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

Two in the Mailbox – Nylander Expectations, Analytics and a Very Bad Trade

Two in the Mailbox, the (sometimes) 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.

Praise be, hockey is back.  I wrote a really optimistic post ahead of last year’s season opener because I truly thought the Sabres had things figured out. They went on a seven-month death march to the draft lottery instead. I’m certain that this year’s roster is drastically better than the one they iced in 2017-18 but I’m not about to make the same mistake twice. Well, like 25 times.

The Skinner-Eichel-Reinhart line is going to be a ton of fun, I just hope Housley keeps them together for most of the year. I really feel like that unit is going to make some magic. Casey Mittlestadt had a quiet preseason but it seemed like he and Kyle Okposo picked up where they left off in the chemistry department. If they get favorable matchups, that pair could make some noise. Obviously Rasmus Dahlin is going to be a ton of fun to watch even if the rest of the defense corps are a little thin. The one area I’m still waiting to see more from is  in goal. I’ve never been a huge fan of Carter Hutton but he looked pretty strong in the preseason, so I’m at least hopeful that he’ll give them more than what Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson offered last year. Linus Ullmark is going to have an adjustment period so I’m not buying in on the projections that have them getting drastically better goaltending than last year. This duo will certainly be better, but I’m still in wait and see mode.

Playoffs are still a longshot in these parts but I think they’ll at least flirt with the prospect of a playoff spot with an expectation that 19-20 is the year when they really make waves. Now for some questions. Continue reading

Two in the Mailbox – Assorted Thoughts a Week from the 2018-19 Season

We’re a week away from the regular season which means it’s time to roll out the mailbag once again. This will be an abbreviated mailbag since there were limited responses (maybe I should take the hint) and because I had a handful of things I wanted to hit on in a quick hitter format which didn’t really make sense as its own post.

  • I mentioned how the Sabres finally appear to have some quality options to choose from when filling out the roster and it would appear that Tage Thompson and Alex Nylander are knocking on the door for a roster spot. Especially after Andrew Oglevie and CJ Smith were sent to Rochester. Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste and Victor Olofsson remain in camp along with holdovers such as Johan Larsson, Zemgus Girgensons and Scott Wilson. Waiver eligibility seems to be at play here and will likely shape their final decision but Thompson and Nylander have been among the bigger standouts and offer the upside and offensive chops to help push the Sabres out of the basement. They both look to have an inside track to a roster spot even given their waiver exempt status.
  • Some good news on Conor Sheary was counterbalanced by Zach Bogosian being pulled from Tuesday’s game and Phil Housley noting him as day-to-day. The severity of his injury isn’t known at this point but if he’s already banged up it doesn’t bode too well for his long term outlook for this season given his history. Matt Hunwick is already out longterm which puts the defense corps in an interesting spot. If healthy, the Sabres looked primed to carry eight defensemen and while these injuries don’t change much in that regard, their depth may be called on sooner than expected. Casey Nelson was already going to be challenging for playing time but there’s the potential that a debate over recalling Lawrence Pilut or Brendan Guhle could be here before we know it. And right now, Pilut is the more likely of the two to be called up.
    Continue reading

Two in the Mailbox – Draft Day Mailbag

There’s a ton of scuttlebutt about dealing O’Reilly, if the third overall pick is actually in play and we have official word that the Sabres are in the goalie market after confirming Robin Lehner won’t be back.

So here’s a quick pre-draft mailbag to whet your appetite ahead of this evening.

Matt/@matt_hervan – Where are the deals?

I don’t know, Matt. But I’m getting sick of waiting.

Ron/@Ehlanded – For fun, if Buffalo had the third pick in draft and not first, who would the fans be clamoring to draft? Continue reading

Two in the Mailbox – Arena Thoughts, Very Bad Trades and Offseason Targets for the Sabres

Two in the Mailbox, the (sometimes) 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.

The mailbag is back post-Asplund and pre-draft. Before jumping into the questions for this edition, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the arena as it’s been in the news quite a bit recently.

The evolving arena renovations news has been very interesting to follow and it’s something I have a lot of interest in. I re-posted my arena renovations wish list last week to share my thoughts with anyone who may have missed it the first time around. Obviously that list is pretty pie in the sky in terms of some of the stuff I’m hoping for.

However, things on this front haven’t quieted down. It doesn’t appear that any work has started at One SHK III Plaza, which isn’t exactly ideal, but it’s very clear this is at the front of mind for a lot of people. Kim Pegula’s recent comments caused quite a stir and as a result a few people submitted questions regarding potential renovations for this week. This is me addressing those questions but also adding my two cents on the current status with the arena.

The idea of the Sabres building a new area is extremely intoxicating. Although KeyBank Center was built right in the middle of a big boom in new facilities around the NHL, it seems to lack a lot of the flexibility other arenas offer. I feel that the atrium gets over looked for how unique the space is, but beyond that, it’s a very utilitarian structure. There wasn’t a lot of thought given to common areas, nor is there much flexibility to create that type of space either. Add in other factors like the tall roof and there’s plenty of reasons that a mulligan would be preferable.

I struggle to see a new arena making sense given the amount of hype and investment made with HarborCenter. There is a lot of boasting about having the only “three rink” facility in the NHL. Even if that claim is a little creative, the layout of the two buildings certainly plays a role in keeping the Combine and potentially landing other key arena-focused events. A new building, even if it was built just down the block on the surface lots, eliminates that convenience.

That being said, Mike Harrington noted that current projections have the current renovation budget at about $50 million and, frankly, that number seems extremely low to me. If the target is to bring KeyBank Center up to par with the rest of the league, that cost would need to exceed $100 million. And if they’re in line to spend $100 or even upwards of $200 million on renovations which they’ll be somewhat handcuffed on – due to the building’s current layout – does it make more sense to bump the budget closer to $500 million and get the state-of-the-art arena of your dreams?

When it comes to spending other people’s money, I’m something of an expert. It would be incredibly exciting to get a shiny new arena downtown. Just look at what the Red Wings did with Little Caesars Arena for an idea of some of the trends in new arena design. But if the Pegulas are going to require a large public buy-in, I wouldn’t be nearly as excited at the prospect. That factor really poisons the well for me and pushes my preferences towards a renovation since the requirement for public money would be that much less (plus the other issues I mentioned above). But in a vacuum? Give me the new toy and let’s see how cool they can make it.

Now, on to your questions. Continue reading

Two in the Mailbox – What would O’Reilly and Ristolainen Swaps Look Like?

Two in the Mailbox, the (sometimes) 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.

Back at it post, post lottery. Let’s get to it.

Adam/@sharpndpensel – You’re Jason Botterill. You decided to reshape the roster, you want to move Ristolainen for a forward and Ryan O’Reilly for a defenseman. Who are your trade partners, and who are you targeting?

This is a topic I’ve been tossing around for a little while now. In this space, on Twitter and in private conversations. Given that this subject was submitted by a few people for this mailbag it seems like a good time to dig in deeper.

The first thing to consider is that trading two talents like O’Reilly and Ristolainen in the same summer would be fairly unlikely. That’s a lot of negotiating to consummate two deals of similar stature. But from a hypothetical standpoint, these two players offer the opportunity for the Sabres to flip their depth and shake up the locker room without becoming exposed at a key position. But the key word here is hypothetical.

Continue reading

Two in the Mailbox – Potential Lines and Pairings, Risto Workload and Very Bad Trades

Two in the Mailbox, the (sometimes) 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.

A quick note before we begin this week. Now that the Sabres are completely done and the offseason questions are circling the same topics, the mailbox will probably come out every other week or perhaps even take a brief hiatus as more Sabres-related topics come back into focus once the playoffs wrap up. And now, to the questions. Continue reading