Sabres Should be Open to Trading O'Reilly

When discussing the Buffalo Sabres, most expected a better product based on off-season additions preceding the 2017-18 NHL season. Defensemen were signed and traded for by incoming GM Jason Botterill while hiring first year head coach, Phil Housley. Fans were ready to talk playoffs while most sports outlets, including The Hockey News, had the Sabres on the outside.

Well, these outlets were not wrong. As of December 3, Buffalo is officially in last place in the NHL. Who would have thought that after years of bad records, it would get worse, especially after drafting Jack Eichel? Elliot Friedman reported, on the night of December 2, while the Sabres were in Pittsburgh, that the team was willing to listen on all players without the last name of Eichel. The team sucks so Botterill has to do something since it is obvious that there are players in the line-up that are not working and weighing down the salary cap. The player that seems to work best in the fast-paced system Buffalo is employing, Evander Kane, has been at the center of trade rumors. Botterill could snag a solid haul for the Sabres' leading scorer but there is a less common name that teams should be asking about: center, Ryan O'Reilly.

As Eichel was drafted, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the Sabres had traded for O'Reilly and Florida Panthers winger,Jamie McGinn, from the Colorado Avalanche for Mikhail Grigorenko (KHL), Nikita Zadorov, J.T. Compher, and the 31st pick in the 2015 Draft. Soon after, ex-GM Tim Murray extended O'Reilly's contract for seven years, worth $52.5 million. At the time, it appeared that Murray was trying to complement his young core, centered around Eichel and Sam Reinhart, with a more experienced, solid two-way player. For about two full seasons, O'Reilly was a point leader on a poor hockey team, far from the problem but not exactly being an immediate solution. It could be easily said about the 26-year old this season, through 27 games. He has not produced a point since November 20, like many others on the Sabres, which is not so great for someone garnishing the largest paycheck on the team this season.

Despite the failures of the entire Sabres team to produce offensively, as they finally broke the three game, shutout with one goal against the Penguins, Jack Eichel seems to be the player garnering the brunt of the blame for the struggles. The 21-year old has faced adversity as the only other offensive threat not named Evander Kane since the rest of forwards have accomplished next to nothing. Ryan O'Reilly, who has more NHL experience and a letter, has not been much of a threat to the opposition. His wingers, other than the Benoit Pouliot and Kane occasionally, tend to not be much faster than him, which is an issue since he is not exactly a fast skater himself. Thus far, there is plenty more to be desired though O'Reilly is still a good hockey player.

If it is correct that the Sabres are open to trading all but one player, inquiries on O'Reilly should not be ignored. As there was back in 2015, teams will covet a player of his stature: a two-way player than has produced 55-65 points consistently. His overall pace is not totally off that but he has not produced much offense as of late. When his team has been good, he has been a strong puck possession player. Possession ratings are down for O'Reilly but his team is also playing quite poorly, which is often a result. On the right team that has cap room to spare, he could garner a nice return. If traded, where would that leave the Sabres?

By trading Ryan O'Reilly, however, Buffalo would be losing their number-two center. There would be a gap between Eichel and the next guy that would be tough to replace in the short-term. Sam Reinhart was initially thought to be the second-line center of the future but the results for him at that position have not helped. Like O'Reilly, he should have faster wingers around him to make up for the lack of foot speed. It still would not be the worst if Reinhart spent some time down the middle as any chance of a playoff spot has all but faded. But again, there is another big gap at center on the third-line. Would Zemgus Girgensons have to fill the void with his 3 points? Maybe but it would be difficult to expect much production unless he gets back to his form under Ted Nolan.

Looking at the possible return, it would be similar to what the Botterill may want to seek for Evander Kane. There is a complete lack of scoring depth on the team and they may want to take on a good skating, bottom-six forward that has some term and decent cap hit. If Buffalo is looking to unload a player with a $7.5 million hit, they may need to take on a salary. What they should also seek, as the team acquiring O'Reilly would be might be in good playoff standing, is a good prospect that is in development. The bottom-six player should be one that can make a better impact than the current situation in Buffalo while the prospect has strong potential to make an impact in a year or two, whether as a forward or defenseman. 

This deal may require some "sweetening." It could take a prospect in the system, maybe Justin Bailey or Nick Baptiste (or another), to make it happen. I would try to stay away from Brendan Guhle, Alex Nylander, or C.J. Smith, if possible. And if they ask for Casey Mittelstadt, hell no. He may be the poor man's Evgeni Malkin for this franchise once he develops. The prospect of the Golden Gopher being behind Jack Eichel in future is whole reason you look to trade O'Reilly in the first place. So, some B prospects as well as a mid-level draft pick may have to go along with him. Retaining of salary could also help swing a deal. Did I mention that O'Reilly is the highest paid Sabre? And no, Eichel is not until his deal kicks in.

The prospect of trading Ryan O'Reilly would be rather difficult but again, he may better suit a team that relies on puck possession over speed. The high cap hit and offensive lull may not be ideal but Jason Botterill will not give him away if the compensation is not satisfactory. The return, stated above, would be my asking price if I was manager and it is obvious that there are others that could offer more (Peter Chiarelli to name the obvious). By stating this possibility is to not indicate that O'Reilly is not valuable as it is the opposite. He can be a strong, system player on a team that is not in running for the first overall pick in the 2018 draft. Botterill can use that to his advantage and receive the proper return. It takes two to tango but it could remove some cap space needed to develop the skilled, fast team they so desire.

Amerks Season of More Importance to Sabres Organization

The Buffalo Sabres are at a point where they have as many wins as the Buffalo Bills and their chances of the postseason are similar to that of President Donald Trump not using Twitter for an hour. If I am WGR 550's Jeremy White, I am saying that I made a mistake and said if the Sabres, not the Vegas Golden Knights, make the playoffs, I will eat a flip flop. Fans expect GM Jason Botterill to fire sale some of the under-performing players but it takes another team to actually want an available player not named Evander Kane. There may be a point and time that it happens, as Edmonton is prone to bad trades, but that time may not even be this season. In the meantime, the organization is better of focusing on the progress of the Rochester Americans and the development of its young players.

Upon his signing, Botterill preached a competitive, winning culture in both Buffalo and Rochester. It is obvious which city has taken to that. While the Sabres are tied for last place in the NHL and have the best chance of drafting stud, defense prospect, Rasmus Dahlin, the Amerks are 11-5-3-2 with 27 points. Good for second in their division, fourth in the conference, Rochester players have embraced their position and been a much improved product over the previous few seasons. There were players sent to the minors during training camp and it can be easy to sulk. With players added specifically to add value to the minor league affiliate, the young prospects have complemented solid, AHL producers while being some of the team's best performers.

Before Botterill added pieces to the blue line in Buffalo, many expected Brendan Guhle to be playing in the top-six in the NHL. Even though he has probably been the best defender in Rochester, he needs more time in the minor to refine is defensive positioning, which is a good thing. The management knows that he has potential but that there is no point in bringing him up to Buffalo to play on the third pair while the team continues to be awful. It is better for the young man to play a ton for the Amerks and be on a professional team that is winning. To say that Guhle has not been impressive would be a lie. His speed and confidence offensively is noticeable, as he is 10th in scoring amongst AHL defensemen as a 20 year-old and 6th in goals. The goal is for Brendan Guhle to be a regular top-four defenseman in the NHL when the time is right and that will all start with valuable time with Rochester.

Who remembers how people were bent out of shape about Cal Peterson signing with the L.A. Kings? Well he has strong stats after playing 7 AHL games (.947 SV%) while Linus Ullmark posts a .919 SV% while facing a league-high 483 shots through 15 games. It is fair to say that Ullmark is their guy in Rochester and it is great. After a rough 2016-17, he has rebounded nicely as a solid choice in goal with a much improved supporting cast. There is a reason that William Carrier was able to go to Las Vegas. Although he would probably be a better bottom-six forward that what they have in Buffalo, the brass were obviously unsure about their commitment to Robin Lehner. It is no goaltender's fault for the Sabres' miserable performance but they needed other options. Peterson said "bye" so Ullmark was the best prospect available in goal. It would not be a major surprise to see more from Ullmark in Buffalo in the next year or two with AHL success as a key milestone for his future.

As it shows up on Twitter constantly: no, Buffalo did not choose in a defenseman with the 8th pick in the 2016 draft. Tim Murray chose Alex Nylander. The same player who struggled in the minors as an 18 year-old and is not having the same success as his brother (maybe not so much this year). After an injury that had him sitting for 14 AHL games, Nylander has 4 points in 7 games. Recovery may take time but he still has high-end offensive talent that needs to be used while rounding out the other parts of his game. There are talks he could participate in the World Junior Championships if Sweden so desires and that would not be such a bad prospect. He will need to dominate against the best to show his progression but if he has to stay in the minors where there are vets to push him, that is fine too. There is absolutely no need to rush him into the NHL. He probably has better speed that most of the Sabre forwards but he would likely be over-matched in terms of physicality. If he is in their plans, Botterill hopes for Alex Nylander to progress in the top-end talent he can be. Even Nikita Kucherov needed seasoning and look where he is now.

So how about the forgotten players? Evan Rodriguez has returned to action after a broken wrist and has 7 points in 7 AHL games. Is a solid two-way player with good speed who can create offense in a bottom-six role in the NHL. C.J. Smith (leading the Amerks in points with 20), Hudson Fasching, and Nick Baptiste have also been working to improve their craft and contribute to the early success of the Americans. Each of those players is different but is putting in the time in the minors to improve and stay competitive. C.J. Smith has shown strong speed and skating with solid puck skills and an edge for a smaller player. Might not been a bad player to round out the bottom-six in Buffalo as he progresses. Fasching is not the fastest skater but is still a hound around the net, able to chip in a few goals by the paint. Certainly not a bad attribute for a needed element and for a player who missed quite some time due to injury last season. Nick Baptiste is still very fast and aggressive and not afraid to shot to puck. With 9 points in 14 games, more success might lead to another call up since his 4 game stint in Buffalo and get more than just 8 minutes of ice time. Justin Bailey had amassed 2 goals in 4 games and was fine with 3 points in 7 in the NHL before an injury put him out of commission. Once healthy, he will hopefully get plenty of time in Rochester as Seth Griffith has cleared waivers and can join him.

Since Daniel Briere and Chris Drury left Buffalo, the Sabres have not had a playoff/championship contender since. The tank seemed to drag but brought the desired outcome: Jack Eichel. Some ill advised contracts and trades have been made which have set the franchise back but their must be some pride that the Rochester Americans are higher in the standings as players develop with the NHL in mind. Bringing Brendan Guhle to Buffalo may appear like a solution but it will only be out of desperation. Hudson Fasching gets a look tonight as the team desperately needs a goal after being shutout for 3 straight. If he or a few others get a game here and their while the Amerks have off, so be it. It will not kill them. But expecting that they can turn it around is not right. There has been so much done wrong that it is time to do some right. It starts with the kids and team in the AHL so that they can be the parts the add the what is hopefully a successful NHL down the road.

Sabres Keys Defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins

3: a common par for your average miniature golf course. The same number can also be identified as the total number of goals that the Buffalo Sabres have scored over the last three games since Rasmus Ristolainen has returned to the lineup. And this is not one goal per game: it is 3 goals in one game (Edmonton) and none in the other two (Montreal/Tampa Bay). Have the Sabres put many pucks on goal in these games? Yes. The problem is that it is hard to score when few shots are taken from the slot and few players are near the opposing goal crease.

That pretty much sums up the past 3 games. Decent time of possession and shots on goal but many of the chances not being timed well and easy for opposing goaltenders to stop. During the following practice, Head Coach Phil Housley and staff were reportedly demanding that players create traffic in front of the net in the offensive zone, a weakness during the past two games. Pittsburgh Penguins' starting goaltender, Matt Murray, is week to week with a lower-body injury, calling upon Tristan Jarry to fill the crease, who is 2-0-2 since replacing the previous back up, Antti Niemi.

Despite being 5th in the Metropolitan, the defending Stanley Cup champions will still be a handful for the Sabres. Traffic is needed in front of Jarry so that they do not make him look like Dominik Hasek. Evgeni Malkin has also missed time due to an upper-body injury but Pittsburgh has built depth into the organization. And with zero secondary scoring (not that they are scoring at all) and being much slower, this game is likely a mismatch as now Jordan Nolan has found himself playing with Ryan O'Reilly. Yes, the player who was waived by the Los Angeles Kings, and has 4 points in 23 games, could be in the top-six. Nolan is just one member of what has been a non-threatening bottom-six forward group in Buffalo. Was it mentioned that this team is slow? Definitely not a good thing.

This article could go on about how bad Friday, and probably Saturday's, games will likely end for the Sabres but here is how they can achieve the impossible: a win.

Net-front traffic: You know it is bad when Rasmus Ristolainen has to leave the blue line to crash the net and nearly injure himself while doing so. Throughout this season, the Sabres have not had a net-front presence in the offensive zone, giving opposing defensemen and goaltenders a simple night. With few exceptions, shots on goal are coming outside the slot with little attempt for screens, deflections, or tap-ins. The Pittsburgh defense is solid and will need to be challenged so that Buffalo has the remote chance of a bounce or strong scoring chance. Unfortunately, some players are meant to do it, others are not. Or some just choose not to. Players will need to dig or the coaching staff will be forced to sit some surprising names.

(Secondary) Scoring: Despite recent struggles, Jack Eichel and Evander Kane are the most dangerous offensive players Buffalo has. Even against Tampa Bay, Eichel's trio created chances, outside of the last minute gaffe with the extra man, down 2-0. Many players have been disappointing in the first quarter, as Kyle Okposo ($6M AAV), Sam Reinhart, and Ryan O'Reilly lead the way with inconsistent offensive efforts, which will make it harder on the top-line. Add in Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Jordan Nolan, and Matt Moulson, that is a combined 11 points scored by the regular bottom-six players. For a team that wants to play with speed, that is very much lacking throughout the forward group. Housley cannot make these guys skate faster. They either can or cannot. But for now, they will have to get to the net and get a goal or two on Friday and Saturday if the Sabres stand any chance of winning and competing.

The Defense scores a goal: Like their goal scoring in the last two games, 0 is the number of goals scored by the defense core of the Buffalo Sabres. One would think that a puck would have bounced off of an opposing player's butt and gone into the net at some point in 25 games. Hell, even Roman Polak managed that. The defensive play has improved but they need to just score one to break the goal scoring slump for Sabres' defenders. Zach Bogosian, who has been injured since the preseason, is on the fence after a reportedly strong week of practice, which could be a nice boost on the right side. He is, however, bound to have some rust. Marco Scandella had a rough first 5-7 games until he was consistent defensively so do not expect great things just yet from a player who has missed all of the games this season. Regardless, one of these players needs to get one. If they just cheat up into the high slot once, they may find the back of the net. Just one. Please?

Luck: They are going to need it. The Penguins have 13 points on the Sabres and are still very good. Sidney Crosby is still awesome and Phil Kessell (32 points and team lead) is not too shabby either. Crosby may be a -2 but any good hockey person knows that stat is next to irrelevant when evaluating a hockey players value. It will take a miracle to win either of the next two games, even with a back-up goaltender.

Sabres Keys to the Game vs. Montreal

Thankfully, I have had my wedding, honeymoon, and a busy work schedule over the last month because the Buffalo Sabres have not been worth watching. Coming back from the Caribbean and seeing 3 straight losses assured me that I had not missed much. After 7 games without a win, the blue and gold finally won, though against an also struggling Edmonton Oilers team. Rasmus Ristolainen’s return brought more help as the blueline is starting to get healthy. Jack Eichel’s line out-performed Connor McDavid’s and Lehner was oh, so close to a shutout. But can they bring back some momentum this evening versus the Montreal Canadiens, who are just 3 points ahead in the Atlantic.

Montreal is still a 52.8 CorsiFor% though, like Buffalo, struggles to score (30th in the NHL). Jonathan Drouin, acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning for Mikhail Sergachev, has 13 points in 22 games, which is 3rd on the team but many would have expected more out of a player that the franchise invested in long term. It may look worse to Hab’s fans as the 19-year old defender has 14 in as many games. And is the team ever going to learn how to use Alex Galchenyuk? Claude Julien teams are known for scoring by committee but does this system work with these players? The same could be said about Buffalo, who is still about 5-8 players away from having an up-tempo system.

Regardless of Montreal’s unsurprising struggles, they have beaten Buffalo twice already and could certainly do it again. Controlling play is important to this game as the Canadiens are good at being opportunistic, which leads to the keys to tonight’s game for the Buffalo Sabres.

Minimizing mistakes: Montreal is not the fastest team but they are good at taking advantage of mistakes. There positioning is sound enough to score if the Sabres are careless with the puck. Buffalo can be ahead in shot attempts all they want but if they are not closer to the net, it could be bad news. Puck smarts will be the key to a back to back game and their fourth in six nights.

Eichel needs to hit the net: No, Jack Eichel is not regressing, despite some struggles and frustration. After scoring last night, he needs to ensure that more shots are on goal. Evander Kane will be taking the bulk of the shots so it is important that they hit the goalie. Despite elite playmaking ability, the threat of Eichel’s quick release needs to be a weapon. In my opinion, Jack Eichel’s marquee attribute is that he is as much of a threat shooting as making highlight reel passes, or vice versa. Both those skills are essential to the Sabres offense, as secondary scoring and speed are not great.

Another strong game from Ristolainen: Even after missing some games, Rasmus Ristolainen found himself playing over 27 minutes last night. And they were also strong minutes. No offense, but Justin Falk should not be on the top-pair, like ever. Ristolainen still has his naysayers from poor advanced stats in past seasons but he has performed better in (50.9) CF% as well as being at 1.1 points per 60 minutes. Playing with Marco Scandella has helped him, an obvious upgrade over past partners, but he will need to be significant once again. With 2 assists last night, he has 7 points (0+7) in 14 games. The young Finn has the offensive ability so it will be essential for him to have a repeat performance.

On Eichel's Wing, Okposo Needs to Produce

Nothing is more obvious about the Buffalo Sabres than their inconsistent play and lack of secondary scoring, early on. The only constant has been losing, despite a comeback, overtime win in Boston last Saturday. The team has the right to feel better about their win but they are not a finished product. The team is witnessing improvements with players who had not produced significantly within the first five games or so (Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart, Benoit Pouliot) but one player has shown little progression under Phil Housley that most had not expected: right-winger, Kyle Okposo. Said struggling forward may have a great opportunity to return to the scoresheet on Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings: a spot alongside star center, Jack Eichel. This arrangement, however, is all but permanent and only Okposo can affect that.

It is hard to imagine that the now fired General Manager, Tim Murray, would have spent $42 million on a player to have one assist in 9 games. This very phenomenon must have the current brass scratching its head as the 29-year old winger found himself on the fourth-line. But it was earned. After his best effort on Saturday, he will be featured on the Sabres top scoring line with Eichel and Evander Kane, who are both over a point a game. Players like Zemgus Girgensons (injured) and Jason Pominville have been very good alongside the franchise center and Okposo can reap the benefits of his current position if he puts the last 9 games behind him. The veteran winger has produced well at even-strength in the past but is far below that to start the season. When paired with a center who is at 2.7 points per 60 minutes (P/60) at even-strength, Okposo will be forced to follow suit.

Both GM Jason Botterill and Housley have exercised patience with Kyle Okposo but they will grow weary if the trend continues. With an increased cap hit for Jack Eichel next season, they will be looking for ways to ensure they can afford to make decisions around that. To sink $6 million a year into a player who produces 1 point in 9 games does not appear to be what Botterill will bargain for with his background with the salary cap. It is unlikely that Okposo will continue at the current pace and he can return to form with the team’s best scoring line. He has gone through some tough health situations within the past year but the team will have to look out for its best interests. Justin Bailey has made an impression in his return so it is important for the winger to produce or be sat. The time is now.

Sabres Early Results to be Expected: 3 Things to Watch vs. Sharks

After reviewing the first 3 games of the season for the Buffalo Sabres game, I come out thinking “eh, I am not shocked.” The home opener may have even exceeded my expectations as they were not as dull and dreadful as what fans are accustomed to. The next two games were not a surprise either, based on how I thought the team would execute with 10 new players in the line-up and a very different philosophy from Coach Phil Housley. Significant change (again) leads to growing pains (yes, again).

Now, I am not going to quote the late Herb Brooks but it will continue to frustrate fans each time there is a change and no immediate results. Naturally, you expect success from the start but it is just not realistic. Learning a new, aggressive system requires prompt yet smart decisions and it was clear there were plenty of wrong decisions in the previous two games. Housley explained that the Sabres focused on defense and breakouts, which they struggled with before the coaching change, after allowing 15 goals over 3 games. There are players with habits that need to be broken or they will see themselves on the out.

Another significant factor in implementing a high-speed style is conditioning. I am not sure if some of the old guard has been asked to do what is being demanded by the coaching staff. If anyone has ever played at full speed, with quick execution, it is exhausting without the proper strength and conditioning, even for one shift. When fatigue sets in, brain farts ensue, which often leads to some of the sloppy play by Sabres' skaters.

Conditioning is not always physical, but mental as well. When the going gets tough, will players be able to stay calm and do what is expected? By the end of the season, the brass will know who is in and who is out, with some names that may shock Buffalo hockey fans. As for now, the Sabres must work to get over the rough patch against a struggling San Jose Sharks team who is also yet to win. The players must take this early trip out West as an opportunity to absorb hockey and know their new teammates. As lines show, there was plenty of juggling in attempt to right the ship.

As we try to stay awake on the east coast, here are 3 things to watch for tonight as the Sabres search for their game and a win:

Reinhart to wing: Sam Reinhart was thought to add depth as a third-line center but he has not exactly excelled. His lack of impact has found himself off of any powerplay tonight. There were questions about his dedication last season and being -6 with 1 shot on goal only adds to the thought. With a move back to the wing, will Sam have a more profound impact, as they add a faster, Johan Larsson down the middle from his fourth-line, wing position? Reinhart’s 64.2 CorsiFor% shows he is not an all-out liability but must have more of an impact with over 58% of his face-offs in the offensive zone. GM Jason Botterill is looking for speed up the middle, which is not Reinhart’s strong suit. On the wing, can he be in the correct position to score and defend? He is very intelligent but it is a matter of production at this point.

Gorges cracks the line-up: Most had Josh Gorges pegged as a 7th defender, to be used in case of injury to an enhanced blueline. The true story is that the additions have yet to prove themselves, forcing Gorges to take rookie defenseman, Victor Antipin’s, spot. Many question why Matt Tennyson is not sitting but it may be more that he is the only right-handed defender not named Rasmus Ristolainen than him being any better than Victor Antipin. Despite situational lapses, Tennyson has been better for shot metrics than Antipin, but we all know that Gorges may be even worse in those same statistics. The veteran defenseman, however, will push his teammates as you cannot question Gorges’ commitment and effort. I am unsure of his impact in this game put it will be interesting to see if the move inspires anything.

Breakouts: Defensive zone breakouts have been…well…not always breakouts. Turnovers have been more noticeable than good puck transition. As aforementioned, the Sabres coaching staff focused on defensive zone strategy, including smart movement of the puck out of the zone during yesterday's practice. At times, it appears that the forwards are looking to cheat up ice vs. be an outlet for the defensemen. This may have been what Dan Byslma was asking before but team play is being stressed in all zones by Phil Housley. Timing is everything with game flow and the team has not grasped it well enough yet. There does need to be an effort to get it right by all players or the defenders will be forced to throw away pucks or get it taken from them.

Let’s face it: no defenseman on the Buffalo Sabres is Erik Karlsson. Few players in this league can skate their way out of trouble like the Swedish, Norris Trophy winner. If the whole team does not buy in tonight, or panics, it will be another 6 goals against and a fan base that continues to be irritated.

Buffalo Sabres vs. Montreal Canadiens: 3 Things to Watch

The regular season begins tonight for the Buffalo Sabres with much excitement, most notably starting with an eight-year extension for Jack Eichel, worth $80 million ($10M AAV).  GM Jason Botterill, when posed the question about the captaincy, stated that Head Coach Phil Housley and Co. will begin the season without naming a team captain.  Most expect this as a delay of the inevitable: Jack Eichel wearing the C.  Housley, through his press conference this morning, stated that his team will include four, rotating, alternates, without naming names.  We can all guess who but I imagine that will be addressed when the team is introduced.

With significant changes to the roster, administration, and coaching staff, the goal is for the Sabres to be a faster, more aggressive hockey team, a similar style to that of the Nashville Predators.  As Buffalo has subjectively more high-end talent at the forward position, fans are ready to see the Sabres move on from tougher times.  It all starts with game 1 of 82, against 2017 division leader, the Montreal Canadiens.

3 Things to Watch:

1.       How will the Sabres start?  Hockey fans in Buffalo are anticipating an exciting start to the season against a division rival.  If history repeats itself, the Sabres start will be anything but that.  Slow beginnings to hockey games have plagued this team forever and it would be in their best interest to change the pattern.  Skating is a key element to Phil Housley’s philosophy and he, as well as the Buffalo faithful, will be disappointed if the team lets the game come to them.  It would not be a huge surprise if the Sabres come out watching but they need to turn the heat on Montreal.  Players who come out soft or skittish will not play under this regime.  It must start now!

2.       How will Matt Tennyson fare?  Coach Housley announced that new defenseman, Matt Tennyson, will start due to injuries.  It may surprise some that Josh Gorges will not dress but the coach believes that the 27 year-old defender fits the style of play the team needs.  Based on preseason performance, that appears true.  Gorges was not bad but the offensive upside of Tennyson has intrigued the coaching staff.  Defensemen joining the rush is a key element and tonight is our first look at how the AHL veteran performs in NHL action.  Botterill and Housley obviously believed he was worth further evaluation.

3.       Sabres transition game.  The Canadiens are predicted to not be a division leader and a significant factor is the lack of speed on defense.  As the GM Marc Bergevin has traded P.K. Subban, Nathan Beaulieu, and 19 year-old Mikhail Sergachev, while adding Karl Alzner and Shea Weber, over the last 18 months, skating was not their focus on the back end.  I would imagine that it would be a challenge for the Sabres to battle in the paint but they can find success in transition and on the rush.  Montreal forwards have some speed but the defense can be beat.  They need to make it harder for them in transition by skating.  That may be the only way to beat Carey Price, as he is arguably the best goaltender in the league.  Speed can kill, and it is important for Buffalo skaters to make it a nightmare for slower, Montreal defenders.

Calling Penalties is Good but Will It Last

After a year without hockey, there was pure excitement surrounding the 2005-06 NHL season as it approached. With it came significant rule changes due to lack of scoring and overall entertainment value of the professional sport. The shift focused on penalizing all obstructions, regardless of intent, not changing players after icing, limiting goaltender equipment, and changing ice-line positions, to name a few. As the product was boring prior to 2005, expectations were high.

Sure enough, the game was instantly exciting. For a change, there was little tolerance for clutching and grabbing as well as other previously known infractions and fewer stoppages in play. A noticeable difference was the increase in scoring, as there were over 1,100 more goals scored in the 2005-06 season than in 2003-04. The average goals per game increased by nearly 1 goal, which would add to more exciting play. Fast players could be fast players, with a player like Daniel Briere, a smaller forward, emerging as a huge offensive force for the Buffalo Sabres. Most fans experienced a better quality game.

Since then, scoring has dropped lower and lower, with slight peaks here and there. Remember those penalties they used to call? Forget that! If the playoffs have not been enough proof that infractions are not enforced, then the Buffalo Bills will end the draught. Slower, less skilled players could just grab, hook, or slash a more skilled player with little consequences. This, in fact, was leading to injuries of very good, young hockey players. The only improvement from then to now is that fewer players are being hit in the head by players who should not leave the AHL as well as a decline in fighting. Otherwise, it is easy to sleep through a pro hockey game without feeling deprived.

Enter the 2017-18 rule changes. Teams are now penalized for wrong offsides challenges, which is the most intriguing change. An even better change would be eliminating the challenge altogether but, you know, baby steps. Or, just getting rid of offs…my bad, I am going on a tangent. No timeouts after icing, which might save 1 minute of an entire game. There is also the attempt to limit faceoff and stick infractions, which have been called more frequently in the preseason. Sportnet sees a possible return to the ’05-06 level regarding penalties, a nuisance to players but a potential increase in entertainment.

Though the new rules address different aspects of the game, will it last or be forgotten in a few years as usual? History proves that the latter is inevitable. Coaches and players find their way to “cheat” the rules and get away with it, with defense overtaking offense. It would be pleasant for skill to be the highlight of the show versus Jack Eichel being held on his way to the net by a slow defender. Creativity with the puck should trump butt goals, ideally, but what is it about this league and going back to defensive, grinding hockey? The goal, inevitably, is to improve the quality of games while preventing players from being injured from opposing sticks. Although I believe it is up to the players to make a difference, if they respect each other as they claim to, at least there is an attempt to get it right.

Hockey fans: remember that this may last one or two years. Before you know it, the NHL will be back to fewer penalty whistles and more goals that bounce off a player’s leg. Enjoy what could be a fun year of scoring, where skill outweighs “grit.” Will someone score 60 goals or get 90+ assists? If the rules are enforced through the end of the season and into the playoffs, it has a great chance. I hope I am wrong, but it may not be the same during the following season. Knowing the so-called “Best League in the World,” history is bound to repeat itself.

*References include SportsNet,, and

Lightning Crashed, But Will They Thunder Back

Most had expected the Tampa Bay Lightning to be contending, with the Pittsburg Penguins, for a Conference Championship in the East. Not far removed from being in the Stanley Cup Finals, and a season from the ECF, one would think that it is time for them to make another run at it. But after 17 games into the 2016-17 regular season, one of the worst possible scenarios occurred: star center, Steven Stamkos, had a torn meniscus. The face of the franchise, that GM Steve Yzerman invested an eight-year deal on, would not return. From that point, the contender from Florida ended the season in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, showing little sign of recovering, despite a breakout performance from winger, Nikita Kucherov (85 points). Tyler Johnson, nor Ondrej Palat, would come close to providing the needed scoring in Stamkos’ absence, dooming them. Even Victor Hedman’s outstanding performance (72 points) and solid run as the season concluded were not enough.

In 2017-18, the Hockey News is predicting that the Lightning will win the Atlantic Division. But do they have the depth to not disappoint and will it all work out? The brass are in belief and Coach Jon Cooper hopes that fans, as well as ownership, have a short memory. With an open Atlantic Division, Tampa Bay has the potential to seize the first spot. Few teams in the league have the potential to compete for the finals yet the same potential to be outside of the playoffs and they must hope that their promises overcome the uncertainties.

How the Lightning win the Atlantic:

·         Steven Stamkos is back! One the best goal scoring centermen being in good health is a must for the Lightning. Stamkos returns and with a vengeance. He is back to his 40+ goal self and misses fewer games. The absence does not hurt his productivity.

·         Team scoring matches Stamkos. Kucherov continues to be a point-per-game forward while Hedman contributes heavily from the back-end. Tyler Johnson bounces back to his productive ways and can also play more than 70 games. Palat passes the 60 point mark again. Ryan Callahan chips in 20+ goals.

·         Defense core overachieves. Hedman is great as expected in all zones and situations, dominating the opposition with partner, Anton Stralman. Young Mikhail Sergachev makes the opening line-up and plays in the top-4 for at least half of the games. The 19 year-old has been great the junior level, including a Memorial Cup (though the host team), which translates well to the NHL. Brayden Coburn or Dan Girardi find their way in to the 3rd pair, which is best suited for them regardless.

·         Andrei Vasilevsky is lights out. His save percentage stays over .920 and comes up big.  He shows Yzerman that it was totally worth the 19th pick in the 2012 draft, proving he can be as good as Pittsburg’s young netminder, Matt Murray, who has won back-to-back cups by 23.

·         They get the best of the Atlantic Division. The Sabres, Panthers, and Leafs do not take the next step while the Canadiens and Bruins regress, a very, possible phenomena. The Senators need Erik Karlsson to do it all and the Red Wings…well…they are just bad.

How they repeat themselves:

·         Injuries: the most problematic occurrence for the Florida team. Stamkos finds another way to miss 50+ games. Callahan continues to feel the issues with his hip. God forbid, the Lightning get another freak injury like they tend to have. They have lost Hedman for significant time in the past. With lack of depth at center and defense, the team cannot keep pace with the league.

·         The defense shows their true colors. Outside of the likely top pair (Hedman-Anton Stralman), the rest of the D-core cannot keep up with the league. Sergachev has significant growing pains, taking chances and failing to be consistent. Coburn and Girardi take on minutes they cannot handle while getting beaten by faster competition, both defense and forwards. One injury to the top pair is a monster setback as the Lightning lack blueline depth.

·         Vasilevsky is like many young goaltenders before him: inconsistent. He allows goals that leave him embarrassed sometimes. When Hedman’s pair is not on the ice, the team is hemmed in their own zone with little reprieve. The 23-year old shows again why it takes a while to become a consistent presence between the pipes. As Ben Bishop is gone, he must be the answer, which weighs heavily on him.

·         Surprising teams take a step forward in the Atlantic. The Sabres learn quick and defy expectations. The Leafs are a force to be reckoned with while Carey Price and Erik Karlsson push for the Hart Trophy. The Panthers can stay healthy and make it tough with the Bruins being a solid possession team. The Lightning learn that there are absolutely no off days in the Atlantic division, which may be closer to the truth. And the Red Wings...sorry, I have nothing.

I cannot imagine what it feels like to drop off as far as the Lightning had this past year. The Stamkos loss was obviously a blow but how do you struggle when you have two players over 70 points. They have survived with his injury before. Adding Sergachev does address a need but will he be ready and was it worth exchanging Jonathan Drouin, who eclipsed 50 points finally? If Tampa Bay fails to move on from what they could say is a “fluke,” is Coach Jon Cooper the scapegoat, or does it go deeper? I imagine if this team does not return to its contender form, ownership will be looking for an explanation and it may not end well. Heck, Stamkos did not take a modest raise to be on a club that is in the draft lottery. It is win now time.

Predicting the contracts of the remaining RFAs

There are two types of NHL free agents.  They are UFAs and RFAs.  UFAs, or unrestricted free agents are available to any team, and any team can sign that player.  RFAs, or restricted free agents are only only available to that players' team.  But, another team can offer an offer sheet (which is a contract) to that player.  If that player accepts, the player's team can either match the offer given by the opposing team, or let the player sign the other team's contract.  As compensation, the player's original team is awarded a draft pick or picks, based on the salary offered from his new team.  To be a UFA, you have to be at least 27 years old, or have played in at least seven NHL seasons.

There are 11 remaining RFAs in the NHL now, but three of them, Robbie Russo (Red Wings), Tyler Wotherspoon (Flames) and Petteri Lindbohm (Blues) won't be on this list simply because they aren't NHL starters and will get under $1 million.  I will be predicting how much money each RFA (besides the three above) get.  Also, I am writing this on September 5th, so if one of these players have signed when you are reading this, that is why.

David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins

Pastrnak, also known as "pasta", broke out in 2016-17, with 34 goals and 36 assists for 70 points in 75 games.  That's the most goals and points scored in a season by any of the remaining RFAs.  Also, at 21 years of age, he's tied with Sam Bennett for the youngest guy on this list.  It's pretty clear he will get the most money of anyone on the list.  Pastrnak has had trade rumors swirling around him since NHL's Brian Lawton broke the news that him and the Bruins could not agree to a contract. But, I still predict that Pastrnak will get an eight year deal, worth $66 million.  That's a cap hit of $8.25 million.  This is just $2 million less than what Oilers star Leon Draisaitl got.  TSN's Darren Dregor tweeted today that Pastrnak is comparing his deal to Draisaitl's, and playing with Connor McDavid, Draisaitl should score more points, so that's why I think he just gets the edge over Pastrnak.

Bo Horvat, C, Vancouver Canucks

Horvat led the Canucks in goals with 20 and points with 52 in 81 games last year.  His 32 assists were second on the club behind Henrik Sedin.  At just 22, Horvat has a bright future.  Entering 2017-18, Horvat can be Vancouver's top center, though he'd be a number two center on most clubs. Although I can also see Horvat being traded if they can't work anything out, I predict he will get a six year contract worth $36 million.  That is a cap hit and AAV of $6 million.  That would be a solid contract for Horvat!

Damon Severson, D, New Jersey Devils

Last offseason, the Devils chose to trade Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall over Severson.  Using him as a number one defenseman in 2016-17, Severson scored just three goals and 28 assists for 31 points, and finished as a -31.  Severson is looking for a much better year in 2017-18.  I think he can be moved down to the second pairing for his benefit.  I predict the Devils go with a bridge deal, at three years for $12 million, and an AAV and cap hit of $4 million.  That's so the 23 year old will still be an RFA when the deal expires, and if he is successful in the three years, they can give him the big money, and if not, either trade him or sign a small-term deal again.

Andreas Athanasiou, F, Detroit Red Wings

In his rookie season, the 23 year old Athanasiou (pronounced Ah-thin-uh-see-yu) scored 18 goals and 29 points in just 64 games.  His blazing speed created some awesome highlights.  But, the Wings have been unable to sign him this offseason.  Athanasiou has threatened to go to the KHL, and Darren Dregor also tweeted today that he likely will.  If Athanasiou changes his mind, I think he'll sign a 6 year, $24 million deal with a $4 million AAV.  He only scored 29 points last year, so I wouldn't give him too much money, but you could up it to $27 million ($4.5 million AAV) to keep him in North America.

Josh Anderson, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets

In his rookie season, Anderson, also 23, also scored 29 points, but with 17 goals in 78 games.  It seems likely Anderson will be signed by Columbus.  But, he won't get as much money since he isn't threatening leaving.  Also, Columbus has some other big contracts.  They recently signed C Alex Wennberg to a six year deal.  I think Anderson gets a bridge deal, at three years, $10.5 million ($3.5 million AAV).  He could also get an extra year, since Columbus likes him.  They gave up a first round pick to protect him and some teammates in the expansion draft.

Sam Bennett, C, Calgary Flames

Bennett has played like a third line center since being drafted fourth overall.  In 81 games in 2016-17, Bennett scored just 13 goals and 26 points, and had just a 46.1 faceoff percentage.  Bennett isn't going to get much money.  I think gets something similar to the Coyotes' Anthony Duclair's one year, $1.6 million deal.  I'm going to predict the 21 year old gets a one year, $2 million deal.  If he breaks out, he'll get the big money.

Marcus Foligno, F, Minnesota Wild

After five seasons in Buffalo, Foligno was traded to the Wild earlier in the summer.  He's the only player on this list over 23 years of age, at 26.  Next time his contract expires, he'll be a UFA.  He scored 13 goals and 23 points in 80 games for the Sabres last season.  I predict Foligno will get a two year, $3 million deal ($1.5 million AAV).  Unlike his brother Nick, Marcus is just a bottom six forward.

Nikita Zadorov, D, Colorado Avalanche

Zadorov is the last player on this list.  He is also an ex Sabre, and was traded for C Ryan O'Reilly years ago.  At 22, Zadorov scored just 10 points, all assists in 56 games last season.  The Avalanche need defenseman, and Zadorov is young, so they would most likely want to sign him.  I think he gets a four year, $16 million deal, with an AAV of $4 million.

The Top 20 underrated NHL players

When you think of NHL players, you think of Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin and Carey Price.  Everyone loves their team's stars, the ones who get the big money, and win the big trophies like the Hart (MVP), Rocket Richard (most goals), Art Ross (most points), Norris (best defenseman), and Vezina (best goalie).  But, there will always be players who are simply overlooked. They don't get much appreciation for how good they actually are from around the league.  I'm here to show you 20 players who are completely underrated (in no specific order).

Nick Leddy, D -- New York Islanders

Since being acquired by the Islanders from the Chicago Blackhawks before the 2014-15 season, Leddy has been the Islanders best defenseman.  He has 123 points over those three seasons, for 0.51 points per game.  His career corsi is a solid 52.6.  But, since he's in the same division as Kris Letang, John Carlson, Ryan McDonagh, Seth Jones and now Kevin Shattenkirk, Leddy doesn't get much attention as a puck moving defenseman who's averaged 41 points a season since joining the Isles.

Tyson Barrie, D -- Colorado Avalanche

The Avs had one of the worst seasons ever by a non-expansion team in 2016-17. =  Their defense was terrible.  But, their best defenseman, Barrie, wasn't credited enough for having a solid season despite the team's play.  Barrie did have a down season, with 38 points.  However, as a defenseman, he had 182 shots, which is a positive number.  His career points per game of 0.57 is impressive for a defenseman.  He's averaged over 23 minutes of ice time per game in the last two seasons, which is another positive number.  He isn't considered much of an offensive defenseman, but since the start of 2013-14, Barrie has averaged 44.5 points a season which is impressive to say the least.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D -- Arizona Coyotes

Another defenseman here, Ekman-Larsson, or "O.E.L", is actually recognized as top 10 defenseman.  But, he should be regarded as a top five defenseman in my opinion.  He is coming off a down year, but now captain of the Coyotes after the departure of Shane Doan will return to his normal, dominant self in 2017-18.  He scored just 39 points in 2016-17, but 19 were on the power play, which for a defenseman, is solid.  He's also not foreign to the 20 goal plateau.  He averaged 0.73 points a game in 2015-16, which is really good.

Sebastion Aho, F -- Carolina Hurricanes

We are finally at our first forward of the list.  In his rookie season of 2016-17, Aho dominated quickly, with 24 goals and 49 points.  He was one of just three rookies to score over 20 goals last year, joining Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.  Also, he had 214 shots. If you shoot the puck, you will score!

Torey Krug, D -- Boston Bruins

It might seem that there is a lot of defensemen on this list, but there is only one more defenseman after Krug.  Krug is a very good offensive defenseman!  He scored 51 points in 2016-17, and has averaged 43.5 points a season in his career, not counting 2011-12 and 2012-13, where he played a combined three games.  In his qualifying career, Krug has averaged 210 shots a season, which is above average for defensemen.  With Boston having a terrible defensive core, Krug is overlooked.

John Gibson, G -- Anaheim Ducks

Here is our one and only goalie on the list. Gibson set a career high in games in 2016-17 with 52.  Jonathan Bernier was his backup then, and now it's Ryan Miller.  So, he probably won't be increasing that number in 2017-18.  But when he plays, Gibson is very good!  He had a 2.22 GAA last year with a SV% of .924.  His career GAA is also 2.22, and his SV% is .922.  Some impressive numbers for a guy who's never discussed in the Vezina race.

Mikael Granlund, C -- Minnesota Wild

Granlund had a breakout season in 2016/2017 scoring 26 goals and 69 points.  He was a Lady Byng finalist, with just 12 PIM.  His 14.7 shooting percentage was pretty good.  His 0.83 points per game last year was atop the league.  He has a career 0.63 points per game.  Even with these impressive numbers, Granlund still isn't thought of as a top 25 center in the league.

Nino Niederreiter, LW -- Minnesota Wild

Like his teammate Granlund, Niederreiter broke out in 2016-17 with 25 goals and 57 points.  He had a career high 186 shots, and it's gone up every year, so that's positive.  His 55.4 corsi last year was good.  Nino is a sneaky good player that people often forget about.

Erik Haula, C -- Vegas Golden Knights

Haula was also on the Wild last year, but was taken by the Knights in the expansion draft.  Haula is a good third line center.  He averages about 15 goals per season, which is very good for his role.  No one thinks of Haula as a solid scorer, but with a fresh new start in Vegas, he can maybe break out.

Marcus Johansson, F -- New Jersey Devils

Salary cap issues forced the Capitals to trade Johansson to the Devils, right after his breakout year.  Johansson scored 24 goals and 58 points.  Also, he had an amazing +25 rating.  In all 82 games, Johansson had just 10 PIM.  Always underrated, Johansson should get a lot of attention in New Jersey with them lacking star power after Taylor Hall and Cory Schneider.

Nazem Kadri, C -- Toronto Maple Leafs

Even playing in hockey's biggest market, Kadri has always been underrated.  He averaged 18.25 goals and 44.5 points a season from 2012-13 to 2015-16.  However, in 2016-17, Kadri broke out with 32 goals and 61 points, both career highs. But, with rookies Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, Kadri was once again overlooked.

Josh Bailey, RW -- New York Islanders

Bailey isn't a fan favorite by any means, but quietly put up 56 points in 2016-17 playing alongside John Tavares.  He has always shown a good playmaking ability throughout his career and was finally able to put it together alongside Tavares.  However, with the addition of Jordan Eberle it is unclear if Bailey will lineup next to Tavares as regular this season.  Without Tavares it will be interesting to see if Bailey builds on last seasons numbers or reverts back to the guy he was before last season.

Brady Skjei, D -- New York Rangers

Here is our last defenseman on the list.  In his rookie season, Skjei (pronounced "Shea") scored 39 points, including 34 assists.  That helped him finish 10th in the Calder race.  He also has seven power play assists.  He has Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk ahead of him, but Skjei can still perform as evident by these numbers as a rookie.

Rickard Rakell, C -- Anaheim Ducks

After scoring 20 goals in 2015/2016, Rakell broke out in 2016-17 with 33 goals and 51 points.  He scored 0.72 points per game.  Things seem to be going skyward for the 24 year old forward.  He has always been overlooked by Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler, but he shouldn't be overlooked for much longer if he keeps up these numbers.

Brayden Schenn, F -- St. Louis Blues

Schenn was recently acquired by the Blues, and looks to have a good first year in St. Louis.  In his last year with the Philadelphia Flyers, Schenn scored 25 goals and 55 points.  The year before, he scored 26 goals and 59 points.  He's scored over 0.70 points per game in the last two seasons, but was always overshadowed by Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds.  Figuring to have a prominent role with the Blues, this is his chance to break out on the NHL scene.

Ryan Spooner, C -- Boston Bruins

Spooner has been the B's third line center behind Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci his entire career.  In 2016-17, Spooner put up a solid 39 points.  But the year before, 2015-16, Spooner scored 49 points, which is really good for a third line center.  In 2016-17, 18 of his 39 points came on the power play.  Spooner seems to be on the cusp of being a very steady player in this league for a long time.

Paul Byron, LW -- Montreal Canadiens

The speedy Byron flew under-the-radar in 2016-17, with a breakout year.  He was a great penalty killer, and scored 22 goals and 43 points.  Also, Byron led qualifiers in shooting percentage with a 22.9%.  In his career, he's had a 18.3%.  This means he really had the scoring touch last season. Expect another solid season from the third liner.

Radim Vrbata, RW -- Florida Panthers

Though he's at the end of his career, Vrbata has always been a steady and dependable top six forward and showed that once again last season scoring 20 goals and 55 points for the Coyotes.  In 2014-15, he scored 31 goals.  But, playing on the Canucks and the Coyotes recently, Vrbata hasn't gotten as much attention as he would if he played in Pittsburgh.

Kevin Hayes, F -- New York Rangers

So far so good for Hayes who is 3 years into his NHL career.  Last year, he tied his career high in goals with 17 and had a career high in points with 49.  In his career, he has scored 130 points in 234 games.  He really is better than people think, and this is coming from an Islander fan.

Tyler Bozak, C -- Toronto Maple Leafs

Like Kadri, Bozak has always been on a bad Leafs team, but last year, the Leafs were good.  Bozak had 55 points including 18 goals, but was often overlooked because of the trio of impressive Leafs rookies last season.  Bozak has been a solid top nine center for the Leafs in his career, who simply doesn't get any attention.

An NHL Pipedream: No Off-Sides

Who watched the 2017 NBA Finals? If not, you missed one of the better exhibitions of skill in sports and some exciting basketball. With three of the best players in the game, offense was in abundance, with Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Lebron James flying down the court to drain shots. Although Golden State was clearly the better team, the basketball display was top-notch.

Now who watched the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals (SCF)? If not, you did not miss anything exhilarating. Arguably, the best player in the world, Sidney Crosby, and a high-flying Nashville Predators defense-core led by Norris Trophy winner, P.K. Subban and what do the fans get: hockey that is boooooorrrrrring. Which maybe explains how the Pro Bowl had higher ratings than Game 6 of the SCF.

If you watch hockey enough, especially at the world’s highest level, you can see it is not any more exciting today than yesterday. In fact, it is quite dull. Officials continue to not call penalties, especially holding or interference, which defenders say is “letting the players play.” What may be helpful for players without the puck is killing the game.

But I am not going to go on about the lack of penalties called in the NHL, I am going to discuss what NBA players do not have to worry about: off-sides. In a change of possession, Kevin Durant can run down the court for a stretch pass while not worrying if his toe is off the floor before crossing a line. In hockey, the officials spend three hours to review the eighth of an inch that the skate is off the ice a minute before the goal was scored.

Although it will never, ever, happen, eliminating off-sides would bring legitimate excitement to hockey. The obvious result would be more breakaways and less stoppages in play. Detractors would argue that it would lead to goal-hanging, an excuse that is very generic. Well, if one team controls the puck in the offensive zone, the defending team would not be wise to be a man down but would allow players to move quickly when possession changes.

Guess what hockey players deal with that basketball players do not on a breakaway? One hint: they all are about 6’5” and have a .920 save percentage. Goalies occupy more space and are more athletic than ever in the game, as is the average hockey player. On a breakaway, netminders are more likely to make the save though there may be more of them. The percentage scored will likely be about the same, similar to how powerplay scoring rates are very similar despite fewer of them. But more chances lead to more goals, to be obvious.

Another reason why it would not hamper defenders is that the they are as fast, if not faster, than the forwards. More than ever, defensemen are not burned by opposing scorers. And if you need further proof, watch clips of P.K. Subban, Erik Karlsson, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, to name just a few. On average, blueliners skate better and faster than at any other time in the game. Smallish, quick defenders were not as sought after as the 6’4” physical beasts of the past. Cale Makar might not have been drafted in the second-round ten years ago but was taken fourth overall by the Colorado Avalanche. Speed and offense by defensemen is becoming the norm. It was a surprise when Bobby Orr flew by forwards but it is not an anomaly if Nathan Beaulieu does. That being said, catching a forward who does not have to worry about staying behind the opposing blueline will not be a problem.

Again, I know this will not happen. It would take a complete overhaul of the sport itself. Eliminating off-sides is as likely as the NHL permitting puck being kicked into the net. I mention this as my solution to the scoring drought of professional hockey, knowing that the Buffalo Bills have a better chance at ending their seventeen-year playoff drought than the league taking any serious action to improve scoring, in general. Until Gary Bettman and the owners do something worthwhile, do not expect a scoring increase. Outside of the post-lockout season in 2005-2006, league scoring has not shown significant scoring revival. And if Bettman cannot make enough subtle changes to improve goals, he will never implement radical changes that would have a larger impact.

Fans want fun. Scoring does that. The NHL does not have much scoring and ESPN barely covers the sport. And although the extinction of off-sides is a pipedream, it is still a better suggestion than anything the NHL has proposed publicly. I hope that I am wrong but I do not expect the scoring trend to change this season, despite an incoming group of highly skilled, fast young hockey players. If Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Auston Matthews are drawing attention now, imagine their impact if the league removed off-sides from NHL hockey.

*Image from

Oilers are facing a big problem

Earlier today, the Edmonton Oilers announced that 21 year-old center Leon Draisaitl, who scored 29 goals and 77 points in 2016-17, signed an eight year extension with an $8.5 million cap hit per season.

That now leaves the Oilers with about $8.3 million left in cap space, according to  However, superstar Connor McDavid, who currently has a $925K cap hit, will have a $12.5 million hit after the 2017-18 season.  Though the salaries of Mark Letestu, Patrick Maroon, Jussi Jokinen, Mark Fayne and Lauri Korpikoski's buyout will come off the books following this season, the Oilers will also have seven RFAs, including Darnell Nurse who need to be re-signed.  Nurse could demand a lot of money if he has a good 2017-18.  Also, they'd probably like to extend Maroon or Letestu, so a cap crunch from these deals could prevent them from doing so.

This brings us to a very, very similar situation in the Western Conference.  Since their dynasty started in 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks' roster has been absolutely destroyed by the salary cap.  Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Johnny Oduya, Teuvo Teravainen, Kris Versteeg, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Dustin Byfuglien, Nick Leddy and Andrew Ladd are just some of the players Chicago has been forced to trade away.  Imagine how amazing they'd be right now if they kept all those guys.  I guess that's what the salary cap is for.

Also, the Blackhawks' top two stars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have a combined $21 million cap hit.  When McDavid's new contract kicks in, McDavid and Draisaitl will also have a combined cap hit of $21 million.  This could lead to major problems for Edmonton!

If you are wondering who the Oilers could trade next year, I think defenseman Andrej Sekera could be on the block.  The Oilers have four other top four defenseman in Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse and Kris Rusell, so Sekera isn't needed.  He's also 31, older than the other four.  He has a $5.5 million cap hit through 2020-21.  He could be valuable to a team in need of a top four defenseman.

But, this is still a full year away from happening.  A lot of things could change in a year, so next off-season, we could be looking back at this saying "What kind of an idea was this?", or "Man, I wish they did that back then."  So, with that said, it's way too early to decide.

This means that the upcoming 2017-18 will be a very important year for the Oilers.  They'll need to have a lot of success this year, or the cap crunch could hit them hard.

How much is too much?

The 2017 NHL free agency has provided fans with continuous excitement throughout the summer, as they got to see some of the games best move around from team to team either through trades or signings. However, with the season only a couple of months away, the excitement we saw early on in the summer has almost completely died down. Many veterans out there still sit patiently waiting for an appealing offer from any team in hopes to extend their careers. While many older players still find themselves without a team or a salary, there are many unrecognizable names out their signing large contracts that to many probably don't make much sense.

Jaromir Jagr, 45, is looking to extend his historic NHL career into a 24th season. Since 1990, Jagr has played in over 1,700 games in which he's accumulated nearly 2,000 points. However, the veteran still finds himself as a free agent and without a salary for the 2017-18 season. Veterans like Jagr, Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla are having an increasingly difficult time signing contracts in order to add another season to their NHL resume. 

While these vets continue to struggle to find interested teams, there are players out there with little substance to their playing career that have landed big NHL contracts. 

Brett Pesce, 22, is a defensemen for the Carolina Hurricanes coming into his second NHL season. In early August, the Canes signed the New York native to a six-year contract extension worth $24.15 million. In his first NHL season, Pesce accumulated 20 points, an acceptable but disappointing season for a teams top defensemen. However, it can be argued whether or not Pesce is a top defensemen. It can also be asked whether or not Pesce is worth what the Hurricanes are planning on paying him and if he needs to be around that long. After only one season in Carolina, what caused them to sign Pesce to such a long and expensive contract? It is obvious they see potential in the young defensemen, but signing a player for six years at a little over $4 million a year based off possible potential seems a little enthusiastic. Pesce is not the only lower-tier NHL player that has made off with a large contract. 

Nino Niederreiter, 24, is coming off of his highest point total in any of his five NHL seasons racking up 57 points. In late July, the Minnesota Wild winger signed a five-year contract worth a whopping $26.25 million with Minnesota. Although Niederreiter has established himself as a solid player for the Wild, he still finds himself out of that upper echelon of players in the league. And while he has a good deal of potential coming off this past season, does a player like him need to be signed to such a long contract? Niederreiter is a player worth a contract of maybe two to three year max, yet the Wild inked him for five. With an annual cap hit of $4.6 million, the Swiss winger is going to have to continue this trend of higher point totals over the next five years if the Wild want to see their investment pay off. 

Coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup wins, defensemen Brian Dumoulin has seen success than most lower-tier players. After a 15-point regular season and six-point postseason, the Biddeford, Maine native signed a six-year contract worth $24.6 million with an annual cap hit of $4.1 million. This calls into question again whether or not a defensemen like Dumoulin is worth this much money and for that long. While he has been essential to the success of a stacked Pittsburgh defensive core, Dumoulin still finds himself fluctuating between the top and bottom four defensemen. The Penguins defense, led by a constantly-injured Kris Letang, need a big defensemen like to Dumoilin in order to keep the foundation of their blue line. Although building this strong foundation is necessary for any teams defense, it is questionable that Brian Dumoilin is going to be leading that for the next six years. He is a sturdy defensemen who from time-to-time can make an impactful offensive play, but based on his performance in the past seasons it doesn't add up for him to be signed to such a long and expensive contract.

Player's values can change over the course of one season. Although highly unlikely, Alexander Ovechkin could have an extremely disappointing season next year, in which case the Capitals would have to consider Oveckin's value and worth to the team. Even though it seems impossible that one of the league's best like Ovechkin would have a disappointing season, it is still possible. So, if this is possible with one of the best players in the world, it it certainly possible that players like Pesce, Niederreiter, or Dumoilin could perform way below their pay grade. In that case, the teams who signed them to such long and expensive contracts would have to bite the bullet and realize that they overpaid these players for too long. These are just three players among many who are slightly overpaid for their skill level and given long-term contracts. Teams signing these players need to really consider whether or not it is worth keeping these players around for so many years, and how much money is too much. 

After Great Run, the Red Wings are Clipped

All good things must come to an end. The cliché rings true for one of the NHL’s original teams: The Detroit Red Wings. After 25 years in the post-season, the franchise that was a symbol of longevity found itself in the draft lottery for one of the top three picks in the 2017 Entry Draft. Think about it: Connor McDavid did not exist when hockey town started their tenure of excellence. Running for the Stanley that many consecutive years is a tremendous accomplishment in any sport, not just hockey. Few professional sports teams can say that there were 4 different Presidents in office during their longest playoff streak. As sure a thing as it was for Detroit to be playing games in mid-April, their inevitable demise was foreshadowed just as clearly.

Detroit was home for some of game’s most elite players through two and one-half decades. Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Brenden Shanahan, and Nick Lidstrom, just to name a few. It is no wonder that the Wings earned 3 Stanley Cups in a five-year period, followed by another Cup victory, as well as appearance, in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Despite continued post-season appearances, the down-slide was unavoidable as their generational defenseman, Nick Lidstrom, announced his retirement in 2012.

After Lidstrom, who produced effectively into his forties, the Wings were not the same. Their new, number one defenseman Nicklas Kromwall could not compare to one of the best in the game (which most cannot) or the best current defensemen at the time, battling injury on a regular basis. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk still had some fight left but they were into their thirties and wearing down. It seemed like the Red Wings would squeak their way into the playoffs, likely due to Coach Mike Babcock’s ability to use players appropriately and solid player development, but would find a quick exit to the golf course. Near the end of his time in Detroit, even Babcock predicted what was forthcoming and found his next job in Toronto. As the GM Ken Holland did very little to make short-term grabs to give it one last go, the rebuild was closer than farther.

Reviewing the team roster (below), it is apparent that there is no urgency for Detroit to contend for a playoff spot. Their defense core is closer to contemplating their post-playing careers without much youth in sight. The forward group has a few, bright spots (Dylan Larkin/Gustav Nyquist) but nothing that can transcend their game. And with the cap situation, they may have to part with some of these pieces or not be compliant. I do not think many teams are looking to add Johan Franzen or Kromwall, who should really look to save what is left of their bodies. Their first, top-ten draft selection in forever is a guy (Michael Rasmussen) who reminds me of a taller Matt Moulson. Yes, Detroit is not used to drafting this high but I feel they could have made a better selection at that spot. If the Red Wings Amateur Scouting is anything like we have seen, they will have found a few gems throughout the draft, despite it not being considered anything great. Even if they are fortunate, there is still much more needed if there is hope to get back to their winning ways.

Detroit Red Wing fans, you are in for a bumpy ride for a while, a small price to pay after years of competitive and often great hockey. Unfortunately, the 15 appearances on NBC networks (something I still question highly) will not save what appears to be a bottom-five finish for the once dynasty. Crazier things have happened but Ken Holland is not stupid: he knows where you find top talent. He understands that players like Datsyuk or Zetterberg will not be found in the late rounds as amateur scouting can now review more players than ever. They will be competing for that top-three choice for the next few drafts and it will not be a bad thing in the long term. And if it makes you feel better, the Buffalo Bills have not won a playoff game in over 20 years, let alone been in the post-season in 17 straight. So, if you are sad about this downfall of the Wings, trust me, it will get better.

Detroit Red Wings Roster (as of August 10, 2017 from


Justin Abdelkader

Andreas Anthanasiou

Johan Franzen

Luke Glendening

Darren Helm

Dylan Larkin

Matt Lorito

Anthony Mantha

Frans Nielsen

Gustav Nyquist

Riley Sheahan

Ben Street

Tomas Tatar

Henrik Zetterberg




Trevor Daley

Danny DeKeyser

Jonathan Ericsson

Mike Green

Nick Jensen

Niklas Kromwall

Xavier Ouellet

Robbie Russo

Ryan Sproul

Luke Witkowski




Jimmy Howard

Petr Mrazek

Why NBC? Why?

Why NBC?  Why?

Ok, now who is excited?  Come on, Connor McDavid gets three games on NBC networks for the 2017-18 regular season.  You know what is better?  Las Vegas getting five games, because it is always much better to see a team who has not played one second of NHL hockey over the second-best player (arguable the best), in the world!

It is here everyone!  NBC has posted its schedule for the upcoming season and yes, they continue to not make sense.  Chicago, whose top players are almost all over 30, leads the way with 17 appearances.  The Blackhawks have talent but are their dominant days over?  Not far behind we have Philadelphia with 16, then Pittsburgh (surprise, surprise) and Detroit with 15.  You have not read incorrectly: Two non-playoff teams have over 5 times the amount of games on national television than McDavid or Austin Matthews (3).

It is no surprise that the All-Star games of almost all other major sports leagues in the United States achieved higher ratings than Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.  The NHL, as well as NBC, fails to use its best young players to market the sport.  Instead of viewing McDavid dangle opponents out of their jocks, spectators have the pleasure of getting a nap in when the Detroit Red Wings are on.  How can the NHL expect to earn fans when its biggest television outlet in the U.S. thinks that Buffalo and Columbus is the right fit for “Rivalry Night?” Or are they waiting for the Sabres to be in the Cup Finals since Buffalo was leading the ratings race for cities without teams competing?  Either way, it is hard to applaud NBC’s effort to create a “diverse schedule” when a brand-new team receives more national games than some of its most exciting young talent.

When I said that the NHL needed to make its game more exciting with more offense on Twitter, I was told that “it was the kind of thing that hockey fans who aren’t really hockey fans say.”  As a fan, I should be able to want more out of a sport I enjoy instead of waiting 10 minutes to review if a skate was a millimeter off the ice.  It is even more alarming when the commissioner of the sport acts like everyone loves the game right now when that is far from the truth.  Based on the decisions for hockey on NBC, the league is still not getting the message despite ratings that show an evident lack of interest in the sport.