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.

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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.
    Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

The Instigator Podcast 6.26 – Development Benchmarks and Reshaping the Core

While some people are Mad Online that Alex Nylander has been recalled, it seems like a smart decision for an organization seeking answers throughout their pipeline. We dig into appropriate development benchmarks and how a potential three-game cameo can offer the Sabres an additional window into a player’s development. We also hit on Pierre LeBrun’s reports that Jason Botterill appears open to moving players out of the core and explore what types of moves he’d need to make in order to reshape the key contributors on his roster.

Two in the Mailbox – Buyout Candidates, Team Speed and Bad Trades

Two in the Mailbox, the 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/@JoeHockeySabres – Who are the Sabres buyout candidates? What are the buyout rules regarding numbers and salaries? Who will they pay?

The Sabres only have one buyout on their books (Cody Hodgson). The other two (Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino) are compliance buyouts, to the Sabres have room to work if they opt for buyouts. Here is a good rundown of the NHL’s buyout rules.

Matt Moulson seems like a pretty safe bet, even though it would probably be wiser to stash him in the AHL again and just eat that final year of his salary. On a buyout, Moulson would carry a $3.667m cap hit next year and $667K the year after. That’s a minimal net savings compared to simply keeping him one more year, but it would free up another contract space.

The most valuable buyout would probably be Zach Bogosian. His run of injuries have been incredibly detrimental to his time in Buffalo and he has two more seasons left at a cap hit over five million. Buffalo would gain a fair bit of flexibility if they chose to buy him out. From a contract perspective, cap perspective and even clearing a roster spot for a player with more availability such as Casey Nelson or perhaps even Will Borgen, depending how ready he is come October. Continue reading