The main focus of this week’s show is Alex Tuch and the impressive impact he’s had since arriving in Buffalo. We talk about the underlying numbers he’s carrying, the incredible point production and simply how good he’s looked taking a step up in the lineup and helping to anchor Buffalo’s top line.
We add some thoughts about how Tuch’s emergence can help fuel the next moves the Sabres make in terms of free agent or trade acquisitions, and how he’s become a cornerstone of the young core they’re building with.
Prior to that, we touch on the trade between the Montreal Canadians and Calgary Flames that saw Tyler Toffoli head to Alberta. We discuss Jack Eichel’s impending return and the disappointment in not seeing Devon Levi receive any action for Team Canada at the 2022 Olympic Games.
COVID outbreaks continue to impact the NHL schedule as this week has seen a number of teams impacted by positive tests and game postponements. We discuss how these most recent outbreaks are affecting the NHL schedule and what influence it may have on the league’s ability to send players to the Olympics. Also on the docket is the impressive play of Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and how he may be influencing Buffalo’s choices in net. Lastly, we touch on the World Junior Championships rosters, the Sabres prospects expected to participate and who we predict to take home gold in this year’s tournament.
Perhaps the most significant update in the Jack Eichel saga dropped on Wednesday as Kevin Weekes reported an apparent trade package offered by the Calgary Flames for the Sabres former captain. We touch on some of the context surrounding the Weekes tweet, and the likelihood that Matthew Tkachuk would be involved in a deal for Eichel. We also discuss how things could be framed from the Vegas perspective, as the Golden Knights are believed to be the other front runner for Eichel along with Calgary.
But we start the show with further discussion of the Blackhawks case and the newest developments in the wake of Gary Bettman’s press conference on Monday afternoon.
It looks as if Taylor Hall has played his last game with the Sabres. As of this writing, Hall has been ruled out of Buffalo’s game against the Devils on Tuesday, April 6. With only six more days until the trade deadline, the odds that he’s seen in a Sabres jersey again sit somewhere between slim and none.
I meant to run this mailbag a few days earlier than it’s being dropped, so a couple of these questions may not seem as timely as they otherwise would have. The news of the week is Hall being scratched for the Devils game in anticipation of a trade being finalized. It seems unlikely that he even makes it to the deadline at this point, with a quicker conclusion to a trade benefiting any team that acquires him, especially those in Canada.
I’m not sure there’s any other way to describe Hall’s tenure in Buffalo as anything other than a huge disappointment. Luckily, the one-year deal the team signed him to mitigated any sort of long-term damage to their cap or depth chart, but two goals and 19 points over 37 games isn’t what you’re expecting from a former MVP. It’s certainly a far sight from Terry Pegula’s “We sign this guy, we’re not only trying to make the playoffs, we’re trying to win the Cup.”
Chasing Hall, like acquiring Eric Staal made for an exciting and promising offseason for the team. Not only was Hall a former MVP but he was the type of top-tier talent that could have helped take the Sabres to another level. Instead, he suffered through an abysmal stretch of shooting that tanked his stats and made him look like a passenger instead of the dynamic contributor he’d been earlier in his career.
We’ll wait to see what sort of trade return Kevyn Adams gets for Hall and whether or not that can help provide either short or long-term assistance to this club. Now, for your questions.
Disturbing and unusual news broke today regarding Bill Peters and his treatment of his players, most notably Akim Aliu. Accusations of Peters using racist remarks have rocked the hockey world and we spend some time discussing the fallout from the report along with the firing of Mike Babcock in Toronto. We also touch on Buffalo’s penalty kill and the massive issues the Sabres have had when down a man. Steve Smith’s impact on Buffalo’s continued struggles is at the center of our conversation on the penalty kill and Buffalo’s recent cold streak on special teams.
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The final score really doesn’t properly reflect the way Robin Lehner played against Calgary on Tuesday. In fact, his 3.30 GAA and .890 SV% don’t properly reflect the way Lehner has played through Buffalo’s first three games. It’s also far to early to determine whether or not Lehner is any good as there has only been three games.
Make no mistake, plenty of responsibility from the loss in Calgary sits with Lehner. After staking a lead in the third, Lehner was beaten on an otherwise nondescript shot by Matthew Tkachuk. It’s a shot that should be stopped 10 out of 10 times. Tkachuk is outside the dot with no threat of a backdoor pass. While Lehner gets out of the blue paint to challenge, he doesn’t make the final necessary adjustment as Tkachuk changes the angle for his shot. The subtle extension of his stick (pictured below) drastically changes what the puck is seeing, making for the short side tally that ties the game. Continue reading →
Jhonas Enroth played big and the Sabres turned in their first 60-minute effort at First Niagara Center this season. Yet, they only escaped with a 2-1 victory over a clearly fatigued Calgary Flames team.
We made it tough on ourselves. It was one of those nights where you hit an arm or a foot, but skating-wise I thought it was one of our best games of the year.
Ruff had more than a couple of thoughts from his press conference that noted his pleasure with his team’s effort while leaving room for improvement. He noted a short handed 2-on-1 late in the first period, which amounted to little more than a routine save for Enroth, as one of the few gaffes on the evening.
The Sabres imposed their will on the Flames for much of the game. Buffalo put 18 shots on goal in the first period, followed by 19 more in the second. Had it not been for Henrik Karlsson in the first period, Buffalo would have found the back of the net four or five times. Ruff mentioned the power play created five or six chances on their own in the first. Unfortunately the extra man unit wasn’t rewarded for their effort.
Buffalo’s penalty kill was three-for-three and raised their season total to 93%, they have killed off 40 of 43 opportunities thus far.
Enroth was a big part of the victory and was somehow robbed of one of the three stars on the night. He had an easy go early on, facing only 17 shots through two periods, but turned aside 12 of 13 in the third period and finished with 29 saves. He certainly made Ruff’s decision tough going into tomorrow’s game in Ottawa after stringing together a shutout streak of 107:39 over his past three appearances.
The Sabres head to Ottawa tomorrow to face one of the four teams they are tied with for fifth in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa dropped a 2-1 game, at home, to Montreal this evening.
Corey Tropp made his NHL debut tonight, logging 6:19 on eight shifts. He had one great opportunity in the first period when he chased down a loose puck, unfortunately he couldn’t settle the puck to get a chance on net. “I thought his energy was good,” Ruff said. “For his first NHL game, with his ice time – the fact that we had the six minutes in power plays in the first period limited the first line’s minutes – but they had some great shifts at the right times for us.”
Brad Boyes was another player who benefited from a new role in the wake of Pat Kaleta’s suspension. Boyes skated on the wing with Paul Gaustad and Nathan Gerbe, a line that had seen some minutes late last season as well. They were very effective together and Gerbe put them on the board with an emphatic one-timer in the third.
With Tropp skating with the “fourth line” and Boyes up with the “third” the Sabres appeared to have great balance through all four lines. Boyes, who has been fantastic since his promotion to the power play, looked right at home with Gaustad and Gerbe, giving those two some additional scoring seems like the right decision to make for the foreseeable future. While this is only one game, perhaps Ruff will put Kaleta down with Ellis and McCormick once he returns from his suspension. When asked in his presser, Ruff didn’t tip his hat as to any changes upon Kaleta’s return next week.
For the first time all season, all six defensemen looked as if they belong in an NHL game. Not one pairing appeared to be the weak link. Tyler Myers and Andrej Sekera are very comfortable together and the remaining pairs looked to work well too.
Ville Leino, Derek Roy and Drew Stafford comprised Buffalo’s best line this evening. The trio created Buffalo’s first goal – with a big assist to Sekera – and were dangerous for the whole night. Leino seems to have found a comfort zone with these two and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to split them up.
For my money, you start Ryan Miller tomorrow in Ottawa. Something tells me Ruff will stick with the hot hand and ride Enroth once more. However, Miller is the franchise for a reason and is more than capable of bouncing back with a strong effort. He is due for a good game at the very least.
Enroth had a stellar third period and made more than a few big saves throughout the night. Credit the team for limiting Calgary’s chances for most of the contest and keeping things simple for the young Swede. More games like that is exactly what Buffalo needs from their backup. It is a crime he didn’t get one of the three stars tonight.
It will be a showdown between countrymen as Henrik Karlsson and Jhonas Enroth will each get the nod for their respective team’s this evening at First Niagara Center.
The Flames are coming off a 4-1 over Detroit last night and are crawling to stay relevant in the West. Buffalo, one for their last five, is searching for some stability. Whether that is in net, on home ice or in the standings. The Sabres were two points back of the Maple Leafs and fourth in the Eastern Conference just over a week ago. They are now one point behind the Rangers and Hurricanes for eighth place.
A dismal start doomed the Sabres on Wednesday in a game that should not have brought about that type of effort. Ryan Miller wasn’t particularly sharp and the rest of the team could not have been worse. It seems as if Mike Weber will be back in the press box after a ho-hum outing against Philadelphia. I expect this is because Derek Roy was not very good on the power play point, not because Weber played poorly.
The bottom line for the Sabres is they need to find a 60-minute effort. They have yet to do so in quite some time and it is a major reason they have won only once in their last five attempts.
Chris Bulter vs. Robyn Regehr. This isn’t very fair to compare, considering Butler is a young, error-prone defenseman and Regehr has been a rock for the Sabres for much of the season. However, these two were essentially traded straight up for one another. Plus they are both skating on a premier pairing. Butler has been rolling with Jay Bouwmeester while Regehr has skated with Tyler Myers for all but one game this season. Also keep an eye out for Corey Tropp, he has that rare size/skill bundle that makes power forwards such a commodity. He would make things very difficult if he has a good showing in these four games.
BUF: Jhonas Enroth 3GP, 2-0-0, 1.39, .955 SV%
CGY: Henrik Karlsson 3GP, 0-1-1, 3.31 GAA, .881 SV%
Since it is a yearly occurrence for the West to have 13 teams in the playoff race and two team at least 20 points out of eighth, I struggled to find a good balance of picks this season. I made a bold choice with the Kings last year. While I don’t have them coming out of the West, I have made a similarly bold statement
As training camp fast approaches the Sabres timetable to get under the cap continues to shrink.
Despite the obvious solution (sticking players in the minors), Darcy Regier continues to stand by his strategy of utilizing trades to clear the necessary cap space. Due to that apparent strategy, the rumor mill is back up and running.
Everyone’s favorite rumor monger, Eklund, floated the idea of a second trade between the Sabres and Flames. While it is an intriguing notion I doubt that either team could find a workable option.
Buffalo currently sits $3.6 million over the salary cap. The Flames are just about $1.5 million under the cap at this time. Given those numbers, I can’t find a may either team could work the payroll. The Sabres top trade prospects are Brad Boyes, Ales Kotalik, Shaone Morrisonn, Jason Pominville and Andrej Sekera. Sekera is the most attractive option based on his cap hit (2.75) and his skill level. Pominville is a close second based on his scoring touch, but his $5.3 million cap hit would require a lot of tweaking in a potential trade. Brad Boyes has a moderate cap hit and a moderate offense return, I wonder how attractive he would be for teams around the league.
As for the Flames, there are only a few truly attractive options based on the Sabres’ needs and salary constraints. Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross, Nik Hagman and Brendan Morrison. Certainly Sabres fans are hoping that the white whale, Jarome Iginla, is a target, but there is no way they could swig the trade based on their current cap situation.