Entering the 2016-17 season, the Buffalo Sabres were considered by some as a dark horse playoff contender after the team added top-six winger Kyle Okposo in free agency and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov via trade last summer. However, a preseason ankle injury shelved sophomore center Jack Eichel for the first 21 games of the season and the team stumbled to a 7 – 9 – 5 mark in his absence. The team’s defense has also contributed to Buffalo’s struggles and unfortunately for the Sabres, there may not be much help on the way next summer, according to John Vogl of The Buffalo News.
Vogl examines the list of potential UFA defenders, a list which happens to include current Sabres Kulikov and Cody Franson, and aside from Kevin Shattenkirk and perhaps Karl Alzner, the scribe doesn’t see free agency as presenting a solution to Buffalo’s blue line woes. That means in all likelihood the Sabres will have to go the trade route in order to address their defensive shortcomings. Naturally, any deal to add a defenseman will likely cost the team a key forward and would essentially represent an example of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Elsewhere in the Atlantic:
- We touched earlier on the injury issues impacting the Tampa Bay Lightning, but for the glass half full crowd, the absences of Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette offer opportunities for young players to step into more prominent roles and show the team’s coaching staff and management team what they are capable of at the NHL level. As Bryan Burns, NHL.com’s Tampa Bay Lightning contributor writes, the early beneficiaries of extra ice time and responsibility in Tampa are rookies Adam Erne and Yanni Gourde. As Burns notes, Gourde filled in as the team’s second line pivot Thursday night, recording a career-high 16:35 of ice time and registering the second point of his NHL career. Erne saw better than 14 minutes and even got some time on the power play. With Tampa Bay wrapping up a disappointing campaign, it’s quite possible the the team continues to give opportunities to some of its young talent as the front office begins to hatch its offseason strategy.
- Last night’s 7 – 4 loss to Minnesota leaves Florida six points out of the second and final Eastern Conference wild card slot with just 16 games remaining in their season and with four teams to leapfrog in the standings. As Adam Gretz of Pro Hockey Talk writes, time is running out on the Panthers and barring a strong finish it appears Florida won’t be making their second straight postseason appearance. Missing the playoffs would represent a disappointing outcome for a team that was particularly aggressive in the offseason trying to build upon last year’s success. Florida acquired the rights to Keith Yandle and then inked the skilled puck-moving defender to a massive seven-year, $44.45MM contract extension. They signed Jason Demers as a free agent and traded for Mark Pysyk to further bolster their blue line. The Panthers also made smart under-the-radar signing, adding Jonathan Marchessault via free agency. The diminutive winger has registered a 20-goal, 39-point campaign for Florida. Yet all of those additions will be in vain unless the Panthers can close out on a hot streak and somehow sneak into the playoffs and that possibility is fading more and more with each passing day.