The Instigator Podcast 8.20 – Crease Crashing

Tyler and Chris are back from their long layoff to get back into some Sabres talk a week after Duane’s viral radio call and in the midst of a difficult run of play for the home team. We also discuss Alex Ovechkin’s run at Wayne Gretzky’s goal scoring record and we also run through some options the Sabres may have to remedy their situation in net.

Sabres Results are All Too Predictable

Interesting how quickly things can change. The Sabres came out of the All Star Break and bye week with a slate of 10 favorable games and 10 points to make up in the standings. Not even 50 minutes into Tuesday night’s game, the penalty kill was 0-for-3 against the league’s worst power play and Linus Ullmark was helped off the ice after falling awkwardly in his crease.

Tuesday’s loss doesn’t change the favorable schedule, but it certainly feels like they took what was left of the season, doused it in gasoline and set it on fire. Tuesday’s loss was ugly, lethargic and entirely predictable. Anyone who has followed the Sabres over the last decade could’ve told you how this was going to go. Lengthy layoff, playing a poor opponent on the second half of a back-to-back in a must-win situation? Just about anyone could’ve given you the plot to this one before puck drop. Continue reading

Two in the Mailbox: The Lines, The Outlook and The Goalies

Another season of Sabres hockey is underway and the 2ITB Mailbag is back for another run. This will be a weekly (sometimes) edition that runs down questions on the Sabres, Bills and just about anything else you can come up with.

I’m also going to use this as a quasi-season preview since I haven’t done one quite yet and it’s worth trying a different approach when it comes to a season preview. Especially when it’s written during the first game of the year and every other season preview is days or weeks old.

This is the first season in quite a while that I didn’t look forward to with some level of optimism. That’s softened a bit after Thursday’s performance, but it was still hard to really get up for the opening of the season with so many of the same faces on this roster. Not only are players like Sobotka, Scandella and Girgensons still around, but they’re all playing prominent roles. Add in the new coach giving them all sorts of love in the press and any frustration from the end of last year comes roaring back.

Sobotka got tons of credit for his play in the preseason, but I saw a lot of the same from last year. A black hole when the puck goes near him and very few positive traits. How he wound up in Buffalo’s top six is beyond me and I can only hope Krueger finds a new spot for him in short order.

It’s nice that Thursday went as well as it did, because that will help stoke the flames of optimism. The Mittelstadt line looked excellent and despite being an island of misfit toys, the Girgensons, Larsson and Okposo line was efficient as well. If there’s one spot on the roster I’m optimistic about, it’s the blueline. And that unit was quite good on Thursday. So, let’s see if they can string some wins together and prove everyone who was doubting their roster decisions wrong.

Now, on to the questions. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 7.25 – Assessing the Sabres Goalies with Cat Silverman

Cat Silverman of The Athletic and InGoal Magazine joined the show this week for a long overdue goalie episode. We hit on a number of goalies from around the league, including Darcy Kuemper and Carter Hart. There’s even a brief mention of Sabres legend Matt Hackett. Our main focus was on Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark and just what the Sabres have in the pair, how they’ve fared this season and how they might improve moving forward.

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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The Instigator Podcast 7.7 – Positive Signs

After a successful west coast road trip, the Sabres return home with the opportunity to make headway in the standings. We talk about the positive signs they showed out west and how they can translate that into their next stretch of games which are fairly favorable. We also touch on the goaltending rotation and how Linus Ullmark’s hot start might alter the approach Phil Housley takes in naming a starting goalie over the next handful of games.

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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Who Can the Sabres Target as Linus Ullmark’s Partner?

Three years removed from trading a first round pick for a player they hoped would cement their future at the position, the Buffalo Sabres goal crease remains in flux.

Linus Ullmark is poised to step into a full-time NHL role for the first time but who will partner with him for at least the 2018-19 season is still a question. Despite holding control over his RFA rights, it seems increasingly doubtful that Robin Lehner will be back in Buffalo for another season.

Ullmark’s progression has been steady to this point in his career and there’s no doubt he’s ready for this promotion. However, he’s never handled starter’s minutes at the NHL level. So it stands to reason that Jason Botterill will want to ease Ullmark into a starters role, though his 20 game foray in 2015-16 should provide some baseline for the workload he can handle.

There is something working in Ullmark’s favor here and that is he is no stranger to heavy workloads. He saw the majority of minutes with Modo in the SHL and has been a horse for the Amerks for the past two seasons. He’s played 55 and 44 games over the last two years and he led the AHL in minutes (3201:55), shots faced (1678) and saves (1525) in 2016-17.

What’s unknown is the number of games the Sabres hope to give Ullmark this season. Do they hope to get him in upwards of 50 games? Or is a 50/50 split a more manageable workload for a rookie goaltender playing behind a roster which is expected to see quite a bit of upheaval?

The only scenario I think we can fully rule out is Ullmark playing as a true backup. Even if Lehner is brought back, I doubt Ullmark gets into fewer than 35 games with his partner getting the lion’s share. The Sabres want to see if Ullmark is indeed their goaltender of the future and they won’t be able to accurately evaluate that if he gets a backup’s share of the games.

I’m hoping to see the Sabres pick up another younger netminder who can play in tandem with Ullmark. A peer who can push him for time while also opening another avenue to find a number one goaltender. Signing a veteran that they can string along on a one or two-year deal would be an acceptable option, but I think the younger route offers the Sabres a better long-term outlook, especially with a goaltender market as thin as this year’s. Continue reading

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