Sabres Facing a Need for an Upgrade in Goal

The Sabres have a goaltending problem. To be clear, they’ve had a goaltending problem.

Going back to the 2020 offseason, the Sabres have been dealing with suspect goaltending talent. In an offseason that saw them attempt to upgrade at center (Eric Staal) and land one of the top UFAs (Taylor Hall) in what was ostensibly one last push to break their playoff drought with the existing core. Despite the big ticket acquisitions that summer, Kevyn Adams didn’t address the talent he had in net. Opting to run Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark back after the former posted an .898 save percentage the prior year.

It’s been a similar story this year. Granted, it was going to be difficult to find any notable free agent talent, let alone a goaltender, on the heels of a last place finish. But despite Craig Anderson’s hot start, his injury has left the Sabres exposed once again.

Adams deserves some leeway for the situation he inherited and is currently managing through, as the ability to lure a premier free agent for this season was always going to be a long shot. Opting not to exploit the trade market is a questionable decision, however, and it’s proving to be disastrous as Dustin Tokarski has regressed and Aaron Dell simply hasn’t been good enough. Meanwhile, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has been off to an ugly start for the Amerks, effectively leaving the Sabres with no options in net until Anderson is healthy again.

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Pegulas and Savarino Should Combine to Bring Sky Bridge Back to DL&W Project

Enduring a years-long process of redesigns, stops and starts seems to be a rite of passage for virtually every project in and around Buffalo’s waterfront. It’s not different for the DL&W train shed as the NFTA and various stakeholders push to redevelop the building into something that can better complement the Cobblestone District and Canalside.

Photo: Buffalo Rising

You can go back at least to 2009 to find references to the DL&W becoming a more integral part of the waterfront entertainment district. Much like the pit at the North Aud Block, or the hockey team across the street, not much has been done in the ensuing 12 years.

The DL&W project has hit for the proverbial Buffalo development cycle. There have been multiple sets of renderings, the Project for Public Spaces has gotten involved and Tim Tielman has even managed to get his name in the coverage at various stages. All of this without any serious work moving forward.

There has been progress, of course. The new NFTA station on the first floor is under construction. While continuous rounds of renderings can be silly, a project plan under the guidance of Sam Savarino is coming together and it appears this project has reached a critical mass. It’s all very exciting as the building’s unique layout and location makes it an incredible asset for Buffalo’s waterfront.

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The Instigator Podcast 10.12 – Bright Spots and Line Changes

The Sabres are slowly returning to health which means reinforcements are hitting the lineup. While Buffalo isn’t back to full health, the return of Victor Olofsson and Henri Jokiharju will help boost the Sabres’ lineup and we talk about what’s on the horizon for further additions from within. The challenge surrounds how the Sabres and Don Granato will shape Buffalo’s lines once more reinforcements come along. Will the additions give the Sabres the help down the lineup or will their forward corps still have holes? We also touch on some of the bright spots that have popped thus far this season, including Tage Thompson, Victor Olofsson and more.

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The Instigator Podcast 10.11 – Can the Sabres put Butts Back in the Seats

The Sabres are off to a rough start at the box office. Ranking last in the NHL in ticket sales by a wide margin. We discuss all of the factors that have led to the Sabres averaging fewer than 8,000 tickets sold per game and debate whether or not they can turn a proverbial corner and push their ticket sales back up above 10,000 or potentially higher. We also touch on the situation playing out with the Omaha Lancers and offer up a brief look at the standings and the teams who have impressed thus far, and those who haven’t.

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A Solution to the NHL’s Olympic Problem

After the NHL ended nearly 20 years of Olympic participation at the 2018 PyeongChang games, they’re set to return to the 2022 games. At least for the time being.

The first COVID hiccup of the 2021-22 season has caused the Senators to postpone games and immediately set off alarm bells regarding the NHL’s ability to withdraw from the games should additional postponements occur. How this all proceeds depends on a whole lot of factors no one can predict. The current surge in COVID cases certainly doesn’t bode well for avoiding additional outbreaks and postponements. But there’s no way to know if and when exactly another outbreak could come.

This all puts a cloud of uncertainty around if players will ultimately play in Beijing as it sounds like the league is happy to find any excuse to avoid actual participation in the games. That’s disappointing for anyone who relishes the opportunity to watch the best-on-best tournament and savors the quadrennial event. Whether or not NHL players ultimately make the trip to China for the 22 games won’t be officially determined in January, but it seems likely that if another postponement or two occurs in November or December, the league would pull the plug.

Hopefully it doesn’t come to that and the league’s stars are able to represent their countries once again. A men’s tournament with NHL talent is the best possible outcome for the event and would ideally shed more light on the women’s tournament which will have Canada and the US on another gold medal collision course.

The issues with the NHL at the Olympics are well documented at this point. The league is not shy about advertising their position on the matter, though I can’t help but think their inability to capitalize on their participation has more to do with how they manage the event and less to do with shutting down for a period each Olympic cycle.

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The Instigator Podcast 10.10 – Sabres Skid Raising Questions

The Sabres came back down to earth on their West Coast swing and their struggles to keep the puck out of the net are threatening to make the coming weeks an arduous journey. We discuss some of the struggles Rasmus Dahlin has dealt with and the path back to success for the former first round pick. We also offer up an update on Buffalo’s prospect pipeline as a number of prospects are off to great starts this season.

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Looking Forward in the Wake of the Eichel Deal

Kevyn Adams pulled out the final piece of his rebuild in dealing Jack Eichel to Vegas on Thursday. The move the entire hockey world had been waiting on since the spring was finally completed, ending a months-long saga once and for all.

The Sabres come away with Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a first round pick and a second in exchange for their wantaway star. It’s a package that on the heels of Thursday’s deal, feels mostly adequate, if not slightly underwhelming. Of course, you’re always going to want more when you’re trading a player of Eichel’ stature. That’s just par for the course.

Overall, I think Adams did well here. If a deal with Vegas was going to be made, Krebs was the piece they needed to get. Add in the first-round pick with fairly minimal protections (pick pushes to 2023 if Vegas is picking in the top 10) and two key futures that were believed to be q requirement for the deal were included. Tuch comes over on a team-friendly deal with plenty of term. At 25 he’s right in the window the Sabres should be looking for as they build out the roster. Maybe an additional mid-level prospect like Lucas Elvenes would have moved the needle a bit more. Or perhaps building a condition on to the 2023 second rounder that would make it a first based on Eichel reaching some basic games played benchmarks beefs this up a bit. But given the circumstances and the leverage each side had; I don’t think Adams deserves too much heat for this deal. At least in the short term.

The real value of this deal will play itself out in the long term for both sides. Particularly the Sabres. At best the first-round pick will be a year from contributing, if not longer. The second rounder will require more than that. Which is fine. The Sabres have wisely stockpiled picks and prospects over the last six months, an effort that has started to replenish a depleted pipeline. Krebs also represents a great deal of long-term value for the club. He’s only seen action in 13 NHL games between last spring and the start of this year. What he has to offer as an NHL player is still an untapped well and given his pedigree as a prospect, should be exciting for Sabres fans to track.

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Updated & Reformatted Rick Martin Trade Tree

The deadline deal to ship Brandon Montour to the Florida Panthers and the subsequent selection of Stiven Sardarian in the 2021 draft added another leg to the continually expanding Rick Martin trade tree. Given the scope of the image and the generally confusing nature of the layout I chose to use originally, it seemed like it was time to revisit the format and recreate it in a manner that would be easier for people to digest.

This new format follows a more traditional trade tree layout – something I originally avoided because of how much length it would add to the image. While it did increase the image size by quite a bit, making it easier to decipher the outcome of each trade was more important. This also made it a little easier to separate the Don Edwards trade tree from the Martin tree while combining the two players that link them (Ryan Miller and Steve Ott). You’ll now see the Martin tree is indicated by the blue branches while the Edwards tree is represented in gold. The branches which belong to both have blue and gold accents.

As you can see, there are still a handful of branches that can keep this thing going for a few more years as Sardarian, Rasmus Asplund, Aaron Huglen, Colin Miller and Ukko Pekka Luukkonen should all project out additional growth in one way or another.

The Instigator Podcast 10.9 – Jack Eichel Traded to the Vegas Golden Knights

We went into emergency pod mode to offer up our reaction to the trade that sent Jack Eichel and a 2023 3rd round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a 2022 1st round pick and a 2023 2nd round pick. We offer up our thoughts on the quality of the return the Sabres got and what sort of players you can expect to see in Krebs and Tuch.

The Instigator Podcast 10.8 – Movement on the Eichel Front?

Perhaps the most significant update in the Jack Eichel saga dropped on Wednesday as Kevin Weekes reported an apparent trade package offered by the Calgary Flames for the Sabres former captain. We touch on some of the context surrounding the Weekes tweet, and the likelihood that Matthew Tkachuk would be involved in a deal for Eichel. We also discuss how things could be framed from the Vegas perspective, as the Golden Knights are believed to be the other front runner for Eichel along with Calgary.

But we start the show with further discussion of the Blackhawks case and the newest developments in the wake of Gary Bettman’s press conference on Monday afternoon.