The Instigator Podcast 7.24 – Filling the Talent Gulf

Our plan this week was to discuss the continued impact poor drafting and generally below average talent has had on the Sabres but we wound up on a Phil Housley tangent for a portion of the episode. Last night’s loss bore all the hallmarks of a team that’s quit on its coach and it seems more and more evident that the only recourse will be to fire Housley sooner rather than later. Though there is reason to believe the Sabres wish for him to be around for another training camp and the start of next season. Between the Housley discussion is a rundown of potential college free agent targets and a look at how first round misses can derail any progress a team is trying to make.

You can listen to The Instigator Podcast on most podcast streaming services, including large providers such as iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRadio and TuneIn and most other third-party podcast streaming apps. You can find links to subscribe and rate the show below:

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Over-Thought: Ready for some Deals

We’re five days from the deadline and Jason Botterill is standing by his roster, maybe to a fault. Even if the Sabres aren’t active at the deadline, there are some signs pointing to this season being a busier trade deadline than it’s been in recent years.

Elliotte Friedman had plenty of trade fodder in his latest column, including one related to the Sabres. If you haven’t read it yet, you can find this week’s 31 Thoughts here.

  1. Columbus’s offer for Duchene screams Alexander Wennberg as part of it. Wennberg desperately needs a new start; he’s got zero even-strength goals. I just don’t know if Ottawa would be willing to gamble on the contract, at a $4.9-million AAV through June 2023.

I included Wennberg in the post I wrote a few weeks ago about centers I felt the Sabres could go shop for given the somewhat narrow scope they’re thought to be looking through when it comes to trade targets. Jeremy White mentioning him as a potential Sabres target ramped up the attention on Columbus’ 24-year old pivot.

The issue with Wennberg is his production has dipped since his big 16-17 season. Was that year a true outlier or is there more for him to show? I mentioned this in the post from last month and the point stands. At $4.9 million for three more years, he isn’t on a cheap cap hit but it’s not money that will completely hamstring you either, especially as the cap goes up. Continue reading

Just What Does Botterill Have to Offer in a Trade?

For the first time in a while the Sabres are in a position to buy ahead of the trade deadline. Or, at the very least, use their picks and prospects to add rather than selling bodies to build assets.

Their post-November slide is complicating matters, as they’re doing impressive work to fall out of playoff contention. That slide will likely temper Jason Botterill’s urge to get too aggressive prior to the deadline as a struggling team with picks to spare isn’t won’t get much charity from around the league. Of course, they probably weren’t getting too many cheap offers at the peak of their winning streak either.

We aren’t privy to any conversations Botteril is having during the season, so we’ll never know how active he is during the year. But Botterill hasn’t taken much of a shine to in-season trades in his short term as general manager. And it’s the general manager’s job to assess the market as it fluctuates to determine when to pull the trigger. He’s made five in-season (counting the Deslauriers deal made on the eve of last year’s opener) trades and only one was of any real significance. That being the deal that sent Evander Kane to San Jose and it was no secret that deal was coming.

Botterill’s done most of his work in the offseason, when prices are typically lower and more players are usually available. Even with the Sabres finally back in the conversation, he may still opt to make his big moves in the offseason for those two reasons. That will frustrate a lot of fans as you’d hope Botterill is at least working to keep his team competitive down the stretch.

The other obstacle facing Botterill is what exactly he will be able to offer that other clubs will value when it comes time. Buffalo’s pipeline isn’t packed with talent – one reason that Botterill is likely reticent to deal his firsts. Nor are the players they have in the pipeline obvious talents another team would covet. There is talent to be offered, just not the overabundance you’d want when it comes to a continued retooling.

I compiled a list of players and picks that are either obvious assets for Botterill to use in trade talks, or names that I’ve seen mentioned by fans in various instances. Not all of these are even likely to be moved, but an attempt to compile a somewhat comprehensive list of assets that could be packaged or players who could be moved in order to create new opportunities for others. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 7.6 – (Lack of) Shots Fired

The Sabres have shown their fair share of good traits early on this season but plenty of bad as well. Those bad traits were on full display in a clunker against Vegas and we hit on just what’s plagued the Sabres in their losses (and some of their wins) this season. We run through the hiccups they’ve experience on special teams while also touching on the bright spots on the roster. Other topics include a run through of some of the Amerks’ top performers and who from Rochester is likely to be the first recall this season.

You can listen to The Instigator Podcast on most podcast streaming services, including large providers such as iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRadio and TuneIn and most other third-party podcast streaming apps. You can find links to subscribe and rate the show below:

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Two in the Mailbox – Nylander Expectations, Analytics and a Very Bad Trade

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.

Praise be, hockey is back.  I wrote a really optimistic post ahead of last year’s season opener because I truly thought the Sabres had things figured out. They went on a seven-month death march to the draft lottery instead. I’m certain that this year’s roster is drastically better than the one they iced in 2017-18 but I’m not about to make the same mistake twice. Well, like 25 times.

The Skinner-Eichel-Reinhart line is going to be a ton of fun, I just hope Housley keeps them together for most of the year. I really feel like that unit is going to make some magic. Casey Mittlestadt had a quiet preseason but it seemed like he and Kyle Okposo picked up where they left off in the chemistry department. If they get favorable matchups, that pair could make some noise. Obviously Rasmus Dahlin is going to be a ton of fun to watch even if the rest of the defense corps are a little thin. The one area I’m still waiting to see more from is  in goal. I’ve never been a huge fan of Carter Hutton but he looked pretty strong in the preseason, so I’m at least hopeful that he’ll give them more than what Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson offered last year. Linus Ullmark is going to have an adjustment period so I’m not buying in on the projections that have them getting drastically better goaltending than last year. This duo will certainly be better, but I’m still in wait and see mode.

Playoffs are still a longshot in these parts but I think they’ll at least flirt with the prospect of a playoff spot with an expectation that 19-20 is the year when they really make waves. Now for some questions. Continue reading

Two in the Mailbox – Assorted Thoughts a Week from the 2018-19 Season

We’re a week away from the regular season which means it’s time to roll out the mailbag once again. This will be an abbreviated mailbag since there were limited responses (maybe I should take the hint) and because I had a handful of things I wanted to hit on in a quick hitter format which didn’t really make sense as its own post.

  • I mentioned how the Sabres finally appear to have some quality options to choose from when filling out the roster and it would appear that Tage Thompson and Alex Nylander are knocking on the door for a roster spot. Especially after Andrew Oglevie and CJ Smith were sent to Rochester. Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste and Victor Olofsson remain in camp along with holdovers such as Johan Larsson, Zemgus Girgensons and Scott Wilson. Waiver eligibility seems to be at play here and will likely shape their final decision but Thompson and Nylander have been among the bigger standouts and offer the upside and offensive chops to help push the Sabres out of the basement. They both look to have an inside track to a roster spot even given their waiver exempt status.
  • Some good news on Conor Sheary was counterbalanced by Zach Bogosian being pulled from Tuesday’s game and Phil Housley noting him as day-to-day. The severity of his injury isn’t known at this point but if he’s already banged up it doesn’t bode too well for his long term outlook for this season given his history. Matt Hunwick is already out longterm which puts the defense corps in an interesting spot. If healthy, the Sabres looked primed to carry eight defensemen and while these injuries don’t change much in that regard, their depth may be called on sooner than expected. Casey Nelson was already going to be challenging for playing time but there’s the potential that a debate over recalling Lawrence Pilut or Brendan Guhle could be here before we know it. And right now, Pilut is the more likely of the two to be called up.
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Sabres Improved Depth will Make for Tough Roster Decision

It wasn’t long ago that the conversation centered on Sabres training camp involved more questions about which players could take an unexpected leap to in order to fill a much-needed spot in the lineup.

Thanks to a flurry of summer trades and a bit of lottery luck, the Sabres roster features more locked positions than gaping holes. The acquisitions of Conor Sheary and Jeff Skinner filled out a thin left side while Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka may not be offensive dynamos, offer much-needed stability deeper down the lineup.

Who Fills Out the Bottom Six

Buffalo top-six is all but settled at this point. Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt Sam Reinhart, Sheary and Skinner are written in pen. Kyle Okposo might as well be too, though I suppose there’s room for him to bump to the third line if Phil Housely feels they can ice a third scoring line. Where the real battles will occur are in the bottom six, where there are probably three spots truly up for grabs.

Berglund is going to be Buffalo’s “third” center. He’ll likely be tasked with handling more difficult matchups, defensive zone draws and some (keyword: some) of the other duties that were previously filled by Ryan O’Reilly. Berglund won’t come close to covering all of those responsibilities, but he’s the one center in Buffalo’s camp best suited to take on a chunk of them. He’s another player whose spot was never going to be in question, though one factor that could be at play is whether or not Housley wants to inject more offense into the lineup.

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