Over-Thought: Sabres Rumors Grow by the Day

Things have gotten awfully bleak for the Sabres over these past few weeks and the demand for changes continues to grow across Sabres nation. This week’s 31 Thoughts notes that Buffalo continues to search for forward help. There’s also a blurb about replay review, which is never a great topic as this league loves getting into their own way.   

  1. The Kings have tried to move Kovalchuk for awhile, so they know the market. Maybe it gets easier after the December bonus, as his salary for the remainder of the season is a pro-rated $700,000. Maybe it gets easier in the summer, when he’s heading into the last year of his contract at a bonus-free $4.25 million for a club needing to get to the floor. Who knows? Because he signed as a 35-plus contract, the hit stays on the cap of whoever owns his rights until the end of next season. Even if he decides to play in Russia, it sticks. “He could get abducted and probed by aliens….still counts,” texted one helpful capologist.

The Sens seem to have things on a course they’re comfortable with but Kovalchuk screams Ottawa. They’d probably be able to get the Kings to pay them to take Kovalchuk, allow him to head back to the KHL and be perfectly happy dealing with the cap hit of the 35-plus deal. He’s also set to make less than his cap hit, which is right up Eugene Melnyk’s alley.

Personally, I think this is heading to a conclusion of the Kings either eating the last year and a half of his deal with no real resolution. Maybe they agree to terminate but I don’t foresee the Kings unloading the contract. Even with the clubs around the league that are rebuilding, I can’t see too many clubs jumping at the opportunity to take on the deal. It’s been a rough few years for the Kings and I think they’re in for a few more.

  1. The Kings mean business. Tyler Toffoli was scratched, then Kovalchuk. They later put Toffoli on the top line to showcase him, but, as they train their next generation, they’re demanding a high standard. He’s not going to be the last big-name benching.

Toffoli has been connected to the Sabres recently and after that healthy scratch and then Todd McClellan’s public outing of most of LA’s veterans, it seems like Toffoli is firmly on the block. I was a pretty big fan of Toffoli as he broke into the league, but I haven’t been quite as high on him in recent years. That 31-goal season is an awfully distant memory and it’s hard to look at the player he is now and have a whole lot of faith that he’s the piece that will get the Sabres back on the right track.

That being said, his underlying numbers have been strong for a while and should his shooting percentage rebound from last year, there’s reason to believe that he’d be a decent addition. He’s certainly better than a few of the players they’ve been rolling out in the middle six. They still need someone more impactful to make any serious change. But at least acquiring Toffoli would be a sign of life.

  1. A couple of sources said they heard Ryan Donato’s name out there, but I think Minnesota’s plans are to be patient with him. This could be a case where teams are trying to see if a talented young player can be poached because he was acquired by the previous regime.

The Wild are going to need to do something eventually. Donato is the second forward acquisition of Paul Fenton who has appeared in trade rumors. It’s an aging roster with questionable goaltending and they’re going to need to decide what they want to do soon. Shipping out young guys like Donato or Kevin Fiala would be an interesting move given this is a team that needs to get younger. However, I think it’s more likely that we see Minnesota have a fire sale before the end of the year.

  1. Buffalo’s been eying forward help for some time. Vladimir Sobotka’s long-term injury adds to that desire.

You’d think the desire to get a top-six forward would have been just as great when Sobotka was healthy as it is when it’s hurt. Although when you have a guy like Vlad Sobotka playing in your top-six you’ve gotta double down. I’d also think that the desire to add forward help isn’t motivated as much by Sobotka’s injury so much as it’s Buffalo’s failure to score consistently at five-on-five (or on the PP at this point) and their notable slide down the NHL standings. I just hope Botterill acts sooner than he did in making a change last year.

  1. The NHL’s GMs meet next week in Toronto. There will be conversations about replay, including two recent rulings. The first involved Colorado’s Jared Bednar, who challenged a Radek Faksa goal last week in Dallas. Faksa scored as his stick snapped seconds after being hit by a shot. Bednar asked for for the goal to be overturned because of a missed stoppage, although a player taking a shot as his stick snaps would not be a stoppage — unless he continues to play with it and gets a penalty. Bednar was not going to win that one.

    The issue here is that officials are not allowed to tell coaches they can’t review something. (I believe there are some “hint, hint” moments, but let’s stick to the letter of the law.) We’ve all seen NFL games where referees tell a team something is not reviewable, but the NHL operates from the reverse — that coaches should know the rules. Basically, what it comes down to is the league doesn’t want games slowed down by lengthy bench conversations. Do you want to challenge? Yes? Let’s go. The problem with Bednar’s situation is that the penalty is severe: that one was four minutes because he had an earlier wrong try. And a few colleagues/executives didn’t like the way he was embarrassed. So we’ll see if anything comes of it.

  2. The second conversation has to do with last Tuesday’s Boston/Montreal game where a Bruins goal was disallowed after Charlie Coyle used his skates to steer the puck over the blue line. I’ve heard a lot of arguments that Coyle did have control and the goal should have counted. I certainly agree that he knew what he was doing, and today’s players are skilled enough to pull it off. My heart says it should count. My head says if they do count it, it’s going to open up a can of worms that will lead to a disaster of unintended consequences.

I’m sure everyone is absolutely shocked to learn that the NHL has made a complete mess of their additional goal review system. The Dallas/Colorado scenario is pretty straightforward but heaven forbid a coach be embarrassed by a crappy challenge. Good to know that because these gritty, former professional hockey players have the thinnest skin possible the league will be pushed to make some other ridiculous change to replay review.

As for the Coyle play, the simple solution is to abolish offside review. They managed to take a rule that functioned perfectly and make it the hockey version of “is it a catch?” Of course, it will only get worse as the league tries to “fix” it.

  1. One coach told me his team’s internal metrics indicate that no one spends more time in their own zone than the red-hot New York Islanders. He wondered how that was possible, so he took a look. Answer: “They let you go where they want you to go — on the outside.” You get time, but you don’t get quality.

This matches up with the Isles visit to Buffalo a couple weeks back. The Sabres got victimized by a goofy goal against but otherwise did a good job controlling play. But the Islanders do a tremendous job locking down the middle of the ice in the defensive zone. There were times it seemed like there were three players standing shoulder to shoulder in the low slot. The Islanders are a team that play extremely well within the system their coach has implemented. It’s a boring, locked down style, but they’re effective doing it.

Frankly, I think the Sabres deserved to win that game, but the Isles squeezed the life out of them once they got that early goal.

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