Early Results are Making Vegas Tough to Bet Against

You’d think the regular season might have taught us something about the Vegas Golden Knights. Thought of as a ragtag bunch of cast-offs which could have been a far more talented team given the players selected in the expansion draft, the Golden Knights promptly defied all odds and even looked like a President’s Trophy candidate for long stretches. 

 They were driven by a number of career-high performances, including a few staggeringly good shooting percentages, that were still widely believed to peter out at some point. So even with all the head turning performances from the regular season, it was still easy to bet against Vegas as they entered the playoffs.

 Questions about their game translating to the postseason, how would they handle a traditionally excellent possession team in their first foray into the playoffs, could the astonishing offensive numbers by their team leaders carry forward? There were a lot of doubters that the Golden Knights could even get out of the first round. All they did was sweep the Kings, shutting them out twice and nearly silencing their offense altogether.  Continue reading

Two in the Mailbox – Potential Lines and Pairings, Risto Workload and Very Bad Trades

Two in the Mailbox, the (sometimes) weekly mailbag on the Sabres, goalie stuff, Buffalo and anything in between, is back. You can submit to the mailbag using #2ITBmailbag on Twitter or emailing 2intheboxbuffalo@gmail.com.

A quick note before we begin this week. Now that the Sabres are completely done and the offseason questions are circling the same topics, the mailbox will probably come out every other week or perhaps even take a brief hiatus as more Sabres-related topics come back into focus once the playoffs wrap up. And now, to the questions. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast Interview featuring former Sabre Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre

Despite a fairly short period of time with the Sabres organization, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre was one of my absolute favorites growing up. Which made his guest spot on The Instigator Podcast a real treat for me. Jean-Luc joined the show to discuss what he’s been up to since his retirement from hockey, highlights from his time in Buffalo and offers insight on transitioning from an established NHL club to an expansion franchise. Jean-Luc also works with Belfry Hockey and he offered up some excellent feedback on trends in youth hockey today including key areas of focus for developing players.

One interesting tidbit we learned is that he has long had a deep love for goaltending and he has picked up the position since retiring from the pro game. He makes a very interesting comparison in his game with another former Sabre. Check it out:

The Instigator Podcast 6.27 – Sabres Locker Clean Out Fallout & Thoughts on Humboldt

The typical weekly episode touches on the fallout from Sabres locker clean out day and the comments made by Chad Johnson, Johan Larsson and Ryan O’Reilly. We also discuss the tragedy that has struck the Humboldt Broncos along with the response from the hockey community at large. Our conversation regarding Humboldt begins at 48:00 if you wish to skip ahead to that portion of the show.


Two in the Mailbox – O’Reilly Availability and the Worst Trade You’ve Ever Seen

Two in the Mailbox, the (sometimes) weekly mailbag on the Sabres, goalie stuff, Buffalo and anything in between, is back. You can submit to the mailbag using #2ITBmailbag on Twitter or emailing 2intheboxbuffalo@gmail.com.

Joe/@jneumann522 – Let’s assume #90 is available, what teams would be interested and what would be a reasonable return?

O’Reilly is going to be a hot topic until he’s moved or until the season starts. He’s one of the few players who carries enough value to help the Sabres in a trade and his cap hit is big enough that a deal would be beneficial from a financial perspective as well.

You can put down just about any team with a semblance of need at center as a potential opening for O’Reilly but teams the Sabres would want to deal with would likely whittle that list down a fair bit. Carolina is an obvious candidate as they not only have a surplus of defensemen but are said to be searching for forward help. St. Louis was working on a center at the deadline after they flipped Paul Stastny. I wouldn’t even rule out Edmonton given their ongoing search for hockey players.

O’Reilly is also a divisive subject given that he’s been a steady contributor since being acquired and has plenty to offer. So the only way it makes sense to move him is if the deal addresses another area of need. Specifically the blueline. The Sabres would need to noticeably strengthen their blueline with either a current NHLer or fetch a package that includes a blue chip prospect who could step into a role on Buffalo’s D starting next year. That’s a mighty small target to hit but when you consider Buffalo’s needs and the value O’Reilly carries, it’s the only way moving him would help improve Buffalo’s roster.

Kernal/@pkilla_29 – Seriously wondering if Housley has an awful team he couldn’t do anything with or if he is actually a bad coach. Personnel decisions have been very suspect this year. But again look at the roster.

I give Housley credit for sticking with his guns. All year we’ve heard how firey he’s been at practice and how he’s still pushing pace. He could have easily folded on the fast-paced system he wanted, played a 1-3-1 and bored everyone to death (more than they already did) for the entire year. They would’ve grabbed a few more wins but little would’ve changed in terms of the big picture.

However, the power play tanked from the top unit in the league the year before and Housley traded in a lot of the same tired coaching practices we’ve seen in the past (constant line juggling for example). Plenty has been written and said about their level of effort and I don’t know exactly who deserves the most blame there. Is it the staff, a team lacking talent or even something more deep seated? Housley deserves plenty of heat, they simply weren’t good enough. But they certainly shouldn’t consider moving on from him at this point, that would create a bigger mess than they’re in already.

Bob/@buffalobobz – What do you think the season ticket renewal rate will be this year? 88-89%

Low. Really low. They didn’t publicize their numbers last year so it’s hard to know exactly how they’ve trended over the last few years. But it’s going to be bad. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if they’re below 90%. Sub-85% isn’t out of the realm of possibility in my opinion.

Very Bad Trades

I was all set to feature an Armchair GM which sent Rasmus Ristolainen, Nick Baptiste, Zemgus Girgensons, Hudson Fasching and a 2019 2nd round pick to Ottawa in exchange for Erik Karlsson. It was a perfect candidate with an absolutely bonkers trade at the center. And then I found this warlock.















I’m not unconvinced that this isn’t a troll job. I checked Mr. GMTD’s other posts and they’re all equally bonkers. So it’s just as likely that this guy just trolls random fanbases as it is that he just posts really bad Armchair GMs.

There’s a lot to unpack here including giving almost every returning player four year, $1,000,000 extensions. Also extending Robin Lehner only to trade him is another head scratcher. Of course he assumes the Sharks are re-signing Evander Kane and he sends Jason Pominville back to Minnesota for…reasons.

The Nugent-Hopkins deal you see pictured is some kind of crazy. Risto for RNH makes enough sense in terms of addressing each team’s respective needs and the fact that Peter Chiarelli seems to love him some average defensemen. Including Okposo and Beaulieu for the low, low price of a first round pick wouldn’t even pass muster at 4am at The Pink.

But then there is the coup de grace. The greatest hypothetical trade ever. Jack Eichel for three lottery protected first round picks. Here’s what our GM of the day wrote about the trade.

“I am moving Eichel to make cap space for JT and help with the future of the team. I want to get rid of all losers on this team and he is the leader of the pack.”

It’s good to know this guy is in the locker room enough to know that Eichel is the “leader of the pack” of losers. That’s a key for anyone building a hockey team.

I have to give him credit for thinking that trading a 21-year-old on an eight-year contract in order to clear space for a 27-year-old unrestricted free agent is helping the future. Knowing what we know about player performance, Tavares will likely begin to decline with three or four years left on that deal. Spending $13m on a 36-year-old is definitely the way to build for the future.

Then of course you have the trade of Eichel itself which feels extremely light – unless you’re the one guy in the comments. Not sure why in a fantasy GM situation you wouldn’t bother to include any roster players and accept only lottery protected picks for the current cornerstone of the franchise. This feels familiar.

All of this to create a roster that’s equally top heavy to the one they have now but somehow with less depth.

Kevin/@ntrider825 – What happened to Nathan Beaulieu? At the start of the year he was a bit frustrating with turnovers but was putting up hugely positive shot and scoring numbers. That has since collapsed to about team average or a little below and the mistakes have continued.

Even while he was putting up good offensive numbers he was making some eye-popping errors. I’d be willing to guess that in working with the coaching staff to clean up his game the opportunities to freelance went away, leading to play that isn’t much better in terms of the eye test and worse in terms of underlying numbers.

Mark/@BVFA12 – What do you see as our Safe / Keep / Meh / Gone list from the organization?

Michael/@michaelparthum – How much #Sabres roster purging do you expect in the offseason, and who among the #Amerks is likely to fill any such voids?

Seeing as both of these questions are related it seems fair to roll them into one answer.  It’s also probably easier to list the locks to stick as opposed to the guys who will be shipped out. So I’ll start there. Eichel is obviously safe, Kyle Okposo’s contract is too hard to move and too toxic to buy out. It’s easier to hang onto Pominville for the final year of his deal than try to force something with him. Mittelstadt and Guhle aren’t going anywhere and I’d bet they want to hang onto Marco Scandella as well. Everyone else is up for grabs.

As refreshing as it might be, we won’t see 10 new faces again this fall. I’m counting on one truly significant trade and probably two or three other notable changes made whether through free agency or trade. I think it makes sense to move on from their middling contributors (guys like Larsson) in favor of injecting some new life into the roster and locker room. If Scott Wilson is a microcosm of what adding a bit more speed and success would do to the bottom six, I’m all for more of it.

The Amerks have some bodies to offer up but nothing too groundbreaking. Nick Baptiste is probably here to stay. Danny O’Regan might be a good candidate for bottom six deployment.  CJ Smith is a near lock for a promotion and we know Linus Ullmark will be here as well. Alex Nylander will probably have an opportunity to fight for a roster spot and Sean Malone will be among the first recalls come next season. So there’s some new blood in the pipeline, it’s just a matter of seeing what types of trades and free agents Botterill chases to really turn the roster over.

Scott/@scottymcmahon22 –  Is our defense core too young ? Do we need a veteran leader or is that Scandella as everyone else is under 25 and will be younger next year hopefully?

I don’t know if they’re too young, just maybe not talented enough. You see the issues they’re having with the third pair right now and even just plugging Jake McCabe and Zach Bogosian into those two slots would do them a world of good.

Assuming Antipin, Gorges and Falk are gone next year but the rest of the unit remains the same you’d have Scandella/Ristolainen, Guhle/Nelson, McCabe/Bogosian (Beaulieu) as the main set of defenders. You could swap the second and third pairs if you wanted but that’s just semantics at the moment. And this doesn’t account for any trades or free agent signings. But right there your group is better and it’s done without getting much older. Get more skill into the top six and you’re probably better off than trying to shoehorn a vet into a role he isn’t suited for.

Quick Thoughts on Alex Nylander’s Recall

Alex Nylander will be making his season debut this evening against the Ottawa Senators and his recall has drummed up quite a bit of debate from fans of the Sabres and their AHL affiliate.

Nylander’s year has been quite forgettable. A groin injury during the Prospects Challenge wound up costing him the early months of the campaign and he was still hobbled upon returning. His performance at the World Junior Championship was deemed pedestrian despite averaging a point per game. It wasn’t until the spring that his game seemed to round into form, seeing him register a stretch in which he registered 15 points in 15 games. That still leaves his numbers well below what you’d expect of a top-10 selection with plenty of questions about his status with the organization moving forward.

His 28 point (10+18) season in 2016-17 wasn’t met with celebration or concern as it ranked square in the middle of U20 players playing in the AHL. However, the lack of a step forward this season has raised red flags. Prompting questions to be asked about the logic of his recall for the final three games of the Sabres season.

While he may not have earned his recall, the decision to do so offers management the opportunity to add to their evaluation of his developmental arc. Continue reading