Ranking the Rebuilds #9…the Buffalo Sabres

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The Sabres rebuild hasn’t been all that long by normal standards.

They last made the playoffs in the 2010/11 season with a respectable 96 points but it was clear after early playoff exits and It’s plausible their rebuild began in February 2012 when they sent  long time Sabre Paul Gaustad to Nashville for a 1st round pick (which after a trade with Calgary would become Zemgus Gigensons)

That draft also produced Mikhail Grigorenko (since traded to Colorado) and Jake McCabe but it wasn’t enough to save the job of GM Darcy Regier after 16 years on the job.

He was replaced by longtime Assistant GM of the Ottawa Senators Tim Murray, who, since his hiring in January 2014, has been tasked with building a winner.

As anyone who pays attention knows, you build a winner from the back end out and down the middle and it would seem that’s exactly what Murray is doing.


The Sabres again had 2 1st round picks in the 2013 draft before Murray arrived and had selected Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov so Murray had two blue chip D prospects when he took over the reins as well as Mark Pysyk who was drafted in the 1st round in 2010 and, of course former rookie of the year Tyler Myers who was drafted in 2008

While those players were under development Murray wisely brought in some veteran support in Josh Gorges and Mike Weber. But he was hardly finished.

In a blockbuster deal, Murray sent Myers, veteran Drew Stafford and a 1st round pick to Winnipeg for Zach Bogosian and controversial winger Evander Kane.

Bogosian projects as a #1D as does Ristolainen so Murray felt comfortable trading from a position of strength to address the Sabres long time woes at C.

But even with a lot of promise on D, Murray today signed Cody Franson, easily a top 4 D on most any team to a bargain 2 year contract and I would imagine the Sabres are set at the position for at least the next several seasons.


With enough D in the pipeline, Murray set about fixing the Sabres long time woes at C.

First up was the 2014 draft where the Sabres took Sam Reinhart in the list round and then, after losing the draft lottery to the Oilers, got Jack Eichel as a consolation prize.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Murray then swung a trade with Colorado and got two way C phenom Ryan O’Reilly in return for  Zadorov and Grigorenko.

The results going into the season is that the Sabres have addressed their C depth in a big way for years to come.

Jack Eichel

Sam Reinhart

Ryan O’Reilly

Tyler Ennis

Zemgus Girgensons

David Legwand

Cody McCormick

Oh my.

The Sabres remain shy on scoring wingers with Kane and Matt Moulson providing most of the top 6 punch but Kane has the potential to score more than 30 goals and there is at least some secondary support coming up through the system. (source)

Strengths: After struggling in almost incomprehensible fashion this season, the Buffalo Sabres are nearly ready to climb back to respectability. The team will add a franchise-changing center at the 2015 NHL Draft, but already in the system is Sam Reinhart. Reinhart is an offensively-gifted player who processes play at an elite level, and should make his linemates more effective for years to come. After him, the center pipeline is still solid, with JT Compher and Connor Hurley both top college prospects with whom the organization can afford patience.

There are several solid prospects at right wing too, with Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste projecting as gritty supports with some upside, and Hudson Fasching a finesse player with size.

The Sabres have also had a revolving door of goaltenders since Ryan Miller left but hope to have addressed that with Robin Lehner in the offseason. Lerner, with limited experience as a start is a gamble but one that could pay off.

Given the relative short time the Sabres have been rebuilding, I think it’s fair to assert that Murray is on the right track and has already addressed the most difficult tasks.

He’s going into the season with almost $9 million in free cap space and is imposition to take advantage of any cap strapped team now and in the future.

Considering the 2015 McDavid/Eichel draft, it’s going to be almost impossible not to compare the Sabres and Oilers rebuilds going forward.

To my eye, The Sabres are well ahead of schedule and, with the prudent use of all that cap space, the Sabres could blow by the “infinite-build” Oilers in very short order.

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Epic Tank Battle II

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The Toronto Maple have finally achieved a weeks long descent into the depths of the National Hockey League standings.

The latest standings in the Epic Tank Battle:

Buffalo – 43

Edmonton – 46

Arizona – 47

Toronto – 55

Carolina – 55

I’d wager Carolina will slowly pull away from this group since they are playing pretty well in their last 10GP (6-4-0)

I would also wager Arizona (1-9-0) will drop below the Oilers (4-5-1) by the end of the regular season.

I guess it’s possible the Oilers will also pass the Leafs but 9 points is a huge gap with only 19 games left in the season.

The question then becomes, who wins the lottery and why?

If ever there was a draft that the league will keep a close eye on where 2 generational players end up, I think it’s this one.

The Coyotes desperately need a marketable player and I would think nothing would make Gary Bettman happier than to reward Andrew Barroway for riding in and rescuing the Coyotes in the latest bailout in the desert.

On the other hand, Bettman might be cognizant of the fact that Rogers Communications (part owner of the Leafs) stepped up big time when it spent billions of the new Canadian TV contract.

I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Toronto “won” the lottery and drafted Connor McDavid while Arizona, if they continue to lose every game, selects American wundkind Jack Eichel while Buffalo has to make do with the #3 overall pick.

As noted before, McDavid is a GTA boy and has stated he would be thrilled to play for the Leafs.

American Jack Eichel would be a great fit in Arizona and Buffalo would still be rewarded by a very skilled pick in any of Hanifan, Strome or Marner.

It’ll be fascinating to watch.

Timing is Everything

DavidDavisBadTiming

 

At the All Star break, it appears the Buffalo Sabres are destined to finish dead last in the NHL.

I remain convinced the Arizona Coyotes will win a “managed” draft lottery as a return for Andrew Barroway bailing out the Coyotes again and will feature Connor McDavid as their marketing missile going forward.

So, it’s very likely, in my opinion, that Jack Eichel will be counted on to lead the Sabres out of the basement. But he won’t be alone.

The Sabres also have 2 more 1st round picks that they received in trade from the New York Islanders and the St. Louis Blue and they already have 2 2nd round picks with likely more to come.

ESPN/TSN analyst Pierre LeBrun has an exceptional column today on the Sabres rebuild and I encourage you to read the whole article but this excerpt gives you an idea of how the Sabres might be able to turn things around pretty quickly IF they make the right decisions at the draft and then develop their picks properly.

The Sabres also have the St. Louis Blues‘ first-round pick (via the Ryan Miller trade last season) and the New York Islanders‘ first-round pick (from the Thomas Vanek trade last season). Neither will be high picks, but they’re first-round picks nonetheless.

Already there’s a base of youngsters on the Sabres, such as All-Star forward Zemgus Girgensons, 21, as well as blueliners Rasmus Ristolainen, 20, and Nikita Zadorov, 19.

Throw in defenseman Mark Pysyk, 23, who seems ready for the NHL but remains in the AHL, as well as 19-year-old center Sam Reinhart, who starred in the recent world junior championships for gold-medalist Canada, and it’s a start. It’s not enough yet, but it’s something.

“They have some really good pieces, no question,” said a Western Conference GM. “But you have to be careful not to bring them in too soon. The big thing is not just drafting, but are they developing the players properly? That’s bigger than anything else. Are they spending enough money to have the right people to develop the players the right way? That’s very important.”

 

The last two times a team had three 1st round picks in the draft was in 2007 when the Edmonton Oilers selected Sam Gagner, Alex Plante and Riley Nash, none of whom are playing for the team and then the Florida Panthers had three in 2010 and selected Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howden. Gudbranson and Bjugstad are now staples of the Panthers lineup and Howden remains a long shot.

Considering how deep the 2015 draft seems to be, it’s a good bet the Sabres are going to walk away with at least two, and maybe more, NHL players.

The Sabres already are showing they have a pretty good idea that good teams are built from the backend out and down the middle.

Goal:

Enroth (26)

Neuvirth (26)

Two goaltenders just entering their prime.

Defense: 

Ristolainen (20)

Zadorov (19)

Pysyk (23)

Myers (24)

That’s a pretty daunting future top 4.

Centre:

Eichel (18)

Reinhart (19)

Grigorenko (20)

Girgensons (21)

Hodgson (24)

Ennis (25)

Considering the Sabres will be adding to their prospect pool with all those additional picks as well as what they may receive from selling at the deadline, they are in an exceptional position to start moving  up the standings in the very near future.

I would imagine Drew Stafford, Matt Moulson, Chris Stewart and others may fetch additional picks at the deadline and the 2015 draft will forever be known as the “Sabres Draft”.

Timing is everything.

 

 

Tanking

tanking

 

All sorts of speculation early this NHL season about which teams might tank for a chance to draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

In years past, there might have been 2 or 3 teams who were so bad that they might want to give up on the season and do everything they can to get the 1st overall pick but this season I think it’s fair to say there might be 8.

But I think, in reality the list is likely a bit shorter.

Let’s start at the bottom.

As of this writing, the team with the worst win percentage is the Edmonton Oilers (.328)

Oilers’ GM Craig (It’s Not My Fault) McTavish has already indicated he won’t be making any moves to improve his team so it’s likely they’ll limp along pretty much where they are for the rest of the season at least until the trade deadline when I expect they’ll move Jeff Petry and David Perron for “futures”. The loss of those two might cause a slight downturn in the teams  performance but not to the degree that it should have any signifcant impact on the final standings.

Staying in the Western Conference, the Arizona Coyotes have been bad and they’re getting worse. They’ve just dropped their 8th straight game at home and have only won twice in their last 11 games. GM Don Maloney has already indicated he’s getting ready to blow things up and move out sone expensive veterans and I expect he’ll soon follow through on that threat not only to start a rebuild but to save money for the cash strapped team. I would wager all of Keith Yandle, Antoine Vermette and Martin Erat will all have new addresses early in the new year and the Coyotes will go from bad to worse and then worser. This is the team I think will finish 30th in the NHL and draft McDavid. The team desperately needs a marquee name to market and I expect the NHL will do everything in its “power” to ensure that happens.

Another teams that is poised to go into sell mode soon is the Carolina Hurricanes. Jiri Tlusty and Andrej Sekera are both UFA at the end of the season and I expect both will be dealt. I also believe the Hurricanes will try to convince Eric Staal to waive his NMC so they can turn him into a first round pick and other assets. Say hello to Jack Eichel!

The Buffalo Sabres are not a very good team but they have stellar goaltending, a great coach and are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games played and look like they’ll be moving out of the sub basement.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are beginning to get their injured players back and are on a 5 game winning streak. I think they’ll easily play themselves out of the chance to draft the wonder kids.

Which leaves us with 3 big question marks…The Philadelphia Flyers, The Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars.

Now, the odds of any of these 3 teams winning the lottery are pretty low but an extended losing streak by any of them could increase those odds significantly and I can see Ed Snider in Philly, with a wink and a nod from his buddy Gary, going into full tank mode in the very near future.

Stranger things have happened.

You Can’t Get there From Here

You-Cant-Get-There-from-Here

 

11 losses in a row.

A record of 0-12-4 against the Western Conference.

The next 4 games…Sharks, Sharks, Ducks, Ducks.

Neither California team has been playing really well lately but I think any bettor would put his money on the Edmonton Oilers extending their losing streak to 15 straight.

So, what then?

I can’t imagine anything the Oilers do at this point will change their fate in any way.

They’ve apparently tried trading Yakupov and Perron and haven’t come up with a substantial return…is there anything else they can do?

I expect the answer is not much.

I seriously doubt the team is ready (yet) to part ways with Craig MacTavish and the GM has repeatedly and recently backed his head coach Dallas Eakins.

I think it’s probable that the Oilers just ride this out unless a desperate team like the Flyers does something stupid and offers a significant trade and, quite frankly, that’s likely the best bet as Bob Nicholson conducts his “audit” of the organization.

You can imagine that the organization is already having conversations about the 2015 draft with Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin seen as a reward for another lost season but I think that may turn out to be fools’ gold.

In my opinion, the NHL will do everything it can to prevent the Oilers from picking 1st overall…it is a situation that has the potential to do great damage to the league and to a generational player like McDavid.

If the Oilers fail to draft McDavid, it needs to be pointed out that both Eichel and Hanifin are playing NCAA hockey and both have the option to remain in college as long as they wish. In fact Eichel has already indicated he will return to college next season and Hanifin could easily follow suit. It’s then not inconceivable that both could play out their college careers and become UFA’s in the same way that Justin Schultz did when he spurned the Ducks and signed with the Oilers. (I wonder how he feels about that decision now?)

So, the reward for another lost season for the Oilers and their fans just might turn out to be…nothing.

Now, I would imagine the Oilers will attempt to get a firm indication of the players’ plans before the draft so I wouldn’t be shocked to see the team go off the board and draft someone out of the top 3 if they don’t get the answers they want to hear.

There are some very good prospects later in the projected 1st round but it’s likely any player selected outside the top 3 will not be an impact player (see Leon Draisaitl) next season.

So, what does a team close to the cap, anchored by a series of bad, long-term contracts and a management team that doesn’t seem to have any idea how to fix this do next?

The most likely answer, I expect, is…nothing.

At this point, the diktat from Daryl Katz may well be to put a hold on any transactions while Nicholson completes his organizational review and make decisions after.

However, the team is in a very dangerous situation…the Boys on the Bus are doing serious damage to the Oilers brand and that damage will only be exacerbated by other lost season manifested by empty seats, an angry mob mentality by those who do show up to watch the circus and, perhaps even worse, a growing apathy toward the team from what can only be described as a very loyal fan base.

“It’s an exciting rink with a good atmosphere, another reminder of how fun it is to play in the NHL.” @hallsy04 on playing in WPG tonight

 

As the very public squabbling between the team’s veterans and its Golden Child escalates, the toxic stew that is the Oilers, I don’t think it’s inconceivable that one or more players will demand a trade at the end of the season unless there is a clear path toward success delineated by next summer.

But any clear path that includes the current management group, based on its performance, is highly unlikely to succeed in the near term and, in my opinion, the Oilers are close to running out of runway with their fans.

And you have to wonder how long Daryl Katz will let his friends tarnish the brand.

Take a look at Post #3 here…

( I see the moderators have removed that post thinking it might be defamatory, which would only be the case if it were untrue)

Hold on, it’s going to be an interesting ride.