Sabres Deadline Preview: Not Quite Buyers but Not Quite Sellers

The roller coaster ride the Sabres have been on this season hit another high point as the team rolled into their bye week. Despite falling to Chicago 5-1 and failing to get much help from the out-of-town scoreboard, the Sabres crawled within two points of a playoff spot on the eve of their bye week.

Sunday’s aftermath pushed the Sabres to a four point deficit, but their current state is a far cry from when they were fighting just to stay out of the Eastern Conference basement. Buffalo’s pre bye-week push has likely created a bit of a pickle for Tim Murray as his club is now far closer to buyer than seller status for next week’s trade deadline.

Buffalo’s narrow margin to the playoffs will erode over the next five days but they will gain back some of the games they held in hand over teams they’re chasing. It’s an imperfect argument, but the Sabres will be well within striking distance of a playoff spot, creating a difficult decision on selling expiring assets, let alone anyone else. Continue reading

Potential Return Helps Justify Moving Kane

Raise your hand if you didn’t want the Sabres to move on from Evander Kane this past summer. How about at the end of November, shortly after he had returned from breaking his ribs on opening night?

Put your hands down. Liars.

I too thought it was time for Tim Murray to cut bait from his big-ticket acquisition after Kane found himself in hot water for the second time in roughly six months. It seemed like the right choice to make; find a team searching for a bit more offense and see if you couldn’t get a little defensive help coming back the other way.

Now, just a few months later, my tune has changed. Slightly. Kane has scored at a torrid pace since early December, racking up 21 goals in three months’ time, all while going goalless through November – likely a side effect from returning from his broken ribs too early. Kane has now posted back-to-back 20 goal seasons for the Sabres despite missing 17 games last season and another 12 so far this year. He’s had injury issues through most of his career as his style of play isn’t conducive to completing an 82-game slate. However, his goal scoring has been something of a constant despite failing to hit the 70 game mark since 2011-12 (he did play all 48 games of the lockout shortened 2013 season). Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 5.34 – Talking Postgame Comments and the Sabres System with Bill Hoppe

Bill Hoppe joined the show this week to discuss the post game comments after Sunday’s loss to the Vancouver Canucks and where the weak points in Buffalo’s system lay. We also discuss the outlook on Buffalo’s UFAs as the trade deadline approaches. We want to thank Bill again for joining the show, you can find him on Twitter at @BillHoppeNHL and Buffalo Hockey Beat

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Sabres Should be Safe in Goal for Vegas Expansion

One of the storylines to track as the NHL inches closer to this summer’s expansion draft is what choices each team will make in goal. Due to their current contract situation, the Sabres are among the teams that have work to do in that department.

Unlike with forwards or defensemen, each team has a very simple set of rules to follow. You can protect one non-exempt goaltender and each team must expose at least one goaltender who is under contract for the 2017-18 season. Restricted free agents can be exposed so long as they have been tendered by their current club. It’s very straightforward and there’s little wiggle room when it comes to making a choice.

All three of Buffalo’s goaltenders are currently on expiring contracts and none have been extended at this time. Anders Nilsson is really the only one who is a threat to leave as a free agent as both Linus Ullmark and Robin Lehner are restricted free agents. That means Lehner and Ullmark will almost certainly receive their qualifying offers and negotiate a new deal for 2017-18, thus eliminating much of the guesswork when it comes to expansion. So while none of Buffalo’s goaltenders are signed through next season, they’re in much better shape than Calgary or Philadelphia, for example.

Note: All teams choices are projections and are subject to change. Only signed or notable non-exempt goalies were included on the above spreadsheet.
Note: All teams choices are projections and are subject to change. Only signed or notable non-exempt goalies were included on the above spreadsheet.

The Sabres are hardly the only team without a precise roadmap in goal in terms of the upcoming expansion draft. Philly and Calgary both have a pair of UFAs to decide on and a host of teams have goalies with NMCs but no signed backups who can be exposed. Chicago, Columbus, Nashville, New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Washington all either have starters with an NMC or an obvious choice as to who they’ll protect. However, each has work to do in order to lock in a goalie who will be eligible to be exposed. Many of these teams will simply need to qualify their RFAs, so the work for many will be simple. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 5.33 – Eichel, Booing and more Sabres Deadline Talk

Chris and Tyler spend far too much time discussing the fallout from Jack Eichel’s harmless comments following the Sharks victory in addition to hitting on Buffalo’s You Can Play Night and the fast approaching NHL trade deadline. We also focus in on the continued rumors surrounding the Coyotes and Islanders while hitting on a few more trade deadline storylines as Brian Gionta, Dmirty Kulikov and Cody Franson are starting to come up on watch lists.

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The Instigator Podcast 5.32 – Evander Kane, Trade Chip or Building Block?

With Evander Kane’s name still floating around trade chatter in Sabres Nation, Chris and Tyler discuss whether or not moving Kane in exchange for a defenseman serves Buffalo’s short and long term needs. Also on the program: the sudden trouble for the Islanders and Hurricanes and the new news on Vegas’ options at the trade deadline.

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Sabres Rebuild: The Good

Part one of this post appeared yesterday, detailing the negative points of the Buffalo Sabres current rebuild. Part two focuses solely on the good points that are pointing to a promising future.

Amending the mistakes and shortcomings on Buffalo’s roster certainly won’t be an easy feat. Some oversights simply won’t ever be fixed. For example, unless Robin Lehner becomes a Vezina contender or steals a playoff round (or two) it’s unlikely the price Murray paid to acquire him will ever be justified. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been a sufficient starter for the club either. That he’s shown to be a capable starter – and that Anders Nilsson has enjoyed a resurgence in a backup role for the Sabres – gives Murray and the Sabres time to evaluate their long-term options.

Both Lehner and Nilsson are restricted and unrestricted free agents, respectively, Lehner has arbitration rights so all signs point to him being retained for at least another season. Nilsson’s play may motivate him to explore the open market for a team offering more money and more minutes, but I’m expecting to see him for at least another year in Buffalo.

While it may pain some fans to read, if either of Buffalo’s goaltenders are likely to move on, it would be Nilsson. Linus Ullmark has turned into a workhorse for the Americans this season, earning AHL All Star honors while facing the most action in the entire league. Ullmark’s development is likely reaching a point to where further AHL action won’t be of much value compared to taking the step into the NHL.

Ullmark’s overall development may ultimately fall short of being a true number one in the NHL as his play in North America has been more than encouraging, but he hasn’t shown the dominance you’d expect to be considered the answer in goal for a franchise. Even still, he’s a young asset for the Sabres to utilize and taking over the backup role next year seems to be the next logical step.

That isn’t to say that retaining Nilsson shouldn’t be done. He’s played very well for the Sabres this year and will likely record career best numbers at the NHL level. He’s proven himself as a viable option in net capable of maybe taking on a larger workload in tandem with Lehner.

Buffalo’s long term outlook in net isn’t as bright as other teams around the league as Cal Petersen and Jonas Johansson are the only non-contract assets in the pipeline at the moment. Johansson is still plying his craft in Sweden and likely won’t make the jump to North America for at least another year. Continue reading