Even with Ullmark in Hand Sabres Need to Supplement their Goaltending Pipeline

While the Sabres didn’t lose Linus Ullmark to the Vegas expansion draft, Buffalo’s goaltending pipeline remains a weak point within the organization; something that will need to be addressed this summer.

It appears evident that Cal Petersen will exercise his right as a free agent and sign with one of the league’s other 30 clubs. UPDATE: Jason Botterill confirmed today that Petersen will test free agency, adding that he doesn’t expect Petersen to sign with the Sabres.

That leaves the Sabres with only Jonas Johansson and restricted free agent Jason Kasdorf (edit: Kasdorf still has a year left) in the pipeline. With Ullmark set to graduate to full-time duty as Robin Lehner’s backup, the Sabres will need to get to work on finding help in net.

Count on the draft being the first step towards remedying the situation. The Sabres will draft at least one goaltender this weekend and may have been slated to spend a late round pick on a second had they not shipped their sixth round pick to Vegas as part of the expansion draft. Spending a pick on Jake Oettinger or Keith Petruzzelli (profiled in Kris Baker’s draft preview) would provide the Sabres a high value prospect to groom over the next couple of seasons. Both fit the blueprint of a modern NHL goaltender; a big body that can move well and both would instantly upgrade Buffalo’s goaltending depth.

Beyond the draft, the Sabres could use a few assets to take on key minutes in Rochester and to push Lehner and Ullmark. At the very least, the Sabres need to acquire one goalie this summer. Kasdorf is most likely to be shuttling between Rochester and Cincinnati, if not taking permanent residence with the Cyclones after a rough rookie season. A goaltender to work in tandem with Johansson in Rochester, if not a player capable of ascending to a higher level with additional growth, will be needed. Continue reading

Minor Tweaks Equal a Major Win for Sabres Jerseys

The Sabres new uniforms aren’t royal blue and that’s okay. The slight tweaks the Sabres jerseys received in the Adidas changeover drastically improved the overall look of both the home and road jerseys.

In conjunction with Adidas and the NHL, the Sabres took a step away from the grey/silver accents that have graced the uniforms since featuring prominently during the red and black era and being utilized as an accent on the Slug jerseys. Gone are the wildly unpopular apron stripes and arm pit accents.

It’s unfortunate that there was so much hubbub regarding switching to royal blue from navy because it ultimately distracted from what was one of the better redesigns in the entire league. Prior to the rumors and guesswork – some of which I’m guilty of – I think the number one item on almost every fan’s hit list would have been the silver accents. With those two prominent and unpopular features in the trash, the Sabres uniforms are cleaner and simpler and look that much better as a result.   Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 6.3 – Vegas Mock Expansion Draft Extravaganza

With the expansion draft nearly here we sit down to offer up our own mock drafts before George McPhee announces the Golden Knights roster. We attempted to follow as close to the currently reported deals as we could in order to put ourselves in a similar situation to what McPhee will be facing. Additionally, we break down Buffalo’s acquisition of Nathan Beaulieu along with the other pre-expansion trades that went down over the weekend.

Here are links to each of the mock drafts we put together:

Chris’ Mock Draft
Tyler’s Mock Draft

Housley Hiring Provides a Bright Outlook

It isn’t often you find a pair of management and coaching candidates so universally accepted by a fanbase, but the Sabres have found just that in Jason Botterill and Phil Housley.

You’d be hard pressed to find any significant contingent of the fanbase who didn’t want Housley named as head coach and the Sabres met those expectations with yesterday’s announcement. Housley comes to the Sabres after a successful turn as an assistant with Nashville, a gold medal as the head coach of the USA World Junior Championships roster and a handful of other roles tied to USA Hockey.

Nashville’s talented and active blueline was pretty much the antithesis of the defense corps the Sabres rolled out last season and hopes that Housley’s skillset in managing that group follows him to Buffalo. One of the most attractive things about him as a coach was the continued willingness of Nashville’s defenders to join the rush and push pace through all three zones. It’s a trait that came to define Housley’s Hall of Fame career and it’s something the Sabres sorely missed last year.

Alex Daugherty, co-managing editor of On The Forecheck, the Predators SB Nation blog, noted that Peter Laviolette still maintained a great deal of control over the style of play the Predators exercised while Housley served in something of a support role when it came to dictating the system and pace. What Daugherty did note was Housley’s influence on supporting that system, something that should be very encouraging to Sabres fans. Continue reading

Plenty to be Desired with USA Hockey’s Outdoor Jerseys

USA Hockey unveiled the jerseys the US will be wearing at New Era Field for the World Junior Championships outdoor game. The reception wasn’t quite as warm as they may have expected.

The jerseys, just a long sleeved Bills jersey, are not easy on the eye. The sleeves and high numbers on the shoulders look terrific. As does the back of the jersey and the collar. It’s the front where everything falls apart. Numbers on the front of a hockey jersey don’t always look out of place, but it’s easy for things to get out of hand.

Donning a special jersey for the game is a great decision, one that would have seemed silly to avoid from both USA Hockey and Hockey Canada’s perspective. So the impetus for the Bills mashup jersey is obvious. What isn’t obvious is why the powers that be decided to go in such a drastic direction. Continue reading

Botterill Should Have Plenty of Trade Targets on Defense

Through just under a month it seems as if Jason Botterill’s train of thought on reshaping Buffalo’s blueline is similar to that of his predecessor.

Addressing the lack of talent and depth on Buffalo’s blueline would be the priority of any general manager and while the market for defenseman will be tight, there are more avenues to explore than the most popular bandied about on Twitter. Anaheim and Minnesota might be the most popular targets, but there are plenty of other teams who may find themselves in a tight spot when the expansion draft comes around.

Botterill took the first step towards shoring up the defense corps by finishing the Victor Anitpin saga. He could have easily walked away from the puck moving Russian but Antipin’s resume and Buffalo’s glaring need for help likely kept Botterill from pulling the contract offer off the table. Despite not knowing what he will offer at the NHL level, Antipin is already Buffalo’s fourth – if not third – best defenseman despite never having set foot on the ice for the team. Antipin’s resume is certainly that of a mid-pair defender but at the very worst he’d see third pairing minutes if his game doesn’t translate for whatever reason. His addition not only helps fill a hole on Buffalo’s blueline but it gives the team another puck mover, something they badly needed.

Puck moving defensemen will likely be the name of the game for Botterill and the Sabres. Even though Antipin wasn’t a player he had sought out to sign, wrapping up the contract says enough about Antipin’s ability and the type of player Botterill is likely to covet. Taking a look at Pittsburgh’s blueline can tell you that much more as Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley and even deadline acquisition Marc Streit are adept puck movers. Not all of those players can be traced directly to Botterill’s former duties with the Pens, but it’s unlikely he had no influence over acquiring them either.

Pittsburgh may even be a team Botterill attempts to pull another defenseman from as the offseason progresses. While the Pens aren’t backed into a corner like Chicago or Minnesota, they still need to make a decision on a few contributors. Ian Cole, Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin all need to be protected in expansion, as do Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin and Bryan Rust. Meanwhile, the Pens already have three forwards with no movement clauses, meaning they’ll need to choose between leaving a number of young forwards exposed or dangling multiple defensemen.

Players in bold are likely to be left exposed in expansion, thus potential targets on the trade market.

What seems to be the most likely route for the Pens is to expose Ian Cole while protecting Schultz, Maatta and Letang. That would also leave Dumoulin exposed (along with Derrick Pouliot) available to be selected by Vegas in expansion, thus creating an opportunity for another GM to strike.

Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 6.1 – Giorgio, Cal, Sami and Sabres Coaches, Oh My

Back for another season of takes, Chris and Tyler kick off season six with much of the same from the end of season five. The defenseman market has shifted since the end of the Conference Finals and due to potential moves out of Vegas. Meanwhile the Sabres have signed Jonas Johnasson, have fewer than 24 hours to ink Giorgio Estephan and now know Cal Petersen will play professionally next season. All the while Jason Botterill is hammering out his list of candidates for the head coaching job.