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Zadorov is Buffalo’s second prospect impacted by NHL/CHL agreement

October 20, 2014

The Buffalo Sabres have managed to fall victim to the NHL’s agreement with the CHL yet again as they’re stuck in limbo regarding defenseman Nikita Zadorov.

Zadorov’s predicament is quite unique as Bill Hoppe reported this weekend. If you haven’t read Hoppe’s report, do it now. He did a great job digging up the information on Zadorov lacking the release from the Russian club that owns his rights which is preventing him from being sent back to London. Hoppe’s report is an all-encompassing recap of the various issues at play regarding Zadorov’s fate.

Hoppe’s report illustrates the precarious situation the Sabres are in as the CHL agreement comes into play along with the added confusion from St. Petersburg holding some control over where Zadorov can go. It leaves the Sabres with very few options.

The situation is even cloudier when you consider that the Dallas Stars were able to find a loophole that allowed them to send Julius Honka to the AHL despite selecting him from Swift Current in the AHL. This report from Defending Big D notes that Honka was loaned to Swift Current from JYP after he had signed a contract with the SM-Liga club. Because Honka was on loan with Swift Current he was considered a European skater as opposed to a North American skater. It appears this is not true for Zadorov.

What I’m unclear on – and what seems to be one of the overarching questions – is Zadorov’s status with SKA and why he wouldn’t qualify for the same loophole as Honka.

Zadorov played for CSKA Moscow prior to heading to London to play in the OHL and it would appear his rights were later traded or otherwise acquired by SKA. Based on my read of the situation I would assume that is why he wouldn’t qualify for the same exemption as Honka. I’m somewhat surprised that the Sabres haven’t tried to take the league to task on this as the situation between Zadorov and the Sabres and Honka and the Stars does share a few very similar traits. Of course, there are some stark differences as well.

Ultimately, the Sabres have been done in by the NHL/CHL agreement again and are struggling to find an out; and that’s truly the root of the issue here. Read more…

Double Minors: Sabres grab first points with shootout win

October 15, 2014

The Sabres are in the left hand column, registering a shootout victory over one of the primary competitors for the top picks in June’s draft.

For those keeping track of each and every game for tanking purposes, the fact that Carolina managed to tie and send the game to overtime was helpful as the Canes still wound up with a point. Meanwhile, the Sabres still managed to trail in a number of major statistical categories despite pulling out the victory.

It’s woefully early in the year to start comparing the Sabres to the rest of the league but their four games are beginning to paint a telling picture. The Sabres have allowed over 70 attempts at goal in each of their four contests, being out-shot 156-83 along the way. While that may not sustain itself through the entire season, the Sabres are clearly struggling to possess the puck with any sort of authority and have paid for it on the scoreboard.

Buffalo’s biggest issues appear to come with their defensive zone breakouts. There is barely any sort of semblance of a system in place with many zone exits and when combined with poor passing, puts the Sabres back on their heels. It could simply be a situation of bringing the forwards a bit deeper into the zone in order to shorten passes and find lanes to complete the breakout. It may also just be execution of the system in place as there have been countless sloppy plays made by every person on the ice.

It’s odd because often there’s only one glaring weak point in a team’s breakout – passing, board play, execution – but the Sabres have been able to hit on every facet. Further, the disjointed breakout that is acting as little more than a punt back to the other team’s defensemen has also led to breakdowns in Buffalo’s forecheck. Their lack of possession has served as a trickle down to unsuccessful dump-ins or mishandled zone entries that ultimately wind up back in the Buffalo end of the ice. All of these factors add up to show why the Sabres are seeing so many more pucks directed towards their net and why the ice feels tilted in the wrong direction. Read more…

716 Sports Podcast guest appearance

October 15, 2014

I was asked to come step in as a guest on the 716 Sports Podcast yesterday and had a great time talking about the Bills, Sabres, Pegula and Buffalo with the group. The guys get together on a weekly basis and produce a very strong product, I highly recommend checking them out regularly. Enjoy my Ed Jovanovski reference about halfway through.

Click here to listen direct.

Decision on Reinhart and Zadorov needs to come soon

October 14, 2014

It only took three games for a puzzling lineup decision to grace Sabres Nation. Andrej Meszaros will be a healthy scratch against the Carolina Hurricanes as Tyson Strachan steps in for his first game as a Buffalo Sabre. Meanwhile, Cody Hodgson appears to have been moved back to center and Sam Reinhart will be centering Cody McCormick and Nicolas Deslauriers. Stop me if you’ve seen this movie before.

Buffalo’s prized first round draft pick, with full junior eligibility, will be playing on the fourth line.

Reinhart hasn’t been a world beater in his first three NHL contests and his play hasn’t warranted much in the way of continued faith that he’ll suddenly begin to produce. However, count me among those who think playing major minutes in all situations in Kootenay is preferable to a fourth line role in the NHL.

It’s only been three games, so it isn’t fair to cast much judgment on Reinhart. Simply put, he isn’t ready for a full-time NHL role. He could use a few more pounds of muscle along with improved foot speed to go along with his world-class vision. That will all come with time, especially with his ability to not only step in as Kootenay’s best forward but also because he’ll almost be guaranteed a spot on Canada’s World Junior Championship roster.

Going back to Kootenay is hardly a step back in Reinhart’s development and will ultimately be the best thing for him. Giving him a chance to start the year in Buffalo wasn’t a bad choice. Both Reinhart and the organization got to see what he brought to the table at this level and will be able to adequately identify what areas need improvement moving forward. Whether he became a Calder candidate or finished the year in Kootenay, it wasn’t a scenario where either side could lose. Although, giving him fourth line minutes is about as close as you can get. Read more…

Surprises on Opening Night Rosters

October 11, 2014
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Every year there are relatively unknown players that work their way onto opening night rosters. Luke Adam for the Sabres in 2011 and Cory Conacher for Tampa Bay in 2012 are examples of players not only finding their way onto rosters, but contributing right away. While those immediate impacts were short lived, and instances of a relatively unknown player bursting onto the season as those two did are pretty rare, there are players on every roster that no one expected to be there. Here is one player from every NHL team (except the Sabres) who are surprises on opening rosters, unknown to the league (and the fans) or both.

William Karlsson, Anaheim Ducks- The 21 Swede spent the majority of last season playing in Sweden before making cameo with Norfolk of the AHL. He posted nine points in nine regular season games and three points in eight games for the Admirals. While he is on the opening night roster, he looks to be in a battle with Rickard Rackell, who got his first extended look in the NHL last season, for the Ducks’ last center spot.

Justin Hodgman, Arizona Coyotes- He’s bounced around from Fort Wayne to the KHL before signing a two-way deal with Arizona at the age of 26. He’s not a scorer, having neot registered a 20 goal season since he was in the OHL, but may find a home on the Coyote’s 4th line.

Bobby Robins, Boston Bruins- The 32 year old journeyman racked up over 300 career AHL games, along with making stops in Great Britain, Austria, and Slovenia, before cracking an NHL lineup with the Bruins on Wednesday night. He even got in his first NHL fight, with Luke Schenn.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames- Gaudreau is not exactly an unknown to hockey fans after he torched the NCAA during his two years at Boston College. He got a one game audition towards the end of last season with the Flames and found the back of the net. He’ll get a chance to stick with the big club during his first full pro season.

Patrick Brown, Carolina Hurricanes- The 22 year old will start his first professional season in the NHL after four years at Boston College. He begins the years on the ‘Canes’ 4th line with Riley Nash and Chris Terry.

Trevor van Riemsdyk, Chicago Blackhawks- The kid brother of Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk made the Blackhawks roster after the team had to trade Nick Leddy because of cap issues. The 23 year old has been skating alongside Niklas Hjalmarsson in practice recently.

Dennis Everberg, Colorado Avalanche- Everberg is new to North America after playing the last five years in Sweden. At 6’ 4” Everberg definitely has the size, and will get a look on the Avalanche’s 4th line. Read more…

Double Minors: Jackets topple Sabres in season opener

October 10, 2014

The Sabres finally played a game that counted and it has left many fans counting the days (259 as of October 10) until a Connor McDavid jersey isn’t a faux pas.

Buffalo was thoroughly outplayed by a shorthanded Blue Jackets team last night, losing 3-1 and being dominated in terms of puck possession. Even with Ryan Johansen seeing his first ice with NHL players since the playoffs and with Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner, Ryan Murray and Nathan Horton on the shelf, the Blue Jackets were the better team for nearly the entire evening.

However, the Sabres were in the game right up until the final minutes. Jhonas Enroth was steady as he turned aside 37 shots and Zemgus Girgensons turned in an impressive individual effort to tie the game at one in the second.

In the end, it was about as textbook of a result that many Sabres fans may be hoping for this season. There is a fair segment of those who simply want the team to win now at all costs. There is another segment who are actively hoping for losses as the prize at the end of the rainbow surpasses any short-term success in their eye. Then there is a third segment. One which seems content watching the Sabres night-in and night-out, hoping to see a win but taking solace that a loss isn’t something to worry over.

Last night showed a Sabres team with some improved pieces, guys who will try hard and be more entertaining to watch but a group which will likely fall behind the pace of most other NHL clubs. Only Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges and Zemgus Girgensons had positive Corsi ratings at even strength (each was plus-one) while the entire roster was well into the negatives in all situations. I’d expect this to be the case through many games this season.

Of course, it is only one game. Enroth shouldn’t be expected to dazzle every night and he’ll certainly have his cold streaks. Buffalo will find their footing and put up a better fight in many games. The Sabres are going to be easier to consume than last year’s roster. However, this is still not a team that is built for puck possession and the very early returns didn’t show much improvement on special teams.

I’d imagine the biggest challenge for fans this season will be to not over analyze each and every game and how they affect Buffalo’s chances to pick first. It’s a long year and there are far too many positive story lines to follow instead of pulling out your hair hoping that the Sabres earn a stranglehold on 30th place. Read more…

Sabres should improve but still won’t contend in 2014-15

October 8, 2014

Things are going to be better for the Sabres this year. Mainly because things can’t get much worse than they were last year.

Buffalo finished last in the NHL by a country mile. The Sabres were 14 points back of the 29th place Florida Panthers, the same Florida Panthers who also finished 29th in goals for in 2013-14 (39 goals better than the Sabres).

Tim Murray had quite a reclamation project to work on as he inherited a team that was 14 points and 39 goals south of the second-to-last team in the league last year. If the status-quo were to remain, the Sabres would have quite a hill to climb just to leap frog one team, let alone make a run at the playoffs.

Buffalo’s historically bad season was accomplished with only a month-and-a-half of Thomas Vanek, and interim stay from Matt Moulson and two-thirds of the year with Ryan Miller. Miller’s .923 save percentage was good for a monumental point share during his time here and I’ll be interested to see how Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth perform as a tandem.

Enroth is without doubt the number one goaltender on the roster. To say Neuvirth was shaky during the preseason would be an understatement and he may need a little more time to settle into a groove. Meanwhile, Enroth was tremendous in his preseason appearances and he’ll certainly see the lion’s share of the work early on this year. Will he be able to improve on his .911 save percentage? Will he avoid the lengthy losing streaks that have plagued his young career? The latter is perhaps the most important question here as Enroth’s up-and-down performances have been nothing short of a Jekyll and Hyde of goaltending.

It’s safe to say that there will be a slight decrease in performance in the Buffalo crease. It may not be a regression so steep that it costs the team multiple wins, but it’s safe to assume that the expectations in net will differ from recent years.

Of course, the Sabres roster is vastly improved. The team that will take the ice on Thursday is heads and shoulders better than the one that took the ice in 2013-14. In addition to the departures of Vanek and Miller, Steve Ott, Christian Ehrhoff, John Scott, Henrik Tallinder, Jamie McBain and Matt D’Agostini are all gone. There is some good and bad in that group, but the Sabres are more than improved from top to bottom.

A full season of Moulson and Chris Stewart alone should inject a fair bit of life into the Sabres offense as should the addition of Brian Gionta. With 23, 15 and 11 goals scored by the trio last season, it’s easy to say the Sabres have indeed made up their 40-goal shortfall from last season. Putting Moulson on the wing with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford could potentially give the Sabres a bona fide scoring line, although I’m not expecting anyone in blue and gold to surpass 30 goals this season. Read more…

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