggled through what is certainly the worst single-season performance of his career. Everything across the board for him is not only down, but is also pretty much at a career-low for him. A lot of things backfired for the Devils this season and did not go as planned, and Subban’s year is at the top of that list.

He is still signed for two more seasons at a salary cap hit of $9 million per season.

Nikita Gusev was exactly what they hoped he would be

This was the one big offseason move that worked as they hoped it would.

The Devils acquired Gusev as a restricted free agent from the Vegas Golden Knights and hoped he could provide some much-needed skill and production to their forward group. And he has.

At the time of the NHL’s pause Gusev is the Devils’ second-leading scorer (just one point back of Kyle Palmieri) and has already proven to be an outstanding playmaker.

Of the 334 forwards that have logged at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time this season, Gusev is 20th in the league in assists per 60 minutes (1.66) and sixth in the league in primary assists per 60 minutes (1.32). He has not only been the Devils’ best playmaker this season, he has been one of the best playmakers in the entire league. He only cost a couple of mid-round draft picks to acquire and has a very manageable $4.5 million salary cap hit through next season.

The end of the very brief Taylor Hall era

There were a lot of reasons for optimism this season for the Devils, from the drafting of Jack Hughes with the top pick, to the offseason additions of Subban, Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds. But one of the biggest reasons was the hopeful return of a healthy Taylor Hall.

Two years ago he was the league MVP and helped single-handedly carry the Devils to a playoff spot.

A year ago his season was decimated by injury, limiting him to just 33 games and the Devils just didn’t have the depth to overcome that.

Getting him back, plus all of the offseason additions, seemed as if it could have helped fix that.

It didn’t.

The Devils didn’t do enough to solve their goaltending issues, Subban had a down year, Hughes struggled through some rookie growing pains, and the team itself just wasn’t anywhere near as good as it was expected to be. Their dismal start — driven by an inability to hold onto multi-goal leads early in the year — put them in a position where they had to make a decision on Hall. From the very beginning of the season there was uncertainty about his future with the team given his contract status as an unrestricted free agent after this season. The decision was eventually made to trade him to Arizona in December, igniting an in-season fire sale that also saw Andy Greene, Blake Coleman, and Simmonds all be sent elsewhere.

Hall ended up spending three-and-a-half years in New Jersey, and while he lived up to expectations the Devils were never able to consistently build something around him.

Cory Schneider‘s strong finish

It is not much, but it is worth at least mentioning the way Schneider returned to the Devils’ lineup in February and put together what was probably his best four-game stretch in years.

At his peak Schneider was one of the NHL’s best goalies and one of the most overlooked top-tier players. But things had started to fall apart for him the past couple of years.

The way he finished the season after returning to the lineup was a brief reminder of what he once was and a small bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Devils.

More:
Looking at the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils
What is the Devils’ long-term outlook?

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.

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres

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.

Simmonds relishes opportunity to help Sabres’ playoff push

Simmonds Sabres
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BUFFALO, N.Y. — It took Wayne Simmonds no more than five minutes into his first Sabres practice to show how much he appreciated being in Buffalo.

Upon skating a few laps and taking a couple of shots, Simmonds found himself next to coach Ralph Krueger when the two shared a laugh.

Given how he and the talent-laden New Jersey Devils failed to come close to meeting expectations through the first five months of the season, the 31-year-old Simmonds felt good to be back in the playoff hunt – however slim the Sabres’ chances might appear.

”Obviously things didn’t go the way I planned and as the Devils planned,” Simmonds said Tuesday, a day after being acquired by Buffalo.

”I don’t regret signing there one bit,” he added, referring to the one-year, $5 million contract he signed with the Devils last summer. ”But at the same time, I wanted an opportunity to be in the hunt for the playoffs, to play those competitive games. And this was a perfect opportunity for me.”

Perfect might not be the operative word for a Buffalo team that began the day six points out of contention with 20 games remaining. And yet it’s a better spot than New Jersey, where the Devils dropped out of the race and shed high-priced veterans to build for the future.

For whatever reasons, Simmonds’ leadership and physical play failed to make a difference in New Jersey, and the Sabres hope those qualities can provide a boost in their young team’s bid to remain competitive down the stretch.

The Sabres have gone 7-3-1 in their past 11 games before a difficult four-game trip, which opens at Colorado on Wednesday.

Buffalo’s surge led to general manager Jason Botterill adding talent to a team showing modest signs of growth rather than simply dumping players with expiring contracts.

Aside from landing Simmonds for a conditional fifth-round draft pick, the Sabres acquired 24-year-old forward Dom Kahun in a three-player trade with Pittsburgh.

Simmonds addresses Buffalo’s immediate needs, while Kahun has long-term potential on a team seeking to upgrade its top-six depth at forward.

Acknowledging the Sabres aren’t ”a finished product,” Botterill discussed his reasoning behind the trades by saying: ”We’ve talked a lot about playing meaningful games in March, and I think with some of the moves that we made, we’re hopefully setting our team up to better accept that challenge.”

Though Simmonds’ best years might be behind him, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound player is a prototypical power forward, who has scored 20 goals in six of his 12 NHL seasons. He also has developed a reputation of being a respected leader and drew praise from his former Devils teammates upon being traded.

With eight goals and 24 points in 61 games this year, Simmonds has a presence that is considered an upgrade on a team in need of secondary scoring. And his seven years of playoff experience are invaluable to a Sabres team in an eight-year postseason drought – the NHL’s longest active streak.

”He’s got an excellent spirit, brings good experience with him, loves to do things that we need more of with net pressure,” Krueger said. ”But above all, also the voice in the room he’ll be. He was already engaged today as if he’s been here a long time.”

Captain Jack Eichel welcomed the reinforcements as a sign of management’s faith in the team.

”I think the two additions sends a message to the room they believe in us as a group now,” Eichel said. ”I think it sends a message to the room we’re trying to go for this right now.”

Simmonds is now on his fourth team in a calendar year, after Philadelphia dealt him to Nashville at the trade deadline last season. He was so eager to come to Buffalo, which is closer to his family’s offseason home in Toronto, that Simmonds waived his no-trade clause to allow the deal to go through.

”It’s all in pursuit of the Cup. That’s my goal. I want to come here and I want to be a good piece of the team,” he said. ”I think they’re going in the right direction.”

The trade also presents Simmonds a chance to prove he’s worthy of being signed to a contract this summer, be it in Buffalo or elsewhere.

”Obviously, I’m not going to be the savior or anything here, but just another piece to help the boys out. That’s something I relish,” Simmonds said. ”I’ve always been a competitor my whole career. And this kind of stuff brings the best out of me.”

NOTES: Kahun will join the Sabres once they arrive in Colorado. … He’s listed as day to day after missing the Penguins’ past two games with a lower-body injury. . Kahun played with Krueger’s son, Justin, on Germany’s national team. He also played under Sabres assistant coach Don Granato when the two were in Chicago last season.

Trade: Sabres get Wayne Simmonds from Devils

Simmonds Sabres
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Well, here is the most unexpected trade on deadline day (so far).

The Buffalo Sabres, who entered the day six points out of a playoff spot and with multiple teams ahead of them, sent a conditional fifth-round draft pick to the New Jersey Devils for veteran forward Wayne Simmonds.

That pick will become a fourth-round pick if the Sabres make the playoffs this season and Simmonds plays at least 10 games.

Simmonds is an unrestricted free agent after this season.

There is nothing wrong with the cost here for Simmonds. It’s probably about what his value should be in this market and given what he currently provides. Plus, a mid-round pick has very little chance of even turning into an NHL player, let alone an impactful one. But it’s still surprising to see a team in Buffalo’s position attempt to add something at the deadline.

Is it a last-minute effort for general manager Jason Botterill to try and do something to save his job? Or is it a team looking at what happened with St. Louis and Columbus a year ago and thinking, “hey, we can do that too!” If it’s the former, well, that’s understandable. The pressure is on to win in Buffalo and patience is running thin with everyone. If it’s the latter, that would simply be a gross misunderstanding of what happened with those teams (especially St. Louis).

The 31-year-old Simmonds has eight goals and 16 assists for the Devils this season. At his peak he was one of the best power forwards in the league and a true force as a net-front presence on the power play, but his production has rapidly fallen off the past two years.

Buffalo has played much better in February (7-3-1) but has only managed to gain four points in the standings during that stretch. They still have six points to make up and only 20 games to do it. They would not only need to maintain that similar level of play, but also get some help along the way.

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.