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

Two in the Mailbox – When Does Mittelstadt get Signed, Next Year’s Goalies and Pipeline Graduates

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.

Matt/@matt_hervan – Which Casey signs a contract first, Mittelstadt or Nelson?

Sign this man

This is a good one. There’s been some chatter that Mittelstadt will return to Minnestoa for another season rather than signing to play in Rochester. There’s no guarantee that’s what Jason Botterill would want him to do – although it’s likely given his m/o – but that’s an option that would be on the table which could also keep the clock on his entry-level deal from starting. However, if Mittelstadt is to sign it’s my belief that it will come this spring after his season with the Gophers comes to a close. The Sabres would have the ability to pitch him on getting pro games right away, even burning a year of his ELC if it comes to that. He’d get a chance to make his NHL debut and he’d be able to play in the playoffs with Rochester as well, which should be a decent selling point for the player just as it would be an attractive development step for the club.

Getting Nelson extended seems like it’s going to be an offseason task. He’s unrestricted thanks to his Group VI UFA status but he really fits the mold of a true RFA. So it seems likely that once the season wraps up that Botterill will get to work on penning a new contract between Nelson and his agent.

It’s worth noting that my assumptions here are based on rumors and media reports on both player’s contract status. It would be just as easy to view Nelson as a player the Sabres will prioritize now rather than waiting until the summer when the clock is really ticking. Same goes to Mittlestadt as there’s been more than a few reports indicating the full court press will come in the summer.   Continue reading

Guhle, Ullmark Recalls Indicate Botterill is Sticking to His Plan

For all intents and purposes, the Sabres season has been rendered irrelevant for weeks. Their slow start has pretty much stretched the entire course of the year and they’re looking at another year in the league’s basement, hoping for some lottery luck.

Preseason chatter had the Sabres as a dark horse playoff contender, a team that may have had the pieces necessary to snag one of the wild card spots in the East. You may have even found a sports betting site like Betulator.com to place a wager or two on the Sabres outlook. Unfortunately that wouldn’t be money well spent.

The Sabres rebuild has stalled and stalled in a bad way. Unfortunately we’re left looking to the pipeline once again, wondering where the help will come from after seeing the organization’s lack of depth serve as a major speed bump to the post-2014 building process. A deeper dive on exactly where things went wrong will be coming in this space soon, so stay tuned for that.

Jason Botterill’s decision to recall Brendan Guhle and Linus Ullmark may strike some fans as a sign that things are finally changing, that the Sabres are committing to their youth and finally attempting to inject the lineup with young talent. I’m not quite so optimistic, but not because I think either of these two prospects are lacking in skill or potential, but because Botterill told us how he wants to play his hand and pulling two of Rochester’s top performers is counter to his strategy.

Getting a look at Guhle and Ullmark prior to Buffalo’s bye and at a time the Amerks have a light schedule does follow that process, however. Continue reading