The Curious Case of the Third Round Picks Buffalo Shipped Away

The third round of the NHL Draft is hardly an electrifying portion of the event. The picks all hold fair value on the floor and in trade negotiations, but in either case you’re not referring to any blockbuster moves.

However, the Buffalo Sabres’ own involvement in the 2016 third round was actually somewhat interesting. Not so much for the picks they made, but for the ones which found their way to other teams.

At one point or another, the Sabres held five picks in this year’s third round. Buffalo would only wind up making a pair of selections in the round after entering the weekend with a trio of picks. Cliff Pu would be selected 69th (nice) and Casey Fitzgerald 86th while the other three selections previously held by the Sabres found their way to other cities. Continue reading

Expansion Rules will Create Crisis for some GMs

With news breaking this week that the NHL and NHLPA have agreed on the structure for  a future expansion draft, the maneuvering and preparations across the league can begin in earnest.

Reaching an agreement on no movement and no trade clauses was among the most important unanswered questions surrounding the way teams will form their protected lists. With the potential for an expansion draft taking place as early as next summer, the need for that determination was obviously important.

One position that will get plenty of focus will be between the pipes. As there is only one option for protecting goaltenders, there is a near guarantee that a pair of solid goaltenders are headed to Vegas should a draft take place next summer.

The requirement that no movement clauses must be protected could put pressure on a number of general managers to make a move this summer – or prior to next year’s deadline – to ensure they aren’t losing a goaltending asset for nothing. Continue reading

Building a winner takes more than just top picks

As the final two weeks tick away until the Sabres make the first pick in the Tim Murray era, Tyler and I decided to team up to offer an all-encompassing analysis of how the most recent Cup winning teams were constructed. We started with the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins and went straight through this year’s Kings and Rangers rosters.

We found a number of different trends and traits on each of these teams. One trait they all shared was the possession of at least one high pick (fifth or higher) who was either drafted by the team or became a priority acquisition at one point or another. However, just as important as these players were to their respective teams, proper acquisitions via trades or free agency served as an equally important trait for each and every one of these teams.

Anze Kopitar: picked 11th overall in 2005.

Our goal was to offer a comprehensive analysis of each of these teams to illustrate exactly where the Sabres still need to improve their roster outside of simply winning the Draft Lottery.

 

Chris: The current state of the Sabres has inspired a lot of debate regarding rebuilding and the best course of action to take. One particularly incendiary stance taken by Jeremy White is that it doesn’t matter who your GM is so long as you’re picking at the top of the draft. While I’m sure his point was that anyone can pick first since you’re likely to land a surefire stud with a top-three selection, the comment has turned into a rallying cry both for White and his critics.

I know we both disagree with his premise given that hockey teams are comprised of 23 players, not one or two. Without giving away the entire argument in two paragraphs, I feel it’s important for anyone to understand that shaping a championship team takes a hell of a lot more than simply picking first a few times. It’s a perfect storm of drafting, trades, free agent signings and cap management. Comparing the state of the Sabres to other teams who have enjoyed a turnaround after picking high – Colorado comes to mind as a great example – it’s safe to say that Aaron Ekblad or one of the Sams aren’t going to turn things around by themselves, no?

Tyler: Whoever Tim Murray opts to take at 2nd overall at the end of the month will not come in, put the team on his back, and carry them to a top three finish (and automatic playoff spot) in the Atlantic Division. I’d venture to say that even if Murray were to acquire another top five pick in June (as Mike Harrington believes they should) they still would find themselves outside of the playoff picture. That is not an indictment of the skill of any of the top prospects, but of the current roster. The Sabres have a multitude of holes to fill, and while one or two of Bennett, Reinhart, or Ekblad would no doubt but the team on the right track there’s still a long way to go. Continue reading

2ITB Conference Final predictions

Now that the NHL’s final four (and last four Cup champs) have advanced to the Conference Finals, it is time for another edition of playoff picks. While I was a respectable 6/8 in the first round, I only managed two correct picks for the four second round series. While 50% is great in baseball, it isn’t all that fantastic considering the picks I made.

The Conference Finals pretty much have the exact four teams most expected to see when the playoffs first opened and these four favorites certainly haven’t disappointed. Maybe Los Angeles wasn’t expected to advance to this point, but the other three were certainly penciled in.

So, with a score of 8/12, I look to improve my score as the 2013 NHL season continues to meander to a close. Continue reading

2ITB second round predictions

For the third-straight season I rolled up six out of eight correct playoff series predictions in the first round. I fully expect to almost completely whiff on my second round predictions for the third-straight season.

While I swung and missed on my Cup Finals prediction, I managed to guess most of the second round participants and I’ll now provide my predictions for the second round series.

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators

This will be a very interesting series to follow. The main storyline is the Penguins struggles in net but this will really come down to Pittsburgh’s firepower matching up against Craig Anderson and Ottawa’s ability to defend. Pittsburgh has a deep offensive lineup that would create ugly matchup choices for an All Star team, let alone the seventh seed in the playoffs. If Paul MacLean can work his magic and Anderson stays hot, this will be a long series.

Why Pittsburgh will win: Firepower is the name of the game for the Penguins. They outscored their way to the second round with little more than average goaltending supporting their back legs. This is an offensive juggernaut which also has a pair of bottom six lines capable of mixing offense and defense quite nicely. Goaltending will obviously be an issue and the hot button issue until Tomas Vokoun proves he can carry this team.

Why Ottawa will win: The Senators have continuously proven that they’re capable of overcoming and they did a fine job of that all year. They certainly weren’t overmatched by the Canadiens but I feel they will be in many ways during this series. However, if they can find offensive success they should have little issue being very competitive against this team

Outcome: Penguins in six Continue reading

Vokoun should be the only choice for Pittsburgh

Marc-Andre Fleury or Tomas Vokoun. That’s the decision that Dan Bylsma has to make before tomorrow’s game one against Ottawa. This is a vitally important choice, but it may not be as difficult as some are indicating.

The Penguins sat through two-straight first round exits in which Marc-Andre Fleury just wasn’t good enough for them (particularly last year). Their first round series with the Islanders was heading off the tracks before Vokoun was inserted and notched a pair of wins that sent the Penguins into the second round. However, Fleury is Pittsburgh’s five million dollar man while Vokoun is the emergency chute signed last summer as insurance for the Pens’ Cup winning netminder.

This year’s flame out marked the third-straight first round series in which Fleury’s save percentage didn’t rise above .900. It also gives Fleury 57 goals against (on 453 shots) over just 17 games these past three years. Vokoun has only played a pair of games behind the Penguins this post season but the solution for Blysma should be simple; play the hot hand.

When it comes to goaltending the key is playing the goalie who gives your team the best opportunity to win. As of right now, Fleury is not that player for the Penguins. Some debate will proceed over what a prolonged benching will do for his psyche but I wouldn’t be concerned with that currently. This is a team that served up a hefty ransom to obtain a trio of deadline pieces that would elevate them to a Cup Finals appearance. If Vokoun gives this cast the best opportunity to win then it shouldn’t matter who he’s replacing. Continue reading

Double Minors: Fright night in Pittsburgh

It was the great Cosmo Kramer who said, “Yamma hamma its fright night!” That line may be the best way to describe what took place at Consol Energy Center last night.

Fresh off an invigorating home win, the Sabres were looking to start their first winning streak since early November. Then Jason Williams wired a curving slapshot by Ryan Miller from at least 60 feet. You might say Miller wanted that one back.

The 60-footer was just the first of an avalanche of goals against. Miller was very clearly “off” as Simon Despres scored on a pretty poor one-timer. Evgeni Malkin chased Miller with a nifty three-on-two goal in which the Buffalo defense opted to let the world-class lottery pick shoot from the hash marks. No fault to Miller on that one, but that was one of the few mistakes he wasn’t responsible for.

Credit to Miller, who catches heat for not taking responsibility for his play, he stood up and said he was bad and was a big reason for his team’s loss. That certainly doesn’t let him off the hook, but it isn’t as if he said the system wasn’t working and there were letdowns in other areas.

Jhonas Enroth wasn’t much better during his time in the net, but he also fell victim to very loose defensive coverage.

The issues last night extend far beyond number 30 and number 1. The entire team was flat and didn’t bring much punch. Perhaps they expended so much in their victory over the Leafs that they didn’t have any gas in the tank. It would be a flimsy excuse, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a foreign one.

Frankly, Lindy Ruff made the wrong choice by starting Miller. If there is one team Miller can’t beat it would be Pittsburgh. A simple eye test would show you that, the numbers back up the reasoning as well. Add the Toronto game from Friday, a travel day into a back-to-back situation and you have a pretty good recipe for starting Enroth. (Here is some work Alex did over on BBG on Miller’s struggles when fatigued)

Executing and stopping the puck is Miller’s sole responsibility, so there is no letting him off the hook. However, it was astounding to see Enroth back on the bench last night. Maybe Ruff wasn’t happy with Enroth’s recent play, but it was a major mistake to come back with Miller last night.

  • Thomas Vanek scored again. He is having a brilliant season and has truly developed into a major talent for this team.
  • Ruff played with Derek Roy and Luke Adam between Vanek and Pominville, he is going to have to take his medicine and put more offense between his top two forwards.
  • Speaking of Adam, he had a great goal for his 10th of the year. He has had a few struggles but seems to have plateaued at a pretty impressive level. It may just be time to reunite The Subway Line.
  • Paul Gaustad is, in fact, still playing for the Sabres. He scored his first goal in North America this season. Hopefully he can get on a bit of a roll to provide some secondary scoring for this team.
  • The injury situation is downright comical. Tyler Ennis and Colin Stuart fell victim to the bug. I’ll say it again. JT Allaire was the strength coach with the 2007 Bills. They had a whole bunch of odd injuries that year. He is now on staff with the Sabres and everyone has seen the results. Maybe he is just unlucky, but his luck is reflecting poorly on the franchise.

Three Stars

1. Evgeni Malkin

2. Simon Despres

3. Jason Williams

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The Morning Skate: Injury riddled Sabres and Pens face off in Pittsburgh

Depending how you slice it, saying the Rochester Americans and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are facing off this evening wouldn’t be that big of a stretch. Fact is WBS will host Norfolk while the Amerks are on a road trip in Texas. Their parent clubs have just poached a majority of their roster.

Both the Sabres and Penguins are without numerous key players – a certain Pittsburgh center being the most prominent absence – for this evening’s game. Both teams had to travel to Pittsburgh for the game. Buffalo hosted Toronto while the Penguins were in Ottawa last night.

This is the final trip Buffalo will make to the Consol Energy Center this season; their first trip came back in October. That game was also played without number 87. Buffalo had a far healthier roster the last time they rolled into Pittsburgh. On that night, Jhonas Enroth was dazzling and Buffalo received some depth scoring on their way to a win.

The Sabres power play was shaken from its slumber last night, scoring three goals in the second period alone. Pittsburgh suffered a loss in a high-scoring affair in Ottawa. Looking at the scores from last night’s games, the fact that both teams travelled and that this is the tail-end of a back-to-back set; it may be safe to assume Lindy Ruff and Dan Bylsma will keep things close to the vest.

Highlighted Matchup

The Baby Pens vs. the Amerks. The roster Buffalo will roll out is nothing near the near 50/50 split they iced against Washington in November. The same could be said for the Penguins. However, both teams are missing star players and their depth is being tested. Whichever team gets more support from those depth players is likely to get the win.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 17GP 8-6-1, 2.43 GAA, .922 SV%

PIT: Marc-Andre Fleury 25GP, 15-7-2, 2.28 GAA, .916 SV%

Last Game

10/15/2011, Consol Energy Center, Sabres 3 – Penguins 2

*no stats for the third-straight Saturday, sorry*

Double Minors: Sabres 3 – Penguins 2

A strong bounce-back effort, led by Jhonas Enroth’s 29 saves, gave Buffalo their first win against Pittsburgh since 2009.

While the Sabres power play didn’t get on the score sheet, they were better in controlling the puck and didn’t allow a half-dozen odd-man rushes. The penalty kill was called on only once, but answered the bell, they have killed 13 of 15 chances against for a respectable 86.7% rate.

Enroth was the story of the game, he made several sparkling saves, including a point-blank opportunity while the Penguins skated with six men. Entering the year, Enroth was expected to be a significant upgrade over the past two backup goaltenders. He seems fit for the task as he played a sharp game despite a layoff of over a week.

While the Sabres do not see a back-to-back set again until November, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Enroth get another Saturday start in Tampa. He could also get the nod as the Lightning return to Buffalo next Tuesday to close a home-and-home set.

  • Luke Adam doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. He has found great chemistry with linemates Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. The top scoring line has found the net in all four games, accounting for 18 total points along the way (7+11). In addition, Vanek, Adam and Pominville are the top three scorers on the roster, respectively.
  • While Jochen Hecht may not bump Luke Adam from the lineup, there is probably a good chance that he bumps Brad Boyes or Cody McCormick from their spots. It will be a tough choice, despite Boyes’ struggles last night, as the Boyes-Leino-Ennis line continues to create chances and carry the play and McCormick offers a a physical edge that would be significantly decrease if he were to be pulled from the lineup. The one plus will be Hecht’s addition to the penalty kill. While the shorthanded unit has been stout, Hecht has long been one of Buffalo’s most responsible defensive forwards, his addition will make the unit much better.
  • Marc-Andre Gragnani has had two tough games in a row. He made a few bad choices with the puck against Carolina and had similar trouble yesterday in the Steel City. Mike Weber will likely see some time in the near future, particularly if Gragnani continues to struggle. While he has become a fixture on the top power play unit, I have to think Andrej Sekera brings the same benefits that Gragnani offers to the unit.
  • The power play, after converting three of eight chances in Europe (37.5%), has gone 0-7 since returning to North America. Christian Ehrhoff’s spot on the top unit is somewhat perplexing. As a defenseman acquired to boost the power play with his shot, Ehrhoff has been playing to the top of the right faceoff circle rather than the top of the unit. While it is still a prime shooting location, he has begun to drift low on many plays, effectively eliminating himself as a shooter. I’d like to see him at the top of the set up in order to capitalize on his shot.

Three Stars

1. Luke Adam

2. Nathan Gerbe

3. James Neal

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