- Vegas has been keeping tabs on the Sabres lately, notes Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News. David Conte, special advisor for hockey operations for the Golden Knights, has attended multiple Buffalo games over the past week while also watching their AHL affiliate in Rochester. While they are probably not a likely suitor for winger Evander Kane, they could be interested in adding some of Buffalo’s depth players in an effort to shore up their roster before the deadline.
The Sabres are willing to retain half of the contract of defenseman Josh Gorges in an effort to find the veteran a new home before the trade deadline, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported in a segment on WGR 550. Gorges is in the final year of his contract and carries a $3.9MM cap hit. However, he has struggled to stay healthy this season and has also spent time as a healthy scratch. As a result, he has played in just 25 games in 2017-18 while logging a career-low 15:03 per game. Dreger reports that the Jets have checked in on the 33-year-old and suggests the Blues could have some interest as well although their cap constraints could be an issue.
Team USA won’t kick off their Olympic tournament until Wednesday, but that hasn’t stopped NHL teams from already reaching out to the agents of veteran Americans Brian Gionta and James Wisniewski. Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press writes that the unemployed former NHLers may not stay that way for long after the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea wrap up. Teams have already begun to inquire into the availability of both long-time pros for contracts through the end of the regular season. At this time of year, the concept of bringing in game-ready, experienced assets without paying inflated prices is sure to entice many squads.
Gionta, 39, and Wisniewski, 33, will only have about a day and a half following the end of the Olympics to sign in the NHL and remain eligible for the postseason, Whyno writes. This means that the agents for both players will be busy working the phones while the players are hard at work in pursuit of a gold medal. The case for each is simple. Gionta is less than a year removed from NHL action and played in all 82 games with the Buffalo Sabres last season, recording 35 points, which was good enough for sixth among Buffalo forwards. He has both the experience and ability to be a depth asset up front for a contender. Wisniewski, on the other hand, last played a full NHL season in 2014-15. A season-ending injury in the first and only game of his 2015-16 season and Carolina Hurricanes tenure derailed Wisniewski’s NHL career, but after bouncing around Russia, Switzerland, Germany, and the AHL over the past two seasons, looking especially impressive with the Deutsche Eishockey Liga’s Kassel Huskies this fall, Wisniewski has proven to still be a capable player. A strong outing at the Olympics for the offensive-minded, right-shot defenseman would make him all the more attractive addition.
While the agents do their jobs of selling their players, Gionta and Wisniewski will do theirs, leading the American team through their Olympic schedule. Both need a strong individual performance to boost their value to interested NHL teams, but will surely be more invested in the performance of the team. Despite several promising young players like Ryan Donato, Jordan Greenway, and Troy Terry and two of the best players in the Swiss NLA, Garrett Roe and Mark Arcobello, Team USA will undoubtedly look to their only two established stars to be the leaders on the ice and in the locker room.
5:09 PM: Head coach Phil Housley told reporters, including NHL.com’s Joe Yerdon (Twitter link) that Eichel could still return this season. He is, however, expected to miss the next four-to-six weeks at a minimum.
1:05 PM: The Buffalo Sabres will be without their best player as the team announced that Jack Eichel will be out indefinitely with a high ankle sprain. This is the second year in a row he’s suffered this injury, although last year’s sprain was with his left leg. This sprain is with his right leg.
Eichel, the team’s leading scorer suffered the same injury a year ago when he missed the first 21 games of the season and didn’t start his season until Nov. 29 in 2016. A similar timetable could suggest he might miss most if not all of the remainder of the season. The 21-year-old center has played in 55 games this year and has 22 goals and 53 points and was well on his way to posting career highs this season.
From a team outlook, Eichel’s loss shouldn’t affect much as the team plans to be sellers at the deadline and have the second-worst record in the league with a 16-29-10 record. The team should have a good chance of snagging the top pick in the 2018 draft lottery in Rasmus Dahlin.
The Buffalo News’ John Vogl tweets that the team plans to recall 22-year-old center Nicholas Baptiste from the Rochester Americans of the AHL. He has one goal in eight games with the Sabres this year.
- Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel was injured after he fell awkwardly during the first period tonight and did not return. It appeared to be a right ankle or right leg injury. Despite a dreary season in Buffalo, Eichel has 53 points in 54 games (22-31), showing again the immense talent he possesses on a squad struggling to find its way. Though the team is positioned for a top pick in the coming draft, losing Eichel to any significant injury is just another negative to an already tough season for Sabres fans.
In a mailbag column, The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford writes (subscription required) that while the Blues have been linked with a number of high-profile teams such as the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and the New York Rangers, it’s unlikely the team will make a big move for a big name forward with years on his contract like a Max Pacioretty or a Mike Hoffman despite recent rumors to the contrary.
Due to the high trade demands being made for these players, Rutherford believes that trading a top prospect for a player who has a large contract to fit into their salary cap space doesn’t make a lot of sense as the team wants to have as much flexibility when free agency arrives this summer. Instead, the scribe believes the team needs to go the rental route and acquire a player (for a much cheaper price) so the team can make their run.
The team already is without their 2018 first-round pick which they traded for Brayden Schenn, so moving a top prospect could set the team back long-term. The team should look into a player such as Rick Nash, Michael Grabner or Patrick Maroon as options as they likely won’t cost them one of their top prospects in Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas or Klim Kostin.
- The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz (subscription required) writes that alarms should sound after San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton refused to say that he will definitely be back this season. That’s a surprise considering he is a player who last year played through torn MCL and ACL injuries during the playoffs. Historically, he’s been a player who goes out on the ice no matter how hurt he is, so the idea that he might not be back this season suggests the injury is worse than people think. Could he have already played his last game as a San Jose Shark?
- Fox Sports West Patrick O’Neal tweets that Los Angeles Kings forward Trevor Lewis was sent back to Los Angeles to be re-evaluated after being injured in Friday’s game against the Florida Panthers. While indications are that the injury isn’t serious, head coach John Stevens wanted to have him evaluated after he sustained a serious crash against the boards.
- Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith writes that the rumors of a potential Ottawa Senators-Tampa Bay Lightning deadline deal refuses to go away. He writes that there have been a number of rumors, including talk of Erik Karlsson, and points out that Ottawa’s chief scout is expected to be at the Tampa Bay game tonight.
Even though Connor Hellebuyck has been a revelation this season for the Winnipeg Jets, the goaltending position as a whole has been anything but solid. Steve Mason, brought in to battle for the starting job has suffered multiple concussions, and now his replacement Michael Hutchinson is in the same boat.
Hutchinson suffered the concussion in the pre-game skate on Tuesday according to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun, and will be out indefinitely while Eric Comrie comes up to fill the role. Hutchinson is one of the more interesting goaltenders to watch over the next few months, as he heads towards unrestricted free agency.
- In Buffalo, the Sabres’ season hasn’t gone according to plan. Expected to take a step forward with a healthy Jack Eichel and improved defense, the team is once again at the very bottom of the Eastern Conference. Now, Jake McCabe will be out for at least three weeks after undergoing surgery on his thumb. While there isn’t a ton left to play for this season in Buffalo, new head coach Phil Housley will use it to try and create some building blocks for the club going forward. With McCabe only signed for one more season after 2017-18, his role is far from certain.
- The Pittsburgh Penguins have surged up to second in the Metropolitan Division, but will have to play without one of their most physical forwards for a while. Josh Yohe of The Athletic reports that Tom Kuhnhackl is out for multiple weeks after suffering an injury early in the game against the Vegas Golden Knights. Kuhnhackl is also a key penalty killer on the Penguins, a role that will have to be filled by someone else for the time being.
With 26 teams in action today, there will likely be plenty of roster shuffling around the league. Here’s where we’ll keep tabs on those moves.
- As expected, the Stars have recalled a goaltender to take Ben Bishop’s spot on the roster, summoning Landon Bow from AHL Texas, per the AHL’s transactions page. The 22-year-old has yet to play at the NHL level but has been a regular in the AHL this season, posting a 2.81 GAA with a .905 SV% in 28 appearances this season.
- The Blue Jackets announced (Twitter link) that they have recalled defenseman Cameron Gaunce from Cleveland of the AHL. He has two goals and ten assists in 36 minor league games so far this season and gives them some more depth with Ryan Murray still injured.
- The Penguins have recalled winger Zach Aston-Reese from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, per a team release. Aston-Reese was highly sought after in college free agency last season and is off to a good start to his first full professional season with 29 points (9-20-29) in 41 games. To make room for him on the roster, winger Conor Sheary has been placed on injured reserve.
- The Bruins announced that they have summoned winger Austin Czarnik from Providence (AHL) on an emergency basis. The diminutive forward has been very productive in the minors so far this season as he sits tied for sixth in league scoring with 42 points (13-29-42) in 38 games.
- The Buffalo Sabres have assigned forward Nicholas Baptiste back to the Rochester Americans of the AHL, according to NHL.com’s Joe Yerdon. The 22-year-old was called up on Jan. 19 and played four games for the Sabres. He scored his first NHL goal on that stint with a goal last week against Vancouver. He likely was sent down as the team is ready to activate defenseman Nathan Beaulieu off of injured reserve. Beaulieu has been on IR since Jan. 23.
Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Tyler Dellow went to work trying to figure out how the Ottawa Senators could maximize their trade return (subscription required) for Erik Karlsson, should the team decide to move the all-world defenseman prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on February 26th or at least before the 2018 NHL Entry Draft on June 22nd. Dellow surmised that in order to get anywhere near a fair return for Karlsson, Ottawa would need to acquire draft picks that could give them the best chance of finding a “franchise cornerstone” to replace him. The best-case-scenario for the Sens would obviously be to land the #1 overall pick in the lottery and the opportunity to draft the consensus top pick, Karlsson clone Rasmus Dahlin – a scenario that would not even require moving Karlsson. However, with the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres likely having better lottery odds and another 12 teams having a chance at the top pick as well, its unlikely that the Senators choose first overall. Dahlin’s generational talent also means the lucky team that lands #1 isn’t moving it, even for Karlsson. So what then is the chance of finding a superstar in the draft? Dellow’s analysis produced these results:
- First pick: 90 percent,
- Second pick: 60 percent
- Third or Fourth pick: 15 percent
- Picks 5-20: 5 percent
- Picks 21-30: 2 percent
- Picks 31-60: 1 percent
- Picks 61+: .07 percent
While there is a considerable drop-off from the first pick to the second and the second to the third, it’s clear that picks #2 and #3 still hold immense value. Dellow goes on to describe the infrequency with which those picks are moved, citing Alexei Yashin-for-Jason Spezza and the drafting of Henrik and Daniel Sedin are rare recent examples. Dellow’s thesis continues that the current Vancouver Canucks could be a rare team willing to part with a high pick, if it meant landing Karlsson.
However what if Karlsson isn’t traded by the Draft – a situation that is far more likely than the media would make it out to be – would the normally untouchable top three picks be back off the table? Obviously, the results of the draft lottery matter immensely and the #1 pick will surely not be moved this year. More likely than not, #2 is going nowhere as well. Yet, the status of the 2018 draft class leads to much intrigue over the #3 pick, which historically has a 15% chance of landing a superstar. Unlike past years, there is no consensus second-best player in 2018. In some order, Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick were going 1-2 in 2017, as were Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine in 2016, and no one was going right behind Connor McDavid other than Jack Eichel in 2015. This year’s crop offers a situation unlike the last few seasons, wherein Dahlin is guaranteed to go first overall – and will be off the draft board of everyone but the lottery winner before the draft even begins – but the following picks are unpredictable. At #2, it could be Russian sniper Andrei Svechnikov, sleek Czech forward Filip Zadina, big, skilled Americans Brady Tkachuk or Oliver Wahlstrom, or a D-needy team with the second pick could even go off the board for a defenseman.
The decision on the second overall pick in 2018 will undeniably result in the top player on many teams’ board being selected, but the top player on many other teams’ board falling to #3. If that team at third overall was hoping to take the player selected at #2, now things could get interesting. According to Dellow’s results, the team at #3 has now lost a 45% chance of finding their next franchise player, but could trade out of the pick and still end up with one (or more) top 20 pick(s), each with a 5% chance of becoming a star, as well as possibly an established pick or player. If you put trust into a model like Dellow’s, a deal like this becomes much more about math and odds than simply taking the risk of trading back out of disappointment with the draft order.
Going back to the Karlsson-to-Vancouver hypothetical, imagine that the Canucks land the #3 overall pick while the Senators have a pick in the 5-20 range, either by the lottery or an additional pick from an upcoming trade. Vancouver hypothetically wanted Zadina, who went #2, while the top player on Ottawa’s board was Tkachuk (or maybe a defenseman like Adam Boqvist). Vancouver could, as Dellow proposes, offer the Sens the third pick – and a 15% chance at a star – and a prospect like Olli Juolevi, the fifth overall pick in 2016 – who holds a 5% chance of becoming a star himself – as part of a larger package for Karlsson and a first. Ottawa nets a 20% chance of adding a cornerstone player, including at least one potential replacement on the blue line, and Vancouver holds onto a 5% chance of finding a star of their own with the later first rounder. The 10% loss for Vancouver is more than made up by the gain of a bona fide star in Karlsson. Could a deal like this happen? For sure. Will it? Probably not, but Dellow’s analysis of draft pick values and a seemingly volatile draft board in 2018 helps to illuminate the possibilities of some fascinating, unprecedented deals early on at the 2018 Draft.
With the trade deadline fast approaching, we will be taking a closer look at the situation for each team. Where do they stand, what do they need to do, and what assets do they have to fill those needs? First up is a look at the Buffalo Sabres.
With a new coach and a new general manager at the helm, optimism heading into the season was higher with the hope that Buffalo could turn their fortunes around. That hasn’t happened. Instead, they find themselves with a lower points percentage than last year and as a result, they are squarely at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Accordingly, the approach for this upcoming trade deadline closely resembles the one they’ve had in recent years.
14-28-9, 8th in Atlantic Division
Deadline Cap Space
$25.7MM – full-season cap hit, 0/3 retained salary transactions, 46/50 contracts per CapFriendly
2018: BUF 1st, BUF 2nd, BUF 4th, MIN 4th, BUF 5th, BUF 6th, BUF 7th
2019: BUF 1st, BUF 2nd, BUF 3rd, BUF 4th, BUF 5th, BUF 6th, BUF 7th
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Winger Evander Kane sits as the most prominent rental player available and with his acknowledgement that there have yet to be any discussions regarding a new contract, an extension certainly doesn’t appear to be on the horizon. The asking price as of two weeks ago involved four pieces – a first-round draft pick, a prospect, a conditional selection, and a roster player. So far, no one has been willing to meet that ask but GM Jason Botterill likely won’t be budging much off of that for the next few weeks. This could be a case that drags out until very close to the trade deadline.
Beyond that, the Sabres will likely be dangling several of their other pending UFAs. However, those players will be more of the depth variety and won’t bring back more than mid-round draft picks. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them look to move one of their goalies to open up a spot for Linus Ullmark to get some more action with Buffalo before the season comes to an end. Zemgus Girgensons has underachieved in recent years and could be viewed as a change of scenery candidate as well though with one more season left on his deal (with RFA eligibility after that), he isn’t a rental player.
1) Draft Picks: For a team that has basically been in perpetual rebuilding mode in recent years, the Sabres don’t have many draft picks of note on the horizon or even many extra late ones to work with. Kane’s eventual trade should yield at least one of those plus a quality prospect even if Botterill can’t get his complete asking price. Moving players like Johnson and Pouliot should give them some extra picks towards the back half of the draft as well.
2) Defensive Upgrades: Buffalo overhauled their defense corps last summer and it’s safe to say that it hasn’t worked out as planned. They lack a true shutdown defender and while they are a more mobile unit now, for the most part, it hasn’t translated to much in the way of offensive production. Zach Bogosian missing nearly the entire year hasn’t helped either. It will be difficult for the Sabres to address this too much at this time unless they do so in the Kane trade by getting a blueliner as the prospect involved in the deal. Otherwise, this is an area that they will likely look to address in the offseason.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.